|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Our Bush Parson, and the Great Flood of the Darling River.|
Our Bush Parsons, and the Great Flood of the Darling River. BY "A BUSH NATURALIST."
(Continued from our Christmas Supplement.)
DURING the whole of that Christmas service in the rugged old woolshed, Adelaide had felt as one entranced. It was the first time it had ever fallen to her lot to hear a natural orator—to
listen to an eloquent discourse from in earnest man. It was a new pleasure—-a fresh joy-- and no wonder it created in her virgin heart ennobled thoughts of the speaker. Astonishment too was still prevalent in her mind, and this astonish ment had merged into interest, for this was the man whose coming she had ridiculed, and even dreaded; this the clergyman who was to cast a gloom over the place, who was going to debar them from indulgence in their few innocent pleasures; this man who, by his jolliness, his natural high spirits, had thrown fresh life into their little circle—who, by his skill and kindness, had already saved the life of one of their number; and who now with eloquent earnestness inspired them with hope and faith in the Eternal. Is it matter for wonder that the fresh young soul warmed towards the handsome young preacher, or that an uncontrollable shiver ran through her as she thought of the young lady in Melbourne? Ah! how differently did she now recall the words of caution contained in the Bishop's letter. The actual words of the sermon she hardly heeded, and yet she eagerly drank in in every word; the anticipation of each sentence was a pleasure, yet the actual sense of the sentence she could not have repeated; it was the tone, the voice, the person of the speaker that sent abroad to her a heavenly aura, and then the truth flashed upon her—that she must be in love. No matter; she would never show it— never, by word or look or deed let him for one moment guess her feeling. She knew that she could never be his, but she was sure that she could never care for anyone else. As soon as the service was over the poor girl hurried off straight to her room and indulged in that feminine luxury a good cry. This was her first great trouble -- the first cloud that had cast a shadow over her young life. How well she strove against the feeling, how bravely she struggled, how her strong common tense aided her, and how, after months and months had gone by, she thought she had conquered this weakness--had made it a thing of the past, and was her own self again— I must leave to the reader's imagination; for my story will now have to skip over some two years of time, and chronicle an event of extreme peril and trouble that overtook Ulolo and its fair inmates -- an event which was as the wind which starts into flame the smothered spark of the prairie fire, or as the spring-time which opens the petals of the rose— for its blooming time had come.
Chapter VII. WILL HE RIDE THE BUCKJUMPER ? The space allotted to me in these columns will not permit of the introduction of very many events in the life of our Bush Parson which I should have liked to chronicle; so, after a glance given in this chapter to intervening occurrences, I will hurry on the concluding scene of this little tale—a scene which well exemplified the courage and determination of my hero—parson though he was. The after doings of that first Christmas day must be passed with the notice that, to the astonishment of the young men, the clergyman entered heartily into all their sports; in the long and the high jump none of them could touch him, for as he himself said he was not so stiff in the legs as young fellows who had never done anything but ride, and this they admitted as reasonable; but when it came to putting on the gloves, and huge Cis Down, the best boxer of the district, and who was 6ft. 2in. in his stockings, and with a corresponding length of reach, got a stinging crack on the nose from the active young parson, the veneration for his physical powers rose to a height equal to that to which the woolshed sermon and poor Tim's accident had already exalted his spiritual attain ments and humanitarian qualities. In the two years during which he constantly and faithfully conducted the ministrations of his vast parish his popularity increased, and his periodical arrival at the various stations was an event welcome to all. The young fellows hailed it as an event which was sure to be the cause of some recreation, some break in the dull monotony of bush life; the cricket bat and stumps were always in the buggy, and were brought out upon arrival; holiday was proclaimed, a mes enger sent to the next station for the young men to muster, and the tame blacks were hunted up to do the fielding—"run-um-ball," as they called it—and their laughing faces testified to their enjoyment of the fun. Among these blacks he was a great favorite. He did not trouble them with scriptural or doctrinal exhortations, but kindly tended them when sickness came upon them. Inflammation of the lungs was rife among them, and frequently carried them off; but our parson found that a few drops of aconite worked like a miracle in subduing it—or, as the poor fellows in their stockman's