The Confessions of a Beachcomber by E J Banfield
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears." THOREAU
To the Honourable Robert Philp, M.L.A. "Exact in his life, Extensive in his charity, Exemplary in everything he does," THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY ONE WHO OWES TO HIM MUCH OF HIS LOVE FOR TROPICAL QUEENSLAND.
THE BEACHCOMBER'S DOMAIN OFFICIAL LANDING OUR ISLAND EARLY HISTORY SATELLITES AND NEIGHBOURS PLANS AND PERFORMANCES
BEACHCOMBING TROPICAL INDUSTRIES SOME DIFFRENCES ISLAND FAUNA
BIRDS AND THEIR RIGHTS A CENSUS THE DAYBREAK FUGUE THE MEGAPODE SWAMP PHEASANT "GO-BIDGER-ROO" BULLY, SWAGGERER, SWASHBUCKLER EYES AFLAME THE NESTFUL TREE "STATELY FACE AND MAGNANIMOUS MINDE" WHITE NUTMEG PIGEON FRUIT EATERS AUSTRALIA'S HUMMING BIRD "MOOR-GOODY" THE FLAME-TREE'S VISITORS RED LETTER BIRDS CASUAL AND UNPRECISE
GARDEN OF CORAL QUEER FISH THE WARTY GHOUL "BURRA-REE" FOUR THOUSAND LIKE ONE THE BAILER SHELL A RIVAL TO THE OYSTER SHARKS AND SKIPPERS GORGEOUS AND CURIOUS TURTLE GENERALLY THE MERMAID OF TO-DAY BECHE-DE-MER
THE TYRANNY OF CLOTHES SINGLE-HANDEDNESS A BUTTERFLY REVERIE THE SERPENT BEGUILED ADVENTURE WITH A CROCODILE THE ARAB'S PRECEPT
IN PRAISE OF THE PAPAW THE CONQUERING TREE THE UMBRELLA-TREE THE GENUINE UPAS-TREE THE CREEPING PALM MAUVE, GREEN AND GREY STEALTHY MURDERERS TREE GROG
"THE LORD AND MASTER OF FLIES" A TRAGEDY IN YELLOW COLOUR EFFECTS MUSICAL FROGS ACTS WELL ITS PART GREEN ANT CORDIAL WOOING WITH WINGS THE GREED OF THE SNAKE A SWALLOWING FEAT
STONE AGE FOLKS
PASSING AWAY TURTLE AND SUCKERS A "KUMMAORIE" WEATHER DISTURBERS A DINNER-PARTY BLACK ART A POISONOUS FOOD MESSAGE STICKS HOOKS OF PEARL "WILD" DYNAMITE A CAVERN AND ITS LEGEND A SOULFUL DANCE A SONG WITHOUT WORDS ORIGIN OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS CROCODILE CATCHING SUICIDE BY CROCODILE DISAPPEARANCE OF BLACKS
GRORGE: A MIXED CHARACTER YAB-OO-RAGOO: OTHERWISE "MICKIE" TOM: HIS WIVES: HIS BATTLES "LITTLE JINNY": IN LIFE AND IN DEATH THE LANGUAGE TEST LAST OF THE LINE
ATTRIBUTES AND ANECDOTES COMMON AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS THE "DEBIL-DEBIL" CLOTHING SUPERFLUOUS BROTHER AND SISTER THE RAINBOW SWIMMING FEATS SMOKE SIGNALS THUNDER FACTORY THE ORACLE A REAL LETTER A BLACK DEGENERATE JUMPED AT A CONCLUSION PRIDE OF RACE "YANKEE CHARLEY" MYALL'S BAKING EVERYTHING FOR A NAME THE KNIGHTLY GROWTH HONOUR AND GLORY FIRE JUMP UP SLOP TEETH A FASCINATED BOY AWKWARD CROSS-EXAMINATION THE ONLY ROCK SAW THE JOKE ZEBRA'S VANITY LAURA'S TRAITS ROYAL BLANKETS HIS DAILY BREAD HUMAN NATURE AN APT RETORT MISSIS'S TROUSERS DULL-WITTED STRATEGY LITERAL TRUTH MAGIC THAT DID NOT WORK ANTI-CLIMAX LITTLE FELLA CREEK SAILOR A FATEFUL BARGAIN EXCUSABLE BIAS THE TRIAL SCENE A REFLECTION ON THE HORSE TRIUMPH OF MATTER OVER MIND THE RUSE THAT FAILED THE BIG WORD MICKIE'S VERSION HONOURABLE JOHNNY THE TRANSFORMATION MONEY-MAKING TRICK HONOURABLE CHASTISEMENT "AND YOU TOO" PARADISE
AND THIS OUR LIFE
* * * * *
THE CONFESSIONS OF A BEACHCOMBER
Does the fact that a weak mortal sought an unprofaned sanctuary—an island removed from the haunts of men—and there dwelt in tranquillity, happiness and security, represent any just occasion for the relation of his experiences—experiences necessarily out of the common? To this proposition it will be for these pages to find answer.
Few men of their own free will seek seclusion, for does not man belong to the social vertebrates, and do not the instincts of the many rule? And when an individual is fain to acknowledge himself a variant from the type, and his characteristics or idiosyncrasies (as you will) to be so marked as to impel him to deem them sound and reasonable; when, after sedate and temperate ponderings upon all the aspects of voluntary exile as affecting his lifetime partner as well as himself, he deliberately puts himself out of communion with his fellows, does the experiment constitute him a messenger? Can there be aught of entertainment or instruction in the message he may fancy himself called upon to deliver? or, is the fancy merely another phase of the tyranny of temperament?
We cannot always trust in ourselves and in the boldest of our illusions. There must be trial. Then, if success be achieved and the illusion becomes real and transcendental, and other things and conditions merely "innutritious phantoms," were it not wise, indeed essential, to tell of it all, so that mayhap the illusions of others may be put to the test?
Not that it is good or becoming that many should attempt the part of the Beachcomber. All cannot play it who would. Few can be indifferent to that which men commonly prize. All are not free to test touchy problems with the acid of experience. Besides, there are not enough thoughtful islands to go round. Only for the few are there ideal or even convenient scenes for those who, while perceiving some of the charms of solitude, are at the same time compelled by circumstances ever and anon to administer to their favourite theories resounding smacks, making them jump to the practical necessities of the case.
Here then I come to a point at which frankness is necessary. In these pages there will be an endeavour to refrain from egotism, and yet how may one who lives a lonesome life on an island and who presumes to write its history evade that duty? My chief desire is to set down in plain language the sobrieties of everyday occurrences—the unpretentious homilies of an unpretentious man—one whose mental bent enabled him to take but a superficial view of most of the large, heavy and important aspects of life, but who has found light in things and subjects homely, slight and casual; who perhaps has queer views on the pursuit of happiness, and who above all has an inordinate passion for freedom and fresh air.
Moreover, these chronicles really have to do with the lives of two people—not youthful enthusiasts, but beings who had arrived at an age when many of the minor romances are of the past. Whosoever looks for the relation of sensational adventures, exciting situations, or even humorous predicaments, will assuredly be disappointed. Possibly there may be something to interest those who wish to learn a few of the details of the foundation of a home in tropical Australia; and to understand the conditions of life here, not as they affect the man of independence who seeks to enlarge his fortune, nor the settler who in the sweat of his face has to eat bread, but as they affect one to whom has been given neither poverty nor riches, and who has proved (to his own satisfaction at least) the wisdom of the sage who wrote—"If you wish to increase a man's happiness seek not to increase his possessions, but to decrease his desires." Success will have been achieved if these pages reveal candour and truthfulness, and if thereby proof is given that in North Queensland one "can draw nearer to nature, and though the advantages of civilisation remain unforfeited, to the happy condition of the simple, uncomplicated man!"
In furtherance of the desire that light may shine upon certain phases of the character of the Australian aboriginal, space is allotted in this book to selected anecdotes. Some are original; a few have been previously honoured by print. Others have wandered, unlettered vagrants, so far and wide as to have lost all record of legitimacy. To these houseless strangers I gladly offer hospitality, and acknowledge with thankfulness their cheerful presence.
Grateful acknowledgments are due to Mr F. Manson Bailey, F.L.S., the official botanist of Queensland, for the scientific nomenclature of trees and plants referred to in a general way.
E. J. BANFIELD. BRAMMO BAY, DUNK ISLAND, November, 1906.
THE BEACHCOMBER'S DOMAIN
Two and a half miles off the north-eastern coast of Australia—midway, roughly speaking, between the southern and the northern limits of the Great Barrier Reef, that low rampart of coral which is one of the wonders of the world—is an island bearing the old English name of Dunk.
Other islands and islets are in close proximity, a dozen or so within a radius of as many miles, but this Dunk Island is the chief of its group, the largest in area, the highest in altitude, the nearest the mainland, the fairest, the best. It possesses a well-sheltered haven (herein to be known as Brammo Bay), and three perennially running creeks mark a further splendid distinction. It has a superficial area of over three square miles. Its topography is diversified—hill and valley, forest and jungle, grassy combes and bare rocky shoulders, gloomy pockets and hollows, cliffs and precipices, bold promontories and bluffs, sandy beaches, quiet coves and mangrove flats. A long V-shaped valley opens to the south-east between steep spurs of a double-peaked range. Four satellites stand in attendance, enhancing charms superior to their own.
This island is our home. He who would see the most picturesque portions of the whole of the 2000 miles of the east coast of Australia must pass within a few yards of our domain.
