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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter XI


A kangaroo battue—Mr. Bracker of Warroo—The Darling Downs-Warwick and Stanthorpe—Varieties of marsupials—Pikedale Station—The scene of operations—The line—The beaters—Old wombat—The beat—Fierce excitement—Incidents of the sport— A Spartan meal—Camping out—A monster bag—Waste of skins—How these might bo utilized—A letter from the Globe on the subject—Pikedale Wash Pool—Tin mining—The present and future of Queensland.

If -my readers have attentively perused the foregoing lucid description, by a Bush Naturalist, he will now have a pretty good idea of the natural history of the kangaroo, and I may resume the thread of my personal experiences. Mr. Harry Bracker of Warroo, my genial host, seeing an account of one of our Indian battues after deer, had determined to give the battue system a trial. Let me try to picture to you a kangaroo battue as I saw and participated in it. He organized a mob of beaters, black and white, and these, mounted on active horses that climb like cats, and are as sure-footed as the ibex, scour the creeks, gullies, ridges, and slopes, and driving on the multitudes of kangaroos in a semi-circle before them, the animals are forced on to a line of shooters posted behind trees at intervals of from 80 to 100 yards. Every advantage is taken of the formation of the ground, the direction of the wind, &c. The battue, when I joined the party, had been going on for about six weeks. There had been on an average from twelve to fourteen guns at work daily, and the astounding total of 16,000 odd of these destructive and useless animals had been bagged; indeed, had the very young ones and badly wounded been counted the total would certainly have exceeded 20,000. The battue was a grand success, the excitement intense; the sport of its kind most excellent.

Hearing that all sportsmen were made heartily welcome, and having been asked to visit the district by several influential run-holders, I made a start from Brisbane on Monday, and taking rail for Warwick, the principal town in the Darling Downs district, I arrived there on the same day. The Downs proper are broad, undulating, grass-covered steppes; the soil rich, black, and admirably suited for agricultural purposes. This land to a certain extent has been taken up by free selectors, and is no doubt destined to become a vast grain-producing district.

The train up to Toowoomba passed over some very steep gradients and winding curves. The great dividing range lies spread out before us as we sweep along; range behind range, tier above tier of densely wooded hills; every peak a mass of verdure, all of a uniform sombre tint. The stillness is unbroken by cry of bird or beast. There is no glinting of stream or flashing of waterfall. Deep gullies, dried-up creeks, and bold crags and precipices there are in plenty; but, except in some gloomy stagnant pool, far in the depths of the pathless bush, there is no water. I can realize now what an awful thing it must be to be "lost in the bush." There had been a severe drought here for months, and anything more arid, withered, and utterly desolate could scarcely be conceived than the rocky slopes and the ridges about.

From Warwick to Stanthorpe, the seat of a growing tin-mining industry, I went by Cobb's coach. This is a truly colonial institution. The track winds in and out among stumps, boulders, and fallen trees. There are two horses on the pole and a leader. The eye and nerve of the driver are marvellous. We go at a furious pace, and every moment you . expect to be dashed against a tree, hurled over a stump, or smashed against a boulder. Your heart is in your mouth at every turn; but the practised skill of the driver surmounts every obstacle, steers you clear of every danger, and as you career swiftly along you get quite exhilarated with the glorious air and rapid pace, and soon become accustomed to the dangers and impediments that beset every yard of the way.

Of marsupials there are many varieties. The "old man" is the old grizzly veteran of a hundred fights. He is generally of a ruddy brown or a grizzled grey colour, and with his powerful hind claw can rip up a dog or a horse, and is a dangerous customer at close quarters. The kangaroos are smaller; the females are called " Mammies" and the young ones in the pouch " Joeys." The colour of the " wallaroos " is a beautiful sable black, and they inhabit the stony ridges. The "wallabies " have pretty, gentle-looking heads, and are of all colours, ranging from pure white "albinos," creamy, lavender, grey, and red, to dark grey. The " flyers " are generally a light grey; they hop along at a tremendous pace, and are very difficult shooting. Paddy-melons, bandicoots, and rats are all smaller, and are less frequently met with in the interior than nearer the coast.

