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- The Confessions of a Beachcomber - 2/57 -
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
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