|Chapter Title||AN INTRODUDTION TO STATION LIFE.|
|Newspaper Title||The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)|
|Trove Title||Benbonuna: A Tale of Thirty Years Ago|
A TALE OF THIRTY YEAB6 AGO.
[All fights reserved by the author.'] CHAPTER VII. AN INTBODUDTXON TO STATION LIFE.
BY ROBEBT BRUCE.
Yes, there wee Beubonuna, nestling in a -narrow curve of the great gam creek. The huge* beads of its lofty eucalypti formed a broad belt ot variegated green ronnd the northern and western edges of tbe email level fiat of about five acres in extent, over which the station buildings were widely scattered ; at the back of the ireek rose a half circle of irregularly shaped bills, some of them being roundtopped-cones with Btrange-looking belts and markings of rock and mallee scrub, while others, thickly covered with sombre foliage to which tlie vivid healthy ;green of the creek gums presented a lively contrast, roBe locked together tilt near their summits, where they split into twin cones or a succession of them. The highest of these summits, known as " Ashhy'n Knob," overlooked " Government House" which stood by itself on tbe Northern edge of tbe fiat. Separated from Ashby's Knob by a deep gully, down which the wind often rushed with tremendous force and a roar like thunder, was a porcupine range, sharp ridged and Tegular in conformation,trending North-East,and further on 0 following the coarse of tbe creek till, taking a bend to tbe North-Went, it appeared to come to an abrupt termination. The view in the extreme distance wae closed by tbe heights of the remarkable Pound Range—the Ponnd being a'grand natural enclosure, the only entrance to which iB a rift, rent -in the lofty and 8nd precipitous rocky barrier which surrounds it, through which a beautiful stream of clear, fresh water, rising in tke bosom of this mountain-locked oaeiB, flows to the open country and loseB itself in a succession of gum shaded waterholes. Four miles from the station, to the eastward, and towering high above the bills bordering the oreek, rose Woodnawoolpena— or, as tbe station hands called it, " Black Jack"—its precipitous eastern face being almost ioaoceBBible to any animal but the banded "rock wallabies, and loosely forrred euros, or hill kangaroo, 11 which there lived unmolested during the greater part of tbe year. Only on great occasions did the natives resort to the big range on grand hunting expeditions ; but at such times the startled mountain denizens, driven by active enemies, precipitated themselves into nets artfully placed across their accustomed paths, there to be Blain by scores to furnish a banquet at which tbe hunters gorged themselves to the limit of physical capacity. The south-eastern foreground of_the picture was filled by the low, malleecovered hills which Frank and Hawley had just traversed, and behind them, some six miles off,Bbntting in tbe view, was a fine sandstone range, covered with porcupine interspersed with clumps of stunted pine and great patche» of black oak, or he-oak. (This resembles in appearance the pendulous mare's-tail-foiiaged eheoak of moister and more temperate latitudes; but unlike that useful tree the foliage of the black oak is not fodder for cattle, and Its wood is useful only for firewood,in which reBpect, however, it stands preeminent, its native name, " cudley," literally signifying fuel. " I suppose that is Mr Ashby's house ?" said Frank, at last breaking the eiknee and looking to the stone building as if heintended to walk straight to it. "Yes, it is," answered Hawley, interpreting the look aright. " But Mr Ashby, who is not well, would not be able to see you just now. I think you bad better come to my hut, where, for the present, you will stay." " Indeed," said Frank, rather aghast at the prospect," but I suppoBe I can see Miss and Mrs Ashby." " Well, I daresay you can," drawled Hawley, " when they wish to see you. Just now, I fancy they are in bed ; besides, if you wish to get to Udenyaka before dark you had better not dawdle about now !' Frank felt that he was beginning to hate the man beside him with an ever increasing intensity, but what he bad just said waB feasible enough, and of course he could not take exception to it. He discreetly held hie tongue and accompanied the overseer to his but, which, with its thickly-thatched roof and broad verandah, looked comfortable enough to him, his eye having become accustomed to pine-hut architecture on his journey up, besides which Haw ley's hut, or " Bachelor's Hall," as it was generally called, was a most favorable specimen of its class. Hawley, though he inwardly enjoyed Frank's discomfiture, allowed no sign of gratification to escape him, but blandly directed bis attention to a large section of gum log, like a butcher's block, placed under one of the little square windows opening on the verandah, on which block stood a galvanised iron bucket, in the mouth of which a tin wash-hand basin was inserted to keep the dust and dogs' tongueB from the water, kept there for drinking and washing purposes. " You'll find some towels inside," said the overseer, and, calling his dog " Qnilp," went off to shot up that animal, in order to prevent it from worrying any strange black, or "caller," aB travellers in search of employment are called, who might drop in at the station. " Thanks," replied Frank, shortly, preparing, however, for another wash, as the heat was already becoming intense ; but his thoughts, however, were away over the flat, whither his eyes often followed, not much to their enlightenment, no living creature being visible in