But hold ! we have not yet reached the scene of operations. Leaving Stanthorpe I was lucky enough to get a lift in a returning buggy, and started off at once for Pikedale, camped out for the night, and in the morning shot my first wallaroo with ball, an achievement of which X was very proud.

I received a most hospitable reception at Pikedale, and, after spending the night there, started with an obliging guide for the scene of the great battue, the now famous Warroo run. "We carried our guns with us. After several hours' sharp riding through the bush, we heard sounds to our right resembling the report of distant pistol-shots. Our nags pricked up their ears, and now came wafted on the wind the confused echoes of the shouting of the beaters.

We hurried off to the right, across a dried-up creek, then straight up a sheer mountain side, where the rocks stood up "rugged and stern," paused a moment on the top to admire the wonderful panorama of abrupt crag and wooded mountain stretching all around—a vast amphitheatre of forest-clad hill and dell—and, joining the line of dusky beaters, slowly descended into the basin below, driving an excited mob of bounding kangaroos and wallaroos before us. Occasionally a scared animal would try to break back, or to outflank the line ; then the beater on his active horse—one that could climb like a goat and gallop like a demon— would set off in pursuit, yelling like a fiend, his long whip waking the echoes in the wooded glen, and making the vaulted arcades of the forest ring again. From the valley below a shot was now heard, followed at intervals by another, then by twos and threes. From our elevation we could see the position of the whole line. Tiny wreaths of smoke curled upwards among the swaying branches, dusky forms went hopping about along the line, here in groups and clusters, and there in a long extended line of dingy lavender and grey.

Now the whole valley reverberates, as the firing waxes hot; the air is filled with sound, the thump, thump of the bounding game is distinctly heard, and amid shrieks, yells, cries, cracking of whips, and an incessant rattle of musketry, as volley after volley is poured into the advancing line of animals, the beat culminates, and the excitement reaches its height. Soon, however, the noise and bustle die away, and naught is again heard but the talk and laughter of the men, as beaters and shooters mix together and discuss the incidents of the sport. There were about ten beaters, several of whom were half-castes, one or two were station hands, and the others aborigines.

How their white teeth shone, and their gleaming eyeballs sparkled with mirth and excitement! The shooters were twelve in number, and reminded me of the descriptions of the backwoodsmen and forest rangers in Captain Mayne Reid's novels. Their hats and other habiliments were evidently intended more for use than ornament. Yet they were a jovial manly-looking set of men, and the utmost good feeling seemed to prevail among the party.

My obliging guide now introduced me to my host— a fine, tall, ruddy specimen of the genus squatter; and from him I received a hearty welcome, and, squatting down by a clear-looking water-hole in the rocky gully, while the fires flickered and smoked all round us, we discussed a lunch of beef and damper, washed down with draughts of very welcome tea, and then my ammunition was served out to me, my bullets that I had carried so far being discarded as too dangerous for the beaters, and, indeed, at such a mark as the bounding marsupial one would need to have the skill of Hawkeye himself to hit the game with ball.

Old General Wombat, the director-in-chief of the beaters, was a character in very deed. Paralyzed in the lower extremities, he had the strength of a practised athlete in his arms. To see him slouching along in a constrained sitting attitude made one pity him. Reaching his horse, however, he seizes the stirrup with his bony hand. By sheer force he pulls himself up to the saddle, and once seated there old Wombat is at home. With one foot in the short stirrup, and the other doubled up under him on the saddle, he careers along; cares for no impediment; dashes down the rockiest incline or through the densest scrub with the same reckless disregard of danger; and his red handkerchief bound round his grizzled locks, his eyes gleaming with excitement, and his hoarse shouting filling the air, he looks no unapt representation of a forest gnome, or demon rider of the Hartz or Brocken. The beaters, led by this old veteran, scour the gullies, and creeks, and slopes, shouting and cracking their whips, and driving all the game before them. A stock-rider is posted at each flank to keep the boys in hand. Their riding is superb. I had often heard wonderful stories of bush-riding, but no description could come up to the reality. Our troop, if not romantic, was picturesque enough. Riding along in line, over fallen wood and across dried-up creeks, each with his slouched hat, his bag of cartridges, and polished gleaming gun, and the various impedimenta of camping life hanging from the saddle, we looked like a band of guerilla troopers out on an expedition.

