Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXIV.

The completion of my preparations for the lambing was just in time for the commencement of operations. In the meanwhile I had passed several times to and fro between the back country and the home station.

page 168

On one of these occasions, on entering my house, my eye fell on the table, where was laid my mail—several letters and a whole bundle of Sydney Morning Heralds. My first feeling on seeing so many numbers of this journal was only surprise, until a pleasing thought suggested to me the cause, as I recollected my letter with stamps to the Editor of that paper, requesting him to forward their value in papers, in the event of the accompanying verses being thought worthy of a place in his poet's corner. What these verses were, the reader may recollect. Therefore in eager anticipation, I hastily opened one of the papers, and turning to the poet's corner my eyes were gratified with the sight of Lampiere's “Hutkeeper's Address”. Reading them carefully over, in this new form, I really thought that they became their position in the paper very well.

Feeling impatient to see the effect upon Lilly, of this proof of the merit of his friend's production, I went to the door and desired John to call to one of the black fellows, to cross over the river and tell Lilly that I wished to speak to him.

In a short time Lilly came stalking into the house. He was always keen to see the papers at any time, for although not much of a politician, he still had a desire to know how the “Coves who were at the helm of state were shaping,” as he rather quaintly expressed it. Besides this, he naturally wished to know all the news of the colony at large, and the main items of European news as well. In preparation for his coming I had the newspaper with the sheet in which the verses were, laid conspicuously open upon the table. “Oh, you have got the paper, Mr. Farquharson,” he said, his eye falling upon this as he entered the room. “Yes, Lilly, you can just take a look at it till I am ready to attend to you,” I replied, pretending to be engaged with my note book. He did so. In a surprisingly short time afterwards, he exclaimed with great eagerness—although usually Lilly was anything but an impulsive man—“Jeehosaphat, Mr. Farquharson, why Bill Lampiere's ‘Hutkeeper's Address to a Traveller’ is in this paper!”

“Yes, Lilly,” I answered, laughing, “I guessed the sight would surprise you.”

“Now, didn't I tell you there was real genius in that poem, and doesn't it look splendid now in print? I knew there was something in that young fellow's ‘nut,’ although he does look so soft and simple; he'll be having a book of his own yet! I'll get this poem and frame it, and hang it in my hut, when you are done with the paper.”

“Oh, you can have the paper away with you, see—I ordered a dozen when I sent the verses away; I thought perhaps that page 169 Lampiere would like to send copies of his composition home to his friends.”

Lilly's satisfaction was indeed unbounded, and I felt persuaded as I saw him marching away with the prized newspaper, that a present to himself of £20 would not have made him more happy than he then felt at this proof of his friend's talent. Lilly was indeed a warm-hearted, unselfish man.

My next source of pleasure in connection with these verses, was on the occasion of my presenting the paper in which they appeared to the author himself. It was positively a treat to watch the expression of almost childish delight and pride, that flushed Lampiere's cheek and kindled in his eye on thus seeing the production of his own brain actually staring him in the face, in the form of print. He read and re-read his own verses, as if he were desirous of familiarising his mind with words that, as he formerly assured me, “were already safely stowed away in the store-house of memory”.

When I handed him the extra number for transmission to his friends, he thanked me as much as if I had conferred some extraordinary favour upon him. Doubtless he regarded it as such; but I was amused at the importance that he attached to an action with which, with such little inconvenience to myself, I had been enabled to confer so much pleasure.

But to return to my lambing operations in the back country.

I still kept my whole staff of hands employed there: the two odd hands and a couple of black fellows, as assistants, at the lambing. One of these odd hands was Mulroy, to whom, as I have already stated, I purposed giving the charge of one of the lambing stations; the other, a man named Harvey, I sent to look after the strong lambs, at the lambing station under Campbell's charge. The two black fellows had the duty assigned to them of each looking after the young or green lambs, close to the hut, at both stations, their principal duty being to watch against the attacks of hawks and crows, especially the latter, upon the young lambs; for crows with their cruel beaks make short work of any weakling they find strayed, or lying asleep at a distance from its mother, by quickly digging out its eyes, and killing it. For the two bushmen, with Billy Stack, who attended on them with his team, and Charlie as cook, I had still plenty of employment in building huts and other yards, for the ewe flocks, in other parts of the run, when the lambing season should be over, as their present stations were to be kept free of stock, until required for the same work in the following season.

So determined was I that my plans should receive the benefit of a fair trial, that after the lambing had fairly set in I page 170 spent my whole time out in the back country; sleeping at the bushmen's hut, but during the day constantly in the saddle riding from one station to the other, going into the yards in the morning, and viewing how the lambs were attended to on the run, and seeing with my own eyes that none of the men were negligent of their duty.

As Lilly had predicted, I found in Lampiere a most conscientious shepherd for the lamb flock, when once he had been put into the way of managing these wilful young creatures, and of being prepared against their peculiar habit of making a break for their camp, whenever their shepherd left their rear.

When this occurs, any of the young creatures who chance to miss their mothers instantly and instinctively make a bee line back to their camp. If this stampede once begins it is extremely difficult to check it, for an ordinary dog is then utterly powerless to arrest them, as the senseless things pay no heed to his appearance at their front, and either double past, or bound over him.

Never shall I forget my intense amusement at the ridiculous spectacle poor Lampiere presented, on his first experience of this difficulty.

It had been explained to him, that he was to keep close upon the rear of the lambs, beating diligently among the bushes as he went along, to rouse up those who were asleep, for these are in such cases apt to be left behind, when they soon become a prey to crows and hawks and prowling dingoes.

