An Australian Parsonage/Chapter VIII

CHAPTER VIII.

Length of summer and winter—Rapid change of weather—Bull-frog—Perplexing sounds—Healthiness of hot weather—No palliatives to heat except sea-breeze—Flies—Ants—Housekeeping difficulties—Fleas—Flowers—Raspberry-jam blossoms—Cow-keeping—Goats and Sabbatarianism—Churning—Scarcity of cheese—Cow-tenting—Bells and herd attractive to cow—Sameness of diet—Australian mutton tastes differently to English mutton—Bunbury beef—Pink everlastings—Road making and mending—"Governor Hampton's cheeses"—Horses and foals—Colonial gates—Aptness of horses to stray—Horse hunting—Obliged to hobble our horse—Horse gets rid of side-saddle—"Gum-suckers"—Headlong riders—Eating a dolghite—Description of one—Evergreen trees—Clearness of atmosphere—"Choosing frocks out of the sky"—Southern Cross—Thunder-storms—Chimney struck—Twisted trees do not attract lightning—Suitability of climate to consumptive patients—Peculiarities of climate—Bishop Salvado's opinion of it.

The length of the summers in Western Australia was somewhat variable, taking one year with another. The hot weather usually began in November, though I have also known it to commence a month earlier: and there was a similar degree of irregularity with regard to the setting-in of the winter rains. I remember that one season they began upon the 31st of March, and in another that the heat continued very great till the 17th of April, when a thunder-storm occurred and broke up the weather; but the transition from summer and excessive drought to a moist and rainy time was seldom otherwise than sudden.

Nothing more instantaneously marked the change of seasons than the sound of the bull-frog, whose business it seemed, like the bull in the funeral of Cock Robin, to toll the knell of the departed summer on the evening of the first rainy day. If the winter thus announced had been one of ice and snow, there would have been something most lugubrious in the bull-frog's way of heralding it, but sounds depend much for their effect upon the circumstances with which we mentally associate them. The chirping of the grasshopper, for instance, was disliked by Rosa, "because it reminded her of summer," although the very recollection of summer, with which the sound of the chirp is associated, has probably been one of the chief reasons that has made the lively little singer so popular with poetical writers. Summer, however, as she appears in English hedgerows and in the Australian bush, wears two distinct aspects, and to a servant's mind the idea of that season in Swan River is connected with little else than the remembrance of intense heat, that converts each ordinary household task, in scholastic language, into "an imposition."

In the course of a few weeks the frog seemed to cheer up a little, or to give place to a musician in better spirits; for his one continuous mournful note, sounding each time as if shot out of his lungs on a sudden, was changed to three lively ones, so unlike any which we had ever heard from frogs before that we could not for several nights determine by what agency they were really produced. These notes had such a metallic sound that at first I thought the noise came from a blacksmith's shop, whilst my husband was equally certain that it was a distant cracked piano; eventually I renounced the notion of the anvil in favour of a jew's-harp, and to this last comparison I adhered, even after we became aware that frogs were the performers.

The rapid lowering of the temperature that accompanied the change from summer to winter was trying to most persons, shown in nothing so much as in the frequent prevalence of dysentery in the month of May. In fact there never seemed to be so complete an absence of illness in Barladong as in the summer, when the ground was as hard with heat as if it had been frozen, and bad smells were impossible in air which was dry as that of an oven: when what had been pretty flower-gardens looked no better than patches of stubble, and 80° Fahrenheit was by comparison cool and comfortable, rather than oppressive.

When the thermometer was standing at from 96° to 107° in the shade, and people were obliged, notwithstanding, to work in the harvest-field, and to cook dinners, the battle of life might be said to have commenced in good earnest; a fact which the very fowls acknowledged by going about with all their feathers in a ruffle, holding them as it were off their skin, in hopes that a little fresh air might penetrate. In such weather labour was a severe trial, but still it was not unhealthy, that is, we very seldom heard of sunstroke or of any other sickness; but I cannot help thinking that life must wear out faster for such exposure, and it is certain that youthful looks are far more fleeting than in England.

Of means and appliances for making the heat more endurable there are scarcely any. I never saw but one punkah in the colony, nor was ice ever to be seen except at the Governor's, who possessed a freezing machine. The sea-breeze is the only palliative, and over the sixty parched miles that lay between us and the sea-shore it came sweeping up almost every afternoon that the summer lasted. Our house did not even boast the advantage of a cellar, and yet, in consequence of the dry atmosphere, the keeping of meat was less difficult than during hot weather in England; the grand obstacle, in fact, lying less in the heat than in the flies, of which it is impossible to exaggerate the annoyance. Often, unless we devoured our dinner with a Transatlantic haste, the state of our plates, even before our hunger was satisfied, was such as must be guessed rather than described; the principal dish also falling such an easy prey to our tormentors as to make the expression pièce de résistance a contradiction in terms.

