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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter IV

"We leave Somerset—The Australian coast—The "Black fellows"— A wreck—Brisbane—Aspect from the river—Signs of progress— Hotels—Loungers at the bars—The streets—Houses of Parlia­ment—Yiew of the city—Queensland a fine poor man's country.

After leaving Somerset we encountered heavy squalls and almost incessant rain. The decks were sloppy and miserable; a blinding sheet of hissing rain hid the blurred outlines of the coast from view, and we had to anchor each night, it was so thick. "We discharged our Chinese passengers at Cook-town on the 23rd, and were glad to be relieved of their unsavoury pre­sence. A poor digger, who had come all the way from Singapore, died here within a day's sail of his home, and was consigned to his deep-sea grave that morning. Next day the weather was worse than ever, and seemed to affect the spirits of every one on board. Our cap­tain shone out to-day. He growled at everything and everybody, and his very hair seemed stiff.

After passing Bowen, a small seaport some 700 miles from Somerset, we enjoyed a beautiful warm Sunday, passing some of the finest coast scenery we had yet beheld. The coast is bold and rocky; great moun­tains, literally clothed with dark green foliage, rise there from the water's edge; huge boulders and rocky cliffs peer out from their nests of pine and bushy scrub; numerous cascades and torrents leap down from cliff to cliff; islands lie scattered on all sides. A long glistening line of beach, with dark masses of trees behind, and the water rippling among the sand and shells—indeed a vision of beauty. We could make out several natives among the rocks and bush on the shore, and one or two came out in their light bark canoes, and cried out for tobacco and biscuits, some of which we threw to them. They are a repulsive-looking race, perfectly naked, with great ridges of flesh all over their shoulders and ribs. It seemed as if they had gashed themselves, and then, inserting pebbles or other solid substances in the wound, allowed the flesh to grow over and enclose the foreign body, whatever it may have been. I discovered afterwards that these ugly fleshy protuberances are the honourable scars gained in the frequent exercise of the duello. When two of them quarrel, they challenge each other to mortal combat. Grasping each the other, as wrestlers do, they begin by cutting each other with knives, shells, or sharp flints, down the shoulders, ribs, and thighs. Gash for gash is stolidly given and received, and, whoever can cut the deepest, and stand the horrid carving process the longest, is adjudged the victor. These people have no notion of even the. rudest agricultural operation, and live entirely on fish, berries, roots, insects, and wild animals. All along this coast the aborigines are pretty numerous. They are a treacherous and cunning race, never moving out at night, and never sleeping two nights in the same place. Their gunyah or hut is simply a few branches of brushwood thrown together and tied at the top.

On the night of the 25th we stopped near, the wreck of the ill-fated "Singapore," and took off the captain, a fine-looking fellow, who had been on the island, staying by the wreck, since the disaster, which had but a few weeks previously occurred. "We could see distinctly, in the clear moonlight, the masts, spars, and part of the hull of the luckless vessel, as well as the black rock on which she struck. All the crew were saved; the cargo, a valuable shipment of tea, and the vessel her­self, were a total loss, their combined worth being about 100,000l. The ship was only about a mile from the shore where she struck, and was another sad evidence of the crying necessity for a thorough survey of these waters. "We gazed through the night-glasses, and saw our boat pull round the ill-fated wreck. We could not help sympathizing with the poor captain, who only had saved- the clothes he stood in, and seemed quite unmanned when he took farewell of the poor wreck of his gallant vessel, that had borne him so proudly in many a rude conflict with storm and surge.

By the time we entered Moreton Bay, and steamed slowly through its muddy waters in the little tug-boat, I was beginning to feel stronger and better than I had ever thought possible. My American friend and I bade a kindly adieu to the officers, but were not sorry to part with our crusty captain. Brisbane, the growing capital of Queensland, was now our goal.

The bay and river do not look either imposing or picturesque when they first burst on the view. There is a wide semicircular bay, studded with black posts, red beacons, and other channel marks; and the distant low-lying shores are guarded by outlying mud-flats, and fringed with a thick belt of fever-suggesting man­groves. You can make no mistake about the fact that there are mosquitoes. These blood-thirsty insects were a terrible plague.