English put it, "Budgeree doctor that one parson; no gammon that one fissick--baal salts, baal castroil;" and whether they suffered from toothache (some of them do) or stomach-ache he was equally en treated for "same fellow fissick you give along o' Jacky;" but in these cases a bit of "baccy" did the most good. The solitary old shepherds for days before the usual expected coming of their parson would hug the track with their flocks, knowing, when the well-known buggy was espied as it emerged out of the pine scrub on to the saltbush plain, that it would not pass them by without being drawn up under the shade of a myall-tree, and that a friendly half-hour's chat would ensue, and perhaps a fig of rare good tobacco — not the station dried-up stuff, but some brought up from Melbourne by "his reverence himself —" be given. These old veterans liked this active pleasant-faced young man, for he never left them without instilling hope into them; and hope—the thought that good times could again come to them, more especially after '
death—had long long since vanished from their wildest imagination. No wonder they welcomed the young teacher, and no wonder he went on his way feeling happy, for the old man's bene diction had been, "Eh, mon, bat you've made me unco cheery." One little incident I must give of my hero's first visit to Banga, the great cattle-station of the district, on which were always to be found a swarm of the wildest and most careless of young men—young fellows who thought nothing of a horse that did not buck; dare-devil riders through the mallee scrub, and up to every mischief possible; good-hearted in general, but whose misdirected energy was expended in hard riding and strong language in the daytime, and in guinea points and unlimited loo at night. It was the morning after his first arrival there, and on the previous evening he had expressed a wish to go out with them cattle-hunting in the mallee scrubs. He was in his room when his little black satellite quietly slipped in and said, " Missa Parson" (the blacks always called him Missa Parson), "Baal you ride em yarraman, big fellow buck." "What's up, Dicky ?" he asked. "All- a-bout white fellow laff see you get 'em buster; baal you ride!" he said excitedly. " Oh! that's it, is it Dick? Well, never mind; you and me laugh along o' them directly;" for, glancing out of the door, he saw that the horses were up and all hands ready to start. Quickly thinking matters over, he concluded that these mischievous young fellows, having saddled a noted buck jumper for him were chuckling at the prospect of seeing how the parson would be bucked off. Now he knew that if he wanted to obtain an influence over these wild spirits he must equal them in their own peculiar line of physical courage, and not show the white feather in the least; he therefore determined to ride the horse they had chosen, for he was sure that, barring accidents or excessive viciousness in the brute, he could keep his seat. He knew also that he had to a considerable extent that magnetic control over an animal, seen to its greatest perfection, as far as horses an concerned, in the person of the well known Rarey, the horse-tamer, and the possession of which a horse at once recognises. Turning to Dicky, he only said, "Never mind, Dicky; you get me surcingle out of buggy;" then, putting on a pair of Bedford cord riding trousers, knee- boots, and short-nesked spurs, and taking a new and strong-twisted snaffle bit from his port- manteau, he walked out. He found the manager, " jackaroos," and men all mounted and waiting his coming. The old man cook was standing by the wood heap, while the bullock-driver was gammoning to be fixing a cracker on to his whip; and the parson noticed the with-difficulty- suppressed smile on the faces of all as they thought of the coming fun. One young stock mka. was holding the " big bay," a handsome, raking, powerful young animal with a splendid sloping shoulder and powerful quarters—a horse which took the eye of our hero at a glance, and made him mentally determine to conquer him and buy him for his own use. While changing the plain snaffle for the twisted one he took the opportunity to make friends a little with his horse by rubbing his nose and letting him hear his voice; and while so engaged he noticed that the broad forehead and excited eyes and ears pricked forward only betokened extreme nervous ness, and not viciousness. The girths he slackened and tightened again; then he put on his strong surcingle over saddle and all, tightened it well, and slightly slacked the crupper. These deliberate proceedings were observed by the young men, who saw that they had no novice to trick; and one of them whispered to the manager, "The parson smells a rat." Taking the horse from the stockman he led him to a sandy spot a few yards away, looked to see that the off stirrup-iron hung square for the right foot to slip into, shortened the reins (more particularly the near one), got a good grip on the mane with his left hand, placed himself well in front of the stirrup, and without any hesitation vaulted lightly into the saddle. This manager had only time to mutter to himself, "Well done, by Jove!" when the