Wire covers were much in vogue for protecting the eatables, but we soon gave them up as useless, finding that the flies passed under them with ease upon tables that were never level in a climate that warped all articles of wood, and we therefore preferred, whilst we sat at dinner, to keep the joint covered with a napkin, in which, the instant that we had finished our repast, it was rolled up bodily, as if in readiness for a pic-nic, the bundle being then tied closely in a thick sack, and suspended in the verandah for the night. Nor was meat by any means the only object attacked by the flies; even unskimmed milk was not always safe from them, and so much time was consumed in mere precautionary measures that there were days when a housekeeper felt almost in despair.

Ants, too, would perplex us, especially a tiny sort of black ant, which would swarm over our provisions, and even get into tin canisters which had been placed for security upon tables standing with their four legs in water. It took some pains to discover how the ants managed to circumvent the saucers of water, but we found that the spiders were their engineers, and that the ants had passed over the cobwebs which they had stretched between the wall and the table.

House-flies were so numerous that they left ugly traces of themselves upon all that was not originally black, destroying wall-papers and the binding of books; everything, in fact, which could not be restored with soap and water. Ladies' bonnets and white muslin dresses lost their freshness unless stowed away on the instant that they were taken off, and if people were not perpetually cleaning their windows and looking-glasses they refused either to reflect or to be seen through. A neighbour of ours, who said that he could never see to read a book unless he cleaned a window first, wishing the world hereby to understand what an exceedingly idle wife he had, chose but a poor, and I may say unfair illustration of his lady's failings, so infinitely less idleness being required to produce a similar effect in Western Australia than would be the case in England.

The time at which the house-flies gave us really the most vexation was in our mid-day rest, when they rendered sleep quite impossible unless the bed was protected as against mosquitoes, of which last we had but few, excepting close to the river-side or in the neighbourhood of swampy land.

But we had this consolation, that all the pests did not come together. Ants were busiest in summer-time, but intense heat lessened the house-flies considerably, and in July and August even blue-bottles seemed to be ready to lay down their arms and to proclaim a two months truce. However, what we gained in one way we lost in another, for at the precise period when the last-named enemies discontinued their hostilities the fleas proclaimed war, and that in such a manner as to leave no doubt in a reasonable mind that their design, had their power equalled their blood-thirstiness, was the extermination of the whole human race.

At home fleas are generally supposed to beat a retreat before cleanly housemaids, and to a certain extent even in Western Australia they have an aversion to the use of buckets and brooms; but in spite of unremitting scrubbings and sweepings, the fleas, with apparently "nil desperandum" for their motto, caused us such nights of broken rest that, in suffering from their misdirected energy, we wished often and devoutly that the excellent man who founded a school of industry for them in London, had thought fit to establish a branch seminary in a colony where so much larger a class existed of those whom he sought to educate.

With the first commencement of rainy weather the mignonette would begin to flower and the peach-trees to blossom in our garden. It is curious to observe of the latter that those trees which have been propagated by grafts invariably lose their leaves at the end of summer, whereas seedling peaches follow the laws of the indigenous trees and preserve their foliage. As the rainy weather continues, flowering bulbs of all kinds, which have been imported from England and the Cape, ixias especially, appear in the greatest beauty; both they and the annuals which we are accustomed to see at home, as well as the large scarlet geraniums, revelling in a season which though possessing the name of winter has none of its home characteristics. Whilst this transformation was effecting in the gardens, which had lately looked so desolate, the bush was not behindhand in assuming a new appearance. The wattle, which is one species of the many kinds of Australian acacia, led the van amongst the indigenous flowering trees, and showed its pale yellow blossoms before May was over. Later in the rainy season the wattle was outvied by the acacia called the "raspberry jam," the flowers of which are of the brightest gold colour and grow in such abundant clusters that some of these trees appear better furnished with flowers than leaves. One variety droops like a weeping willow, so that when in bloom every separate spray is a long hanging wreath, "waving its yellow hair," as Moore says of the acacias in Arabia. All the jam-trees are in their chief beauty in September, a time of year when heavy westerly gales often occur, bringing with them sharp sudden storms of rain, broken by bright gleams of sunshine. On such days to stand upon a hill-side that commands a tract covered with these trees, their flowers at one moment obscured by the driving rain and wind, and at the next brilliantly lighted up by the sun, is a sight not soon to be forgotten. Many of the acacias which I have been describing reach the height of 40 feet at least, and are sometimes much overgrown by a thick parasite with long trailing twigs, bearing a red waxy-looking flower at Christmas-time.