It was now the month of March, when the most pleasant season of-the year perhaps for Queensland begins, the day's heat being tempered by a bracing wind, and the nights still, balmy, and cool. After we leave the open bay, and enter the Brisbane river, there are all the evidences of an approach to some important centre of commerce. The river winds in and out among richly-wooded slopes, or broad reaches of mangrove-covered swamps. Various small craft spread their tiny sails, and skim lighty over the stream, which, however, nowhere attains any great breadth. River steamers pass and re-pass, with their funnels vomiting huge volumes of smoke; some with the old-fashioned paddle-boxes very high out of the water, others with a huge revolving wheel right astern. Big ships of over 1000 tons burthen lie anchored in mid-stream. A steam-dredger is busy deepening the channel in parts; row-boats flit to and fro; wharves and private landing-stages project into the water from almost every point. Here the tin smelting-works, and there the steam rope-walk, resounding with the clang of machinery, and the busy hum of labour, show us that new enterprises are being rapidly organized; while on the wooded heights there is a strange jumble of half- cleared land, virgin forest, trim gardens gay with flowers, and neat villas and cottages with light verandahs. Here a handsome stone church, and there a paddock of scrubby grass and charred tree-stumps. A strange mixture of rocky cliff and trim terraces— the ruggedness of nature and the ordered works of human industry.

This half-completed aspect of the place at once strikes the stranger fresh to the colonies. In the streets, some wooden shanty, with a few old weather-boards.

roughly nailed together for a "lean-to," roofed with rusty iron, old packing-tin, and tattered tarpaulin, lifts its unkempt head beside the stately erection of hewn stone and painted brick, ornate with sculptured cornices innumerable, vaulted halls, and floors of slate or marble. Brisbane is beautifully situated, and at every turn the work of creation is going on.- Buildings of brick and stone are rapidly taking the place of wooden ones. New wharves are being built; the roads, which as yet are very rough and uneven, are being levelled and metalled. Queen-street, the principal artery of the town, is a wide busy thoroughfare, well-watered, paved, and lighted, with handsome shops and offices, and imposing town-hall, and a roomy post-office.

There is one theatre, not of the most gorgeous type, and the hotels are numerous, the best perhaps being the Metropolitan, the Australian, the Queen's, the Royal, and the Imperial; but there are many others good, clean, and comfortable. In these the attendance is all that could be desired; the cookery and food plain, but excellent; and the charges very moderate. One can live at an hotel very comfortably indeed for Rs. 25 to 30 per week, and board in pri­vate lodging-houses can be had even cheaper; but the rooms are, as a rule, little better than bonnet-boxes, so far as size is concerned. It is pretty much the same all over Australia. You may get cleanliness, good food, decent drink, and even pleasant company at an hotel, but you cannot get roominess. The cab charges are rather heavy — four shillings an hour, and cabman-nature much the Same here as in other places; that is, they will take more if they can get it. Straw- hats with puggrees are worn by most of the pedestrians, and nearly all the working men eschew coats alto­gether, and display the quality of their linentfofe world.

At every street, corner nearly there is a bar, and lounging round it' invariably three or four bronzed hardy ruffians in cabbage-tree hats and shirt-sleeves. I use the word ruffian in a strictly Pickwickian sense. Such a ruffian is in every instance a free and indepen­dent elector; candidates for legislative honours bow to him; editors belaud him; political wire-pullers flatter him, and generally he thinks no small-beer of himself. The short "cutty," and black leather belt, with a small pouch like an ammunition pouch, thick ser­viceable boots, and corduroy or moleskin trousers, com­plete the costume.

"What these men are I cannot discover. Whether up-country draymen, bushmen, diggers, stockmen, or men out of work, I know not; but from earliest morn till far into the night, every bar is the resort of some half-dozen of their kind, and the routine of the day goes on without apparent change. The routine con­sists in whittling a stick of tobacco of amazing black­ness and hardness, with an aroma as pungent as of 500 Trichinopolies rolled into one. The chips are then worked in the horny palm, pressed into the bowl of a short black clay, and ignited. Much expectoration follows the smoking thereof, and also a consuming thirst. A few expletives are uttered, and then a general adjournment to the bar; and so on from hour to hour, and from day to day.

Another thing that strikes the stranger from Cal­cutta or the East, is the total absence of bullock hackeries and other outlandish vehicles. . Here are the old home carts, drawn by powerful draught-horses; milk carts, butchers' carts, and merchants' drays, some with two horses harnessed abreast. The private buggies and American waggonettes are all substantial looking, and evidently intended more for real use than for ornament. Mark the contents of the stores, too, and you see little traces of the refinements of a luxurious population. Galvanized iron, hardware, farm tools, buckets, flour, harness, and other similar articles, all show that this apparently is a people much given to hard labour, and who as yet have neither time nor inclination for dilettanti work, for fancy articles, and costly luxuries.