bay began his tricks; buck after buck was given, head down, a prop, turn even when in mid-air, anything, anything, to shake off the rider; but the response being always a sawing of the mouth with the twisted bit told the horse that he had some fresh experience to learn; then when he began to get tired his new master showed that he at any rate was not tired, and for the first time bringing his spurs smartly into play the maddened brute bounded off with a determined bolt. This started off the other horses, the spirit of a race sprang up, and away all went full gallop, helter skelter, towards the paddock fence. A sharp out with the whip over the shoulder told the big bay that his rider intended him to lead the way, so full speed straight for the fence he went,still keeping the advantage of the start. The face of the old man cook glowed with the excitement, the bullock driver cursed aloud, the dogs ran out barking, and the tame cockatoo waddled out from the verandah and double-banked the strong language of the bullock driver. There was a little slackening or rather gathering together of the parson's horse, another sharp cut of the whip, and the big bay cleared the fence at the high part close to the slip-rails, where the cap was put on the posts as an extra break for the cattle; then, and not till then, the new parson gradually pulled up his horse, and, without turning his head or appearing to have done anything uncommon, quietly kept on his way upon the track down the plain. None but the manager and one well-mounted stockman cleared that leap; the rest tackled the fence where there was no cap, and a few of the jackaroos went through the slip-panels. From that time the ascendency of my hero was com plete upon flash Banga; and more than one of those high-spirited young men owed their salva tion from ruin, through gambling and drink, to the restraining influence and sensible counsel of the Bush Parson.
CHAPTER VIII. THE PARSON MEETS THE FLOOD AND -- IT was over two years since the events of the opening chapter of this tale. Our parson had been away on a visit to Melbourne, and was now journeying back to his "parish." When in town he had heard that there was a flood in the Darling, but such a common event caused no particular anxiety to him. When he arrived at
Swan-hill however he was assured that it would be utterly impossible for him to travel up the river from its junction with the Murray at Wentworth, as was his wont, for that township was completely surrounded by water and em bankments were being made round the houses, and that but for the fortunate circumstance that the water in the Murray was low the town would have been swept away. This news made him anxious for his friends at Ulolo, no tidings having come down the Darling for weeks, and he trembled as he thought of the immense extent of flooded lignum country around the homestead, for the lake was only some seven miles from the river. Why should he tremble? why feel so very anxious ? Ah! reader, I trust that you are young and so will sympathise with my hero in this his weak point, for I must let you into the secret workings of this young man's heart, and tell you how, gradually, imperceptibly, although manfully struggled against, the love for Adelaide had crept over and upon him—how from the time of that first disquieting glance on the day of poor Tim's accident he had not felt quite easy, till latterly he had made his absences from Ulolo more frequent, and his sojourns there as short as with courtesy he possibly could, for he was determined that this feeling should be conquered. But, very lately, events had occurred which allowed him to hope. It is not my purpose to tell how it happened that after this trip to Mel bourne he found himself free to think of beauti ful Adelaide; perhaps at some future time I may be tempted to relate how in that case also true love found its proper mate; these real love tales often transcend the fictional. Our parson now found himself making a bee-line for Ulolo and—Adelaide! His heart was light and his hopes ran high, when this horrid flood must come to place impediments in his path. It was indeed hard lines, and it was not surprising that he should be anxious, which in truth he had good need to be. After thinking over the matter he decided upon going across country to Balranald, then up the Lachlan for, say, fifty miles, and from there strike west-north- west for the Darling through that then uninhabited country. This would bring him out a little above Ulolo, and from that point he would trust to circumstances and the power of love to enable him to make the station. At Balranald he heard worse accounts of the flood, and when he mentioned his intention of getting to Ulolo he was laughed at, and told it was per fectly impossible. However, he said he would try if he died in the attempt, and folk wondered what could be the cause of such determination and folly. Leaving his buggy at the township, he purchased pack-saddles and plenty of pro visions, and started with no companion but little "Dicky." He did not know that, when his determination was told to the flash manager of Banga, so thoroughly satisfied was that person that nothing but