Those persons who kept cows were always glad when they calved early in the winter months, first because there was then a probability of plenty of grass by the time that the calf could eat it, and next because they thus secured as long a time as possible before the heat prevented them from churning. It must not be supposed that grass, in the common acceptation of the word, is often made into hay; what were called hayfields in our part of Western Australia were for the most part wheat or oat crops, sown to be used as hay, and cut green as soon as they came into flower. Pasture of all kinds was in fact very precious, and we, who generally had a fair amount of grass in the winter, were exposed to much annoyance from neighbours who made a practice of keeping live-stock without the means of feeding it at their own expense. There is no need, however, to visit Australia in order to find similar stock-owners. In an English village I have known dumb animals to be kept in good condition under precisely parallel circumstances, and a removal of their owner in consequence to a Government institution naïvely described to us as "Penton Villa" by his friends. Neither he nor his friends, however, took up religious grounds in pleading excuses for his fancy of feeding his live-stock at his neighbour's granary. But one lives and learns. An old pensioner, whose children had more than once brought pigs into our field and depastured them there as on a common, deliberately tethered his goats upon our ground on one especial Sunday, and because another person pulled up the tether pins and told us of the trespass, the proprietor of the goats appeared at our door as an aggrieved party very early on Monday morning, with a request to see "his Reverence." I asked whether the case was not one in which a lady would do as well as the clergyman; my visitor replied that it possibly might be such an one, "if like St. Paul, ma'am, you will hear me patiently," and down sat the pensioner as if determined to enact the image of patience herself. "I want to know, ma'am," he began, "by what rule or authority Pensioner Brown dares to pull up the tether of my goats in his Reverence's fields?" I evaded the question by begging to be informed what business the goats had had there, and he answered that "it was the Sabbath day." Upon this I reminded him that he had asked no permission from us, and my observation appeared at once to furnish him with a mode of defence. "I could not ask permission, ma'am," he answered in a virtuously injured manner, "it was the Sabbath day, ma'am. You know, ma'am," he continued, "the Bible says we may feed our beasts upon that day," and here he lowered his voice condescendingly on account of my probable ignorance of the passage to which he referred, "but ask leave on the Sabbath to tether them?" (and at this point his tones rose high with moral indignation,) "O, dear no, ma'am, I could not think of doing no such thing!"

We were often struck by the regularity with which two or three days of rain almost always occurred in the otherwise hot and dry month of February, generally about the thirteenth; a most beneficent provision of nature, enabling the farmers to sow their fields some weeks before the regular rains set in, since this, which was called the first rain, was followed by a return of extreme heat. Churning ends towards the beginning of November, and though I have heard of ladies who continued the practice of it daily throughout the summer, yet, as no ice is procurable, the substitute of cream, scalded in the Devonshire fashion, looks at that season far more inviting and appetizing than the semi-liquefied butter. But, as a general rule, all dairy produce was very costly "over the hills," the price of butter, whether salt or fresh, being half-a-crown a pound, and milk being so scarce as to be often obtained with the greatest difficulty. Cheese, when it could be bought, often cost nearly as much as butter, but it was only at distant intervals that we were able to procure it, and the absence of this sheet anchor of the English larder perplexed me sorely when I commenced my colonial house-keeping. If a stranger breakfasted with us the sight of milk always provoked more or less comment upon its scarcity, and discussions of the comparative merits of cows and goats. The latter are more commonly kept than cows, and that both should be dry is a still commoner occurrence. Goat's milk is so rich that, if not intended for sale, one feels it no crime to water it; but to milk a goat is back-aching work, and makes one wish that the creatures stood upon a pedestal.

I once found a little fair girl watching a goat and two kids by the road-side, and the group looked so pretty that I stopped to admire the flock and its shepherdess, when she, laying her hand caressingly upon one of the buff-coloured innocents, dispersed my romance with the words "We shall have this for dinner next Sunday." The usual feeding-ground of the cattle belonging to the pensioners and other towns-people of Barladong was what was called the "Government run," a phrase which denoted all such bush in the vicinity as had not been appropriated to private holders. A poor old fellow, who had been a convict, eked out a scanty living by acting as cow-tender to this miscellaneous herd, consisting of some twenty-five head of rawboned cattle, mostly young stirks, which he drove out every morning and brought home again at night. For the care of each animal the cow-tender received twopence a week from its owner, and lived on the proceeds of his gains in a little mud hut which no English person would have supposed to be the residence of a human being, excepting for the fact that a little clay oven stood beside it. As each beast wore a bell upon its neck, in order that its whereabouts amongst the trees and stony heights might be ascertained, there was an amount of merry tinkling, when the herd started at sunrise, which sometimes proved so fascinating to our cow in her field, that she would jump the fence in a most spirited and hunter-like fashion in order to make one of the party. The exhilarating noise, however, must have been almost the only attraction, for the much-frequented "Government run" afforded scarcely any pasture, excepting in the winter. A fixed determination to calve in the bush was another of our cow's peculiarities, and on one such occasion neither she nor her calf could be discovered until after much search, and the promise of five shillings to the person who should find her. She reappeared at the end of several days with a very fine calf, followed by a little Irish boy who had found out her hiding place in a thicket at two miles distance.