Here and there you meet a miserable party of abori­gines, hawking nuts or berries about the streets, con­tent with food enough for the immediate cravings of hunger; .lazy, degraded, and vicious. What a con­trast with the fine, hardy Anglo-Saxon settlers around. One begins to feel proud of his race again, and, after the secluded, faineant life of an Indian station, these new surrundings brace one up body and mind.

Only fifteen years ago this city was a waste of dense jungle, reeking swamp, and barren hill-side, and now it is the progressing capital of a great colony, destined, I firmly believe, to be one of the mightiest cities of the future, as Queensland, if wisely governed, cannot fail to become one of the giant states of the world, when the genius of our race shall have developed her bound­less resources, and settled a teeming population over her ample and prolific expanse.

Having been introduced to the Queensland Club, and meeting there some members of both houses of the Colonial Parliament, I was asked to take a look over the "Parliament House," and accompanied by one of the members went accordingly.

It is an oblong structure of imposing dimensions, with a dome at either end, and a fine ornamented square dome and turret in the centre. The arrange­ments for members, Speaker, spectators, and officers of the court were most complete, and the ornamentation neither gaudy nor tawdry, but in the best possible taste. There are line lavatories, an upper and lower library, containing over 9000 volumes; smoking and refreshment-rooms, and numerous private and public chambers for officers and others: the whole cost was 75,000l. . One has not to be long in the colonies be­fore he finds the magic letters M.P. have scarcely the significance they bear in the neighbourhood of West­minster. But the majority of the Queensland legis­lators to whom I had the privilege of an introduction, were beyond a doubt earnest, capable, intelligent, and honourable men. There were and are a few exceptions, but on this subject I may have a few remarks to make in a future chapter. From the turret on the roof one gets a magnificnt panoramic view of the city and its suburbs. The river winds completely round it, en­closing it as with a belt of silver on three sides, the bend being occupied by Government House, Parliament House, and the splendidly kept Botanical Gardens, whose trim lawns and terraces, studded with all the beauties of the vegetable world, slope to the water's edge. Queen Street runs from bank to bank of the river, and you can see the masts of the shipping from either end of the street. Towering above the other houses are the Observatory on Spring Hill, the Normal School, Roman Catholic Cathedral, Masonic and Town Halls, and Railway Station; while the elegant Victoria bridge hangs in mid air. One great virtue the Queens- landers possess in common with the Wise Men of the East—their hospitality is unbounded.

The servants here, although remarkably well paid, are a great source of anguish to the ladies. As at home, they are the principal domestic grievance. Girls get from ten to twelve shillings a week, men, such as grooms and gardeners, from 21. upwards; but if you say a word of censure or expostulation to them, they consign you to Jehannam, and tell you to suit your­self elsewhere. Of course all are not alike, but the majority are dreadfully independent, and too often very insolent.

Queensland is a fine poor man's country. A la­bourer on the wharves earns his shilling an hour; work­ing men on the roads from six shillings a day; and a tradesman nine to ten shillings, and even more at times. Besides they all want their Saturday and Sunday as holidays, when the consumption of drink is calculated to increase the revenues of the country, to an extent that may certainly gladden the heart of the Treasurer who contemplates a probable deficit, but which sad­dens the true patriot or earnest statesman. Luxuries are dear—eggs two shillings a dozen, butter half-a-crown a pound; groceries and clothes are also expensive; but as some atonement the best butcher's meat can be bought for 2d. to 4d per lb., and vegetables and fruits are cheap and plentiful. A bachelor, boarding out, could live very cheaply here, but a family man, to live in any degree of comfort, needs 500l. a year at least.

The climate from April to August is very fine in­deed. The sun has certainly registered up to 120° in the shade; but such heat is exceptional, and even then is dry, not the moist relaxing heat of many parts of India. February is generally a wet month, whilst westerly winds prevail in September and October, which brings on colds and throat affections; but on the whole the climate is bracing, healthy and pleasant, and infinitely to be preferred to that of Bombay or Calcutta. There is no doubt that the colony is wonder­fully rich in natural products and has a mighty future before it. Capital, energy, and skill abound, though labour is at present a great difficulty. To a con­sideration of this question I shall devote some portion of a future chapter.

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