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- The Bushman - 30/51 -
boughs, before the door of which was a fire with a large pot upon it, from which a powerful steam arose that was evidently very grateful to a group of natives seated around. Two families seemed to compose this group, consisting of a couple of men, four women, and five or six children of various ages. As we drew nigh, the whole party, without rising, uttered a wild scream of welcome, accompanied by that loud laughter which always seems to escape so readily from this light-hearted and empty-headed people.
On descending from the vehicle, and looking in at the hut door, we perceived lying in his shirt-sleeves on a couch composed of grass-tree tops covered with blankets and a rug made of opossum skins, the illustrious Meliboeus himself, with a short black pipe in his mouth, and a handsome edition of "Lalla Rookh" in his hand. Perceiving us, he jumped up, and expressing his loud surprise, welcomed us to this rustic Castle of Indolence.
When a large flock of sheep is sent into the bush, and a squatting station is formed, the shepherds take the sheep out to pasture every morning, and bring them home at night, whilst one of the party always remains at the station to protect the provisions from being stolen by the natives. This person is called the hut-keeper. His duty is to boil the pork, or kangaroo flesh, and provide supper, etc., for the shepherds on their return at night. Meliboeus, who superintended this station, undertook the duties of cooking and guarding the hut whenever he did not feel disposed to go out kangaroo-hunting, or shooting wild turkeys or cockatoos. In all things, sports or labours, the natives were his daily assistants, and in return for their services were rewarded with the fore-quarters of the kangaroos killed, and occasionally with a pound or two of flour. There were some noble dogs at the station, descendants of Jezebel and Nero; and my brother had a young kangaroo, which hopped in and out with the utmost confidence, coming up to any one who happened to be eating, and insisting upon having pieces of bread given to it. Full of fun and spirits, it would sport about as playfully as a kitten; and it was very amusing to see how it would tease the dogs, pulling them about with its sharp claws, and trying to roll them over on the ground. The dogs, who were in the daily habit of killing kangaroos, never attempted to bite Minny, who sometimes teased them so heartily, that they would put their tails between their legs and fairly run away.
The great enemies of the sheep in the Australian colonies are the wild-dogs. At York, and in the other settled districts, they are very troublesome, and require the shepherd to keep a constant lookout. We were therefore much surprised to learn that although wild dogs abounded near this squatting station, they never attempted to touch our flocks. A sheep was to them a new animal; they had yet to learn the value of mutton. A cowardly race, they are easily intimidated, and as they have not the art of jumping or clambering over a fence, a low sheep-fold will keep them out, provided they cannot force their way under the palings or hurdles. They cannot bark, and utter only a melancholy howl. The bitch generally litters in a hollow tree, and produces four or five puppies at a birth.
The production of wool -- the careful acquisition of a good flock of well-bred sheep, and the attainment of the highest degree of perfection in preparing the fleeces for the English market -- appears to us to be the proper ambition of an emigrant to the Australian colonies. When ill-health compelled my steps hither, it was the intention of myself and brothers to invest our capital entirely in sheep; and retiring into the bush for some six or seven years, gradually accumulate a large flock, the produce of which would soon have afforded a handsome income. It has never, however, appeared to be the object of either the Home Government or the Local Government of any colony (though unquestionably the interest of both) to encourage emigration. Settlers have invariably every possible difficulty thrown in their way. On arriving in this colony, we found to our astonishment that squatting was illegal, and that we would not be allowed, as we had designed to carry our goods into the interior and form a station upon Government land. No license could at that time be obtained, and if we bought the smallest section allowed to be sold, which was 640 acres, for as many pounds, it was ten to one but we should soon find the district in which it was situated insufficient for the run of a large flock, and should have to change our quarters again. The consequence was, that we were compelled to abandon our project: my brothers took a farm at a high rent, and wasted their capital upon objects that could never bring in a good return; whilst I (infelix!), instead of listening to the gentle bleatings of sheep, and ministering to the early comforts of innocent lambs, have been compelled to hearken to the angry altercations of plaintiff and defendant, and decide upon the amount of damages due to injured innocence when the pot had insulted the kettle.
Now, however, limited licenses are granted to persons wishing to go as squatters upon Government land; and even before these were issued, we were OBLIGED to send our sheep upon Crown lands, and form a station, for want of room in the settled districts.