If we had not kept an abundant supply of poultry, and secured ourselves also a regular supply of milk by giving our cow bran mashes throughout the greater part of the year, the lack of cheese and vegetables would have restricted our bill of fare almost entirely to mutton. This last is of excellent quality, and the perceptible difference of taste that it possesses to English mutton has led, perhaps, to the colonial opinion (in which I do not coincide) that the flavour is much superior to that of mutton at home. The dried-up appearance of the sheep-runs, in summer, causes a new-comer to wonder what the sheep can find to eat upon them, until his eye ceases to regard the colour of green as an indispensable accompaniment to the existence of grass. In so vast a country as Western Australia, however, the description of one part of it cannot serve as a picture for the whole. Some travellers overland to Albany, (who had left Barladong in its parched midsummer condition, and who wrote us an account of their eleven days' journey,) described the delight which they felt at finding an abundance of fresh grass and lovely flowers at that season of the year in the cooler southern districts. The district of the Vasse in the south-west of the colony, where I have been told that a blanket is never willingly dispensed with for the whole of even one night throughout the year, produces very good cheese; and the beef which the neighbouring district of Bunbury supplies to Perth at Christmas would do credit to a London market.

The bush immediately around us showed very little variety in the low-growing flowers, whole tracts being covered with nothing but pink everlastings in such immense profusion as to redden the ground at a distance. There were also yellow everlastings very large and double, and a flower which children call "kangaroo foot," (being shaped like one,) the right name of which is marsupia mirabilis. In the latter end of the winter months it was a great pleasure to set aside some particular afternoon for the purpose of taking a party of children into the bush to gather everlastings, and to drink tea out of doors. The favourite spot was Mount Douraking, where we could sit and watch the effect of sunset over the vast forest, whilst the half-dozen children whom we had taken with us, Binnahan as eager as the rest, ran about, remaining out of sight until they could reappear in triumph upon a high mass of rock above us, with their arms full of rose-coloured flowers.

In many bush huts, when the women have a taste for decoration, pink everlastings are tied up in thick bunches and inserted in a close compact row between the top of the hut wall and the sloping edge of the uncoiled rafters, so as to form a cornice, beautiful in itself, and also in picturesque harmony with the rude materials of the dwellings.

It need scarcely be said that the season of the flowers is the pleasantest time either for riding or driving in the bush, and perhaps the forest was never more attractive than in the month of July, when each individual red gum-tree looked like an enormous flowering myrtle, and was covered to its very summit with white blossoms. But at that period of mid-winter the days were short and the roads were in many places full of miry holes, and we therefore preferred to postpone our distant excursions until the flowers upon the trees were fading and those upon the ground were in perfection. It was a matter of some surprise to us, at first, that large portions of the roads should be so bad in spite of the many parties of convicts employed upon them, but to provide occupation for the men at a distance from the temptations of the towns was naturally the prime object with the Government, whilst the state of the highways was a secondary consideration to the colonists who undertook the Government contracts, compared with the ready-money which was received for feeding the men.[1]

The persons on whom at that time the direction both of the making and repairing of the roads chiefly, if not entirely, devolved were the warders, (I remember a bandmaster having the charge of a road party,) whose opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of the business had been probably about equal to those of the pickpockets for whom they laid out the work. The principle on which the roads were mended was to spend a great number of months on one spot, improving a tract of two or three miles, and then to remove the men to a distance, it may be of twenty, leaving the improved bit as an oasis that allowed the driver of a dog-cart the luxury of half an hour's fast trotting. In a few months' time the oasis would present a spectacle far worse than if it had never been meddled with, and at every hundred yards or oftener the dog-cart would have to make a fresh track for itself amongst the trees that grew alongside the so-called thoroughfare. I may make an exception, however, in favour of an application of wooden pavement by means of which the old sandy furrows between Perth and Green Mount are now replaced by a good solid causeway fit for fast travelling. The miles of sand over which I passed when this road was in its transition state have since been bottomed with sections of great forest trees, the shape and size of which are best described by their ordinary name of "Governor Hampton's Cheeses." They were laid down during his term of office, and have produced a result which must dispose all travellers, who had ever passed over the road in its original condition, to bestow on him a benediction as on a second "General Wade."