In years gone by, Dunk Island, "Coonanglebah" of the blacks, had an evil repute. Fertile and fruitful, set in the shining sea abounding with dugong, turtle and all manner of fish; girt with rocks rough-cast with oysters; teeming with bird life, and but little more than half an hour's canoe trip from the mainland, the dusky denizens were fat, proud, high-spirited, resentful and treacherous, far from friendly or polite to strangers. One sea-captain was maimed for life in our quiet little bay during a misunderstanding with a hasty black possessed of a new bright tomahawk, a rare prize in those days. This was the most trivial of the many incidents by which the natives expressed their character. Inhospitable acts were common when the white folks first began to pay the island visits, for they found the blacks hostile and daring. Why invoke those long-silent spectres, white as well as black, when all active boorishness is of the past? Civilisation has almost fulfilled its inexorable law; but four out of a considerable population remain, and they remember naught of the bad old times when the humanising processes, or rather the results of them, began to be felt. They must have been a fine race, fine for Australian aboriginals at least, judging by the stamp of two of those who survive; and perhaps that is why they resented interference, and consequently soon began to give way before the irresistible pressure of the whites. Possibly, had they been more docile and placid, the remnants would have been more numerous though less flattering representatives of the race. You shall judge of the type by what is related of some of the habits and customs of the semi-civilised survivors.
Dunk Island is well within the tropical zone, its true bearings being 146 deg. 11 min. 20 sec. E. long., and 17 deg. 55 min. 25 sec. S. lat. It is but 30 miles south of the port of Geraldton, the wettest place in Australia, as well as the centre of the chief sugar-producing district of the State of Queensland. There the rainfall averages about 140 inches per annum. Geraldton has in its immediate background two of the highest mountains in Australia (5,400 feet), and on these the monsoons buffet and break their moisture-laden clouds, affording the district much meteorological fame. Again, 20 miles to the south lies Hinchinbrook Island, 28 miles long, 12 miles broad, and mountainous from end to end: there also the rain-clouds revel. The long and picturesque channel which divides Hinchinbrook from the mainland, and the complicated ranges of mountains away to the west, participate in phenomenal rain.
Opposite Dunk Island the coastal range recedes and is of much lower elevation, and to these facts perhaps is to be attributed our modified rainfall compared with the plethora of the immediate North; but we get our share, and when people deplore the droughts which devastate Australia, let it be remembered that Australia is huge, and the most rigorous of Australian droughts merely partial. This country has never known drought. During the partial drought which ended with 1905, and which occasioned great losses throughout the pastoral tracts of Queensland, grass and herbage here were perennially green and succulent—the creeks never ceased running.
Within the tropics heat is inevitable, but our island enjoys several climatic advantages. The temperature is equable. Blow the wind whithersoever it listeth, and it comes to us cooled by contact with the sea. Here may we drink oft and deep at the never-failing font of pure, soft, beneficent air. We have all the advantages which residence at the happy mean from the Equator bestows, and few of the drawbacks. By its fruits ye shall know the fertility of the soil.
Birds are numerous, from the "scrub fowl" which dwells in the dim jungle and constructs of decaying leaves and wood and light loam the most trustworthy of incubators, and wastes no valuable time in the dead-and-alive duty of sitting, to the tiny sun-bird of yellow and purple, which flits all day among scarlet hibiscus blooms, sips nectar from the flame-tree, and rifles the dull red studs of the umbrella tree of their sweetness.
The stalled ox is not here, nor the fatted calf, nor any of the mere advantages of the table; but there is the varied harvest of the sea, and all the freshness of an isle clean and green. The heat, the clatter, the stuffy odours, the toilsomeness, the fatigue of town life are abandoned; the careless quiet, the calm, the refreshment of the whole air, the tonic of the wide sea are gained. From the moment the sun illumines our hills and isles with glowing yellow until it drops in fiery splendour suddenly out of sight leaving a band of gleaming red above the purple western range, and a rippling red path across to Australia, the whole realm of nature seems ours to command.
Dunk Island was not selected haphazard as an abiding place. By camping-out expeditions and the cautious gleaning of facts from those who had the repute of knowing the country, useful information had been acquired unobtrusively. We were determined to have the best obtainable isle. More than one locality was favourably considered ere good fortune decided to send us hither to spy out the land. A camp-out on the shore of then unnamed Brammo Bay—a holiday-making party—and the result of the first day's exploration decided a revolutionary change in the lives of two seriously-minded persons. A year after, a lease of the best portion of the island having been obtained in the meanwhile, we came for good.
Wholly uninhabited, entirely free from traces of the mauling paws of humanity, lovely in its mantle of varied foliage, what better sphere for the exercise of benign autocracy could be desired? Here was virgin country, 20 miles from the nearest port—sad and neglected Cardwell cut off from the mainland by more than 2 miles of estranging ocean, and yet lying in the track of small coastal steamers—here all our pet theories might serenely develop.
But it was an inauspicious landing. With September begin the north-east winds, and we had an average experience that afternoon. Was it not a farce—a great deal more than a farce: a saucy, flippant imposition on the tender mercies of Providence—for an individual who could not endure a few hours of tossing on the bosom of the ocean without becoming deadly sick, to imagine that he possessed the hardihood to establish a home even in this lovely wilderness? We had tents and equipment and a boat of our own, a workman to help us at the start, and two faithful black servants.
The year before, we had made the acquaintance of one of the few survivors of the native population of the island—stalwart Tom. Although our project and preparations had been kept fairly secret, he had overheard a casual reference to them; had made a canoe, and paddling from island to island with his gin, an infant and mother-in-law, had preceded our advent by a week. His duties began with the discharging of the first boatload of portable property. He comes and goes now after the lapse of years.
They spread out tents and rugs for the weak mortal who had greatly dared, but who, thus early, was ready to faint from weariness and sickness. They made comforting and soothing drinks, and spoke of cheery things in cheery tones; but the sick man refused to be comforted. He wished himself back, a participator in the conflicts of civilisation, and was fain to cover his face—there was no wall to which to turn—and fancy that the most dismal sound in the universe was the surly monotone the north-easter harped on the beach. We reposed that night among the camp equipment, the sick man caring for naught in his physical collapse and disconsolation.
But the first morning of the new life! A perfect combination of invigorating elements. The cloudless sky, the clear air, the shining sea, the green folded slopes of Tam o' Shanter Point opposite, the cleanliness of the sand, the sweet odours from the eucalypts and the dew-laden grass, the luminous purple of the islands to the south-east; the range of mountains to the west and north-west, and our own fair tract-awaiting and inviting, and all the mystery of petted illusions about to be solved! Physic was never so eagerly swallowed nor wrought a speedier or surer cure.
Feebleness and dismay vanished with the first plunge into the still sleepy sea, and alertness and vigour returned, as the incense of the first morning's sacrifice went straight as a column to the sky.
Over half a century before, Edmund B. Kennedy, the explorer, landed on the opposite shore, on his ill-fated expedition up Cape York, to find the country inland from Tam o' Shanter Point altogether different from any previously-examined part of Australia. We gave no thought to the gallant explorer, near as we were to the scenes of his desperate struggle in the entanglements of the jungle.
The island was all before us, where to choose our place of rest, and the bustle of the transport of goods and chattels to the site in the thick forest invisible from the sea began at once. Before sunset, tents were pitched among the trees, and a few yards of bush surrounding then cleared, and we were at home.
Prior to departing from civilisation we had arranged for the construction of a hut of cedar, so contrived with nicely adjusting parts and bolts, and all its members numbered, that a mere amateur could put it together. If at the end of six months' trial the life was found to be unendurable, or serious objection not dreamt of in our salad philosophy became apparent, then our dwelling could be packed up again. All would not be lost.
The clearing of a sufficient space for the accommodation of the hut was no light task for unaccustomed hands, for the bloodwood trees were mighty and tough, and the dubious work of burning up the trunks and branches while yet green, in our eagerness for free air and tidiness, was undertaken. It was also accomplished.
For several weeks there was little done save to build a kitchen and shed and widen the clearing in the forest. Inspection of the details of our domain was reserved as a sort of reward for present task and toil. According to the formula neatly printed in official journals, the building of a slab hut is absurdly easy—quite a pastime for the settler eager to get a roof of bark or thatch over his head. The frame, of course, goes up without assistance, and then the principal item is the slabs for walls. When you have fallen your tree and sawn off a block of the required length, you have only to split off the slab. Ah! but suppose the timber does not split freely, and your heavy maul does; and the wedges instead of entering have the habit of bouncing out as if they were fitted with internal springs, and your maul wants renewal several times, until you find that the timber prescribed is of no account for such tools; and at best your slabs run off to nothing at half length, and several trees have to be cut down before you get a single decent slab, and everybody is peevish with weariness and disappointment, the rudest house in the bush will be a long time in the building. "Experience is a hard mistress, yet she teacheth as none other." We came to be more indebted to the hard mistress—she gave us blistering palms and aching muscles—than to all the directions and prescriptions of men who claim to have climbed to the top of the tree in the profession of the "bush." A "bush" carpenter is a very admirable person, when he is not also a bush lawyer. Mere amateurs would be wise if they held their enthusiasm in check when they read the recipe—pat as the recipe for the making of a rice-pudding—for the construction of even a bark hut. It is so very easy to write it all down; but if you have had no actual experience in bark-cutting, and your trees are not in the right condition, you will put your elation to a shockingly severe test, harden the epidermis of your hands, and the whole of your heart, and go to bed many nights sadly ere you get one decent sheet for your roof.
