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- My Tropic Isle - 1/40 -
Photo by Caroline Hordern COCONUT AVENUE Photo by Caroline Hordern THE BUNGALOW FERN OF GOD PARASITIC FERN THE COVE, PURTABOI BRAMMO BAY, FROM GARDEN PANDANUS PALM PECTINARIAN TUBES CLAM SHELL (Tridaena gigas) EMBEDDED IN CORAL FIRE FISH (Pterois lunulata). TRIGGER FISH (Balistapus aculeatus) CORALS EGG CAPSULES OF BAILER SHELL DEVELOPMENT OF BAILER SHELL EGG CAPSULES OF MOLLOSC, ATTACHED TO FAN CORAL HARLEQUIN PIGFISH (Kiphocheilus fasciatus) "FAERY LANDS FORLORN," TIMANA. NEST OF GREEN TREE ANT MATCH-BOX BEANS PALL-KOO-LOO WHERE SWIFTLETS BUILD SWIFTLETS' NESTS H. Barnes, Jun., Photo. Australian Museum UMBRELLA TREE (Brassaia actinophylla) Photo by Caroline Hordern HAMED OF JEDDAH BLACKS' TOYS--1. PIAR-PIAR; 2. BIRRA-BIRRA-GOO; 3. PAR-GIR-AH TURTLE ROCK, PURTABOI DISGUISES OF CRABS WYLO DEFIANT THE DEATH BONE YANCOO'S LAST RITE
MY TROPIC ISLE
IN THE BEGINNING
Had I a plantation of this Isle, my lord--
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I' the Commonwealth I would by contraries Execute all things; for no kind of traffic Would I admit . . . riches, poverty And use of service, none.
How quaint seems the demand for details of life on this Isle of Scent and Silence! Lolling in shade and quietude, was I guilty of indiscretion when I babbled of my serene affairs, and is the penalty so soon enforced? Can the record of such a narrow, compressed existence be anything but dull? Can one who is indifferent to the decrees of constituted society; who is aloof from popular prejudices; who cares not for the gaieties of the crowd or the vagaries of fashion; who does not dance or sing, or drink to toasts, or habitually make any loud noise, or play cards or billiards, or attend garden parties; who has no political ambitions; who is not a painter, or a musician, or a man of science; whose palate is as averse from ardent spirits as from physic; who is denied the all-redeeming vice of teetotalism; who cannot smoke even a pipe of peace; who is a casual, a nonentity a scout on the van of civilisation dallying with the universal enemy, time--can such a one, so forlorn of popular attributes, so weak and watery in his tastes, have aught to recite harmonious to the, ear of the world?
Yet, since my life--and in the use, of the possessive pronoun here and elsewhere, let it signify also the life of my life-partner--is beyond the range of ordinary experience, since it is immune from the ferments which seethe and muddle the lives of the many, I am assured that a familiar record will not be deemed egotistical, I am scolded because I did not confess with greater zeal, I am bidden to my pen again.
An attempt to fulfil the wishes of critics is confronted with risk. Cosy in my security, distance an adequate defence, why should I rush into the glare of perilous publicity? Here is an unpolluted Isle, without history, without any sort of fame. There come to it ordinary folk of sober understanding and well-disciplined ideas and tastes, who pass their lives without disturbing primeval silences or insulting the free air with the flapping of any ostentatious flag. Their doings are not romantic, or comic, or tragic, or heroic; they have no formula for the solution of social problems, no sour vexations to be sweetened, no grievance against society, no pet creed to dandle. What is to be said of the doings of such prosaic folk--folk who have merely set themselves free from restraint that they might follow their own fancies without hurry and without hindrance?
Moreover, if anything be more tedious than a twice-told tale, is it not the repetition of one half told? Since a demand is made for more complete details than were given in my "Confessions," either I must recapitulate, or, smiling, put the question by. It is simplicity itself to smile, and can there be anything more gracious or becoming? Who would not rather do so than attempt with perplexed brow a delicate, if not difficult, duty?
I propose, therefore, to hastily fill in a few blanks in my previous sketch of our island career and to pass on to features of novelty and interest--vignettes of certain natural and unobtrusive features of the locality, first-hand and artless.