Sheep flocks constitute doubtlessly one of the most profitable investments for the employment of capital, notwithstanding the many obstacles and discouragements still thrown by both governments in the way of the wool-grower. They yield a very large return TO THOSE WHO ATTEND TO THEM IN PERSON, and who confine their attention entirely to that pursuit, growing only corn enough for their own consumption.
EXTRACTS FROM THE LOG OF A HUT-KEEPER.
May 10th. -- Felt rather lonely to-day, in the midst of this endless solitude. Sat before the hut-door thinking of Zimmerman and his Reflections. Also thought of Brasenose, Oxford, and my narrow escape from Euclid and Greek plays. Davus sum, non Oedipus. Set to work, and cooked a kangaroo stew for the three shepherds.
June 4th. -- We have removed the sheep from the Dale to the Avon. We go wandering about with our flocks and baggage like the Israelites of old, from one patch of good grass to another. I wonder how long it will be before we make our fortunes?
28th. -- K. arrived from York with a supply of flour, pork, tea and sugar. Brings no news from England, or anywhere else. Where the deuce are all the ships gone to, that we get no letters? Moved the station to Corbeding.
29th. -- K. returned to York with his bullock-cart. No chance of my being relieved at present. Went out by myself kangarooing. The pup, Hector, out of Jezebel, will make a splendid dog. First kangaroo fought like a devil; Hector, fearing nothing, dashed at him, and got a severe wound in the throat; but returned to the charge, after looking on for a few moments. Crossed an immense grassy plain, eight or nine miles wide, without a tree upon it. Had to carry a kangaroo more than five miles on my back. Wished it at Hanover, and twice abandoned it, but returned for it again, being so much in want of fresh meat.
30th. -- Spent the day in dreary solitude in the hut. All my books have been read, re-read, and re-re-read.
July 1st. -- Went out with the dogs, and caught three kangaroos. Passed over some splendid country -- wish it were peopled with white humans. How pleasant to have been able to call at a cottage, and get a draught of home-brewed! On the contrary, could not find even a pond, or a pint of water, and was nearly worried to death by sand-flies.
2d. -- Some scabby sheep having got among our flock, have played the deuce with it. The scab has regularly broke out. I had rather it were the plague or Asiatic cholera, and cleared them all off (my own sheep are fortunately at York). Dressing lambs all morning -- beastly work. In the afternoon went out with the sheep, and left James to mind the hut. Sand-flies infernal.
3d, Sunday. -- Stayed in the hut all day. Smoked sheep-tobacco,* all my Turkish being finished. Felt pious, and wrote a short sermon, choosing the text at random -- Jeremiah ii. 7: "And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof." Read it at night to the shepherds. James said it was "slap-up."
[footnote] *Coarse pig-tail, used as a decoction for dressing the diseased sheep.
4th. -- Went out kangarooing. Killed an immense fellow: when standing on his hind legs fighting with me and the dogs, he was a foot higher than myself. He ran at me, and nearly gave me a desperate dig with his claw, which tore my only good hunting-shirt miserably. Smashed his skull for it.
5th and 6th. -- Dressing sheep all day. Out [band of] York natives, whom we have hitherto kept with us, are all gone home again, leaving me and my three men, with only two guns, among a suspicious and treacherous tribe that cannot understand a word we say to them. Wish my brothers would come and look after their own sheep. It would do E.'s health more good than sitting in Court, hearing a set of fools jabber. Sand-flies eat us alive here, and the mosquitoes polish our bones.
7th. -- Muston and myself dressed fifty sheep to-day. John out with part of the flock.
8th. -- Heavy rain last night. Cannot go on dressing. Did nothing all day.
9th. -- Stayed in the hut doing nothing.
10th, Sunday. -- Ditto.
11th. -- Tired of doing nothing. Dressed sheep most of the day. Muston out kangarooing; caught three.
12th. -- Cooking. Made a "sea-pie," which was generally admired.
August 1st. -- The Doctor arrived from York, driving tandem in E.'s trap. He has brought me a parcel of books just come from England. Blessings on my dear sister for remembering me. I thought myself forgotten by all the world. Sisters (Heaven for ever bless them!) are the only people that never forget. News from home! How many thoughts come flooding upon me!
2d. -- Last night, I confess, I cried myself to sleep, like a great big baby. I am very comfortable and contented so long as I receive no letter from home; and yet I am such a fool as to wish for them; and when they come I am made miserable for a week afterwards. Somehow, they make me feel my loneliness more. I feel deserted, forgotten by all but ONE. She says she is constantly wishing for me
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