We do not all belong to the ancient and honourable family of the Swiss Robinsons, who performed a series of unassuming miracles on their island. There was no practical dispensation of providential favours on our behalf. Trees that had the reputation of providing splendid splitting timber defiantly slandered themselves, and others that should have almost flayed themselves at the first tap of the tomahawk had not the slightest regard for the reputation vouched for in serious publications.
But why "burden our remembrance with a heaviness that's gone?" Why recall the memory of those acheful days, when all the pleasant and restful features of the island are uncatalogued? Before the rains began we had comfortable if circumscribed shelter. Does not that suffice? Our dwelling consisted of one room and a kitchen. Perforce the greater part of our time was spent out of doors. Isolation kept us moderately free from visitors. Those who did violate our seclusion had to put up with the consequences. We had purchased liberty. Large liberties are the birthright of the English. We had acquired most of the small liberties, and the ransom paid was the abandonment of many things hitherto deemed to form an integral part of existence.
Had we not cast aside all traditions, revolting from the uniformity of life, from the rules of the bush as well as from the conventionalities of society? Here we were to indulge our caprices, work out our own salvation, live in accordance with our own primitive notions, and, if possible, find pleasure in haunts which it is not popularly supposed to frequent.
Others may point to higher ideals and tell of exciting experiences, of success achieved, and glory and honour won. Ours not to envy superior qualifications and victories which call for strife and struggle, but to submit ourselves joyfully to the charms of the "simple life."
"Awake, O North Wind, and come, thou South, Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out."
Our Island! What was it when we came into possession? From the sea, merely a range displaying the varied leafage of jungle and forest. A steep headland springing from a ledge of rock on the north, and a broad, embayed-based flat converging into an obtruding sand-spit to the west, enclose a bay scarcely half a mile from one horn to the other, the sheet of water almost a perfect crescent, with the rocky islet of Purtaboi, plumed with trees, to indicate the circumference of a circle. Trees come to the water's edge from the abutment of the bold eminence. Dome-shaped shrubs of glossy green (native cabbage—SCAEVOLA KOENIGII), with groups of pandanus palms bearing massive orange-coloured fruits; and here and there graceful umbrella trees, with deep-red decorations, hibiscus bushes hung with yellow funnells, and a thin line of ever-sighing beech oaks (CASUARINA) fringe the clean untrodden sand. Behind is the vistaless forest of the flat.
Run the boat on the sand at high-water, and the first step is planted in primitive bush—fragrant, clean and undefiled. An empty jam tin or a broken bottle, spoors of the rude hoofs of civilisation, you might search for in vain. As difficult would it be to find either as a fellow to the nugget of gold which legend tells was used by a naked black as a sinker when he fished with hook of pearl shell out there on the edge of the coral reef,
One superficial feature of our domain is distinct and peculiar, giving to it an admirable character. From the landing-place—rather more up towards the north-east cusp than the exact middle of the crescent bay—extends a flat of black sand on which grows a dense bush of wattles, cockatoo apple-trees, pandanus palms, Moreton Bay ash and other eucalypts, and the shapely melaleuca. This flat, here about 150 yards in breadth, ends abruptly at a steep bank which gives access to a plateau 60 feet above sea-level. The regularity of the outline of this bank is remarkable. Running in a more or less correct curve for a mile and a half, it indicates a clear-cut difference between the flat and the plateau. The toe of the bank rests upon sand, while the plateau is of chocolate-coloured soil intermixed on the surface with flakes of slate; and from this sure foundation springs the backbone of the island. On the flat, the plateau, and the hillsides, the forest consists of similar trees—alike in age and character for all the difference in soil—the one tree that does not leave the flat being the tea or melaleuca. In some places the jungle comes down to the water's edge, the long antennae of the lawyer vine toying with the rod-like aerial roots of the mangrove.
The plateau is the park of the island, half a mile broad, and a mile and more long. Upon it grows the best of the bloodwoods (EUCALYPTUS CORYNBOSA), the red stringy bark (E. ROBUSTA), Moreton Bay ash (E. TESSALARIS), various wattles, the gin-gee of the blacks (DIPLANTHERA TETRAPHYLLA). PANDANUS AQUATICUS marks the courses and curves of some of the gullies. A creek, hidden in a broad ribbon of jungle and running from a ravine in the range to the sea, divides our park in fairly equal portions.
Most part of the range is heavily draped with jungle—that is, on the western aspect. Just above the splash of the Pacific surges on the weather or eastern side, low-growing scrub and restricted areas of forest, with expansive patches of jungle, plentifully intermixed with palms and bananas, creep up the precipitous ascent to the summit of the range—870 feet above the sea. So steep is the Pacific slope that, standing on the top of the ridge and looking down, you catch mosaic gleams of the sea among the brown and grey tree-trunks. But for the prodigality of the vegetation, one slide might take you from the cool mountain-top to the cooler sea. The highest peak, which presents a buttressed face to the north, and overlooks our peaceful bay, is crowned with a forest of bloodwoods, upon which the jungle steadily encroaches. The swaying fronds of aspiring palms, adorned in due season with masses of straw-coloured inflorescence, to be succeeded by loose bunches of red, bead-like berries, shoot out from the pall of leafage. In the gloomy gullies are slender-shafted palms and tree-ferns, while ferns and mosses cover the soil with living tapestry, and strange, snake-like epiphytes cling in sinuous curves to the larger trees. The trail of the lawyer vine (CALAMUS OBSTRUENS), with its leaf sheath and long tentacles bristling with incurved hooks, is over it all. Huge cables of vines trail from tree to tree, hanging in loops and knots and festoons, the largest (ENTADA SCANDENS) bearing pods 4 feet long and 4 inches broad, containing a dozen or so brown hard beans used for match-boxes. Along the edge of the jungle, the climbing fern (LYNGODIUM) grows in tangled masses sending its slender wire-like lengths up among the trees—the most attractive of all the ferns, and glorified by some with the title of "the Fern of God," so surpassing its grace and beauty.
September is the prime month of the year in tropical Queensland. Many of the trees are then in blossom and most of the orchids. Nocturnal showers occur fairly regularly in normal seasons, and every sort of vegetable is rampant with the lust of life. It was September when our isolation began. And what a plenteous realisation it all was that the artificial emotions of the town had been, haply, abandoned! The blood tingled with keen appreciation of the crispness, the cleanliness of the air. We had won disregard of all the bother and contradictions, the vanities and absurdities of the toilful, wayward, human world, and had acquired a glorious sense of irresponsibleness and independence.
This—this was our life we were beginning to live—our very own life; not life hampered and restricted by the wills, wishes and whims of others; unencumbered by the domineering wisdom, unembarrassed by the formal courtesies of the crowd.
September and the gin-gee, the quaint, grey-barked, soft-wooded tree with broad, rough, sage-green leaves, and florets massed in clumps to resemble sunflowers, was in all its pride, attracting relays of honey-imbibing birds during the day, and at night dozens of squeaking flying-foxes. Within a few yards of high-water stands a flame-tree (ERYTHRINA INDICA) the "bingum" of the blacks. Devoid of leaves in this leafy month, the bingum arrays itself in a robe of royal red. All birds and manner of birds, and butterflies and bees and beetles, which have regard for colour and sweetness come hither to feast. Sulphur-crested cockatoos sail down upon the red raiment of the tree, and tear from it shreds until all the grass is ruddy with refuse, and their snowy breasts stained as though their feast was of blood instead of colourless nectar. For many days here is a scene of a perpetual banquet—a noisy, cheerful, frolicsome revel. Cockatoos scream with excitement and gladness; honey-eaters whistle and call; drongos chatter and scold the rest of the banqueters; the tiny sun-bird twitters feeble protests; bees and beetles maintain a murmurous soothful sound, a drowsy blending of hum and buzz from the rising of the sun until the going down thereof.
The dark compactness of the jungle, the steadfast but disorderly array of the forest, the blotches of verdant grass, the fringe of yellow-flowered hibiscus and the sapful native cabbage, give way in turn to the greys and yellows of the sand in alternate bands. The slowly-heaving sea trailing the narrowest flounce of lace on the beach, the dainty form of Purtaboi, and the varying tones of great Australia beyond combine to complete the scene, and to confirm the thought that here is the ideal spot, the freest spot, the spot where dreams may harden into realities, where unvexed peace may smile.
There is naught to remind of the foetidness, the blare and glare of the streets. None of
"The weariness, the fever and the fret, There, where men sit and hear each other groan."
You may follow up the creeks until they become miniature ravines, or broaden out into pockets with precipitous sides, where twilight reigns perpetually, and where sweet soft gases are generated by innumerable plants, and distilled from the warm moist soil. How grateful and revivifying! Among the half-lit crowded groves might not another Medea gather enchanted herbs such as "did renew old Aeson."
Past the rocky horn of Brammo Bay, another crescent indents the base of the hill. Exposed to the north-east breeze, the turmoil of innumerable gales has torn tons upon tons of coral from the out-lying reef, and cast up the debris, with tinkling chips and fragments of shells, on the sand for the sun and the tepid rains to bleach into dazzling whiteness. The coral drift has swept up among the dull grey rocks and made a ridge beneath the pendant branches of the trees, as if to establish a contrast between the sombre tints of the jungle and the blueness of the sea. Midway along the curve of vegetation a bingum flaunts its mantle—a single daub of demonstrative colouring. Away to the north stand out the Barnard Islands, and the island-like headland of Double-Point.