calamity could come of such a mad-brained expedition that, although several days had elapsed, he started in pursuit, taking with him his best black tracker, for he said he was not going to let such a fine young fellow perish, even if it was through his own folly. A week later he returned bringing with him the parson's horses, pack-saddles, and swag; and the extraordinary tale he told left no doubt in the minds of these experienced bushmen that the last had been seen of their " bush parson." The only dissentient to this opinion was the mailman, the same who had found poor crushed Tim, and who had such unbounded confidence in the clergy- man that he said, "The parson's not such a fool; he'll turn up after all." But how fared it with our parson ? For one whole day he travelled up the fine grass frontage of the Lachlan River. The road from Balranald via Paika Lake leaves the extensive reed beds at the junction of the two rivers on the right; and it was some forty miles above this that he camped for the night. In crossing over the unknown country intervening between where he was and the Darling, he did not fear losing his way, because he had been across by the then lately discovered track from Benanee Lake on the Murray, and therefore had a pretty good idea of the sort of country he was likely to meet with; there was plenty of water, every crab hole being full; so he started. The journey all that day was over splendid saltbush plains, and occasional slight ridges, through the beds of dry lakes of from one mile to three miles in diameter, and the bottoms of which contained a pasturage of the richest of rich herbs; his only dread was getting into extensive belts of mallee scrub. It was not until the evening of the second day's journey from the river that he entered one of those dreary tracts of sand ridges covered with the wretched porcu pine grass—veritable deserts, huge waves of pure sand, generally running east and west, each one parallel with its neighbor; the only vegeta tion being drought-stunted mallee and tussocks of irritating triodia. In these regions the sun is always hot; the white loose sand reflects the heat rays and engenders a thirst that can never be gratified, water being unknown. It has twice been my mournful lot to have to track the errant footprints of the lost shepherd in country like this; step by step have I followed him, as he had plodded along ankle keep in that hot sand, over this ridge, back again, round and round, next trying as a last hope to make a bee line for the river, then the circling again; his dead dog now found, the blood having been drunk to allay the consuming thirst; coat found next. Soon after the spot where he had lain down for rest is come upon, then signs of another feeble spurt over the ridges, and next the poor fellow's hat is picked up. I knew that he could not be far off and the crows under a neighboring clump of mallee directed me to where he finally lay down, dreamed doubtless of water, and— died. Oh ye wretched sand dunes of interior Australia, no wonder that the gallant Sturt spoke of you as "a country such as he verily believed was unparalleled upon earth's surface" for you are the traveller's dread—the cemetery of the poor shepherd ! That night's camp of our bush parson was in the centre of an extensive belt of this sort of country, and, there being no food for the horses as a precaution against their wandering they were tied up to the mallee and neither man nor beast had a drop to drink. At the very first streak of dawn a start was made, and some two hours travelling brought a change to small salt bush plains surrounded by mallee, and there
being plenty of grass, and crab-boles with water on them, a camp for some three hours was indulged in, as our parson knew that he could not be more than from twenty to thirty miles from the Darling. When only a mile on the journey again he crossed a shallow channel or depression of perhaps 2ft. below the level of the plain, and to his great surprise the horses' feet slipped through the dry top crust, disclosing a quagmire below. This he could not at all account for, as there was no appearance of rain having fallen or surface water in the channel. Another mile or so, and another depression was encountered; it was somewhat wider and a few stunted lignum bushes showed that at some time, perhaps in years of excessive wet, water lodged in it; but our hero's astonishment was extreme when, in the centre, trickling between the lignum, was actually a stream of water, and, more extraordinary still, it was running the wrong way, or directly towards the dry belt of country he had come through. "Name this one water, Dicky," he said to his little black com panion. "Mine think it Darling," he replied, and then flashed upon the clergyman's mind the immense difficulty of his undertaking. It was indeed Darling water backing up into the level back country, prior to filling the beds of the dry lakes whose existence as sheets of water our hero as he had passed them had been utterly unable to realise or account for. It was with difficulty the boggy creek was crossed, after which there was a level plain, and at the end a belt of that peculiar pine scrub which