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Incidents of Daily Life-Ride to a Sheep-station-Sporting in the Bush
Native Dog Chase—Anecdote of a Tame Specimen-Business mingled with Pleasure-Emu and Kangaroo-Shooting-Angling—The Platypus or Watermole-Snakes—Man bitten-Effects of the Venom-First Sight of a new pastoral District — Picturesque Scene — Remarks upon the Climate of Australia.
A CONSIDERABLE portion of a settler's daily life is occupied in making visits to his sheep-stations, which are situated on every side of him, at a few miles' distance from that which he constitutes his own place of residence. He visits them for the purpose of overlooking his stock in person, and of guarding against negligence on the part of such of his men as may be suspected of yielding to the “ vis inertiæ,” or, as the phrase is, of “not doing justice to their flocks.”
Everybody rises early in the interior, and the necessity of being in the saddle by sunrise soon becomes no hardship to the settler, who at least enjoys the cool morning air before the sun is up, and gets a famous appetite for breakfast before his return to the head station, even if he should fail in his primary object, which is to catch his shepherd "napping."
Those who are fond of sporting are usually accompanied on these occasions by one or two kangaroo dogs (a sort of large half-bred greyhound, much prized in the colony), for at this early hour the native dog has not yet returned to his daily retreat, and gives an excellent run. He is generally found lurking in long grass or rocky places, watching some cows and calves, or mares with their foals, with a strong design upon the young stock in both cases.
These dogs run very gallantly at starting, with as much speed as a fox, but with less endurance and courage, for, when hard pressed at first, it is not unusual for their running powers to desert them through fear. However, when attacked, they always die very hard, giving bite for bite in silence to the last. Their speed varies greatly ; some that we killed were overtaken within a quarter of a mile, others would run four or five in capital style, and the last we ever hunted I well remember succeeded in getting clear off, on level ground, though we were mounted on fast horses. It is called dingo and “ warragle” by the aborigines, and is an indigenous animal, being neither dog, fox, jackal, nor wolf, to each of which, however, it bears some resemblance, most perhaps to the latter. It usually hunts alone, though three or four are sometimes met with in company, and it preys indiscriminately upon everything it can master, from foals and calves down to the smallest animals and birds. Its prevailing colours are bright yellow and dusky brown, with the tip of the tail white: they are also found of a black colour, mixed in some instances with tan, but this probably arises from admixture with the European species, as an animal of this colour is never seen in any recently discovered district.
Its most striking peculiarity is tenacity of life, in which it probably surpasses most other animals. For this reason, and not from any remarkable strength of its own, few dogs can kill one singly. Indeed, so many instances have been known of their recovering under the most improbable circumstances, that a native dog is never considered as left for dead unless some vital part is severed. As a last resource, when neither running nor fighting are of any further service, it has a remarkable trick of “shamming dead,” when it may be dragged about by the heels and well belaboured without flinching, lolling its head listlessly down, as if quite lifeless, until a fair opportunity for crawling away presents itself.
A tame specimen, on our station, exhibited a striking instance of their natural cunning. He was chained in a small enclosure, into which a merino ram one day accidentally strayed, and not clearly seeing his way out again, prepared to attack his natural enemy, who being equally willing to do battle, stood out as far as his chain would permit, and awaited the attack. It was „strength versus skill. The ram, who boasted a formidable pair of the spiral horns peculiar to his breed, after retreating backwards for some distance in the usual way, rushed forward upon his foe with sufficient impetus to have knocked down an ox, and victory seemed already within his reach. But the native dog
was far too wary to stand the brunt of such a blow; so, just when it seemed inevitable, he crouched suddenly down, and seized his antagonist firmly by the throat as he flew over. Thus he would speedily have despatched him, had we not come to the rescue.
The native dog seldom barks, but howls most dismally, and at night, when they frequently approach the stations, nothing can be conceived more dreary than their cry, which is composed of a series of wailing notes, into the last of which, as if by way of a climax, they throw the very essence of melancholy. To make the matter worse, all the curs about the place invariably join in chorus, and the whole sound, echoing through the lonely woods, produces an effect which might triumph over the equanimity of Zimmerman himself, or any other votary of solitude.
Not the least attractive part of life in the interior of these colonies is the way in which pleasure can be combined with business, without much interfering, as is usually the case elsewhere, with its proper performance. The settler seldom goes out merely for sporting purposes, but they fall in his way as he labours in his vocation. The roving habits of his half-wild horses and horned cattle alone afford occasion for a great variety of hunting, and the chase of the native dog, and sometimes, though less frequently, owing to their shy nature, of the emu and kangaroo, occurs during his visits to his flocks, or his rides across his pasture-grounds.