Rocky walls and ledges intersected by narrow clefts in which the sea boils, gigantic masses of detached granite split and weathered into strange shapes and corniced and bridged at high water-mark by oysters, bold escarpments and medleys of huge boulders, extend along the weather side. No landing, except in the calmest weather, is possible. To gain a sandy beach, the south-east end of the island, passing through a deep channel separating the rocky islet of Wooln-garin, must be turned. Although there are no great cliffs, no awesome precipices on the weather side, the bluff rocks present many grotesque features, and the foliage is for the most part wildly luxuriant.
From what has been already said, it may be gleaned that in the opinion of the most interested person the island is gilt-edged. So indeed it is, in fact, when certain natural conditions consequent on the presence of coral are fulfilled. A phenomenally high tide deposited upon the rocks a slimy, fragile organism of the sea, in incomprehensible myriads which, drying, adhered smoothly in true alignment. With the sun at the proper angle there appeared, as far as the irregularity of the coast line permitted, a shining band, broken only where the face of the rock was uneven and detached—a zone of gold bestowed upon the island by the amorous sea. But on the beach the slime which transformed the grey and brown rocks was nothing but an inconsistent, dirty, grey-green, crisp, ill-smelling streak, that haply vanished in a couple of days. As I see less of the weather side than I do of the beach, I argue to myself that it is nearer perfection to be minus a streak of dirt than plus a golden edge.
At no season of the year is the island fragrantless. The prevailing perception may be of lush grasses mingled with the soft odour of their frail flowers; or the resin and honey of blossoming bloodwoods; or the essence from myriads of other eucalyptus leaves massaged by the winds. The incomparable beach-loving calophyllums yield a profuse but tender fragrance reminiscent of English meadow-sweet, and the flowers of a vigorous trailer (CANAVILA OBTUSIFOLIA), for ever exploring the bare sand at high-water mark, resembles the sweet-pea in form and perfume. The white cedar (MELIA COMPOSITA) is a welcome and not unworthy substitute in appearance and perfume for English lilac. The aromatic pandanus and many varieties of acacia, each has its appointed time and season; while at odd intervals the air is saturated with the rich and far-spreading incense of the melaleuca, and for many weeks together with the honeyed excellence of the swamp mahogany (TRISTANIA SUAVOSLENS) and the over-rich cloyness of the cockatoo apple (CAREYA AUSTRALIS). Strong and spicy are the odours of the plants and trees that gather on the edge of and crowd in the jungle, the so-called native ginger, nutmeg, quandong, milkwood, bean-tree, the kirri-cue of the blacks (EUPOMATIA LAURINA), koie-yan (FARADAYA SPLENDIDA), with its great white flowers and snowy fruit, and many others. Hoya, heavy and indolent, trails across and dangles from the rocks; the river mangrove dispenses its sweetness in an unexpected locality; and from the heart of the jungle come wafts of warm breath, which, mingling with exhalation from foliage and flower, is diffused broadcast. The odour of the jungle is definite—earthy somewhat, but of earth clean, wholesome and moist—the smell of moss, fern and fungus blended with balsam, spice and sweetness.
Many a time, home-returning at night—when the black contours of the island loomed up in the distance against the pure tropic sky tremulous with myriads of unsullied stars—has its tepid fragrance drifted across the water as a salutation and a greeting. It has long been a fancy of mine that the island has a distinctive odour, soft and pliant, rich and vigorous. Other mixtures of forest and jungle may smell as strong, but none has the rare blend which I recognise and gloat over whensoever, after infrequent absences for a day or two, I return to accept of it in grateful sniffs. In such a fervid and encouraging clime distillation is continuous and prodigious. Heat and moisture and a plethora of raw material, leaves, flowers, soft, sappy and fragrant woods, growing grass and moist earth, these are the essential elements for the manufacture of ethereal and soul-soothing odours suggestive of tangible flavours.
I know of but one particular plant that is absolutely repellent. Its large flowers are of vivid gold, pure and refined; the unmixed odour is obscene. A creeper of the jungle bears small yellow flowers (slightly resembling those of the mango, save that they are produced in frail loose cymes instead of on vigorous panicles), the excessive sweetness of which approaches nauseousness. But its essence mingles with the rest, and the compound is singularly rich and acceptable.
On sandy stretches and along the deltas of the creeks are fragrant, gigantic "spider lilies" (CRINIUM). I do not pretend to catalogue botanically all the plants that contribute to the specific odour of the island. I cannot address them individually in scientific phraseology, though with all I am on terms of easy familiarity, the outcome of seasoned admiration. They please by the form and colour of their blossoms, and ring ever-recurring and timeful changes, so that month by month we enjoy the progress of the perfumes, the blending of some, the individual excellence of others. In endeavouring to convey to the unelect an impression of their variety and acceptableness, am I not but discharging a debt of gratitude?
As far as I am aware, but four or five epiphytal orchids add to the scents of the island; and as they have not Christian names, their pagan titles must suffice—CYMBIDIUM SUAVE, ERIA FITZALANI, BULBOPHYLLUM BAILEYI, DENDROBIUM TERETIFOLIUM and D. UNDULATUM. The latter is not commonly credited with perfume; but when it grows in great unmolested masses its contribution is pleasant, if not very decided. The pretty terrestrial orchid (CYRTOSTYLIS RENIFORMIS) is delicately fragrant, but the great showy PHAIUS GRANDIFOLIUS (the tropical foxglove) and the meek GEODORUM PICTUM (Queensland's lily of the valley) are denied the gift.
The forest, the jungle, the grassy spots, the hot rocks (with hoya and orchids), and even the sands, with the native sweet-pea, are fragrant. A lowly creeping plant (VITEX TRIFOLIA), with small spikes of lavender-coloured flowers, and grey-green silvery leaves, mingles with the coarse grasses of the sandy flats, and usurping broad areas forms an aromatic carpet from which every footstep expresses a homely pungency as of marjoram and sage. The odour of the island may be specific, and therefore to be prized, yet it gladdens also because it awakens happy and all too fleeting reminiscences. English fields and hedges cannot be forgotten when one of our trees diffuses the scent of meadow-sweet, and one of the orchids that of hawthorn. "Scent and silence" is the phrase which expresses the individuality of our island, and better "scented silence" than all the noisy odours of the town.
However showy the flora of the island, the existence of kindly fruits must be deplored. Immense quantities, alluring in colour and form, are produced; but not a single variety of real excellence. The raspberries (two kinds) have but little flavour; the native "Cape gooseberry" (PHYSALIS MIMIS), which appears like magic when the jungle is felled and burnt off, is regarded with hostility, though unworthily, even by the blacks; the" wild" grapes are sour and fiery, and among the many figs only two or three are pleasant, and but one good. "Bedyewrie" (XIMENIA AMERICANA) has a sweetish flavour, with a speedy after-taste of bitter almonds, and generally refreshing and thirst-allaying qualities; the shiny blue quandong (ELAEOCARPUS GRANDIS), misleading and insipid; the Herbert River cherry (ANTIDESMA DALLACHYANUM), agreeable certainly, but not high class; the finger cherry "Pool-boo-nong" of the blacks (RHODOMYRTUS MACROCARPA), possesses the flavour of the cherry guava, but has a most evil reputation. Some assert that this fruit is subject to a certain disease (a kind of vegetable smallpox), and that if eaten when so affected is liable to induce paralysis of the optic nerves and cause blindness and even death. Blacks, however, partake of the fruit unrestrictedly and declare it good, on the authority of tradition as well as by present appreciation. They do not pay the slightest respect to the injurious repute current among some white folks. Perhaps some trick of constitution or some singularity of the nervous system renders them immune to the poison, as the orange pigment said to reside in their epidermis protects them from the actinic rays of the sun. Does not Darwin assert that while white sheep and pigs are upset by certain plants dark-coloured individuals escape. At any rate blacks are not affected by the fruit, though large consumers of it, and many whites also eat of it raw and preserved, without fear and without untoward effects. Some of the Eugenias produce passable fruits, and one of the palms (CARYOTA) bears huge bunches of yellow dates, the attractiveness of which lies solely in appearance.
Quite a long list of pretty fruits might be compiled, and yet not more than half a dozen are edible, and only half that number nice. The majority are bitter and acrid, some merely insipid, and of the various nuts not one is satisfactory.
Why all this profuse vegetation and the anomaly of tempting fruits and nuts cram-full of meat and yet no real food—that is, food for man? Is it that man was an after-thought of Nature, or did Nature fulfil herself in his splendid purpose and capacities? She supplies abundantly food convenient for birds and other animals lower in the scale of life, but man is left to master his fate. Even when uncivilised he is called upon to exercise more or less wit before he may eat, and the higher his grade the more stress upon his intelligence.
When one contemplates the unpromising origin of the apple of today, and the rich assortment of fruits here higher in the scale of progression than it, imagination delights to dwell upon the wonders which await the skill of a horticultural genius. The crude beginnings of scores of pomological novelties are flaunted on every side. The patient man has to come.
To that grand old mariner, Captain Cook, belongs the honour of the discovery of the island. The names that he bestowed—judicious and expressive—are among the most precious historic possessions of Australia. They remind us that Cook formed the official bond between Britain and this great Southern land, and bear witness to the splendid feats of quiet heroism that he performed, the privations that he and his ship's company endured, and the patience and perseverance with which difficulties were faced and overcome.
In his journal, on 8th June 1770, Cook writes—"At noon we were by observation in the lat. of 17 degrees 59 minutes and abreast of the N. point of Rockingham Bay which bore from us N. 2 miles. This boundary of the Bay is formed by a tolerable high island known in the chart by the name of Dunk Isle; it lay so near the shore as not to be distinguished from it unless you are well in with the land... At this time we were in the long. of 213 degrees 57 minutes, Cape Sandwich bore S. by E. 1/2 E. distant 19 miles, and the northernmost land in sight N. 1/2 W. Our depth of water in the course of this one day's sail was not more than 16 nor less than 17 fathoms."
