Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Our Australian Cousins
Chapter XVI

Sporting proclivities—Gambling and betting—Lord Harris and the Cricketing Association of New South Wales—Colonial crowds— A public holiday—Bookmakers, the vultures of society—Their influence subversive of true sport—A water party on the harbour—Our host and hostess—Australian ladies—Less constraint and conventionality than in England—Precocity of the girls—Beauty of the harbour—Monman's Bay—A merry party—The eight-oar race between the .rival colonies—Account of the race between Trickett and Bush for the championship of the world.

Our Cornstalk cousins are decidedly a sport-loving race. The grand old games of England have struck root in a congenial soil at the Antipodes, arid all manly sports and athletic exercises here flourish with a vigour, which is not excelled even by the parent stock. In cricket and aquatics they have amply proved their incontestable excellence, as the names of Trickett, and the Australian eleven who proved their mettle against English cricketers, can testify. Nearly all sports, however, are tinctured with the fatal vice of gambling and betting. Especially is this the case on the turf. Australian race-horses are a magnificent breed of animals; but the baleful influence of the Ring shadows every race-course in Australia. . The late popular governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, by his example and patronage did much to bring the turf into favour and elevate the tone of the sport; but those ruffianly book-makers are the bane of the pastime, and that they abound in such hateful numbers is both proof of the existence of the gambling spirit referred to, and a fruitful cause of its spread and continuance.

It is no uncommon thing in provincial towns to find small coteries. of confirmed gamblers who, night after night, sit over the dice till dawn, and you may come upon couples slinking into the early bars to quaff their matutinal draught of rum and milk, to steady their nerves after a night's dicing and cards.

Many clerks in offices and banks regularly make their books on the races, and the gambling spirit is not confined to horse-races. The insidious poison blights with its presence almost every department of sport. The disgraceful scene at the match between Lord Harris' eleven and the Colonial team at Sydney, which has now become historical, owed its origin to the presence of professional betting men in the enclosure, which was supposed to be set apart exclusively for the use of the members of the Cricketing Association of New South Wales. I was witness of that disgraceful scene, and I must bear testimony to the deep-seated and universal feeling of shame and humiliation which pervaded the breast of every true sportsman in the assemblage. The one prevalent feeling was, "What will they think of ns in England?" Every apology that could be thought of, every amende that could be given was made to the visiting team, and I think it was, perhaps, bad taste in Lord Harris to make the public charge he did, after the sorrow and regret of the whole community had been tendered to him and accepted by him. The fons et origo of the whole scandal was the presence of these vultures of the Ring-in the cricket pavilion. The crowd that afterwards invaded the ground were composed almost entirely of the scoundrelly larrikins. That no policemen were there, at least not in sufficient numbers to clear the ground, was only an evidence how little their presence in ordinary circumstances is needed. A colonial crowd is, indeed, a miracle of orderliness and good-nature. I have seen elections, races, regattas, coursing matches, football and cricket contests, and public gatherings for every conceivable purpose, and I record my deliberate conviction that the demeanour of an Australian crowd will compare favourably with that of any kindred gathering in any part of the world.

It has been said that we northerners do not know how to enjoy ourselves. If the author of that idea could only see a Sydney crowd out for a holiday, he would certainly come to the conclusion that the Southern Briton most thoroughly knows how to make the best of a holiday. A New South Wales fete day would vie in gaiety with an Italian Carnival or a Hindoo mela. Family groups pour out of the city in every variety of vehicle, and the various roads diverging from the city look each like a miniature Epsom road-on the great Derby Day. . All the holiday-makers are well clad. Hampers of viands and drinkables are provided in lavish abundance. All is jollity, mirth, and good-humour, and to the credit of the populace, be it said, little drunkenness is seen. All seem possessed of plenty of money to spend, and they spend it freely. There are very few walking parties. Multitudes go for a day on the waters of the beautiful harbour; hundreds ride or drive to the various sea-side and suburban resorts. If Randwick Races be the scene of carnival, thousands repair to the noble course; but thousands more would flock thither if the brassy-throated vulture class were driven from the scene. Many of these are of the lowest type of humanity. They haunt the purlieus of low public-houses, and are generally in league with the low betting publicans. Many of them are the consorts of abandoned women, and act as jackals to those unfortunate pariahs of society. When a lucky digger, a drover, a station overseer, a bush hand, or purchaser, a new comer, with a few spare notes in his possession, or a foolish young squatter with more cash than brains comes to town, these hyenas mark him down at once. Woe betide him if he gets within their clutches ! They will strip him as clean as a sausage-skin. They are utterly devoid of pity.