This, then, is for candour. Studiously I had evaded whensoever possible the intrusion of self, for do not I rank myself among the nonentities-- men whose lives matter nothing, whose deaths none need deplore. How great my bewilderment to find that my efforts at concealment--to make myself even more remote than my Island--had had by impish perversity a contrary effect! On no consideration shall I part with all my secrets. Bereave me of my illusions and I am bereft, for they are "the stardust I have clutched."
One confessedly envious critic did chide because of the calculated non-presentation of a picture of our humble bungalow. So small a pleasure it would be sinful to deny. He shall have it, and also a picture of the one-roomed cedar hut in which we lived prior to the building of the house of comfort.
Who could dignify with gilding our utterly respectable, our limp history? There is no margin to it for erudite annotations. Unromantic, unsensational, yet was the actual beginning emphasis by the thud of a bullet. To that noisy start of our quiet life I meander to ensure chronological exactitude.
In September of the year 1896 with a small par of friends we camped on the beach of this Island--the most fascinating, the most desirable on the coast of North Queensland.
Having for several years contemplated a life of seclusion in the bush, and having sampled several attractive and more or less suitable scenes, we were not long in concluding that here was the ideal spot. From that moment it was ours. In comparison the sweetest of previous fancies became vapid. Legal rights to a certain undefined area having been acquired in the meantime, permanent settlement began on September 28, 1897.
For a couple of weeks thereafter we lived in tents, while with clumsy haste--for experience had to, be acquired--we set about the building of a hut of cedar, the parts of which were brought from civilisation ready for assembling. Houses, however, stately or humble, in North Queensland, are sacrificial to what are known popularly as "white ants" unless special means are taken for their exclusion. Wooden buildings rest on piles sunk in the ground, on the top of which is an excluder of galvanised iron in shape resembling a milk dish inverted. It is also wise to take the additional precaution of saturating each pile with an arsenical solution. Being quite unfamiliar with the art of hut-building, and in a frail physical state, I found the work perplexing and most laborious, simple and light as it all was. Trees had to be felled and sawn into proper lengths for piles, and holes sunk, and the piles adjusted to a uniform level. With blistered and bleeding hands, aching muscles, and stiff joints I persevered.
While we toiled our fare, simplicity itself, was eaten with becoming lack of style in the shade of a bloodwood-tree, the tents being reserved for sleeping. When the blacks could be spared, fish was easily obtainable, and we also drew upon the scrub fowl and pigeon occasionally, for the vaunting proclamation for the preservation of all birds had not been made. Tinned meat and bread and jam formed the most frequent meals, for there were hosts of simple, predestined things which had to be painfully learned. But there was no repining. Two months' provisions had been brought; the steamer called weekly, so that we did not contemplate famine, though thriftiness was imperative. Nor did we anticipate making any remarkable addition to our income, for the labour of my own hands, however eager and elated my spirits, was, I am forced to deplore, of little advantage. I could be very busy about nothing, and there were blacks to feed, therefore did we hasten to prepare a small area of forest land, and a still smaller patch of jungle for the cultivation of maize, sweet potatoes, and vegetables. Fruit, being a passion and a hobby, was given special encouragement and has been in the ascendant ever since, to the detriment of other branches of cultural enterprise.
I have said that our Island career began with an explosion. To that starting-point must I return if the narration of the tribulations our youthful inexperience suffered is to be orderly and exact.
While we camped, holiday-making, the year prior to formal and rightful occupancy, in a spasm of enthusiasm, which still endures, I selected the actual site for a modest castle then and there built in the accommodating air. It was something to have so palpable and rare a base for the fanciful fabric. All in a moment, disdaining formality, and to the, accompaniment of the polite jeers of two long-suffering friends, I proclaimed "Here shall I live! On this spot shall stand the probationary palace!" and so saying fired my rifle at a tree a few yard's off. But the stolid tree--a bloodwood, all bone, toughened by death, a few ruby crystals in sparse antra all that remained significant of past life--afforded but meagre hospitality to the, soft lead.
"Ah!" exclaimed one of my chums, "the old tree foreswears him! The Island refuses him!"
But the homely back gate swings over the charred stump of the boorish tree burnt flush with the ground. Twelve months and a fortnight after the firing of the shot which did not echo round the world, but was merely a
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