The knowledge of the country displayed by 'the men astonished me. Our host, in giving directions for the beat, seemed to know every yard of the ground for miles. A broken branch, a pile of stones, a peculiar tree, a gully, a gap, a water-hole—were all to him so many familiar landmarks, and seemed to be equally well known to all the men. We have ridden at a hand-gallop sometimes for miles across the most intricate country, through gap and gorge, over crag and peak, down dingle and dell, and at the end of our long ride, and still longer wait, the line of beaters has come across our position as true as if they had had us in sight all the time.

When I joined the party the men had all been at the work daily for weeks, consequently every man knew his place and duty; each man's eye was "in," very few shots were wasted, no delays or hitches occurred, and without all were merry and good-humoured, and from first to last seemed imbued with that spirit of hearty goodwill and camaraderie which field-sports generally evoke. A healthy rivalry there was, of course, but all were good-natured, considerate to each other, unselfish, and unaffectedly anxious to promote good sport and successful shooting. You would scarcely imagine the excitement that attends the sport. When we have all been put in our places, there is often a long wait till the beaters come up. Some recline at full length in the shadow of their tree; others study the pages of the Queenslander, or other newspaper; not a few dip deep into pages of some sensational novel; but generally ample time is afforded to make all necessary arrangements. The silence is almost depressing. Occasionally your horse behind the line kicks up the gravel, or a stray shot at some solitary kangaroo, unconscious of your proximity, breaks the stillness for a moment; but, as a rule, the utmost quiet prevails. There is no distant

"Boom of waterfall, far in the forest land."

No cheerful chirruping of birds; no lowing of the kine; nought is heard but the low sighing of the gentle breeze among the gum-trees. A flock of magpies or parrots may dart past, or a silent little bird flit rapidly by; but otherwise no sight or sound of animated life breaks on the eye or ear. You watch the myriads of insects hurrying over the dried-up soil; the grass and wild flowers drooping under the drought and heat; the gnarled trunks of the iron-bark; the pointed leaves of the wattle and cherry scrub, and white glistening boles of the gum-trees begin to assume strange, fantastic shapes. You are hovering on the confines of dreamland, when lo! the first faint crack of the distant whip, the first faint, far distant halloo. The sound electrifies you. You grasp your gun, strain your ear to catch the slightest sound, and eagerly peer forth to see if the expected victims are approaching.

The sounds slowly and gradually draw nearer. Then an " old man," a veritable tough old bounding brigand, jumps slowly past you, along the ridge, just keeping beyond range. After him comes a black old wallaroo. He is coming right up to you, when your next hand neighbour, with his far-reaching gun, levels the deadly hail, and over rolls the "wallaroo," taken from your very teeth. Now they appear in twos and threes over the ridge. ' You have ample time to watch their every motion; they cock their ears for the sounds of the beaters behind, leisurely lick their fore-paws, nibble at a tuft of grass, and tlien jump on a few paces further. Crack goes the gun to your right! Over topples a "flyerthe rest hop about in truly comical bewilderment. One comes your way. Bang goes your piece, and you score your first kangaroo. The rest, now fairly frightened, bound along, and the guns go bang, bang, down the line, as each shooter gets his chance. The firing in front has alarmed the advancing mob. . Not for long, however. On comes the howling line of beaters like the remorseless march of fate. On right and left burst forth the jets of flame. The ground is dotted with dead and dying. You are warming to your work. You have yet time to watch your neighbours' shooting. Individual incidents have yet time to catch the eye; but now the beaters are nearing the crest of the ridge, and, like an advancing flood, the tide of kangaroos flows swiftly on you. You cannot fire fast enough. Before, behind, on every side, the bounding forms go swiftly past. All is noise, bustle, mad excitement. No time now to watch your neighbour. On they come faster and faster. Your blood is fairly up, and for once in your life you feel the fierce, unconstrained delight of the successful hunter.