The book-maker, or professional betting man, from the most lenient point of view, lives on a prevalent vice. He appeals to a vicious want, and inhaling a vicious atmosphere, and begirt by vicious surroundings, men do not generally look for the virtues of a Bayard among the blatant foul-mouthed slaves of the Ring. As one of the ignoble fraternity forcibly put it to a friend of mine, on one occasion, in a weak moment of cynical candour, they live by "Bestin." "Bestin is our game, sir," said the broken-nosed "sport." "Everybody else tries to 'best' us, and so we try to ' best' everybody at their own game." This is probably the most favourable point of view in which the bookmakers' ignoble vocation can be looked at.

It's a sorry satire on our boasted civilization, and loudly proclaimed love of, and interest in honest, manly sport, as a community at large, to see so many of these jackals thriving amongst us. They taint every sport with their presence. Their loud, strident, voices and brazen effrontery carry them everywhere. We even, on occasions, see them hobnobbing at the same table with Members of Parliament and of the learned professions, and responding at public dinners to the various toasts. If gentlemen who wish to bet would only bet with gentlemen, the area of operations of the blatant book-maker would be much circumscribed.

I have little doubt in my own mind that many of the best sportsmen and truest lovers of honest pastime abstain from taking an active participation in organizing public amusements, simply because the objectionable betting element is so strongly represented. Thus, as in politics, so in sport, second-rate busy-bodies and third-rate nonentities become the representative men. I am convinced more men of means would go in for keeping a horse that they could enter once a year for their local races if they felt secure against the vulgar familiarity, the obtrusive rascality, and the vile machinations of the betting men.

But so it is, and year by year racing gets more and more into the hands of sporting publicans, horsey butchers, and seedy characters of all sorts, and gentlemen, owners, breeders, and bona-fide sportsmen get more and more heavily handicapped. So it happens that gate-money becomes the paramount object in a race meet. The primary object of horse-racing—improvement in the breed of racers—becomes more and more a matter of secondary moment.

The existence of the magnificent harbour gives to the Sydney holiday-maker exceptional facilities for a day's rare enjoyment, such as are perhaps nowhere enjoyed in such perfection in any other port in the world. One of these rare water-parties yet lives in my memory. It was on the occasion of the first inter-colonial eight oar race eve*, rowed on the waters of Port Jackson. The contest was for the aquatic supremacy between Victoria and New South Wales.

I was the guest of a couple, w^hose hospitality, courtesy, and native kindliness of disposition endear them to a large-circle of acquaintances. They are a good type of the higher class of colonists. Native Australians both, education and refinement have taught them that the mere acquisition of wealth is not the "be all, and end all," of existence. Our host was devotedly attached to the country of his birth, and having a place in the councils of the nation, he makes his parliamentary position the means of stirring to advance the true progress of his country in all that will make her really and practically a great and progressive nation. Belonging to one of the learned professions, he fully recognizes the dignity of his position, and if we had more men of his stamp, taking an active and intelligent part in public life, we would not hear so much of the rampant jobbery and widespread corruption which generally follows when the reins of power are committed to the hands of needy, impecunious, professional place-hunters, and unscrupulous selfish politicians, whose first ambition is to aggrandize themselves, feather their own nests at the expense of the public, and legislate in the interests of the class that clamour the loudest, subordinating great questions of state to the vulgar outcry of the mob.

Our hostess is a specimen of the rare womanly beauty which ripens into such perfection beneath the ardent Australian sun. Indeed the traveller cannot fail to be struck with the general appearance of the Australian women. I think they possess greater charms of face and figure, and a more delicate, refined style of beauty, as a rule, than their northern sisters. Tlio Australian-born woman is generally tall, well proportined, agile, lithe of limb, and has all her features cut in a classic mould of rather a Grecian or aristocratic type. In plain words, I think Australian women are more generally pleasing, more lovely in feature and more graceful in figure, than English women. The climate has doubtless much to do with this, but beauty is not by any means confined to the wealthier classes. The free out-of-door life, the abundant fare, the freedom from many foolish kinds of conventionality which handicap the English girl, all go in favour of the Australian. One is surprised to find so many really beautiful faces and faultless figures, in all ranks; and the observant student of "the human form divine" must come to the conclusion, that so far as outward beauty is concerned, the race has not deteriorated - by its transplantation to the antipodes. The Australian, however, must strike her flag to the fresh rosy cheeks and ruddy warm complexions of the village beauties of the old country. Clear complexions are not the strong point of the Australian belles.

Far more freedom is accorded to Australian girls than mothers in England would ordinarily think consistent with propriety. The Australian beauty is quite able to hold her own in railway, omnibus, or steamboat. It is not considered at all uncommon or remarkable to see her go shopping, travelling, or visiting, without male escort or female chaperone. Whether the girls are improved by this, or the reverse, may be a moot point; opinions vary. Australians are certainly quick, intelligent, self-reliant. Their detractors, who may not have had the same degree of liberty- accorded them in their own youth, will occasionally hint that they are just a little too strong-minded, impulsive, forward, and free spoken. Let us assume that this is pure jealousy.

