Puslapio vaizdai


As to the tent, I protest against the placing of the open end or door on the higher ground, and therefore facing the bush instead of the lake. It was done, it is explained, on account of the wind; and it shall be undone, I insist, on account of the ever-varying water pictures we may enjoy if we turn the canvas round. We are one upon the question after I have urged my point and protest that, had we been less hurried by advancing darkness last night, such an error should never have been made. The alteration involves the clearing out of everything; but that is a decided gain, the packages, especially Number Two's enormous portmanteau, not being stowed away in compact fashion. Setting to work with energy, we have struck the tent and put it up again in an hour, the opening now facing the sparkling waters. Number One hangs his pelicans upon a tree branch cut off and sharpened to do service as a meat-hook, and tries his hand at skinning them, or, to be accurate, at taking off the breast portions only. It is a task requiring a little practice, and it is not for a day or two that we become proficient. The birds shot from the “Alabama" yesterday we have left at the mills to be dressed by one of the hands who is a good amateur taxidermist ; and they in the end, beyond question, prove to be the best prepared. Four

years have not sufficed to lessen my dislike of such vermin as snakes, scorpions, and centipedes. As a matter of fact, one very rarely sees them. The knowledge that they exist is, however, sufficient to keep one's consciousness alive. Notwithstanding that I have slept and moved about in scrub and bush, I have never seen a scorpion, never a centipede, except twice in the decayed wood brought into Brisbane, and very few snakes, though I am always looking for them. Old bushmen will recount a similar experience, and, as a rule, new-comers soon cease to think of what they never

Still, I have heard of campers-out who have had strange bedfellows of this ilk, and I have a fancy for rigging up something in the shape of a bedstead. Armed with a little American axe, I go to the flat and make a first venture in woodcraft with, I flatter myself, a skill that even a Gladstone would not despise. I require four forked uprights, and four strong but not too stout poles, and very pretty work it is to select the precise thing required, and shape and sharpen it before it is felled. A couple of bags, opened at the ends to slip over the side poles, furnish the sacking. However, it is labour

. thrown away. The contrivance does not answer.

The saplings are too green, the frame is too narrow, and the encroachment upon tentroom too serious. Yet the labour is not altogether lost, because, abandoning the structure as a bedstead, we use it thenceforth as a



convenient receptacle of all our goods. So long as we remain in camp, I may here state, I sleep, as do the others, upon the ground, and, beyond some vagrant mosquitoes, which we defy under a large mosquito-curtain hung from the ridge pole, and ample enough to enclose the entire party, a nasty tarantula which without leave takes a night's lodging in my gun-case, a company of soldier ants foraging in the potato bag, and a small unrecognised quadruped which nocturnally purloins a beef-bone, we meet with no creature more obnoxious than ourselves.

After breakfast, as we lounge deliciously inside the tent, flaps fastened back, breeze direct from the lake soothing us with its whisper, and a faultless prospect stretching to the verge of human vision, the measured stroke of oars travels across the water, heralding visitors from the mills. They are anxious to know if we are camped satisfactorily, and whether we want anything. We do happen to want a black-fellow, a piece of boiled beef, to save the trouble of cooking after a hard day's work, and some other things the need of which we have already found out. For the rest of the day we are left to our solitude, to roam into the bush and along the water's edge, and to saunter about without any object, and without wishing to have any, further than to create an appetite, which we are not long in discovering we have ready-made in season and out of season. A dreamy afternoon on the shady side of the tent, discussion of plans for the days of activity that must follow, and an hour's reading by candlelight, find us sound asleep by eight o'clock.

From this time we have no more days of idleness until we have broken up camp and are in the settlements on the other side of the lake. Once, and once only, the waterproof capabilities of our tent are tested. Wet weather more than anything else alloys the pleasure of camping out. Nothing can be more wretched than to be under canvas during heavy rain and wind, and to realise the misery of sodden food, soaked clothes, and mud everywhere. Our tent does not let in a drop of water; the canvas, on the contrary, gets tighter, and it is a positive pleasure to hear the rain beating upon the fly, and to feel that we can bid defiance, at least for a day or so, to the elements. The weather, with the exception of this downpour, is most enjoyable. In the morning the grass is wet with dew, and the atmosphere exhilarating. Even the midday heat is June-like, and the evenings are a repetition of the mornings. There is the lake with clear, cold water, and hard sandy bottom to bathe in ; the gig to sail to and fro ; and some special expedition every day. The days, somehow, pass all too swiftly. Fearful of ennui, we have each brought something in the shape of literature, but we take it home unread ; our occupations are pleasures and our pleasures occupation.

Not a dozen persons, it is likely, visit this camp site of ours in the course of a year. We stumble upon it by accident; but if I could remove bodily to the old country the views obtainable from our tent opening, it would leap into fame. Close to shore the white boat rests in calm, and rocks when the breezes sweep over the lake. A hundred yards out there is a sandy shallow just showing its crest above the water, and upon this all day long an assemblage of pelicans stand in line, with sentinels on guard to warn them of danger. In the morning, just as the sun breaks, they preen themselves, and in the company of numerous divers fly away to feed, returning again in due time to take up their station for the day. In the middle of the lake there is a wooded islet which is always a picturesque addition to the scenery. It relieves the distance and prevents the monotony of unbroken space. As the atmosphere changes it also seems to shift its position ; to-day it is near, to-morrow far. Now, the distant mountains are distinct, the reedy margins of the lake bold and vivid in colour, and the woods distinguishable ; again, a purple veil shrouds hill and wood, and we look in vain for the well-known landmarks. It is a scene that assumes new characteristics a dozen times a day; we never tire in looking upon it, and are ever glad to get back to camp to renew our acquaintance with features that grow dearer with familiarity.