In those history-making days the First Lord of the Admiralty was George Montagu Dunk, First Earl of Sandwich, Second Baron and First Earl of Halifax, and Captain Cook took several opportunities of preserving his patron's name. Halifax Bay (immediately to the north of Cleveland Bay) perpetuates the title; "Mount" Hinchinbrook (from his course Cook could not see the channel and did not realise that he was bestowing a name upon an island) commemorates the family seat of the Montagus; Cape Sandwich (the north-east point of Hinchinbrook) the older title, and Dunk Isle the family name of the distinguished friend of the great discoverer of lands.
From this remote and unheard of spot may, accordingly, be traced association with a contemporary of Robert Walpole, of Pitt and Fox, of Edmund Burke, of John Wilkes (of the NORTH BRITON), of the author of THE LETTERS OF JUNIUS and of JOHN GILPIN, and many others of credit and renown. The First Earl Sandwich of Hinchinbrook was the "my lord" of the gossiping Pepys. Through him Dunk Island possesses another strand in the bond with the immortals, and is ensured connection with remote posterity. He gambled so passionately that he invented as a means of hasty refreshment the immemorial "sandwich," that the fascination of basset, ombre or quadrille should not be dispelled by the intrusion of a meal. He, too, was the owner of Montagu House, behind which "every morning saw steel glitter and blood flow," for the age was that of the duellist as well as the gambler.
Rockingham Bay was so named in honour of the marquis of that title, the wise Whig premier who held that while the British Parliament had an undoubted right to tax the American colonies, the notorious Stamp Act was unjust and impolitic, "sterile of revenue, and fertile of discontent!"
Cook and his day and generation passed, and then for many years history is silent respecting Dunk Island. The original inhabitants remained in undisturbed possession; nor do they seem to have had more than one passing visitor until Lieutenant Jeffereys, of the armed transport Kangaroo, on his passage from Sydney to Ceylon in 1815, communicated with the natives on then unnamed Goold Island. Captain Philip P. King, afterwards Rear-Admiral, who made in the cutter MERMAID a running survey of these coasts between the year 1818 and 1822, and who was the first to indicate that "Mount" Hinchinbrook was probably separated from the mainland, arrived in Rockingham Bay on the 19th June 1818. He named and landed on Goold Island, and sailing north on the 21st, anchored off Timana, where he went ashore. "Dunk Island," he writes, "a little to the northward, is larger and higher, and remarkable for its double-peaked summit."
Those natives who are versed in the ancient history of the island, tell of the time when all were amazed by the appearance of bags of flour, boxes of tobacco, and cases of goods drifting ashore. None at the time knew what flour was; only one boy had previously smoked, and the goods were too mysterious to be tested. Many tried to eat flour direct from the bag. The individual who had acquired the reputation of a smoker made himself so sick that none other had the courage to imitate him, and the tobacco and goods were thrown about playfully. In after years the inhabitants were fond of relating how they had humbugged themselves.
The next ensuing official reference of particular interest is contained in the narrative of the voyage of H.M.S. RATTLESNAKE, by John Macgillivray, F.R.G.S., naturalist of the expedition. The date is 26th May 1848, and an extract reads—"During the forenoon the ship was moved over to an anchorage under the lee (north-west side) of Dunk Island, where we remained for ten days. The summit of a very small rocky island, near the anchorage, named, by Captain Owen Stanley, Mound Islet (Purtaboi), formed the first station. Dunk Island, eight or nine miles in circumference, is well wooded; it has two conspicuous peaks, one of which (the north-west one) is 857 feet in height. Our excursions were confined to the vicinity of the watering-place and the bay in which it is situated. The shores are rocky on one side and sandy on the other, where a low point runs out to the westward. At their junction, and under the sloping hill with large patches of bush, a small stream of fresh water, running out over the beach, furnished a supply for the ship, although the boats could approach the place closely only at high-water. Among the most interesting objects of natural history are two birds, one a new and handsome fly-catcher (MONARCHA LEUCOTIS), the other a swallow, which Mr Goold informs me is also an Indian species. Great numbers of butterflies frequent the neighbourhood of the watering-place; one of these (PAPILIO URVILLIANUS) is of great size, and splendour, with dark purple wings, broadly margined with ultramarine, but from its habit of flying high among the trees I did not succeed in catching one. An enormous spider, beautifully variegated with black and gold, is plentiful in the woods, watching for its prey in the centre of a large net stretched horizontally between the trees. The seine was frequently hauled upon the beach with great success. One evening through its means, in addition to plenty of fish, no less than five kinds of star-fishes and twelve of crustacea, several of which are quite new, were brought ashore. Among the plants of the island the most important is a wild species of plantain or banana, afterwards found to range along the north-east coast and its islands, as far as Cape York. Here I saw for the first time a species of Sciadophyllum (BRASSAIA ACTINOPHYLLA, the umbrella-tree) one of the most singular trees of the eastern coast-line of tropical Australia; a slender stem, about thirty feet in height, gives off a few branches with immense digitate dark and glossy leaves, and long spike-like racemes of small scarlet flowers, a great resort for insects and insect-feeding birds. Soon after the ship had come to an anchor, some of the natives came off in their canoes and paid us a visit, bringing with them a quantity of shell-fish (SANGUINOLARIA RUGOSA), which they eagerly exchanged for biscuit. For a few days afterwards we occasionally met them on the beach, but at length they disappeared altogether, in consequence of having been fired at with shot by one of two 'young gentlemen' of the BRAMBLE on a shooting excursion, whom they wished to prevent approaching too closely a small village where they had their wives and children. Immediate steps were taken in consequence to prevent the recurrence of such collisions when thoughtless curiosity on one side is apt to be promptly resented on the other if numerically superior in force... The men had large cicatrices on the shoulders and across the breast and belly, the septum of the nose was perforated, and none of the teeth had been removed. I saw no weapons, and some rude armlets were their only ornaments."
Tam o' Shanter Point derives its title from the barque of that name, in which the members of the Kennedy Exploring Expedition voyaged from Sydney, whence they disembarked on 24th and 25th May 1848. H.M.S. RATTLESNAKE had been commissioned to lend Kennedy assistance, and Macgillivray relates that everything belonging to the party (with the exception of one horse drowned while swimming ashore) was safely landed. The first camp was formed on some open forest-land behind the beach at a small fresh-water creek. On the 27th Mr Carson, the botanist of the party, commenced digging a piece of ground, in which he sowed seeds of cabbages, turnips, leek, pumpkin, rock and water melons, pomegranate, peach-stones and apple-pips. No trace of this first venture in gardening in North Queensland is now discernible. No doubt, inquisitive and curious blacks would rummage the freshly turned soil as soon as the back of the good-natured gardener was turned. It occurred to me that possibly the pomegranate seeds might have germinated, and the plants become established and acclimatised, but search proved resultless. Carson makes no reference to the coco-nut palm which once flourished at the mouth of the creek. The inference is that the nut whence it sprang drifted ashore after his attempt to civilise the vicinity by the planting of seeds. Dalrymple refers to the tree which, at the date of his visit (September 1873), was "about fourteen feet in height, but without fruit!" It grew to a great tree, and blacks found in the fruit a refreshing, nutritious food; but an evil thing came along one day in the shape of a thirsty Chinaman, and as he could not climb the tree he cut it down, and blacks, even to this day, hate the name of Chinaman. Opposite the Point is the Island of Timana, known to some as "the Island on which the Chinaman was killed!" Whether "the Chinaman" was the person who cut down the coco-nut palm is not known, but somehow his fate and that of the palm have become associated.
The only traces of the expedition of half a century ago are marks upon trees at the mouth of the Hull River—2 miles to the south, at the spot which it appears to have crossed. The object of Kennedy's expedition was to explore the country to the eastward of the dividing range running along the north-east coast of Australia. Difficulties assailed them at the outset, as many weeks passed before they got clear of Rockingham Bay, its rivers, swamps, and dense scrubs fenced in by a mountain chain. The cart was abandoned on July 18th and the horses were packed. An axle and other ironwork of a cart was found many years ago in the neighbourhood of the upper Murray River. As the axle was slotted for the old style of linchpins, no reasonable doubt exists as to its identity, and its discovery affords collateral proof of a statement published in Mr Dalrymple's official report—"It is noteworthy that several gins of the Rockingham Bay tribe now in service in private families, and with the native police are unanimous in their statements that an elderly white man is still resident amongst them, and they associate his capture with 'white fellow leave him wheel-barrow along a scrub.' Kennedy abandoned his horse-cart in the scrub of the Rockingham Bay Range before these gins were born!" Kennedy's expedition was a disastrous failure. The brave leader was killed by the blacks far up Cape York Peninsula while he was heroically pushing on to obtain succour for his famishing and weary followers. Three only were subsequently rescued. All this has, perhaps, little to do with Dunk Island: but the scene is so close at hand that the temptation to include a slight reference to one of the most sensational and romantic episodes in the exploration of Australia could not be resisted.
