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- The Confessions of a Beachcomber - 4/57 -

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

The Confessions of a Beachcomber - 4/57

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