he knew well indi cated the end of the mallee and the approach to the flooded lands of the river; on to this ridge he rode through the pine belt, and there, before him, was one widespread expanse of water; the Darling had become a Nile, inundating an Aus ralian Egypt! This was the Great Flood of the Darling; a flood such as I truly believe could happen in no other part of earth's surface than the level in terior of our vast continent—a flood such as nearly proved fatal to the brave old explorer M'Kinlay when camped on the lower levels of the mighty Diamantina ; just such a flood as, in my opinion, must have overtaken the intrepid Leichhardt, and swept from the face of this country all traces of the party, obliterating with its cold wet winding-sheet of obscurity the glory and honor of our Queensland explorer. I must beg the reader's attention for a very short time while I describe the cause of this great outburst of water, so as to make my tale understood and the perilous undertaking of my hero appreciated. The Darling is the longest of all Australian rivers, its drainage area being as a kingdom among watersheds. It takes its rise far up in Queensland, in fact close on to the tropical line, and it receives the whole drainage of the western slope of our coast mountains for some ten degrees of latitude. The Bogan, Macquarie, Castlereagh, Condamine, Culgoa, Maranoa, War rego, Paroo, Bulloo, and other large rivers all send their waters to the Darling ; but so level is the country through which this long river runs that by the time it junctions with the Murray it has dwindled into a channel not over sixty yards wide, and with a depth from the bottom to the top of its banks of not over 40ft. Like the Lachlan and so many of our Australian interior rivers, it is wider and carries a larger body of water near its source than at its mouth; the level and dry nature of the soil sucks up the waters, or spreads them out for evaporation, and it loses itself for want of force in the current and a continuation of the rainfall. Often in the autumn the Lower Darling is dry; I have travelled its canal-like channel for miles, eagerly hunting for a drop of water. Usually this canal is filled by the annual spring floods caused by the autumn rains in Queensland, and the steamers ply regularly to Bourke and beyond. Its channel is tortuous, twisting, and doubling often quite back upon itself, and has a course of quite three miles to one. On emerging from the dry bed on to the top of the banks, the traveller would find himself on a level country consisting sometimes of saltbush flats, sometimes of flats thickly timbered with gum and flooded box trees, and again he would notice extensive areas of flooded lignum land; intersecting all these are innumer able watercourses, not running into the river but by which the river water as it rises in its channel runs out and so floods the levels. These ana branches are called billabongs, and vary from a few yards in width to even a quarter of a mile; and it was one of these that flowed into and filled Ulolo Lake. Interspersed over these ex tensive flats are often to be found isolated sand hills, and it is generally upon one of these hills that the squatters' homesteads and shepherds' huts are placed. Sometimes the mallee scrub and limestone gravelly cliffs come close to the main channel, but when they do there is invariably an immense area of flat country on the opposite side of the river; generally they do not approach nearer than from two to ten miles, and in some places are even twenty-five and thirty miles away, where they form a second and real bank of the river, with a flat country between; a river bed, in fact, of in some places sixty miles in width. Now the whole of these flats had never before in the memory of either the white man or the black native been known to be completely covered with water, and flood-marks in the trees, as in the Queensland coast and Northern rivers, there were none. When the usual flood time came, the sheep were, of course, always removed from out of the net-work of creeks immediately adjoining the river and taken to the mallee country. But no one ever had even dreamed that these mallee ridges were the real banks of the river; as well might one imagine the whole of interior Australia to be a sea. Doubtless it had been so at one time, and all these flats had been under water, but that was geological ages ago. However, early in 1863 it rained in Queens land—rained as it had never rained before in human recollection; the tropical rains extended much further south than usual, and over into the western watershed of the Main Range. The consequence was that all the many rivers of this western slope were continually flooded and united their volumes of water at the same time, and the Darling canal, the oft-time dry channel, became a mighty river, an overwhelming wall of water forty to sixty miles wide—an Amazon in Australia ! There are many of my readers who will endorse this assertion, extraordinary and exaggerated as it may seem to others. It was on the outside
edge of this mighty flood that our hero parson found himself, and he wondered how he was to get to Ulolo and Adelaide.