Vividly do these scenes recur to the mind of those who have known the mingled charms and hardships of “ life in the bush.” Though I am no keen sportsman, yet I have found the enthusiasm very catching. The early ride to the sheep-station, the counting out from the fold of its fleecy inmates, the quiet return homewards, until the sudden cry of a “warragle” changed the slow amble into a rush as if for
the bewilderment of the kangaroo dogs upon the sudden alteration in the aspect of affairs, before they caught sight of its cause, and, when they did, the splendid way in which they would pull down the quarry. And then the death, which might furnish a subject for Landseer, the body lying on the edge of some clear lake, the steeds panting upon the brink, the gaunt hounds plunging into the water to rid themselves of the nausea which is produced by con
tact with the native dog, and the whole lighted up by the gorgeous morning sun just peering over the distant hills.
Besides the native dog, the kangaroo and the emu, or cassowary of New Holland, are objects of chase. They are animals of a shy and retiring disposition, and the settler's approach is the signal for their departure. They must now be sought in their own distant haunts, and it is very possible to reside in the colony for many years without having seen either. All that the sportsman, when in pursuit of them, requires, is a tolerably fast and sure-footed horse, a pair of good dogs, and a hunting-knife. The speed of both is very great, though neither can be said to run; for the kangaroo bounds, the emu half flies. The former is the fastest, the latter has more power of endurance. At first starting, a young male or female kangaroo, called in the colony
a flyer,” can leave both horse and hound far behind. It seems to go with little exertion, but the vast space it can clear at each leap accounts for its swiftness. When it can go no farther, it wheels round, and if there should be a tree or rock at hand, places its back against it, so as to avoid being taken in the rear. A well-trained dog tries to seize it by the back, or side of the neck; if he succeeds, the kangaroo, which is rather a top-heavy animal, falls over, and seldom can rise again. If, however, the hound incautiously makes his attack in front, the kangaroo is apt to get him in his short fore-paws; lie then brings up his hindlegs, which are a mass of sinews, and strikes with them like a game cock, aiming to tear his adversary to pieces with his toes or claws, which are very strong and pointed.
The emu has only one means of defence, his kick, which is sufficiently forcible to stun a hound.
The kangaroo is valuable on account of his skin, which makes the most comfortable leather that can be worn in a warm climate; and from the flesh of the emu an oil is extracted which is much prized in “the bush.”
The settler who is fond of his gun can always have tolerable shooting. Several sorts of quail, pigeons, snipes, and wildfowl are found in most of the inland districts. The wonga-wonga, a large, dark-blue pigeon, with a white head, is a great delicacy, and the painted quail, which is found among the long grass in open forest” land, flies not unlike a woodcock. Nor need the
angler forego his favourite diversion in the bush.” Many of the rivers, and especially the lakes, abound with fish, most of which take bait freely, and the paradoxical nature which pervades the animal kingdom in Australia renders a day's angling more than usually interesting—there is no saying what “delicate monster” may not be dragged reluctantly into day at the next bite.
This brings to my recollection our old favourite prodigy, the ornithorhynchus paradoxus, called also the platypus, duckbill, and watermole by the colonists, which might be seen, any evening, lying on the top of the water in the rivers and water-holes in our vicinity. It was shot sometimes for the sake of stuffing it and preserving it as a curiosity, though it was very quick at diving or “ ducking the flash.” Whether it is oviparous or viviparous still remains undecided among naturalists.
Snakes are met with in most parts of the colony. In some species the bite is harmless, in others it produces violent inflammation, and in a few the venom is so subtle as to cause death in a short time. The effect, in many instances, is much exaggerated, as well as the hostility of the reptile. The fact is, that the snake is always too glad to escape when he can, and is often the most frightened of the two parties meeting, but will infallibly attack any one who gets in his way, or cuts off his retreat to his hole.
Though I have heard innumerable stories of fatal results ensuing from the venom of snakes in Australia, many of which were certainly true, yet I never actually witnessed the effects of a bite, except on one occasion. The sufferer was a bullockdriver, who, on returning late one evening from a sheep-station with his team, was bitten in the ankle. On reaching home he came directly to report his accident, and said that he shortly expected great agony; but it was in vain to send for any medical man, as there was not one within twenty-five miles, and before he could possibly arrive the patient would either have recovered, or be beyond all human skill.
The venom first began to operate visibly in about twenty minutes after the bite. There was but little external swelling. A death-like chill came over the sufferer, which was so strong that although he was placed in front of a large fire, and covered