It is something to be waited upon by two rival kings. Of no lower rank are the two sable camp-followers who present themselves in response to our message to the manager yonder, if the brass-plates suspended from their necks proclaim the truth. At the mills, on our route from the sea, we had interviewed a number of aboriginals encamped on the outskirts of the settlement, and, without knowing it, had promised King Brown our distinguished patronage. He had accosted us, and we, not understanding him, had given him, in our opinion, an evasive answer in pigeon-English. Our friends, upon being informed that we were anxious to encourage coloured labour, thought King Brady the more suitable henchman, and then it was that his Majesty Brown advanced a prior claim, and, further, accompanied Brady to our camp, bringing a young Brownlet with him.

The men, when they come to us, are keenly alive to their own interests, and know how to make a bargain. They require five shillings each for their week's service, and as they can row a boat, and are familiar with the whole country-side, we determine to indulge in them as a luxury. So we send Brown's boy back again, and retain the two kings, who, on the whole, are very willing, good black


fellows, and who afford us much amusement. We, of course, have to supply them with rations—flour, tea, and sugar, and meat when fits of liberality seize us. In this latter item we are again indebted to our friends at the mills, who send us, by the frizzy-headed monarchs, a cut-and-come-again supply of cooked corn-beef. King Brady, the terms of the contract being decided, retires and lies down in the grass, the fact being that he is recovering from a festive orgie of the previous week. King Brown, on the other hand, pries around and into the tent, and intimates to Number One, who is an adept at pigeon-English, that a cast-off garment at the breaking up of camp, if not at the present moment, will be well bestowed upon him.

The boat is a source of untold pleasure to our party. Without it, that ennui which, by anticipation, we had dreaded, would probably have been felt; with it, we are always moving without undue bodily exertion, landing whenever it suits us, and able to carry with us on our daily excursions accoutrements that would not be possible roaming in the bush. There is a roomy locker in the stern, sun- and dew-proof, and comfortable sitting-room for more than double our number. She carries a serviceable jib and mainsail, leaks nothing to speak of, pulls easily, and is stiff and fast in a breeze. Often do we enquire of each other what we should have done without her. As Admiral of the Fleet, this boat is my constant care. While breakfast is preparing, I saunter down to the sandy beach, barefooted and barelegged, through the springy dew-drenched grass, wade out to her, and dry her from stem to stern; for, on these spring nights, the dew falls with steady copiousness. From me, by-and-by, will issue the order "All aboard," and to me fall the rudder-lines, Brady pulling stroke, and Brown bow oar. The guns are kept under the seat, the fishing-rods and hand-lines lie along the thwarts, the luncheons are in the locker, and off we go in a new direction every day, a merry crew to the end.

Dress, after the first day, does not trouble us. The two kings arrived at the camp in decent jackets, trousers, shirts, and hats; but within an hour of their attachment to our fortunes they resumed their normal costume, a scanty shirt girdled round the waist. Although the convenience of this array struck us at a glance, we could not bring ourselves to imitate it, deeming that something was due from us as representatives of advanced civilisation. Our Crimean shirts we accordingly retain, but leave them open at the throat ; and we remain loyal to our trousers, even if we forswear braces, and keep our boots handy to be used as required. The aborigines, sufficiently protected by their shock hair and thick skulls, go about bareheaded ; with us a broad-brimmed hat is the one

; thing we are very careful not to cast aside. It is a luxury, indeed, to be able to do these things, and forget the bother of studs, solitaires, collars, scarss, wrist-bands. We cast these superfluities aside by degrees, however, and, when a return to Cootharaba imposes upon us the resumption of ordinary clothes, we look with a half-contemptuous, half-pitying expression at our enforced departure from a lofty ideal.

The red-letter day of the camping-out period is not, in the common usage of the word, one of fine weather. Clouds scud across the sky in endless broken hosts; and the bosom of the lake beyond the headland (which makes a bay of the corner upon which we are encamped) is ruffled by a stiff breeze. To forecast the weather in Australia is always a very risky affair; the meteorology of the country, like others of its features, is apt to be independent of the specific rules by which every-day weather prophets work. But our black-boys assure us there will be no rain till night, and, ominous as all the appearances are to our eyes, we act upon the dictum-proof undeniable that we accept it. Our bay is out of the hurly-burly which whitens the wavelets yonder, and we make ready in the lee for a trip to the shore of the Pacific Ocean, a water-passage of some eight miles across the upper end of the large lake. Once or twice we ground, and all hands step overboard in not more than ten inches of water, and drag the gig over the shallow. Knowing that the lake is at no part in this direction more than waist-high, we feel courageous, and sail merrily along. No dishonest person will interfere with the boat and its contents : within a radius of ten miles there is not probably a living soul but ourselves. In confidence, therefore, we secure the painter to a tree, and wade ashore.

A tramp through a weary mile and a half of marshi, where the black slosh is knee-deep, and the reedy grass rank and very suggestive of leeches and other aquatic vermin, brings us to a sandy ridge. Here the aspect of the country entirely changes. The ragged-barked tea-trees, characteristic of the dismal Australian swamp, give place to shrub and tree that please the eye as much as the growths of the swamp repelled it. We have the bright green and picturesque heads of an occasional cypress pine, the blossoming banksia ; and we pass a specimen of the Moreton Bay Ash, token of indifferent land, of little use as timber, but reputed to indicate the presence of water, sometimes at a depth of forty feet. The strange absence of flowers in Australian pastures and forests strikes every visitor. To a flower-loving person it always

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