Twenty-five years lapsed, and then another official landing took place. In the meantime the island had been frequently visited, but there are no records, until the 29th September 1873, when the "Queensland North-East Coast Expedition," under the leadership of Mr G. Elphinstone Dalrymple, F.R.G.S., landed. Three members of the party have left pleasing testimonies of their first impressions, and I turn to the remarks of the leader for geological definitions. He says—"The formation of Dunk Island is clay slates and micaceous schist. A level stratum of a soft, greasy, and very red decomposing granitic clay was exposed along the southwest tide-flats, and quartz veins and blue slates were found on the same side of the island further in!" The huge granite boulders on the south-east aspect and the granite escarpments on the shoulders of the hills above did not apparently attract attention.
One feature then existent has also disappeared. The explorers referred to the belt of magnificent calophyllum trees along the margin of the south-west beach, and Mr Dalrymple thus describes a vegetable wonder— "Some large fig-trees sent out great lateral roots, large as their own trunks, fifty feet into salt water; an anchor-root extending perpendicularly at the extremity to support them. Thence they have sent up another tree as large as the parent stem, at high-water presenting the peculiarity of twin-trees, on shore and in the sea, connected by a rustic root bridge." These trees have no place or part now.
My chronicles are fated to be tinged with the ashen hue of the commonplace, though the scenes they attempt to depict are all of the sun-blessed tropics.
SATELLITES AND NEIGHBOURS
Consultation of the map will show that Dunk Island has four satellites and seven near relations. Though not formally included in the Family Group it stands as sponsor to all its members, and overlords the islets within a few yards of its superior shores. The official chart has been revised,
Only a few examples of current titles are given, as the crowding in of the full list would have obscured the map in a maze of words. Many of the geographical titles of the blacks are without meaning, being used merely to indicate a locality. Others were bestowed because of the presence of a particular tree or plant or a remarkable rock. Some few commemorate incidents. Two places on Dunk Island perpetuate the names of females. The coast-line is so varied that specific names for localities a few hundred yards apart hardly seem necessary; but the original inhabitants, frugal of their speech, found it less trouble to strew names thickly than to enter into explanations one to another when relating the direction and extent which the adventures and the sport of the day led them. Few names for any part of the island away from the beach seem to have existed, although the site of camps along the edge of the jungle, and even in gullies as remote as may be from the sea, are even now apparent. Camps were not honoured by titles, but all the creeks and watercourses and other places where water was obtainable were so invariably, and camps were generally, though not always, made near water.
Brief reference to each of the satellites and neighbours of Dunk Island may not be out of place; if only to preserve distinctions which were current long before the advent of white folks, and to make clear remarks in future pages upon the different features of the domain over which the Beachcomber exercises jurisdiction. Not to many men is permitted the privilege of choosing for his day's excursion from among so many beautiful spots, certain in the knowledge that to whichsoever he may elect to flutter his handkerchief is reserved for his delight; certain that the sands will be free from the traces of any other human being; certain that no sound save those of nature will break in upon his musings and meditations.
Purtaboi, the first and the nearest of the satellites, lies three-quarters of a mile from the middle of the sweep of Brammo Bay—always in view through the tracery of the melaleuca trees. Mung-um-gnackum and Kumboola, to the south-west, are linked at low-water spring tides to Dunk Island and to each other; and Wooln-garin, to the south-east, is separated from the rocky cliffs and ledges of the island by 300 yards of deep and swiftly-flowing water.
Purtaboi—dainty and unique—its hill crowned with low-growing trees and shrubs, a ruddy precipice, groups of pandanus palms, beach lined with casuarinas, banks of snow-white coral debris, ridge of sharped-edged rocks jutting out to the north-western cove and out-lying reef of coral, tangle of orchids and scrub all in miniature—save the orchids—gigantic and gross and profuse of old-gold bloom. In October and November hosts of sea-birds come hither to nest, and so also do nutmeg or Torres Straits pigeons, blue doves, peaceful doves, honey-eaters, wood-swallows, the blue reef heron, and occasionally the little black cormorant. The large-billed shore plover (ESACUS MAGNIROSTRIS) deposits her single egg on the sand, merely carelessly whisking aside the casuarina needles for its reception.
Hundreds of terns (six species) lay their eggs among the tinkling coral chips, and discarding all attempts at concealment, practise artistic deception. So perfect is the artifice that the eggs are frequently the least conspicuous of the elements of the banks of drift, broken coral and bleached shells. Not until each square yard is steadfastly inspected can they be detected, though there may be dozens around one's feet, the colours—creamy white with grey and brown and purple spots, and blotches and scribblings—blending perfectly with their environment. The eggs, by the way, are a great delicacy, sweet, nutty, and absolutely devoid of fishy flavour. When the downy young are hatched they, too, are almost invisible. They cunningly lie motionless, though within a few inches of your hand, and remain perfectly passive when lifted. Snoodling beside lumps of coral or beneath weather-beaten drift-wood, they afford startling proof of the effect of sympathetic coloration. When one stoops to pick up a piece of wood, whitened and roughened by the salt of the sea, and finds that more than half its apparent bulk is made up of several infants in soft swaddles, crowded together into a homogeneous mass, the result is pleasing astonishment. Only when individuals of the group move do they become visible to their natural enemies. These tender young birds enjoy no protection nor any of the comfort of a nest; and if they were not endowed from the moment of birth with rare consciousness of their helplessness, the species, no doubt, would speedily become exterminated, for keen-sighted hawks hover about, picking up those which, failing to obey the first law of nature, reveal themselves by movement. If the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb, what is the provision of Nature which enables so tender a thing as a young bird, a mere helpless ball of creamy fluff, to withstand the frizzling heat with which the sun bleaches the broken coral? Many do avail themselves of the meagre shadow of shells and lumps of coral, but the majority are exposed to the direct rays of the sun, which brings the coral to such a heat that even the hardened beachcomber walks thereon with "uneasy steps," reminding him of another outcast who used that oft-quoted staff as a support over the "burning marl." Gilbert White relates that a pair of fly-catchers which inadvertently placed their nests in an intolerably hot situation hovered over it "all the hotter hours, while with wings expanded and mouths gaping for breath, they screened the heat from their suffering young." Parental duty of the like nature does not appear to be practised for the benefit of the young tern; but they are well fed with what may be considered thirst-provoking food. Thirst does occasionally overcome the instinct which the young birds obey by absolute stillness, and a proportion of those which give way to the ever-present temptation of the sea falls to the lot of the hawks. Mere fluffy toddlers, with mouths gaping with thirst, slide and scramble down the coral banks, waddle with uncertain steps across the strip of smooth sand to be rolled over and over in their helplessness by the gentle break of the sea. They cool their panting bodies by a series of queer, sprawling marine gymnastics, swim about buoyantly for a few minutes, are tumbled on to the sand, and waddle with contented cheeps each back to its own birthplace among hundreds of highly-decorated eggs, and hundreds of infants like unto themselves.
The parents of the white-shafted ternlet (STERNA SINENSIS), the most sylph-like of birds, with others of the family, ever on the look-out, follow in circling, screaming mobs the disturbance on the surface of the sea caused by small fish vainly endeavouring to elude the crafty bonito and porpoise, and take ample supplies to the ever-hungry young. How is it that the hundreds of pairs recognise among the hundreds of fluffy young, identical in size and colour, each their particular care?
The picture "where terns lay" testifies to the solicitude of Nature for the preservation of types. The apparent primary carelessness of the terns in depositing their eggs is shown, when the chicks are hatched, to have been artfulness of a high order. At least a dozen, if not more, young birds were sharply focused by the camera, but so perfectly do their neutral tints blend with the groundwork of coral, shells and sand that only three or four are actually discernible, and these are perplexingly inconspicuous. A microscopic examination of the photograph is necessary to differentiate the helpless birds from their surroundings.
On another island within the Barrier Reef several species of sea-birds spontaneously adapted themselves to altered circumstances. They, in consonance with the general habits of the species, were wont to lay their eggs carelessly on the sand or shingle, without pretence of nests. A meat-loving pioneer introduced goats to the island, the continual parading about of which so disturbed the birds, and deprived them of their hope of posterity, that they took to the building of nests on dwarf trees, out of the way of the goats. That birds unaccustomed to the building of nests should acquire the habit, illustrates the depths of Nature's promptings for the preservation of species; or is it that the faculty existed as an hereditary trait, was abandoned only when its exercise was unnecessary, and resumed when there was conspicuous occasion for it? On a neighbouring island of the same group unstocked with goats, no change in the habits of the birds has taken place.
Among the rocks of Purtaboi, in cool dark grottoes, the brown-winged tern rears her young. She often permits herself to be trapped rather than indicate her presence by voluntary flight. One of the most graceful of the sea-swallows this. Brown of back and greenish-white under surface; noisy, too, for it "yaps" as a terrier whensoever intruders approach the island during the brooding season; and its puff-ball chicken, crouching in dim recesses, takes the bluish-grey hue of the rock.
The Blue Reef heron builds a rough nest of twigs on the ledges of the rocks, sometimes at the roots of the bronze orchid (DENDROBIUM UNDULATUM), and endeavours to scare away intruders by harsh squawks, stupidly betraying the presence of pale blue eggs or helpless brood. When the blue heron flies with his long neck stiffly tucked between his shoulders, he is anything but graceful; but under other circumstances he is not an ungainly bird. Occasionally my casual observations are made afar off, with the medium of a telescope. Then the birds are seen behaving naturally, and without fear or self-consciousness. The other day the cute attitudes of a beach curlew interested me, as he stood upon a stone just awash, and ever and anon picked up a crab. A blue heron flapped down beside him, and the curlew skipped off to another rock. In a minute the heron straightened his neck, poised its long beak for striking, and brought up a wriggling fish, which with a jerk of its head it turned end for end and swallowed. Another actor came within the field of the glass—the mate of the heron, alighting on the stone beside her lord and master. He was in a peckish humour, and instantly the tufts on his shoulders, the long feathers on the neck, and the rudimentary crest were angrily erected, and he made a peevish snap at her. You can imagine his reproof—"Get away from this. Don't crowd a fellow. Go to a rock of your own. This is my place. You spoil my sport!" Then, remembering that domestic tiffs were not edifying to strangers—and there was the sober brown curlew looking on—the bird let his angry feathers subside, and made way for his spouse on the best point of the rock. Each on one leg, they stood shoulder to shoulder, the very embodiment of connubial bliss. I noticed, too, that the mistress was allowed to fish to her heart's content, the master never raising a feather in remonstrance, though she gobbled up all that came along.
