Page images
PDF
EPUB

waited to let the drove go by ; for, as they were probably on their

way to the capital, and could hardly as yet be sobered by the fatigues of the road, our presence might have scattered them far and wide, and perhaps occasioned the loss of several. In a twinkling they were at hand; and in truth it was a very imposing sight, as, amidst that wild mountain scenery, the whole troop swept past us, bays, blacks, chesnuts, and greys, sleek and fresh from their pastures, while the mighty patriarch of the herd brought up the rear, as if disdaining to betray a nervous haste, and acting “under protest." They were closely followed by an overseer and his man, who, on seeing us, dismounted, and stopped for a few minutes, the one to make inquiries about the state of the markets, the other to light his pipe with his fellow stockman. Their greeting was, however, cut short prematurely by a sudden alarm that the horses were “splitting," upon which both master and man were fain to spring again into the saddle, and gallop after them ; the former being apparently unwilling to deny them the usual colonial merit of being “ quite quiet," while the latter, with a slight difference of opinion, was heard to declare, as he set spurs to his steed, that, though he had been among horses since he was a child, his present lot were a set of the veriest “ Russians” (Anglicè, wild things) he ever had anything to do with.

We were quite disappointed at the abrupt departure of our new friends. How welcome amidst these vast solitudes is a specimen, any specimen, of the human form divine: its situation lends it a momentary charm; as the vessel which, when in port, amidst a hundred others, would hardly attract a second look, far in the Atlantic becomes an object of the deepest interest ; we sweep the horizon for one glimpse of its loftiest spar, and watch it until our aching eyes can gaze no more.

We now reached “the Freestone,” a shorter hill than most of those we had surmounted, but, if possible, still more precipitous. We climbed up it with difficulty. The tracks of drays were still visible beneath our feet, though how they got up such a place seemed inexplicable. Every class of men has its hero, and I was informed that the only driver who could safely be depended on to take a team up

the Freestone” without an accident was a man known as

the pretty boy,” a name which, as my friend E

remarked, must have been given him by the old rule of “ lucus a non lucendo,” as he was one of the ugliest scoundrels that ever wore a head. He must, however, be invaluable in his line.

The sun was declining, and the mid-day heat was beginning to abate, as we arrived at the foot of some gently rising ground, over which the track led us. I was on the point of ascending it, when my companion suddenly wheeled round his horse, and, looking back at the country through which we had been travelling for the last three days, asked me what I thought of the prospect.

'I was growing hungry and tired, and was glad of the opportunity of abusing the road which had caused us such endless difficulties. In fact, I saw only a mighty expanse of forest-land, stretching its brown and sombre masses in unbroken monotony, some trees rearing their blackened trunks in dismal

array,

others shedding their bark in slatternly and forlorn profusion. One shady beech, one stately elm, I thought had more beauty and verdure than the whole scene. Let those that will give it the false name of evergreen: it may never fade, but, alas! it has never flourished. So it must remain for ages, useless to man and beast, to re-echo no sound but the cry of the wild dog, or the tomahawk of the savage.

Something of this kind I expressed as I turned and resumed my journey. But when we had gained the summit of the little hill before us (it was not more than a hundred yards in length), that short distance showed us one of the most remarkable con-. trasts of scenery that ever met the eye of a traveller.

The gloomy forest had opened, and about two miles before, or rather beneath us—for the ground, thinly dotted with trees, sloped gently downwards— lay a plain about seven miles in breadth. Its centre was occupied by a lagoon, in some parts thickly covered with sedge, in others showing a clear expanse of water. On either side of this the plain, for some distance, was as level as a bowling-green, until it was met by the forest, which shelved picturesquely down towards it, gradually decreasing in its vast masses until they ended in a single tree. In the vicinity of the forest the ground was varied by gentle undulations, which, as they intersected each other, formed innumerable grassy creeks and open flats, occasionally adorned with native honeysuckles

and acacia), and affording numberless retreats for the stately herds which occupied the plain. Two remarkable conical hills, perfectly free from timber, rose in the middle of the largest plain, dividing it about half way, and a clear and winding stream skirted it on our right. The whole, as far as the eye could reach, was clothed with a thick coat of grass, rich and luxuriant, as if the drought, so destructive elsewhere, had never reached this favoured spot.

It was Omio plain. But by what accident, or rather by what strange freak of nature, came it there ? A mighty belt of forest, for the most part destitute of verdure, and forming as uninviting a region as could well be found, closed it in on every side for fifty miles ; but there, isolated in the midst of a wilderness of desolation, lay this beautiful place, so fair, so smiling, that we could have forgotten hunger, thirst, and all the toils of the road, and been content to gaze on it while light remained.