that direction. save a very stout woman in very short petticoats, who at the wood heap at tbe back of Mrs Ashby's kitchen was patiently endeavoring, with a very blunt axe, to detach some chips from a most obstinate log, and who could not, by the most extravagant stretch of imagination, be mistaken for either Mrs or Miss Ashby. What with the preoccupation of his thoughts, and the splashing of the water, Frank did- not hear an active footstep behind bim, and consequently was somewhat startled when a mellow Irish voice, cloBe at his elbow, exclaimed, " Good day, Borr, 'tis plased I am to see ye, for sure an* I wub afeard ye wus losht intoirly, so I wus." Heslop turned round sharply and met the bright eyes of Mick Cronin—for of course it was he—critically scanning hiB well-knit frame, and with evident approval. "Good day," he replied frankly, and looking critically at Mick in return, felt instinctively that there was at leust one honeet manly fellow on tbe station, with whom, no matter how humble his position might be, he could be on friendly terms ; and it was strange whet a satisfaction he felt at tbe discovery. Mick, who now appeared in bis capacity as station cook, carried in bis bands a miscellaneous breakfast equipage of two cups and saucers, and three plates—all of different patterns and in various states of preservation. " Ah ye've no towel, eorr, so I'll be after gitting ye one!" remarked Mick, and depositing the crockery on the table, inside tbe but. He entered one of tbe bedrooms, and quickly returned with the article in question, saying as he gave it to Heslop." Sure, an' 'tis hungry ye'll •A range covered with porcupine gras6 or spinifex, and usually destitute of bushes.
be after yes fasht an' long tramp, bo Fll have some chops for ye in a jiffy. " But, tell roe now, wus it Moses aB found ye ?" " Yes, I am hungry, and no mistake ; it was Mo868 who found me, and if 1 mistake not, you are tbe " Mick," who eo kindly wanted to make a fire on the Knob for my benefit, at least so Moses told mc." " Sbure an* I did eorr, an' I would have come wid Mosbb myself, to foind ye, but 6ure now I had to sit up with tbe mastbei the poor man, or id's Miss Mary 'ud be be ki!t intoirly wid the watchin', eo she would !" " Oh, don't make any apologies, Mick, for you conld not have done otherwise under the circumstances; but what b tbe matter with Mr Ashby ?" 41 Sbure an' he's ill, sorr !" said Mick with a pardonable evasion of tbe question. " But I'll have to git ye the chops," he added, departing on bis errand with a peculiarly springing step and muttering to hitneclf as he went " Shure he's the nice b'y, bo he is, an' wid a bit ov tachin' wid thiui limbs and thim eyes he'd by a quare custhomerto bate, 80 he would !" As Frank finished his ablutions Hawley returned, and telling him that he would find a brush and comb in tbe room furthest from his own, threw the water from the basin over the flagged floor of the verandah (for the cooling effect on the atmosphere of tbe hut), and after a hasty sluice, walked into the sittingroom, seated himself at the table with the air of a man who deserved well of his fellows, and began darting the pronge of his steel fork into the table, as if practising epear throwing, his thoughts being evidently far otherwise employed. Looking up as Frank entered from the end room, Hawley pointed to a gum Blab form beside tbe table, and told him to " sit in," presently addiug, " Mick will be here directly with the chops." Then be returned to his table spearing operations, which di'i little damage, as there was no table cloth, the "tay things," as Mick called his curious assortment of crockery, being arranged on the well scrubbed boards. Without speaking Frank "sat in," as desired, just as Mick entered with an oval tin baking-dish fnll of lean, greasylooking chops, and a large flat cake of unleavened bread — or ratber damper — which its maker apologised for, aB being a " tbrifle saddy" (or sodden), he having had nothing but " gum" to bake it with— gum being a wood that burns into nasty black cindere— a fire made with it generally either blazes fiercely, or goes out suddenly. Hawley, though rather foppish in appearance, seemed to be very indifferent as to creature comforts, and made a hearty meal from the Tather uninviting materials before him, while Frank, usually a good trencherman, fairly astonished himself, his excellent teeth being fully equalled by an excellent appetite—a delightful combination which those onjy who no longer possess it can fully appreciate. It is scarcely needful to say that no conversation worthy of name passed between the pair while at breakfast. When it was finished Hawley, without any observation to his guest, went into his bed-room, got something from a box—so Frank judged by the 6ounds of unlocking, the clatter of a lid, and of relockiug operations which he heard—and then walked from the hut. Frank, thoroughly disgusted with his boorish host, threw himself in a half reciioing position on a bulloek hide stretcher, which, with its several pair of rolled np blue blankets, was one of the two that, standing on opposite sides of the apartment, served as a cool, though hard, lounge during the day, and afforded extra sleeping accommodation on nights when the two bed-rooms were crowded with guests—once- a very frequent occurence, but since the advent of Hawley a very rare one. To an Englishman accustomed to regard warmth and the exclusion of draughts as the two greatest essentials to a comfortable room, the domicile of Hawley would have appeared wretched in the extreme, especially