Nothing surprised me more than the much greater amount of work which is got out of horses in Australia than in England, especially when the comparatively small amount of care bestowed upon them is taken into consideration. Whereas the horse of an English gentleman is kept with as much precision as if intended for exhibition in a glass-case, Australian horses are really treated with no more ceremony than at home falls to the lot of a donkey. In all seasons and in all sorts of weather they are left in the open fields or in the bush; they seem equally to disregard the storms and rain of winter and the burning suns of summer, and even when the shelter of a shed or stable is at their command, they appear to prefer exposure. Often one sees them hung by the bridle upon a gate-post for hours together, or standing harnessed at some door for an indefinite amount of time, without even a boy at their head. Mares with young foals are ridden or driven as the convenience of their owners may dictate, but then, to make amends, the foal has the privilege of joining the party.

The first day after I got to Barladong we saw a string of equestrians, male and female, coming over the high narrow bridge, one of the ladies being mounted on a mare closely followed by a foal which had, as I afterwards learned, thus ambled forty miles in company with its parent. Our English eyes thought this sufficiently strange, but they were still more astonished when a neighbour drove up to our house in a "trap" with a foal running behind like an awkward overgrown puppy. Our experience of its vagaries did not tend to dispel the notion that we had brought from England that foals were best left at home; in fact, it seemed to us a case of too much being taken for granted on both sides, the master supposing that during his half-hour's visit to us the mare would feel it incumbent on her to look after the foal, whilst the foal, with a hypothesis of its own that there was plenty of time to spare, went making calls all round the town and looking into every farm-yard, in preference to remaining with its mother. When our visitor bade us farewell and we accompanied him to our slip-rail, where his trap was standing, to see him safely off, no foal was there; we were therefore compelled to send our man in search of the young vagabond, who found it, after an hour's chace, at the police barracks on the other side of the river.

I have already spoken of slip-rails as makeshifts consequent upon the scarcity of clever carpenters; but it sometimes happens that when one of the guild is forthcoming who can put a gate together, another obstacle arises from the difficulty of procuring hinges. In this case colonial invention supplies the place of a lower hinge by a glass bottle, care being specially taken to select one which, with regard to its original purpose, would have been censured as unreasonably dishonest as to the cavity at the bottom. The bottle is then buried beside the gate-post neck downwards, and the lower end of the upright of the gate being made longer than the other is set within the hollow bottom. An upper hinge is contrived by passing the topmost end of the upright through a round hole in a piece of board nailed on the summit of the gate-post. Such primitive hinges answer much better and last much longer than anyone would be inclined to suppose, and are often seen upon newly-cleared farms. Inverted bitter-beer bottles buried in a row to half their length are also used in some colonial gardens as edgings to flower-beds. If the rails of fences are not kept in the most perfect condition, and made of sound strong wood, the owners of horses are constantly inconvenienced by their getting away into the bush, where, joining company with others, they will often run wild for months together. As most of the horses have been foaled in the bush, and their first impulse on regaining their freedom is to hanker after youthful scenes, it is generally possible to guess the direction in which the animal will travel, and, if no time is lost in sending a native to track the hoof-marks, a few hours will suffice for its recapture, even in the driest weather; otherwise the proprietor has to trust to accidental information for learning his horse's whereabouts, and when this is ascertained he must furthermore expend a guinea in having him "brought in." The sum may seem vexatiously heavy to pay, but is fairly earned, for horse hunting requires such hard and reckless riding that few men who have passed their first youth retain sufficient nerve for the business.

Ground that is strewed with lumps of broken granite must be galloped over as unhesitatingly as if it were English turf in a chase where the advantages would at first sight appear wholly on the side of the loose horses; the mounted ones, however, compensated for the weight they carry by the intelligence that guides them, succeed at last in turning the troop into the right direction, along which rush pursuers and pursued, with cracking of the stock whips and tearing up of the ground as if men and horses were alike demented, the bells worn by many of the loose animals increasing the confusion of sounds. We once had a horse for whom a cavalcade of this description possessed as irresistible an attraction as the tinkling herd had for our cow, so that the accidental passing of a party of horse hunters, outside the field in which he was grazing, was sure to make him attempt to follow, and we were therefore compelled to hobble him whenever he was turned out, in spite of which impediment he got about so nimbly, by a series of jumps, that Binnahan often called me to look at "horse galloping in jail things." It then occurred to my husband that the universal trick of buck-jumping that prevails amongst Australian horses might be traced to the no less general practice of hobbling them. An animal that is hobbled can move from one spot to another only by an action that resembles the earlier processes of buck-jumping, and the frequent necessity for thus artificially crippling the creature renders the action so habitual that at last it becomes hereditary.