After a long weary ride through the dismal forest, how delightful, how exhilarating, is a canter across this beautiful country! The very horses seem to catch the enthusiasm, and to forget their past toils, as they leave the odious gum-trees behind them. E was fully alive to the influence of the scene; not a group of half-wild horsės or cattle crossed our track but he would dash in among them, and scatter them far and wide over the plain, under pretence of seeing whether any of his own were with them, but evidently from sheer delight. We felt as little fatigued as if we had but just then left our last night's encampment, though we were now close at our journey's end, and a thin white smoke, curling upwards in the clear evening air, showed us our resting-place for the night.

Arrived at the station, we proceeded to make ourselves at home in the usual cool way of travellers in the interior of New South Wales, while our horses rolled in front of the door, and then trooped off to the adjacent lake. We found that the owner was not resident, but left the charge of his affairs in this distant region to an overseer, who therefore was our host for the night. He was hospitable of course, hospitality being, as I have before said, almost universal in the bush of Australia ; but his welcome was not cheery, it did not seem to come from the heart. He was a man who had met with many losses in the country, and, when little else was left him to lose, had apparently lost – his temper, and turned grumbler and alarmist. Many such there are, in old countries as well as in new, who, not having succeeded according to their own estimate of their deserts, (though perhaps their deserts if duly weighed would hardly have saved them from Hamlet's sentence of a whipping,) are soured by disappointment, and make their company insufferable by invidious and unfair comparisons, and a long detail of grievances, which they have not sense enough to conceal, nor candour enough to impute to their own mismanagement.

But who could feel discontent at Omio ? who that was alive to the beauties of scenery could become weary of this lovely spot? It was indeed beautiful as the day was long, ay, and the night too. At dawn, when the early breeze breathed buoyancy and hope-at noon, when the wild horse basked on the edge of its glassy lake, the platypus floated on its surface, and, in the midst of the heat, everything recalled to the mind only freshness and repose - again, in the evening, when the countless herds, sleek and contented, trooped off towards the lengthening shades of the forest-and, above all, at night, when the mild southern cross looked down

upon

the scene, and the moon, gradually rising from behind the dark mass of forest that lowered around, seemed to leave it with joy, and to shine for the plain alone.

At Omio we saw a tame “native companion," a large bird indigenous to Australia, of the adjutant species. Men living in these distant regions are very fond of “pets,” and we occasionally met with some highly accomplished natives of the bush. With the exception of the wild dog, which, like the tiger, can never be thoroughly tamed, most Australian animals are easily domesticated. The kangaroo, if caught young, not only soon forgets its wild nature, but is apt to fall into the other extreme, and become intrusively familiar ; and where there is a large white cockatoo, which is perhaps the best talking bird yet discovered, nothing is safe for a moment that is not as hard as iron. Like a monkey, he is never happy but when in mischief, and then, if the owner of the damaged property, perhaps a new English saddle, flies to its rescue, he sets up his fine flamecoloured crest, and opens his large eyes with an air of indignant remonstrance, as if he had been interrupted in the performance of a meritorious service,

The numerous family of the parrot tribe are, as

may

be

supposed, universal favourites, though they soon cease to be prized highly in a country where they may be seen as commonly as sparrows in England, taking their short low flights in flocks of twenty or thirty together. The sorts which (unhappily for them) are most “fancied ” are the green leek, the king parrot, the rosella, the blue mountain parrot, and, above all, the lorie, with his splendid livery of blue and green.

The beauties of the lorie, however, have been eclipsed by a most brilliant little parrot, found, I believe, on or near the river Lachlan. It is about the size of a bullfinch, and is called the budgery garr (budgery, in the blacks' language, meaning good or handsome). It is easily tamed, and bears confinement less uneasily than any other species. Its shape is very elegant, and on each side of its throat, which is of a bright yellow, are two deep blue spots, like the eyes on the peacock's tail.

It was at Omio that I first heard the shocking story, known, alas ! to be too true, of the white woman who has for some time been detained among the wild blacks of the southern coast. She had been sent at an early age to England, for the purpose of completing her education, and was returning to her friends in the prime of youth, when the vessel in which she was a passenger was wrecked in Bass's Straits, within two days' sail of Sydney. Part of the crew had been drowned, and the few that reached the shore, with the exception of this ill-fated girl, were massacred by the blacks. Numerous parties, chiefly composed of residents in the adjacent districts, some induced by a large reward, others by a better feeling, have at various times set ut to recapture her and restore her to her family, but as yet, I believe, without

Vast tracts of the country in which she is known to be confined are thickly wooded and broken, and in many parts it is almost impenetrable. But there are other, and even greater difficulties to be surmounted by those who undertake the pursuit of the savages. They must not only traverse these almost inaccessible regions, at times without the bare satisfaction of knowing that they are on the right scent, but they must also use the utmost caution to conceal their intentions ; for there is good reason to fear that, if the blacks found themselves unable to carry away their victim, they would, by a blow of a waddie, put

success.

« PreviousContinue »