So far, so good; but unfortunately Lampiere had not been also coached up in the further lesson, of first beating up the rear, with the quiet dog he had been provided with, when he found it time to go round the flock and head them for home. To trust this latter duty to the dog, was to run the risk of some of the lambs being cut off in the course of the career round the flock and darting in terror into the bush, and so being lost. Not knowing anything of this, Lampiere, when he at length deemed it time to head the flock back into the yard, had for this purpose left his hitherto careful station at the rear, when his attention was suddenly roused by a clamour behind him. Looking round he then saw with dismay a long string of lambs and ewes — lambs seeking their mothers, and mothers seeking their lambs, and more lambs following up these again—all making off as fast as they could for their camp, the lambs dancing and flinging capers in the air as they went along. Off ran Lampiere at the very top of his speed to head the runaways, but it was one thing to get at their heads and quite another to stop their progress when there. He ran, and yelled, and sent his dog in front of them, ordering the animal to speak up at the same time; but page 171 all to no purpose: the lambs only bounded higher in the air and ran all the faster. Just then I happened to ride up to the hut, and hearing a loud, splitting laugh, on looking for the occasion of it, as I came out of the scrub that came close up to where the hut stood, I beheld Mulroy literally shaking with laughter, and then observed poor Lampiere, hanging with one hand for support to a tree, and holding his hat in the other gasping for breath, whilst the mischievous lambs that with the ewes still kept streaming along on each side of him were, as if in sheer derision, actually kicking their heels at him as they passed.

I really could not help laughing myself on beholding the spectacle of helpless despair that poor Lampiere then presented, but we soon explained to him how to prevent a recurrence of the same accident, after which he got on famously, entering with heart and soul into his work, and putting himself to great pains to save any distressed-looking motherless lamb that he noticed, whose plaintive bleating, he declared, went to his very heart. As the final result of these laborious pains on my part, I found, to my infinite satisfaction, when the time for marking the lambs came, that while at Campbell's station the tally of lambs' tails represented a percentage of 99, that at Mulroy's station amounted to 103, the best percentage of lambs, as Mulroy remarked, that had ever been recorded in all the Darling district. The higher percentage at Mulroy's station, although Campbell's was also excellent, I readily ascribed to the greater care and attention paid by the former, combined with Lampiere's painstaking and unremitting attention to the lambs under his charge, by which hardly any, if indeed any at all, had been lost in the scrub or neglected in any way. With the man Harvey, on the other hand, though on the whole attentive, the same pains-taking care had not been so conspicuous; while in his flock I had frequently observed lambs whose pinched-looking noses and tucked-up appearance betrayed unequivocal signs of having been lost or deserted by their dams. However, the men had now no reason to regret my vigilance, because of the increase in their wages that this large percentage now secured to them. And thus this great business of lambing was at length satisfactorily dispatched, and we may turn to more eventful records.

The nature of my arrangements with the men whom I had, after the closing of the lambing, left at the back country, was as follows:—

Lampiere I left in sole charge of the flock that he had tended so well. Campbell and Crow I took in with me to the river station, to give them flocks in their former quarters, dispensing with Harvey; his flock was consigned to Burrel's page 172 charge, who, now that Lampiere was placed in charge of a flock of his own, preferred doing without a hutkeeper. This arrangement is common among shepherds, who, in consideration of the additional wage thus earned by doing their own cooking, etc., voluntarily lead the life of hermits among the back country solitudes. Such monopoly, however, is frowned upon by many bushmen, as tending to reduce the number of station offices that would otherwise be open for the employment of hard-up swaggers.

Charlie Knight was left to cook in the hut where Lampiere was now stationed until I should require his services, at no distant date, at the men's hut during the shearing season. At the hut with Lampiere the two bushmen, Crawford and Macalister, were still staying to complete some fences with Stack and his team; but the three latter, shortly afterwards, on the completion of their task, were to remove to the scene of operations for the dam, in constructing which they were to employ the interval between that time and the shearing.

Mulroy had now left me, to my great regret, I having no employment for him that would induce him to remain longer with me.

After Lilly, I never saw a man whom I could have liked better to have with me on a station. He was a man of about forty years of age, rather slight, but active, and very energetic, with a clean, smart appearance, and frank, open face. Although his education was limited to a mere knowledge of reading, for it was with the utmost difficulty that he could scrawl his own name, yet he had a keen, intelligent mind, and was acquainted with the writings and histories of some of the most famous British authors. In that particular, indeed, he was greatly superior in intelligence to Lilly. Like the latter, he could be depended upon like steel in matters of trust, and, like him also, could turn his hand to almost any sort of station work, everything he tried succeeding; although in point of artistic taste and downright mechanical skill, taken all round, in these particulars he was decidedly inferior to Lilly. Though small of stature, he was as firm in manner as he appeared to be courageous in spirit, and I had often admired the way in which in discussions with the fiery and more powerfully built Crawford, who, when checkmated, was at times inclined to bluster, the stern decision with which he could maintain his own ground until the other, who, as the saying goes, was “big enough to eat him,” thought it wise to retreat from the high ground he was on such occasions inclined to take. If anything had occurred by which I should have been deprived of Lilly's services, I should at once have offered Mulroy the vacant post, for I page 173 knew of none who seemed so fitted in every way to fill up the void that Lilly's loss would have occasioned in Tappio.

As things were, however, I could offer no sufficient inducement to prevent his going away to other places where his good qualities were known and prized.

Like Lilly, although no drunkard, he was seldom encumbered by a superfluity of cash, owing to a like happy-go-lucky way of parting with his money. He left me, but for the short time he was with me I was strongly prepossessed in his favour, and lament that I never saw him again; although I have often wondered since as to what had become of him. Such are the wandering and unsettled habits of Australian bushmen. I only knew that after leaving me Mulroy went towards Queensland.