to one suddenly transported from his snug English home to such a shanty on a cold winter's day ; but it iB astonishing how soon a well educated and delicately nurtured young Englishman will accommodate himseli to circumstances that would elicit the loudest complaints from a pauper emigrant—a class who, besides being most notorious for grumbling, are wasteful and extravagant in the extreme, especially when they can be BO at other people's expense. But to return from this digression, the Benbonnna " bachelors' hall" more resembled an English cowhouse than anything else—though an English farmer would think twice before he put his best short-horn into it in cold weather. There was no ceiling, and consequently the rafters, battens, and thatch, with their pendent drapery of cobweb, offered a wide field of observation to the lounger who, wh.;n reclining on one of the stretchers, could see nearly the whole length of the roof,more especially as the partitions between the compartments reached no higher than the wall plates—about seven feet from the floor—thus leaving the triangular space described by th rafters above them open to permit currents of air and sound to freely circulate from one end of the building to the other ; and to add to the airiness of the situation, most of the " pug" i.e. mud used to close the spaces between the perpendicular logs forming the walls, bad fallen down, thus permitting the ingress of numberless slanting rays of sunlight, which gave to the place a peculiarly birdcagey effect, very refreshing to the eye when the thermometer under tbe shade of thu verandah ranged, as it often did, from 90deg. to llOdeg., that is to say, when too much dust did not enter with, and jostle the sunbeams. In addition to the above features the cowhouse appearance of bachelors' hall (or as a neighboring squatter had recently rcchrietened it, " The Pirate's Den") was heightened by the fact that Hb floor wa laid with large, irregularly shaped, blue flagstones, taken from quarries in the creek's bank, and that several of its windows could boaBt only of paling shutters, the others having actually two small panes of glass each. AH the sashes were hung on strips of wonderfully hard green (or untanned) hide which had been sawn into the required shape ; I may add that the paling doors of the hut all depended on this novel description of hinges for support—a circumstance accountable for by the fact that when the "den" was built, Benbonuna was a cattle station (like many another in the district since stocked with sheep) and that bullock hide, being always at hand,was naturally made to serve all sorts of purposes in the absence of iron. In addition to the stretchers aforesaid, two forms, and a table, Frank particularly noticed two unwieldy chairs with gumslab seats and mallee legs, arms, and backs, weighing nearly a hundred-weight each—very comfortable to 6it in, bu decidedly awkward to move about—which had evidently been designed and executed by the same rustic cabinetmaker who, with saw, adze, and auger as his only tools, had fashioned the rest of the primitive furniture. The plenishing further included a set of gum-slab book shelves,unsteadily set on mallee pegs driven into the wall, on which roosted a covey of dirty, dilapidated novels like rows of moulting fowls, the simile being the more exact since, in nearly every case, the tales were incomplete. A compound cupboard and desk, ingeniously built up of empty brandy cases, completed the inventory for that room ; and two stretcher* with calf
Bkin mats before them, furnished to the utmost of their ability each bedroom. By way of ornamentation, some fovrlingpieces, rifles, and pistolB of antiquated patterns, with their ammunition flasks and pouches,-- sundry stock whips and an immense pair of bullock horns, were suspended from tbe invariable mallee pegs, while a number of dnsty almanacs were tacked to the slabs, the whole presenting a sporting, free and easy appearance which would have been much to Frank'8 taste, had the genius of the place been in keeping with the surroundings. As Frank's eyes wandered over-tbe hut he could not help thinking, broken-in as he was to discomfort by'bis long and disagreeable journey,that he could be very comfortable where be was, despite the dust and thn flies, if Hawley were banished, and Mr Ashby proved himself to be realiy tbe man his genial letters made him appear to be. Now, however, there was such an aggravating element of uncer tainty in the equivocal position in which he found himself, that he hardly knew what step he Bhould be forced to take next, thoughif he were to be totally subservient to the overseer, his stay on Benbonuna would certainly be brief, as it would be impossible for him to bo subjected to Hawley's tyranny without seriously resenting it. (To be continued.) Sir Coutts Lindsay, proprietor of the Grosvenor Gallery, sends 200 pictures to Melbourne for exhibition. David Boland, guard on the Hergott and Strangways line, while collecting fareB last Wednesday, slipped and fell between the trucks. He was taken on to the Strangways Hospital, but died two hours after admission, one of his legs having been frightfully crushed. The N.S. Wales Assembly finds that it has a bill for £250,000 to pay on account of war materiol ordered by tbe Dalley Ministry without the authority of Parliament. To be paid out of loan money. The Rev. H. H. Britten, Anglican minister of Ryde, N.S.W., has been acquitted ou a charge of setting his parsonage on fire for tbe sake of the insurance mcney. The evidence looked very black for him.