The curled darlings of the old country, in making advances, therefore, to the Australian blonde or brunette, frequently find themselves taken rather at a disadvantage. Their armoury of vapid commonplaces about the weather and such like stock topics are not unfrequently found insufficient to withstand the keen incisive torrent of sound sensible talk, showered on them by the self-possessed creature, whom in their sublime altitude of self-worship, they propose to patronize. The youth of this stamp will be fortunate if he do not find some patent foible of his own mercilessly exposed, and the weak points of his armour pierced by the shafts of a quick-witted raillery. The Australian belle is not above the blandishments of flattery, and a little scandal is seldom disagreeable to the female mind, but the ambitious youth who would make a good impression must address his partner as if she had brains in her head.

My business, perhaps my inclinings, have brought me more in contact with the male Australian than with the gentler sex, and I have seen more of the public than the domestic life of this vigorous young nation, but certainly (and now I write for my Anglo-Indian friends) if every neighbourhood around Sydney contains such a collection of truly charming families and neighbourly people as that suburb where I have the good fortune to reside, I would far prefer to spend my days here, than in the censorious, artificial, conventional, and cold formal atmosphere of an English provincial town. But perhaps the Hindoo proverb contains the truth, Ap Bhula to jaggat Bkula, "If thou art good, thy neighbourhood will be good also."

To return to our picnic. We had provided for our use a speedy little steam-launch. It was a cold morning, and great-coats, ulsters, wraps, cloaks, and warm coverings of all sorts were in request. We steamed gaily away from the crowded wharf. There was none of that cold, formal restraint which characterizes a mixed party in England. Merriment and good-humour were the prevailing features. By midday we had steamed into the sheltered recesses of Mossman's Bay. We disembarked at a primitive landing-place, and spread out the snowy cloth in a sheltered nook carpeted with the living greenery of the crisp, fresh-looking cooch grass. The genius who presided over the commissariat had had imperial ideas of hospitality, and while a fire was lighted, on which to boil the "Billy of tea" which is an indispensable adjunct to every Australian picnic, we hastily disinterred from their swathings of paper and straw the multitude of good things which had been provided. After lunch, we wandered along the sides' of the lovely gorge, and then again embarked and steamed off to witness the race, towards which point now numberless steamers, row-boats, yachts, sailing-skiffs, and pleasure-boats of all descriptions were rapidly working their way.

Nothing can exceed the zeal of young Australia for its sports, and this is well so long as sport does not stifle all taste for higher pursuits. There is just a danger of this, and we may even say a great danger, which is even now apparent. The gladiators of the intellectual arena are not greeted with the applause of the multitude, as are the bowlers, batsmen, scullers, runners, and athletes, who carry off the laurels in the Isthmian games Still the country is young, and let us hope that mental culture will in time become more general and popular.

The race of which I have to tell was rowed over the champion course, on Saturday, the 30th of June, 1877, shortly after my arrival in the colonies.

From earliest dawn, all dressed in gala costume, and well supplied with creature-comforts, the population of the city and suburbs had turned out en masse to witness the race. By mid-day, most of the shops were shut, and a steady exodus set in from the excited city. Trains densely packed with eager passengers shot swiftly along the line; omnibusses, parcel-delivery vans, waggonettes, cabs, in fact every description of vehicle rolled merrily over the roads, conveying their excited occupants to the scene of the contest. Steamers snorted and puffed and shrieked as they ploughed their way to Gladesville and other spots on the shore, bearing dense crowds of ardent partisans of the two men of the day, to witness from the cliffs and heights the grand match for the championship of the world.

The busy steamers threading their tortuous way along, the immense crowds fringing the rocky shores, and the countless fleet of boats and skiffs that fleck the water, crossing and recrossing, gliding here and dashing there,—a most wonderful panorama of ever-changing form and colour, a most magnificent and memorable sight.

Blue, being Trickett's colour, seemed universally worn. Steamers flaunted it from mast-head and prow. Row-boats showed some fluttering fragment as they danced along. In the streets it seemed to be the prevailing calpur. Hors^wore rosette s of it; the very whips were decorated with it. The more modest green of Rush seemed at a discount; but many hearts in the crowd beat warmly for him, and in every mind there was a conviction, that if indomitable pluck, and honest, manly emulation could wrest the coveted honour from its popular possessor, Rush of all men was the man to make a gallant struggle. Hen and Chicken Bay lay before us, as calm as a mill-pond and polished as a mirror; the bold masses of bush were reflected in its clear, still bosom, and with its air of perfect stillness and repose it proved a most marked and striking contrast to the thronged and agitated waters of the mid passage and to the eager, tumultuous, ever-moving, swaying crowds, that now clustered thick on every point and occupied every available foothold on the densely-populous shores. The sun had now burst from his canopy of cloud, and, as if sharing in the general excitement, flashed his penetrating rays on bush and rock, and dancing wave, till the sheen on the water was like a vast sheet of burnished silver, flashing from its glittering surface the concentrated rays of many moons. The scene was indeed a lovely one. The arrangements were most excellent. There was no confusion; the course was kept clear from first to last, and no accident occurred to mar the pleasure of the day.