A horse that we purchased had the strange history (with which, however, we were not acquainted until after buying him) of having escaped into the bush with a side-saddle on his back, and of having remained there running wild for a year, when he was again caught, but in an unsaddled condition. How or by what means the horse had managed to rid himself of the encumbrance remains of course a mystery, but the recollection of it haunted him to the extent of making him dangerous to his rider, as, whenever anything alarmed him, he seemed to think that the old saddle was still upon his back, and that its removal required frantic exertions.

The young people of Western Australia naturally find their chief amusement in their horses, as without them they would have no means of getting about from place to place, or of enjoying any intercourse with their friends and neighbours. A girl, therefore, looks upon a side-saddle of her own as a possession much to be coveted, and one that she will take not a little trouble to obtain. I heard of some young ladies who, with this object in view, most industriously set to work picking gum until they had collected enough to exchange with a storekeeper for the much-desired prize. To make this intelligible, I must explain that this gum which flows from the wattle-trees is almost identical with gum-arabic, and is used in Manchester for the same purposes, chiefly stiffening calicos, so that at times there is a considerable demand for it, the storekeepers giving at such periods threepence a pound in ready-money for as much as can be brought to them. It is also used as a sort of sweetmeat or lollipop, whence the soubriquet "gum-suckers," as applied to the young colonists, owing to their habit of never passing a wattle-tree without putting a piece into their mouth.

I think it is Washington Irving who conceives butchers' boys to be the only existing type of the once famous knights-errant; a reflection forced upon him from the flying pace with which the young apprentices, meat-basket on arm, dash along the roads; but had he only extended his travels to Western Australia, he would certainly not have thought the order of headlong riders so near extinction as he had supposed. All home ideas about saving a horse's feet are set at defiance, a hand gallop on the hard road being the approved rate of speed; and the excitement of the pace seems to constitute the sole enjoyment of riding, for of any pleasure to be derived from scenery the colonists appeared to me to have little idea, which I attributed in part to the habit they have naturally acquired of regarding the bush as something to be cleared away and got rid of. It would, perhaps, be more difficult to account for the almost total exemption of their horses from spavin. We did, however, find in one young settler an exception to the nil admirari school, and the pleasure of a ride which we once took with him was not a little enhanced by the rarity of meeting a third person to whom we might express our pleasure when we saw anything beautiful with the certainty of receiving a sympathizing answer. This ride was taken shortly before the season for sheepwashing, in October, when the bush was green with grass, and water was lying in the still deep pools in the rocky beds of the gullies. There was no path, nor could my unpractised eyes discover any distinguishing features to point out our road as he led us mile after mile, winding in and out through the interminable trees. We arrived at length, I remember, upon a large flat expanse of granite even with the ground, where there was a round hole in the rock, as perfectly smooth and circular as if made by art, and fall of water, around which some cattle had gathered; but not a human creature did we meet till near home in the evening, when we passed and spoke to a merry-looking little old native who was coming along upon a pony to bring rations to the shepherd.

I have not forgotten the dinner which we had on our return, for it was an experimental one on a bush animal called a dolghite, which Rosa had consented to dress according to the directions in a cookery-book for serving up a roasted rabbit. Not that Rosa had any objections to dolghites in particular, though I do not think that she had ever eaten one, still less had she ever tasted a rabbit; but for all bush meat that was not kangaroo she had a general feeling something between a contempt and a prejudice, for which she never gave any other reason than that "it smelt wild." The dolghite proved, as we had expected, so exceedingly like a rabbit when cooked that we could detect no difference in taste, although we were in the secret; in fact, if the dolghite is cut up as for a fricassee the slight difference in the shape of the two animals is unperceived, and the flesh of both being white the deception is complete. The parallel, however, does not extend to their dispositions, for the confidence of a dolghite is so difficult to obtain that my husband piqued himself not a little in persuading one, that was given him as a pet, to be on terms of even distant civility with us; and when we had so far gained his trust as that he would eat bread and milk whilst we were looking at him we felt quite triumphant. His fur was rather long and extremely soft and silky, of a very pretty grey colour, and his tail somewhat shorter than a cat's. It is a fur which is very effective when bordered or lined with rose colour, but if exposed to much wear it soon becomes shabby. The strangest-looking part of him was his hind legs, which very much resembled those of a fowl, and made him appear as if he was an intermediate cousin of both birds and beasts. He came of a family that is given to burrowing, and my husband gave him, as he thought, an unexceptionable home in the bottom of our dining-room cupboard; but our ungrateful pet might have contained the very soul of Baron Trenck himself, to judge from the way in which he at once set to work to mine through the wall into our bed-room. I forget where we secured him afterwards, but the ruling spirit would not be repressed; he had a passion for sapping and mining, which he practised to such an extent that we might be thankful he did not bring the house down. Just as we had succeeded in making him devoid of all anxiety in our company, and quite content in the evening to join the family circle together with the other members of our ménagerie, it so happened that he found the house door open, and strolling out, was perhaps seized with a fit of home sickness, for we never saw him afterwards. Our attention having been occupied at the time with affairs of importance we did not at first miss him, and the disappointment that we felt at our loss, when we discovered it, was greater than we might have experienced for a more engaging creature, on account of the difficulties which we had met and overcome in conquering his natural timidity.

