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Sydney into the interior, and such were the events by which my first trip is imprinted on my memory.
Having travelled in this manner some 230 miles in a southwesterly direction from Sydney, we reached the extreme boundary of the colony, beyond which lay, not as a new-comer might naturally expect, a still more uncivilized region, a sort of sylvan chaos, but a country at least as thickly populated and as much reclaimed from the wilds as any that our last two days' journey had shown us; it was, in fact, one of the large grazing districts, covered with as many flocks and herds as the pasture could feed or the neighbouring stockowners allow, without appealing at once to the commissioner of crown lands, with a grievous outcry at the encroachment.
By this time, however, I began to understand the value of that hackneyed expression “ the bush,” which had formerly perplexed me so much, and to see that it meant little more or less than the country at the antipodes.
Its precise definition, however, like that of the north, is perhaps not so easily given, even hy an old colonist: the resident in Sydney would be apt to consider it any place beyond the suburbs of the town; the Haukesbury or Illawarra farmer would place it between 30 and 100 miles from the capital; while the distant settler, the bonâ fide bushman, would smile at such fireside notions, and from his dwelling, 300 miles from Port Jackson, he still talks of “ going into the bush,” which in his sense of the term implies his own lonely out-stations, or regions yet untrodden by the white man; in short, any place beyond the boundaries of his own homestead, and “ on this side Sundown."
As a young Englishman draws near the end of his journey, some eight or ten days after leaving the capital, and sees his future abode, where his romance is about to be realized in the actual experience of life in the Bush : his first question perhaps may be, Am I to laugh or cry? Perhaps he has left behind him an affectionate home and a refined society. He brings with him cultivated tastes and a polished education, in which has been included not one subject or branch of knowledge that can be of the slightest use to him in his present pursuits. Perhaps he is conscious that he cast the die in mere wantonness, though on the result of the throw depended the fortunes and complexion of his whole future life. Is it surprising that, at the moment of completing the sacrifice, he should feel a thrill of compunction? But one qualification he brings with him, in which our young English adventurers are seldom deficient, and which in time supplies the place of all others; I mean that combination of active and passive courage which we call pluck, and for which I know no other term equally comprehensive. He will not acknowledge, even to himself, his hesitation, or rising disappointment. He takes a second survey.
He has not wandered away from the old country in search of luxuries; and, upon second thoughts, the appearance of his recent purchase is as promising as he has a right to expect beyond the boundaries of a colony, itself the antipodes of Europe ; so, dismissing from his mind all comparisons with home, and all unreasonable expectations or too flattering pictures, he turns and cheerfully contemplates the reality.
The sun was sinking for the ninth time since our departure from the shores of Port Jackson, as our horses stopped to drink at the ford of a pebbly-margined river which ran in front of our station. At that time great expectations were generally entertained as to the fortunes that might be realized in the colony, and my hopes of success and a speedy return were high. Yet I am not ashamed to own, that at this trying hour misgivings would arise to sadden my prospects. I was prepared for hardship, but I had hazarded an important step: was I to reap the harvest of my expectations ? or had I given up friends, family, civilization, and dear old England, in vain? My companion asked me what I was thinking about ; I would not tell him I was thinking of home.
And yet I was better off than many, for we had purchased an
improved station. Scattered here and there over a considerable space of ground, stood the various buildings, eight or ten in number, of which it was composed. In front was the owner's residence, a better sort of wooden cottage, chiefly distinguished on the outside by verandah ; behind and on either side of the house were several huts of an inferior structure, the abodes of the working men. The wool-shed, a long rambling building, surrounded by several low sheep-yards, stood out by itself; while on a distant “ flat” appeared a large space, fenced round for a wheat “paddock;" and in another direction a most formidable-looking enclosure, covering about half an acre of ground, formed the stockyard for cattle. The whole was backed by some low hills, thinly wooded, and agreeably receding in the distance, and at the foot of these appeared a chain of clear ponds or “ waterholes.” The general aspect of the place, though holding out, it must be owned, but little promise of luxury, and hardly more of that greater desideratum—comfort, had yet, I remember, an interesting and primitive air, as it thus appeared starting up in the midst of desolation; and this it was which caused it speedily to find favour in the eyes of its new occupants, and stimulated them to toil for its further improvement.
A Head Station in the Interior-Disposition of the Stock-Arrangement of
the Buildings—Bush Architecture—An Out-station-Forming a new Station-A Race for Fresh Pasture-A Settler's Stratagem-AnecdotesShifting Stock-Hardships--Mode of Watching Cattle by Night-An Encampment in the Bush.
The residence of a stockowner beyond the boundaries of the colony is usually situated in the most central part of his station,” as that portion of territory is called of which he holds the temporary possession, it being in fact the property of the crown, to which he annually pays a certain sum for permission to depasture his stock thereon. By stock, in Australia, are understood sheep, horned cattle, and horses ; some breeders turn their whole attention to the former, and some confine it to the two latter conjointly, but, generally speaking, it is usual, as it is most judicious and profitable, to combine each sort.
On an establishment where each kind of stock is kept, they are separated as much as possible, different parts of the station being allotted to each ; the object of this is to prevent their interfering with each other, to their mutual detriment; for though horses and cattle will feed together upon the same spots, yet both have a strong antipathy to the vicinity of sheep, so much so that there is no more effectual method of driving them away than by feeding a flock or two of sheep over their pasture grounds.
The sheep, therefore, are put out” at smaller “ stations,” on which two or three flocks are grazed; these are generally from two to five miles distant from the residence of the proprietor, or overseer, and for the most part consist merely of a single hut, capable of accommodating two or three men, and are erected in such parts of the station as are particularly favourable to sheep, which, being the most profitable stock, receive the greatest share of attention. The judicious manager, however, contrives to make the most of his run, as well as of his stock, by placing each sort upon those parts which, from the quality of the pasture, and nature of the country, are best suited to their habits; he occupies the dry hills and sound plains with his sheep, and allows his cattle to appropriate the spots most congenial to their nature, such as river banks, swampy creeks, and the moist, low grounds, generally ; while his horses, which, though of a rambling disposition, do not require such constant inspection as the rest, are suffered to roam far and wide, over the whole station, and are not much restricted so long as they do not transgress its extreme bounds.
The head station, at which the owner or superintendent resides, is generally so situated as to be as nearly as possible equidistant from the several sheep stations, to which frequent visits are necessary. The huts, paddocks, and various other “improvements," as they are generally called, are often spread out here and there, over a large space of ground, the land being of little value; and perhaps on this account it is, that a large establishment, though composed separately of very rude materials, presents, upon the whole, from its extent, rather an imposing appearance, especially when viewed from a distance,
The principal buildings are generally placed upon a gentle eminence, slightly removed from the rest, and consist of the owner's residence, the kitchen, and store; the two latter, situated behind the former, are generally mere huts, built after the ordinary bush fashion, of wooden slabs, whitewashed on the outside, and roofed with the bark of trees; the proprietor's abode has, however, greater pretensions to comfort and external effect; the rough slabs of which it is built, in common with the other edifices, are concealed by lath and plaster, which, being whitewashed, and “ lined” on the outside so as to resemble a stone structure, has a more substantial appearance. Weather-board cottages, which are better and more expensive, are occasionally constructed :. but though very common nearer the capital, and in the more settled parts of the colony, they are looked on as a sort of unnecessary luxury, beyond the boundaries. The roof is covered with shingles, instead of the more unsightly bark of trees, while a verandah is carried out in front, and frequently serves, in default of any other external distinction, to point out to a stranger the owner's abode.