By half-past three the course was all clear, and the numerous fleet of steamers had taken up their positions, being stationed on both sides of the rowing course, athwart the stream. The excitement had now reached a frantic height.

There was a hush and lull of expectancy. A six-oar now pulled slowly from the landing-stage, proceeding onwards in front of the Governor's barge, that genial and popular sportsman1 having been loudly cheered as he proceeded up the river. In the stern of the boat lay Rush's slender craft, and the gallant Irishman himself could be seen standing up m the middle of the boat, leisurely divesting himself of his outer garments.

Next, Trickett, seated in his fairy-looking racing skiff, emerged into view from behind Bowden's Wharf. His advent was the signal for a roar of welcome, and queries were showered from countless lips.

For the moment the two men were the cynosure of every eye—the observed of all observers. Rush soon took his seat in his boat, and pulled slowly and steadily forward to meet his formidable antagonist.

The two competitors quickly neared each other. We could see the drops of water flashing from their polished oars like beads of liquid silver. It was understood they were to start by mutual arrangement.

After a few preliminary evolutions, as if actuated by one impulse, both bounded forward like

"An unbroken steed when first he feels the rein,"

or like greyhounds dashing from the slips. "They're off at last'" "Splendid start!" "Rush leads!" are now the cries. Men hurry backwards and forwards. There was a mighty swaying and surging, and a great commotion amongst the crowds on the steamers.

It was true—Rush was leading, and, pulling with a quick, powerful stroke of forty-two to the minute, seemed to be increasing his distance Both men were not yet settled to their work, and threw up considerable spray. Rush looked the more bulky and tihe stronger of the two, but his action seemed somewhat strained, and had not the graceful ease of his lithe antagonist. Both men were now settling down, and already the fleet of steamers was in motion; and while volumes of smoke mingled with the escape steam, they bore swiftly down in pursuit of the tiny craft on which all eyes of that vast multitude were fixed.

Passing Uhr's Point, Rush led by a clear boat's length; nearing Blaxland's Point, and opposite Concord, he had somewhat increased his lead. Trickett now put on a spurt, and, amid enthusiastic cheers, waving of hats and handkerchiefs, and the most frantic excitement, began to overhaul his plucky opponent. Off Bottle Point the boats were close together, so close that we feared the oars must clash. This was the most madly-exciting moment of the race. The boats seemed bounding through the water. The men strained every nerve, and with each muscle tense and strung, eyes set, teeth clenched, and hearts beating with fierce emulation, they lifted the boats bodily forward at every stroke. It was now a struggle in dead earnest, and for several seconds the boats lapped and lapped each other—now one gaining a few inches, and now again receding. Steadily, however, the "Cornstalk" kept creeping up, and the Clarence River man kept getting, inch by inch, a rearward position. Round the bend the boats were abreast of each other, and, amid the most frantic cries on the part 'of the crowd, Trickett shot ahead, and from that moment he was again the secure Rowing Champion of the World.

With steady, bull-dog tenacity, however, the Australian representative of Green Erin struggled on. He rowed most gamely and manfully throughout. The race was now virtually Trickett's, who increased his lead until, when nearing the Rowing Club, he must have been eight lengths ahead.

Here he paused a moment to wave his hand to his enthusiastic admirers, who thronged the shore in countless numbers. Again the long, lithe, muscular arms sent the merry blades flashing through the water, the defeated, but dogged and determined, pursuer pulling gamely and steadily in the wake.

A perfect ovation now greeted Trickett. Men's minds seemed altogether off their balance; the roar of the cheering was like the noise of many waters. The air was loaded with clamorous bursts of applause, that echoed and re-echoed far down the river.

Pigeons wheeled round in mazy gyrations, bearing news of the issue of the contest to anxiously-expectant friends at a distance. Gun and pistol shots added their din to the mixed medley of sound. Amid cries, shouts, ringing cheers, waving of flags, hats, and handkerchiefs, and a culmination of excitement quite without a parallel in the history of the colony, and utterly indescribable in words, Trickett flashed past the judge's post.

So ended the famous boat-race. Long may the breed of men like Trickett and Rush continue. Against honesty and straightforwardness like theirs the machinations of the Ring are powerless. Long may the love of honest, hearty, manly sport flourish in Australia. May the cool resolution, the generous rivalry, the quick resource, the dogged determination, and the indomitable pluck that are the heritage of our race and the outcome of all manly sports and pastimes, follow the brave lads of Australia into the world.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus