« PreviousContinue »
Economy of a Station-An “Up-Country” Store-Mode of Transacting
Business-Agriculture in the Bush—Diet-Receipt for “a Damper” Killing a Bullock-Boundary Questious-A Court of Enquiry-Sunday in the Far Districts.
EVERY proprietor of a large establishment in the interior of the country endeavours so to regulate the arrival of his “supplies from Sydney, that he may never be wholly at a loss for any necessary article. This is a great point in the internal economy of a station ; for when, by the detention of his teams upon the road, or any unexpected consumption of food, the supplies will 110t last out during the time that has been calculated, the proprietor pays the disagreeable penalty of being obliged to procure the needful article at some public store in the neighbourhood, to which he goes a most unwilling customer, expecting nothing else than to pay double the ordinary prices, and, in truth, but seldom returning disappointed in this expecta'ion.
The exterior of a bush or “up-country” store in Australia is usually similar to that of an ordinary slab building, except that it is somewhat longer, and of stronger construction. A glance at the inside shows a rude counter, behind which are several shelves, running round the whole length of the building, on which, as well as in all corners from the roof to the ground, is collected a mixture of everything that the pursuits of the country, or tastes of its motley population, render saleable. Slop clothing for the men, Manilla and cabbage-tree hats, gown print and perfumery for women, coarse silk handkerchiefs, for which there is a great demand, as they are much used for stock whiplashes, saddlery of every description, horseshoes and shoeing utensils, sheep-shears and butchers' knives, Epsom salts and castor oil, are piled up in motley array above the heavier articles, consisting of chests of tea, bags of sugar and salt, and kegs of Virginian and colonial tubacco. The stock, in short, appears to have been formed by a contribution of all the shopkeepers in Sydney, and there is hardly anything which the owner of a bush store does not keep, or which he considers “out of his line.' His trade is frequently a flourishing one, though the cause of its being so is somewhat remarkable, as he may be said to thrive chiefly through the mistakes of his neighbours, for fixed prices are unknown in the bush ; and as his chief advantage lies in his possessing an article when no one else in the vicinity is supplied with it, it may be easily understood that on such occasions he sells pretty much on his own terms.
Very little money, however, passes through the storekeeper's hands, for one may reside in the bush for months together without catching a glimpse of the current coin, the “order system, which has long been adopted in the interior of the colony, being found desirable as a substitute for payment in cash. It is usual for proprietors of stations "up the country" to keep an account current with a Sydney merchant or agent, from whom they also purchase their annual supplies, and, when discharging any debt in the interior, they simply draw an
upon him for the amount; their produce is likewise intrusted to his charge, and he either sells it in Sydney, purchases it himself from the settler, or ships it to England, as may be most advisable from the state of the market. A storekeeper's cash-box, therefore, seldom contains anything more than a number of these “orders,” commencing with “ Please to pay," and addressed to various mercantile houses in the capital. Every now and then he remits a number of them to his agent in Sydney, who collects them, and credits him with the amount. In the interior they pass current throughout the districts where the signatures are known, and thus often remain in circulation for a considerable time.
Were a practical modern agriculturist suddenly transplanted from the mother country to a grazing station some three hundred miles in the interior of New South Wales, just at the time when the paddocks are being prepared for wheat, it would be amusing to see his astonishment at a system, if such it can be called, so utterly at variance with anything he had previously witnessed in farming. Manure is here never used, and a rotation of crops seldom heard of; in fact, a stock-owner who thought about
either would be set down by his neighbours as
“ cranky.” Matters are managed pretty much in the following way :-As many acres of land as are considered sufficient to ensure a supply of wheat in the event of partial failure (for which allowances, owing to the prevalence of drought, should always be made), having been enclosed with a strong three-rail fence, the soil is turned up once with the plough, after which the sower “lays on” the seed, frequently with as little care as if, to use a colonial simile, he were feeding his poultry: the harrow is then drawn once over the whole, and Nature is left to do the rest. This is certainly trusting her a great way; but in spite of this hasty agriculture, very tolerable crops are frequently obtained, far better, it must be confessed, than is merited by the labour bestowed upon them.
But this is not all, for in the far districts it is a common practice, after once ploughing a field, or, as it is always called, a paddock, to trust during the next, and sometimes even the two following years, to what is known as a “self-sown" which case nothing whatever is done to the land from one season to another: it is taken for granted that sufficient grain for seed has been spilt during the previous harvest, partly from what has shelled out of the ear, and partly from careless reaping, and that each portion of ground has received a little of it, and on the faith of this no further trouble is taken about the matter. Some of these self-sown crops, though seldom yielding as much in quantity as when the land has been ploughed, are still very good; and it is remarkable that the grain thus produced, besides being usually the finest, is never attacked by smut; it seems to acquire a hardiness by its exposure during the winter months, which protects it against this otherwise prevalent evil.
The fact is, that as the chief source of wealth to the colony springs from pastoral pursuits, the stockowner is seldom a good agriculturist; he takes pains to acquire knowledge in the quality of wool, and prides himself not a little upon his judgment in horses and horned cattle, and in the breeding of live stock generally, but his crops are a secondary consideration. The large grazing districts are situated so far inland that there is no market for any surplus wheat, owing to the impossibility of conveying it to the capital upon remunerating terms, so he only cultivates as much land as he thinks will supply his own establishment; and, indeed, if there should be a prospect of flour being procurable elsewhere at a low price, he does not cultivate at all, his sole consideration being how he may feed, in the most economical manner, the number of men which he is obliged to employ in the care of the articles on which he does actually depend—the produce of his flocks and herds. In the far districts, therefore, the land is cropped year after year successively, until the soil either becomes worn out or choked up with weeds, upon which the fence is pulled down and removed 10 a fresh spot, a process which, where land is of so little value, requires less time and labour than would be occupied in cleaning and manuring the old ground.
Wheat is converted into flour by means of steel mills, turned by the hand, at least one of which is kept upon every station, and each of the working men has to grind his own weekly allowance of grain.
Men who are hired by the year in the bush, whether as shepherds, stock-keepers, or agricultural labourers, never engage to find their own provisions; they are always supplied by the owner of the station on which they are employed, at a rate previously agreed upon. The usual weekly allowance for a single man is 4 ounces of tea, 2 lbs. of sugar, 4 ounces of tobacco, 1 peck of wheat, and 10 or 12 lbs. of beef; anything that he may require beyond this must be paid for, but this is usually ample. Married men generally have a double allowance, and those who have large families, and to whom a liberal supply of food is a primary consideration, are in the habit of agreeing to take less wages, the difference being made up to them by their receiving an additional quantity of rations.
A loaf of bread is an article seldom seen in the abodes of the working classes in the interior of New South Wales; the proprietor's table is usually the only place on which it is found. In every other part of the establishment a sort of cake, peculiar to the country, and known by the discouraging appellation of “damper,” is used as a substitute. I am inclined to think this is an acquired taste, for I remember the first which I ate seemed very unpalatable; those, however, who wish to try for themselves may do so from the following genuine receipt Take eight or ten pounds of second flour, and having placed them upon a strong table, mix with warm water, beginning from the centre of the heap, and knead until both arms ache thoroughly, and until the whole mass has acquired the consistency of tolerably stiff clay; then flatten it out to a thickness of about an inch and a half, rub each side with flour, and prick it all over with a fork. Next, having removed the upper logs from a large wood fire, rake away the ashes on either side, so as to leave a gap in the middle sufficient for the admission of jhe damper : then cover it over again with the hot ashes, and turn it once during the process of baking. Lastly, brush off the adhering ashes with a cloth, and let it stand on its edge until it is quite cold.
At best it is very inferior to bread, and I presume that its prevalence has arisen from its being used of necessity in the long journeys and overland trips through the country, where it would be impossible to make bread, and hence, partly through idleness, and partly through the force of habit, it has maintained its ground on other occasions, and has thus become the staff of life throughout the interior.
The consumption of animal food in the bush is very large, beef being most generally eaten. When a working man hires upon a stock establishment for so many pounds of meat weekly, he usually expects to receive beef; and on stations where a great many hands are employed, a considerable number of cattle are slaughtered in the course of the year.
As soon as the previous supply begins to be exhausted, the stockkeeper is dispatched to the cattle station to hunt a fat bullock into the enclosures, for which purpose he starts early in the morning, so that the animal, who, when first brought into the yard, is usually in a very hot and excited state, owing to hard driving, may have some time to cool before evening.
About an hour before sundown the stock keeper brings word that it is time to kill the bullock. In this matter the owner's share of the work is to shoot him, for which purpose, as soon as everything is reported ready, he loads his piece, and proceeds to the enclosure.
When the marksman is skilful, and the animal tolerably quiet, all goes on smoothly enough; but when, as sometimes