CHAPTER IX. ULOLO IN FLOOD TIME. But how fares it at Ulolo during all these long months—years even since our introductory chapter? What about its fair inmates? By reason of the limited space allowed me I am compelled to skip all intervening events, and take up my story at the time immediately before the flood. The news of this extraordinary spreading of the waters duly came to the station, and caused considerable anxiety; every week the mailman was minutely interrogated as to the account he got from the up-river mailman be yond Menindie. The remarkable particular in which this Darling flood differed from that of an ordinary Australian river was the de liberate way in which it advanced; there was no sudden rush and a rice of 60ft to 100 ft. in half as many hours, as in the Eastern and Northern riven of this continent, but slowly, mile by mile, day by day, did this mighty wave thread its way through innumerable channels— channels never before even noticed, because of their great distance from the river and their always having hitherto been dry—filling up the many dry lakes of the district, covering miles upon miles of lignum country and saltbash plains. Station after station was overtaken and sur rounded, but abundance of time was given to clear out all stock and movables. Many of the settlers moved out into the back country, but others whose stations were upon the tops of sand hills determined to remain. The township of Fort Bourke had become a sandy island sur rounded by an ocean of water, and so our friends at Ulolo knew fully what they might expect and had ample time to make preparations. On talking the matter over, Mr. Mason determined to send all the sheep to the mallee under the care of Jack, but he saw no reason why he should sub ject his wife and daughters to the discomforts of tent life, so he determined to remain at the station homestead. I, the narrator of this little episode, was sent to the back country with Jack. The men were all despatched with the sheep, even the old bleer-eyed hut-keeper was not kept; for, although there was no probability of the water covering the high sand-hill on which the house was built, the men's huts, being on a lower level, were certain to be swamped. One flock of sheep had been kept till the last; but now the billa bongs began to fill, these forerunning feelers, the antennae of this creeping flood, and this flock must be shifted at once. Mr. Mason mounted the sole remaining horse and left home, saying he would only go with the shepherd for the day, as they could reach the pine ridge by night, and he would return by evening, or at any rate early on the morrow; but, owing to the delay caused by forcing the sheep over a few small but boggy creeks, the pine ridge was not reached that night, and the master did not care to leave his man by himself in flooded ground, so he camped with him. Alas! on the morrow matters were worse; more hitherto unnoticed creeks, or rather shallow channels, intervened, and even the second night closed in without their having made the ridge. On the next day things were still worse, and it was not until the evening of the third day that Mr. Mason found himself on the ridge, on the farther side of which was a broad flooded flat over which it would be utterly useless to try to force the sheep. There was therefore nothing for it but to camp with shepherd and sheep, and Mr. Mason found himself irrevocably cut off from his wife and daughters in this their time of peril and anxiety. Great was his distress and bitterly he lamented having left home. The ridge was high and not likely to be submerged, and there was enough grass on it to last the small flock of choice ewes at any rate for a month or six weeks, so there was no fear of flood or starvation for himself or the shepherd; but his anxiety on account of his family was most intense. At the station the non-return of Mr. Mason did not cause the anxiety which might be sup posed. On those extensive runs and in a country where there was so much scrub in places, and shepherds so far apart, it was no uncommon thing for the master or his son to go away for nominally a day and not come back for two or three. Sheep might be lost, or other contingencies arise, which would render it more advisable to camp out than to travel some thirty or forty miles for the mere sake of getting home. Then, again, Mrs. Mason and her two daughters were so accustomed to bush emergencies that when on awaking the next morning they found the waters of the lake had risen so greatly, Adelaide at once told her mother that it was impossible for her father to get back and that he would have to stop at the back-country camp. The girls went as far as they could in the direction their father would come, but soon had to turn back, and re ported to their mother that the homestead was surrounded by water. Fortunately they never dreamed that Mr. Mason was a prisoner on an isolated ridge and would be detained there till the flood waters retreated. [WILL BE CONCLUDED IN OUR NEXT]
Thk August number of the M Journal of the Franklin Institute" contains much of interest to scientific readers, or to any one who wishes to know how rapidly the science world is progress* ing. There is a long paper explanatory of the "Artificial Formation of the Diamond, by the discoverer himself, J. B. Hannav, F.R.8.; an interesting aooount of the Russian Imperial yacht liivadia, from the pen of an officer of the Imperial Navy ; a paper on the dynamo-cleetrio current as applied by Dr. Werner diemans to the pro* pelling of a railway carriage ; an artide on " A Fourth state of Matter," by W. Crookes, F.R.S.; and papers on the steam engine, photography, compressed air, meat-bread, Ac., make up a very interesting and instructive number. In the representation of the "Corsican Brothers" at the Lyceum, by Irving, the scenes are constructed so solidly and with so many details that no fewer than ninety carpenters, thirty gas men, and thirteen property men are permanently engaged in the mere task of arranging them. The total working expenses are £140 per night The receipts have averaged £280 per performance.