I must now return to the subject of the bush, from which the dolghite and his subterrene tastes have led me. The colour of the leaves in the Australian forest is of a browner and more sombre-looking green than is seen in the foliage of our deciduous trees at home, and this circumstance, combined with that of the trees being evergreens, causes most English persons to pine once a year for that freshness of spring-time to which they were accustomed in their own land, and to regret that in the southern hemisphere it is represented only by the first shooting of the cornfields and the early leaves of a few fruit trees foreign to the soil. I cannot say, however, that I ever felt any blank of this kind for which the abundance of the flowers did not, to my mind, make ample compensation. Nevertheless, so much poetical thought has been inspired by the four seasons, that I have sometimes wondered whether a country possessing only half as many could ever prove prolific in poets. From this want of change in the face of nature, this constant sameness of the foliage of the trees, the young people of Australia are at a disadvantage when compared with those of England; since much which is written by the poets and illustrated by the painters of the old country can touch no answering chord in their remembrances of the world around them; while nature, as she has appeared to their own eyes, has as yet found neither painter nor poet to interpret her.

Tennyson's description of a copse bursting into bud, or a picture of Copley Fielding's representing a landscape under a haze, would neither of them carry its full meaning to one who had been reared amongst evergreen trees, and in the clear atmosphere of Australia. It is to this elasticity and purity of the air that the climate of Swan River owes its healthfulness and its charm—no matter how hot the sun has been, nor, how wearisome its fierce beams have made the labours of the day, it has no sooner sunk below the horizon than the spirits at once revive, and a fresh buoyant feeling replaces all sensation of languor; in the words of Marcellus, though in a different sense to that in which he spoke them, "the nights are wholesome," many persons making a practice of sleeping in their verandahs during the summer months, while teamsters habitually pass the night out of doors with impunity all the year round.

Whatever might be the deficiencies of the colony we could at least say of it as the Roman girl said of her country, "Thou hast thy skies!" No words will better convey the idea of the excessive beauty of the sunset clouds and the great variety of tints than those of Binnahan, who said, as she stood beside me one evening watching the west, "My cousin and me used to choose our frocks out of the sky." Poor little things! the "baseless fabric" on which they exercised their taste was perhaps not more unsubstantial than the clothing on them at the time. Often on summer nights we used to spread out an opossum rug in the garden, and sitting upon it watch the stars, the clear air giving them a size and brilliancy which Michael Lambourne, in 'Kenilworth' did not exaggerate when he said that our "northern blinkers are but farthing candles" compared with those that sparkle in the south.

I believe that most persons on first seeing the Southern Cross feel a degree of disappointment, arising probably from the name having led them to expect to see a constellation completely cruciform, instead of four stars, not quite of the same magnitude, representing only the extreme points of the cross; another reason also may be the low position in the horizon in which, as a ship nears the equator, the cross first rises into view. The constellation vindicates its name when vertical, and grows the more upon the mind, like other beautiful things, the oftener it is gazed upon. Without its "pointers," however, as the two splendid stars are called that accompany it, the Cross would lose much of its attraction; one of these stars can be perceived, even by the naked eye, to change colour, reminding one in so doing of a revolving light at sea.

The "star shower" which was so eagerly watched in England on the night of the thirteenth of November, 1866, was invisible in our latitude, but the pleasure that we took in a summer night's stroll was constantly enhanced by the sight of bright meteors crossing the sky. Our thunder-storms were not many, and those by which the colony is visited chiefly hang upon the sea-coast, in proof of which I need only say that whereas at Fremantle the lightning conductors were in the proportion of one to each house, there were much fewer at Perth, whilst in our neighbourhood, at sixty miles distance from the sea, there was but one dwelling so provided. During five years I only remember the occurrence of two storms that could be called serious, in one of which a chimney on our house was slightly struck. None of us were injured, though at the moment that I heard the plaster fall from the chimney I felt a sudden sharp prick as if the end of a red-hot wire had entered the back of my neck; an instant afterwards my husband ran into the room from the verandah where he had been watching the storm, to see if I was killed, having himself experienced a similar sensation to mine in one of his temples, but with greater force, as the shock had seemed to pass downwards through his whole body to the ground. We ran into the kitchen to see if the servants were hurt, and finding Rosa and Binnahan quite safe though much frightened my husband begged us all to kneel down whilst he returned thanks for our safety. This was on Advent Sunday, and we had but just returned from church, where the rolling of the thunder and plashing of the rain upon the wooden shingles of the roof had rendered much of the service inaudible. The clap following the flash which struck the chimney did not appear to me so tremendous as others that I had heard, and my husband said that he perceived no sound at all. Possibly we were both more or less stunned, for some of our neighbours said that they had never in their lives known such a peal of thunder. A policeman's wife standing at a window had her cheek blistered by the lightning, and the warder of the convict depot received a shock of electricity, such as we had experienced, in his hand whilst in the act of raising it to tilt an accumulation of water off a canvas awning. Bishop Salvado mentions that the natives usually take refuge from thunder-storms beneath twisted trees, "alberi tortuosi," and adds that he had never known a tree of this kind to be struck with lightning, I suppose that the sort of tree to which he alludes is one that is commonly called the fluted gum, with a stem resembling a twisted Elizabethan pillar.