Low-lying Mung-um-gnackum, the abode of the varied honey-eater, the tranquil dove, and the brooding-place of the night-jar (CAPRIMULGUS) and lovely Kumboola, lie to the south-west, a bare half-mile away.
Kumboola's sheltered aspect is thickly clad with jungle; a steep grassy ridge springs from the blue-grey rocks to the south-east; and on the precipitous weather side grow low and open scrub and dwarf casuarina. Here is a natural aviary. Pigeons and doves coo; honey-eaters whistle; sun-birds whisper quaint, quick notes; wood swallows soar and twitter. Metallic starlings seek safe sleeping-places among the mangroves, ere they repair last year's villages, and join excitedly in the chorus; while the great osprey wheels overhead, and the grey falcon sits on a bare branch, still as a sentinel, each waiting for an opportunity to take toll of the nutmeg pigeons. The channel-billed cuckoo shrieks her discordant warning of the approaching wet season; and the scrub fowl utters those far-off imitations of the exclamation of civilised hens. Sundown at Kumboola towards the end of September, when the sea laps and murmurs among the rocks, and great white pigeons gather in thousands on the dark foliage, or "coo-hooing" and flapping, disappear beneath the thick leafy canopy, and all the other birds are saying their good-nights, or asserting their rights, or protesting against crowding or intrusion, is an ever-to-be-remembered experience. Added to the cheerful presence of the noisy birds, are the pleasant odours which spring from the jungle as coolness prevails, and the flaming west gives a weird tint of red to the outlines of the trees, and of purple to the drowsy sea.
Of entirely different character is the last of the satellites to be mentioned, Wooln-garin. Lying 300 yards off the south-western end of Dunk Island, across a swift and deep channel, it is naught but a confused mass of weather-beaten rocks, the loftiest not being more than 50 feet above high-water. A few pandanus palms, hardy shrubs and trailers, and mangroves, spring from sheltered crevices, but for the most part the rocks are bare. The incessant assaults of the sea have cut deep but narrow clefts in the granite, worn out sounding hollows, and smoothed away angularities. Here a few terns rear their young, and succeeding generations of the sooty oyster-catcher lay their eggs just out of the reach of high-tide. A never-ending procession of fish passes up and down the channel, according as the tide flows and ebbs, though they do not at all times take serious heed of bait. To one who generally fishes for a definite purpose, it is tantalising to peep down into the clear depths and watch the lazy fish come and go, ignoring the presence of that which at other times is greedily snapped at. Turtle, and occasionally dugong, favour the vicinity of Wooln-garin which on account of its distinctive character is one of the most frequented of the satellites.
The neighbouring islands include Timana, 2 1/2 miles from the sand-spit of Dunk Island and 1 1/2 mile from Kumboola. Bedarra lies a little to the southward; Tool-ghar three-quarters of a mile from Bedarra; Coomboo half a mile from Tool-ghar; and the group of three—Bud-joo, Kurrambah and Coolah—still further to the south-east. These comprise the Family Islands of the chart.
On Timana are gigantic milkwood trees (ALSTONIA SCHOLARIS) which need great flying buttresses to support their immense height, their roots being mainly superficial. For many generations two ospreys have had their eyrie in one of these giant trees, fit nursery for imperial birds! With annual additions, the nest has attained immense proportions, and as years pass it will still further increase, for blacks capable of climbing such a tree and disturbing the occupants are few and far between. Great distinction and pride, however, are the lot of the athlete who secures the snowy down of the young birds to stick in tufts on his dirty head with fat, gum or beeswax, for he will be the admired of all admirers at the CORROBBOREE. Vanity impels human beings to extraordinary exertions, trials and risks, and the black who desires to outshine his fellows, and who has the essential of strength and length of limb, will make a loop of lawyer vine round the tree, and with his body within the loop begin the ascent. Having cut a notch for the left great toe, he inclines his weight against the tree, while he shifts the loop three feet or so upwards. Then he leans backward against the loop, cuts a notch for his right great toe, and so on until the nest is reached. There has been but one ascent of this tree in modern times, and the name of the black, "Spider," is still treasured.
A heavy, slovenly-patched mantle of leafage, impervious to sunlight, covers the Isle of Timana, creating a region of perpetual dimness from western beach to eastern precipice, where orchids cling and palms peer on rocks below. All the vegetation is matted and interwoven, only the topmost branches of the milkwood escaping from the clinging, aspiring vines. Tradition asserts that not many years since Timana was much favoured by nutmeg pigeons, now sparsely represented; but the varied honey-eater and a friar bird possessing a most mellow and fluty note, cockatoos and metallic starlings are plentiful. Although there is no permanent fresh water, the pencil-tailed rat leaves numerous tracks on the sand, and scrub fowls keep the whole surface perpetually raked.
From a mound adjacent to the beach a black boy brought fifteen eggs as we picnicked on the beach, and though some of them were nigh upon hatching, not one was covered with white ants—which, an authority asserts, particularly like crawling over the eggshells, so as to be ready when wanted by the chicks. Nor have I ever seen an instance of this alleged exhibition of self-sacrifice on the part of the white ant. Another boy had eaten his very substantial lunch, but the eggs were tempting and he baked two. One, and that new-laid, is ample for an ordinary mortal. The condition of the first resembled that which the embarrassed curate described as "good in parts"; but "Mickie" was not nice over a half-hatched egg. Indeed, was it not rather more piquant than otherwise? The second proved to contain a fully developed chicken. Now the chick emerges from the shell feathered, and this, but for the unfortunate accident of discovery, would have begun to scratch for its living in a day or so. Mickie flicked away the fragments of shell from the steaming dainty and laid it snugly on a leaf. "That's for Paddy"—an Irish terrier, always of the party. It was an affecting act of renunciation. Presently "Paddy" came along; but "Paddy," who, too, had lunched, bestowed merely a sniff and a "No, thank you" wag of the tail. "What, you no want 'em? All right." No second offer was risked, and in a moment, in one mouthful, the chick was being crunched by Mickie, feathers and all. The menu of the Chinese—with its ducks' eggs salted, sharks' fins and tails, stewed pups, fowls' and ducks' tongues, fricasseed cat, rat soup, silkworm grubs, and odds and ends generally despised and rejected—is pitifully unromantic when set against the generous omnivority of Australian blacks.
A mile beyond Timana is Bedarra, with its lovely little bays and coves and fantastically weathered rocks, its forest and jungle and scrub, and its rocky satellite Pee-rahm-ah.
Several of the most conspicuous landmarks are associated in the minds of blacks with legends, generally of the simplest and most prosaic nature. About this rough rock Pee-rahm-ah is a story which in the minds of the natives satisfactorily accounts for its presence.
In the far-away past two nice young gins, they say, were left by themselves on Dunk Island, while the others of the tribe went away in canoes to Hinchinbrook. Tiring of their lonesomeness, they made up their minds to regain the company of their relatives by swimming from island to island. Kumboola was easily reached; to Timana it is but a mile and a half, and a mile thence to Bedarra. Leaving the most easterly point of Bedarra, they were quickly caught in the swirl of a strong current and spun about until both became dazed and exhausted. As they disappeared beneath the water they were changed to stone, and the stone rose in fantastic shape, and from that day Pee-rahm-ah has weathered all the storms of the Pacific and formed a feature in the loveliest scene these isles reveal.
The largest of the neighbouring isles, Bedarra, has less than a square mile of superficial area; the smallest but 4 or 5 acres. The smaller are made up of confused masses of granite, for the most part so overgrown with fig trees, plumy palms, milkwoods, umbrella-trees, quandongs, eugenias, hibiscus bushes, bananas and lawyer vines, as to be unexplorable without a scrub-knife; for the soil among the rocks is soft and spongy, the purest of vegetable mould, and encourages luxurious growth. The jungle droops over the grey rocks on the sheltered side. Twisted Moreton Bay ash and wind-crippled scrub spring up among the clefts and crevices on the weather frontage—the south-east—while a narrow strip of sand, the only landing-place, is a general characteristic of the north-west aspect. Birds nest in numbers in peace and security, for the islets are off the general track. Seldom is there any disturbance of the primeval quietude, and in the encompassing sea, if the fish and turtle suffer any excitement, rarely is the cause attributable to man.
The islands immediately to the south-east form the Family Group—triplets, twins and two singles. I like to think approving things of them; to note individual excellences; to familiarise myself with their distinguishing traits; to listen to them in their petulance and anger, and in that sobbing subsidence to even temper; to their complacent gurglings and sleepy murmurs. One—and the most Infantile of all—not of the Family, has a distinctive note, a copyright tone which none imitates, and which becomes at times a sonorous swelling boom, a lofty recitative, for even an island has its temper and its moods.
PLANS AND PERFORMANCES
"The folly of this island! They say there's but five upon this isle; we are two of them; if the other three be brained like us the State totters!"