Of course there are many who, like Gallio, t; care for none of these things, but sportsmen will understand me. The sport is decidedly better than partridge or pheasant shooting, is in its way equal to a drive after black buck or hog-deer, and the man must have a sluggard's blood indeed who does not warm up into a genuine burst of excitement as a kangaroo beat reaches its culminating moment, and every effort is all too weak to stop the torrent of bounding game that passes before you.

Let me again describe one glorious day. When our line is formed, we have generally a good long time to wait for the advent of the beaters. The horses are tied up to trees in rear of the line, and an occasional movement may be heard from their neighbourhood. A magpie or flock of crimson-breasted parrots may dart rapidly past; a few small birds twitter and hop about; otherwise, no sound disturbs the oppressive silence. The men recline against their tree, with hat cocked over their eyes or book in hand. You can even detect the sound when a match is struck, as some inveterate smoker, tired of inaction, takes refuge in the soothing weed.

Suddenly you hear a faint, subued "thump, thump." A solitary "old man" kangaroo, all unconscious of danger, is approaching you at a steady pace. The echoes of the rocky gully ring again as you discharge your piece, and your first kangaroo topples over before you, scattering the stones dried sticks and leaves in his death agony. Far to the right another shot echoes back your own. Every one is now on the alert. Shots ring out at intervals. On the slope before you, and along the crest of the ridge, you see numbers of marsupials, in groups, in clusters, and in dusky lines, hopping about in utter and comical bewilderment. The cries and shouts of vthe beaters, the cracking of the stock-whips, and thunder of the horses' hoofs now come to your ears carried by the wind over tbe ridge. There is a rush of frightened animals past. You are too excited to take steady aim, but blaze away and have the mortification of missing. Better luck next time. You load as fast as you can.

On come the lines of bounding kangaroos without cessation. You are now fairly warming to your work; you are getting your eye in. You glance at your neighbour; you fire to right, left—in front, and behind, as some terrified "flyer" breaks the line. Occasionally a sharp patter of shot against your tree, or overhead, cutting off twigs and leaves, reminds you for a moment that your neighbour is not very mindful of his line of fire, and that the element of danger is not wanting to the sport.

The beaters are now plainly visible, dashing hither and thither with shouts and frantic gestures, as the quarry try to break back. On comes another rush of black "wallaroos" and "wallabies." The firing is incessant. It is intensely exciting; shoulders % and arms are tired and at length you are almost glad to see the last terrified kangaroo go bounding madly over the ridge behind you.

The ripple of conversation, chaff and jollity now breaks out afresh, and each vies with the other in making up for his enforced silence during the beat. We proceed to cut off the ears of the slain, remount our horses, and converge together, when the ears are counted, slit up and thrown away; and then on again, at a rattling hand-gallop, over gully and creek, through grassy bottom and down stony steep, till we are placed again for the next beat.

At midday we camp beside some "water-hole" for lunch, or dinner, as it is called. Each man has his " billy" and pint pot. Each carries his bit of damper, salt beef, and supply of tea and sugar. Some of the more luxurious cut off a gory tail, scorch it on the fire, scrape off the singed fur and cuticle, and then munch their smoking delicacy with great apparent relish. The blacks raise peels of joyous laughter. The fires crackle and flame, and the smoke half blinds you.

Dirty hands, smirched faces, and old clothes are the prominent features. There is no cool Bass, no popping of corks, no tinned provisions. It is a Spartan meal. But our appetites are good, as is our digestion; and, united in the common brotherhood of sport, we enjoy our meal and each other's company.