Whirlwinds we were well accustomed to, and the sound of one of them coming up was a signal for shutting all doors and windows immediately, to prevent the ruthless scattering of our papers and letters over the garden, though the untidy effect thus produced was generally the extent of the damage. On one occasion, however, a large piece of the thatch was whirled off our house by the sudden action of the air, which had been perfectly tranquil a few minutes previously. There is something very grand in the roaring of the wind amongst the forest trees that precedes the approach of a really heavy storm.

The great point of superiority enjoyed by the colony of Western Australia over its neighbours on the eastern shores of the continent is its complete freedom from the scourge of dust-storms and hot winds, and perhaps to this immunity may be partly owing the extraordinary suitability of the climate of Swan River to weak lungs. We not only met several persons who told us that in this colony they enjoyed a relief from affections of the chest to which in England they had been always victims, but we were also intimately acquainted with two cases of real pulmonary disease, which when we first visited the patients we expected to terminate fatally in a few weeks or even days, and yet the progress of the complaint was arrested by the warm weather, and both the sufferers recovered to an extent that admitted of their fulfilling the ordinary duties of life. Unfortunately I kept no daily register of the thermometer, and can therefore only point to the effect of the climate upon certain states of health or disease in proof of its virtues.

The fearlessness with which people can remain out of doors at night and can continue their day's labour in spite of the sun, are the two points which most excite the wonder of a stranger. Khourabene's "old master" told me that he once drove his team for many miles upon a day that the sun-heat stood at 145° Fahrenheit. "I started," he said, "in the morning with four bay horses, but as the day went on, they became so covered with foam that I seemed to be driving white ones." On the other hand Binnahan in using the expression "glass frost," showed plainly that she knew ice by sight, and early risers in the winter would find the puddles frozen, though in the course of five years we never knew more than one occasion when the ground continued hard in shady places throughout the day. That one exception occurred during the extremely dry winter of 1865, when the frosts were more severe than had been known for fifteen or twenty years, and an old colonist, who perhaps forgot that her increasing age made her more susceptible of cold, informed me in an oracular manner that "the seasons were changing," and that she "should not be surprised if we was to have a fall of snow." But, unfortunately for her reputation as a weather-wise woman, no snowstorm came to give her the satisfaction of saying that she had expected it.

Perhaps I may be allowed, though at the risk of some repetition, to close my own description of the West Australian climate with that of Bishop Salvado, than whom no one, not excepting even the aborigines, is better qualified to pronounce an opinion upon it. "The climate of Swan River," says he, "is not only healthier than that of any other Australian colony, but may be pronounced also to be one of the very best in the whole world. The heat of summer, though it sometimes reaches 34° of Reaumur, is not stifling, and people can work out of doors without dread of injury, though exposed to the full force of the sun. Those hot winds that cause so much annoyance in the other Australian colonies are unknown here, and we inhale the fresh sea-breeze from eleven o'clock in the forenoon until sundown. The atmosphere of the winter's day is temperate and delightful after the rising of the sun, but the thermometer sinks to four degrees above zero at three or four o'clock in the morning. Frosts are frequent although snow is unknown. The summer nights are refreshed by heavy dews, and sometimes by rain in January" (this last occurred only once in our observation during five years) "which in that hot season is of the greatest benefit. Sleeping in the open air in the midst of the forests, on fine nights, is unhealthy neither in summer nor winter, least of all with the accompaniment of a good fire. The prevalent disorders are not fatal, and those which occur most frequently are dysentery and ophthalmia."

  1. Since our return to England the management of the roads has been placed upon an entirely new system. A "road-board" is now formed in each district, consisting of the principal inhabitants; a certain amount of convict labour is placed at its disposal by the Government, and the control over the highways is lodged in its hands.