The scheme for the establishment of our island home comprehended several minor industries. This isle of dreams, of quietude and happiness; this fretless scene; this plot of the Garden of Eden, was not to be left entirely in its primitive state. It was firmly resolved that our interference should be considerate and slight; that there should be no rude and violent upsetting of the old order of things; but just a gentle restraint upon an extravagant expression here and there, a little orderliness, and ever so light a touch of practicability. A certain acreage of land was to be cleared for the cultivation of tropical fruits; of vegetables for everyday use, and of maize and millet for poultry, which we proposed to breed for home consumption. Bees were to be an ultimate source of profit. There are millions of living proofs of direct but vagrant descent from the Italian stock, with which we started, humming all over this and the adjacent islands to-day.
How we went about the practical accomplishment of our plans; in what particulars they failed; what proportion of success was achieved, and the process of education in rural enterprises generally, it were idle to account. Rather, an attempt must be made to give particulars of the project as a whole as it stands after a period of nine years. Be it understood that we depended almost solely on the aid of the blacks. Means at command did not permit the employment of even a single white workman, save for a brief experimental period. Indeed, there is yet to be found in Australia the phase of tropical agriculture which affords payment of the ruling rate of wages. The proximity of countries in which cheap labour predominates counterbalances the minimum demand of white men in these parts. Those who have had experience of aboriginals as labourers, understand their erratic disposition; yet with considerate treatment, the exact and prompt fulfilment of obligations and promises, the display of some little sympathy with their foibles, interest in their doings, and ready response to any desire expressed to "walk about," they are not wholly to be set at naught as labourers. Some are intelligent and honest to a degree, and when in the humour will work steadily and consistently. When not in humour, it is well to accept the fact cheerfully.
Here I must have leave to be candid, so that the reader may be under no misapprehension as to the exact circumstances under which the undertaking progressed. Income from the land as the result of agricultural operations was not absolutely necessary. This acknowledgment does not imply the possession of, or any disrespect for, "the cumbersome luggage of riches," nor any affectation; but rather an accommodating and frugal disposition—the capacity to turn to account the excellent moral that poor Mr Micawber lamented his inability to obey. Profit from the sale of produce and poultry would have supplied additional comforts which would have been cordially appreciated; but if no returns came, then there was that state of mind which enabled us to endure the deprivation as the Psalmist suffered fools. And shall not this be accounted unto us for righteousness? Shall we not enjoy the warm comfort of virtue? We were at liberty to reflect with the Vicar of Wakefield—"We have still enough left for happiness, if we are wise; and let us draw upon content for the deficiencies of fortune." Certainly, we were not inclined to risk that which thriftily employed provided for all absolute necessaries on the chance of securing that which might, after all, prove to be superfluous. At least, there remains the consciousness of having lived, and of having wrought no evil (not having interfered in recent Federal Legislation), and being able to enjoy the sleep which is said to be that of the just.
Occasionally there are as many as four blacks about the place. They come and go from the mainland, some influenced by the wish for the diet of oysters for a time. "Me want sit down now; me want eat oyster." At rare intervals we are entirely alone for months together, and then cultural operations stand still. Twice, a considerable portion of the plantation was silently overrun by the scouts of the jungle, and had to be re-surveyed in order to locate smothered-up orange-trees. Our staff, domestic and otherwise, usually consists of one boy and his gin, and save for the housework, affairs are not conducted on a serious or systematic plan. The spur necessity not being applied, there is no persistent or sustained effort to make a profit, and, of course, none is earned.
In a few months from the felling of the first strip of jungle and the burning off of the timber and rubbish, however, we grew produce that went towards the maintenance of the establishment. That pious old man who lived to the majestic age of 105, and during the last ninety years existed wholly upon bread and water, was not the only one who had "a certain lusting after salad." Until we grew fruit, the papaw, the quickest and amongst the best, vegetables were more necessary.
Our plantation, all carved out of the jungle, has an area of 4 1/2 acres. We have orange-trees (two varieties), just coming into bearing, and from which profits are expected; pineapples (two varieties), papaws, coffee (ARABICA), custard apples, sour sop, jack fruit, pomegranate, the litchee, and mangoes in plenty. Sweet potatoes are always in successive cultivation, also pumpkins and melons, and an occasional crop of maize. Bananas represent a staple food. We have had fair crops of English potatoes, and have grown strawberries of fine flavour, though of deficient size, among the banana plants. Parsley, mint, and all "the vulgar herbs" grow freely. Readers in less favoured climes may hardly credit the statement that pineapples are so plentiful in the season in North Queensland that they are fed to pigs as well as horses. Twenty good pines for sixpence!—who would cultivate the fruit and market it for such remuneration? Hundreds of tons of mangoes go absolutely to waste every year. The taste for this wholesome and most delicious fruit has not yet become established in the large centres of population of Australia. At one time the same could he said of bananas; but now the trade has become prodigious. The era of the mango has yet to come.
The original cedar hut now forms an annexe to a bungalow designed, in so far as means permitted, as a concession to the dominating characteristics of the clime. Around the house is an acre or so given over to an attempt to keep up appearances.
Poultry are comfortably housed; a small flock of goats provides milk and occasionally fresh meat. There are two horses (one a native of the island) to perform casual heavy work; the boat has a shed into which she is reluctantly hauled by means of a windlass to spend the rowdy months; there is a buoy in the bay to which she is greatly attached when she is not sulking in the shed or coyly submitting to the caresses of the waves.
It may have been anticipated that I would, Thoreau-like, set down in details and in figures the exact character and cost of every designed alteration to this scene; but the idea, as soon as it occurred, was sternly suppressed, for however cheerful a disciple I am of that philosopher, far be it from me to belittle him by parody.
A good portion of the house represents the work of my own unaccustomed hands. I have found how laborious an occupation fencing is, and how very exasperating if barbed wire is used; that the keeping in order of even a small plantation in which ill-bred and riotous plants grow with the rapidity of the prophet's gourd, and which if unattended would lapse in a very brief space of time into the primitive condition of tangled jungle, involves incessant labour of the most sweatful kind. A work on structural botany tells me that "the average rate of perspiration in plants has been estimated as equal to that of seventeen times that of man." Only dwellers in the tropics are capable of realising the profundity of those pregnant words. Nowhere does plant life so thrive and so squander itself. And to toil among all this seething, sweating vegetation! No wonder that the trashing of sugar-cane is not a popular pastime among Britishers.
Given a quiet and contented mind, a banana-grove, a patch of sweet potatoes, orange and mango and papaw trees, a few coffee plants; the sea for fish, the rocks for oysters; the mangrove flats for crabs, and is it not possible to become fat with a minimum of labour? Fewer statements have found wider publicity than that the banana contains more nutriment than meat. I have good reason to have faith—faith in it. In Queensland every man has to find money for direct and indirect taxation; but apart from the imposts upon living, moving and having being, what ready money does a man want beyond a few shillings for tea, sugar and other luxuries, and some few articles of essential clothing? But I am attempting to describe a special set of circumstances, and would not have it on my conscience that I indirectly offered encouragement even to a forlorn and shipwrecked brother to abandon hope of becoming the prime minister of the Commonwealth, and to enter upon a life of reckless irresponsibility such as mine.
As soon as test and trial proved in this special case that life on the periphery of the whirl of civilisation was not only endurable but "so would we have it," arrangements were made with the Government of the State for a change in the tenure upon which the right of possession was upheld.
In obedience to those altruistic tendencies which, with due recognition of the law of self-preservation, comprehend the duty of man, it is necessary that the terms and conditions upon which others may acquire freehold estates in tropical Queensland—the most fruitful and the most desirable part of Australia—should be briefly detailed. As insurance against intrusion, a small area of the island had been secured from the Government under special lease for a term of thirty years, at the rental of 2 shillings 6 pence per acre per annum. This lease was maintained only for the period during which our verdant sentiments were put to the test. That phase having passed without the destruction of a single illusion, no restraint was imposed upon the passion to possess the land. Negotiations resulted in a certain acreage being proclaimed open to selection, and in such case the original applicant has the prior right. What is termed under the exceedingly liberal land laws of Queensland an agricultural homestead may comprise 160 acres, 320 acres, or 640 acres, in accordance with the classification of the land as of first, second, or third quality. The selector must pay 2 shillings 6 pence per acre at the rate Of 3 pence per acre for ten years, and must reside continuously on the land. Five years are allowed for the completion of improvements—house, clearing, fencing, cultivation, etc., which in valuation must equal 10 shillings, 5 shillings, or 2 shillings 6 pence per acre respectively, according to the classification of the land. At the end of the five years the selector may pay in a lump sum the second moiety of rent, making the total 2 shillings 6 pence per acre, and he is thereupon entitled to the issue of a deed of grant of the land in fee-simple. Otherwise payments may extend over the term of ten years, when the land becomes freehold. Briefly, for the sum Of 2 shillings 6 pence per acre distributed over ten years, in addition to a trifle for survey fees (also payable in easy instalments) and the construction of improvements equal in value to 2 shillings 6 pence per acre, the freehold of land unsurpassed in fertility in the whole world may be acquired. The selector may build his own hut and erect his fences of timber from his clearing, and the officials assess improvements on a liberal scale. Who would not be a landed proprietor under such terms? Other clauses of the Land Act are far more encouraging. Not only are payments held in abeyance until the selector is able to meet them out of his earnings from the land, but in special cases monetary assistance is afforded him. Literally the meekest of men may inherit the choicest part of the earth.