Camping out at night with a blanket over, and green leaves under you, with your saddle for your pillow and the sighing of a myriad of leafy tongues for your lullaby, is not to be commended for rheumatism; but the sport was excellent, the whole experience novel and interesting, and I never enjoyed myself better. The blow-flies are an awful pest; they fairly routed us from our camp more than once. There are not many snakes, but the ants are legion, and their bite is not to be despised.

Altogether this novel experience, even after my old adventures in Purneah and Oudh, I found most enjoyable. Let no one say, then, that there is not good shooting in Australia. Here is real sport within reach of all, and with such opportunities within his grasp, that shooter's soul must be an ignoble one indeed who would prefer the pigeon-trap to the glorious freedom of the interminable bush—the real rivalry of kindred spirits, and the bold free-shooting and steady nerve and skill required to shoot the bounding kangaroo.

The average number of beats per diem varied from four to six, but four drives daily was about the regular thing. There were about fourteen guns on an average all through the meet, the number killed per gun being six, and the average number of slain eighty-five per beat. This gives an average of just 340 head of game daily, taking bad with good days.

To give some idea of the vast numbers of the animals, and the rapidity of the firing, I may mention that on one occasion in February the astounding number of 547 were shot in one day, and of these 440 were shot after lunch. The biggest beat of 288 occurred that afternoon, just us the sun was setting, and the firing did not last more than twenty-five minutes at the very utmost. Had the sun but stayed above the horizon another ten minutes, probably another couple of hundred might have been shot. From the descriptions the men have given me, the scene must have been one of unparalleled excitement. There were only twelve guns, and some had to knock off from the barrels getting heated, and from lack of ammunition. The hottest corner after partridge or pheasant would find this hard to beat. Other two beats totalled 250 and 235.

The animals became, of course, .more wary as time went on, but this was counterbalanced by the increased accuracy of the shooters. For myself, I can only say that a more delightful week I have never spent, and better company or better sport I never wish to have.

I was surprised to find the skins held in such little esteem. Several I procured from the men, had been beautifully cured, and they made really handsome rugs and wraps. Had the process of curing them been followed out methodically, and on a mercantile basis, I feel certain a valuable industry might have been inaugurated, and much waste prevented. One element against any such attempt would be the excessive cost of carriage. Labour, too, is terribly dear, and the country difficult and rugged. Still, I think, men might have been employed to skin the fallen animals, and the peltries, roughly cured, might have been sent to Warwick or other towns, where an experimental tannery would surely have found constant and remunerative employment. This is not the only instance, however, I have witnessed in the Antipodes of deplorable waste, and seeming want of all appreciation of valuable natural products. In fact labourers were too scarce, and found plenty of other more remunerative work, and the extermination of the marsupials was too pressing a necessity to let considerations of the value of their skins stand in the way of their destruction. So hundreds of thousands have been wasted, that under more favourable circumstances might have given employment to capital and labour; and from the worthless carcasses of the bounding brigands have evolved a source of profit, which indeed may yet receive attention at the hands of some enterprising pioneer of industry, and secure him a .fair return for his outlay.

Shortly after I had written the above, I came across a paragraph taken from the Globe newspaper, which, as it bears out my remarks, I here reproduce, and commend the hint to my sporting friends in the back valleys and timbered ridges, where so many thousands of the wallaby and kangaroo are even now being shot down in myriads, and allowed to rot and go to absolute waste:—" The present crusade against the marsupials, which is being carried on with so much vigour in the Australian colonies, affords an opportunity, which the colonists seem rather disposed to throw away, of making a profit out of the enemy, which, under ordinary circumstances, they have not hitherto been able to do to any great extent. The skins of the kangaroo and wallabies, which are now being slain at the rate of many thousands a week in. Queensland alone, afford an excellent material for making leather, while, dressed with the fur on, they make useful carriage or railway rugs and other similar articles. Indeed, a very considerable trade has long been carried on in wallaby, kangaroo, and opossum skins, and as long ago as 1849 as many as 12,000 kangaroo skins were exported from Western Australia alone, and the number of pelts now imported into this country from Australia amount to many hundreds.

At Pikedale I visited the "Wash pool. It is a magnificent deep rippling pool, situated under a rocky cliff, with a rich small "flat" on the near side. Here are the engines, the circular yards for the sheep, and the various huts and buildings. The water is forced up by a strong centrifugal pump into a high sluice. There are numerous shoots, all holding a 12-foot depth of water. The sheep are made to pass through a bath of soap and water before they are put under the " rush." When they reach the rush tank the valve is
dreds of thousands. Before the late invasion by the marsupials of the settled districts induced the settlers to wage a war of extermination against the 'hoppers and jumpers,' the trade was gradually increasing in importance, and one firm in Melbourne alone exported over half a million kangaroo skins in a year to friends in London, who offered to take a million at a slightly reduced price. Unfortunately, however, the skins which are now sent to market are so carelessly removed from the animals, and packed in so dirty a condition, that they are often valueless, and thus, instead of making the most of their opportunity, the kangaroo-hunters are both spoiling the market and doing their best to exterminate the race of kangaroos. Many thousands are killed without the trouble being taken to skin them. This is a great and irremediable mistake. Skins, if properly dressed, are easily preserved, and there need be no fear of glutting the market, since the extraordinary harvest now being reaped might be held back and offered for sale gradually in after-years ; the expense of storing and the amount of capital allowed to be idle for a time would be repaid with interest as the ordinary supply of skins falls off, as it must do, in a year or two. Not only are the skins available for the manufacture of the best and most durable leather, as well as for use as "furs," but the thinner pelts make excellent gloves, and might also be used in bookbinding, covering furniture, and for other similar purposes. It is grievous therefore to hear of thousands and thousands of valuable skins being wastefully destroyed; and even in the most thinly-populated districts of Queensland it would be worth while to establish tanneries for the purpose of receiving the skins of the slaughtered beasts. The tails alone of the kangaroo, properly prepared as soup and preserved in tins, would form a large item of profit."

Stanthorpe is the focus of the tin-mining interest. When the metal was first discovered there was a tremendous rush to the locality. The tin was found in large quantities in the beds of the streams and gullies round the neighbourhood. It was as bad as the gold fever. Huts, shanties, hotels, erections of all sorts started up as if by magic, and Quart Pot Creek (the euphonious designation of the stream) woke up one morning to find a bustling town upon its banks. The surface-digging is now nearly played out, but several shafts have been sunk; and an active, and to all appearance permanent industry has been formed. The drags upon the road, with their heavy load of bags of tin, each load drawn by teams of ten and twelve horses, two and two abreast, are a fine sight. The horse being faster and more tractable than his patient cousin, the bullock, has usurped his place, and not nearly so many bullock drays are now seen as formerly. The drays are finely built, strong but light —and are, I believe, an American notion.

Altogether my trip to the Downs was a most enjoyable excursion. Without entering here into the land question, there is no doubt that vast areas up in this, and similar parts of the country, can never be fit for anything but pasture. Copper, antimony, tin, lead, and silver, there are indubitably in great quantities, and they may eventually be worked. The squatters are fine gentlemanly fellows—up to any amount of rough work, but not unmindful also of the refinements of life. Their hospitality is boundless. They have many difficulties to contend with. No doubt the great aim of the colony is to induce a productive population to settle, but due regard should be taken to the conservation of the squatter's rights and interests. Here, however, as I have noticed everywhere, party feeling, local interests, class jealousies, and bitter political hostility meet you on every side. It is next, to impossible to have a calm, temperate discussion on any matter. The settlers are too much jostled and elbowed by every one around to think of the future. The want of the moment must be satisfied; let the future take care of itself.

Nevertheless, so far as material resources and natural gifts are concerned, Queensland is a noble colony. Her political and social life have drawbacks undoubtedly, which, on the whole, it is better that a stranger should let alone, they will come right in time. The marble block is in the rough at present; it only wants the care, the skill, the time, and the hand of capable workers, to fashion it into a magnificent form that will be a triumph to all time.


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