Travel in Literature-Australia




Across Australia (1912) Volume 1
Spencer, Baldwin, Sir, 1860-1929; Gillen, Francis James, 1856-1912



Our camp at Tjantjiwanperta was in a little valley
amongst low-lying hills, through which, in rain times,
the water drains away on to the Lake Eyre plains.
Here, sleeping on the ground in the open at night and
sheltered from the sun during the day by a friendly clump
of giddea trees (Fig. 5), we spent some time with a few
old men of the Urabunna tribe. Giddea, variously
spelt Gidya or Gidgee, is the native name, in New South
Wales, for a species of acacia known scientifically as
Acacia homalophylla, and popularly as the stinking acacia.
The latter name is due to the fact that, in the flowering
season, or when the leaves are damp, the tree has a strong
and most objectionable smell. When young it forms a
thick shrub, with a dull, olive-green foliage, but, when
older, it grows into a rather rugged-looking tree, reaching
a height of perhaps fifteen or twenty feet. Like very
many of our acacias, what is commonly spoken of as the
leaf is, really, only the flattened-out leaf stalk ; the true
leaf is quite wanting, but the stalk becomes so modified
that It assumes the shape and takes on the form and
functions of a leaf. In some of the acacias, and more
especially in the one commonly known as the golden
wattle, of which the masses of yellow blossom give rich
colour and perfume to many a hillside in the early spring,
the transition from leaf to leaf stalk is very clearly seen in
the young plants, which alone have the feathery leaves
characteristic of the silver wattle. In some cases the leaf
and stalk are normal, in others the leaf is present and the
stalk is flattened out, while in others the leaf has been
suppressed and the stalk, simulating a leaf, alone remains.
When the plant is fully grown there is rarely any trace of
the true leaves, and the stalks, which do duty for them, are
very similar in shape to many gum tree leaves.

Letters from Australia (1869)
Martineau, John, 1834-1910


But the pleasantest of all the short journeys to be
made from Sydney is to the Blue Mountains. The
range is not high, in few places, I believe, more than
three thousand feet above the sea ; but it is intersected
by very deep precipitous ravines, and densely wooded;
and the chain, or rather mass, of mountainous country
is very wide. It was many years before the early
colonists succeeded in penetrating it and getting at the
good country beyond. Even now there is only one
road and one cattle track across it. After the first
ascent at the Kurrajong the track descends a little,
and then runs nearly level for twelve miles till Mount
Tomer is reached, on the highest ridge, beyond which
the water-shed is to the south-west. Here, as at the
Illawarra, occurs one of those sudden changes which
are so delightful in the midst of the monotony of
the bush. The ragged, close-growing, insignificant,
'never-green' gum-trees, which, mixed with a few
wattles (mimosa] and she-oaks, are the principal con-
stituents of bush, give place to enormous trees of the
same as well as of other species. The delicate light
green of the feathery tree-ferns relieves the eye. The
air is full of aromatic scent from many kinds of shrubs,
all growing luxuriantly. Wherever there is an open-
ing you can see as far as the coast, and for nearly a
hundred miles to the north and to the south, over the
bush you have come through. And seen at a distance,
the poorest bush has a peculiar and beautiful colour,
quite different from anything we see in Europe, a
reddish ground, shaded with the very deepest blue,
often without a trace of green.


The Melbourne steamer keeps close in shore all the
way. The coast generally has a barren look, and, except
at Cape Schank and near a mountain called the Pigeon
House, has few striking features. It is so little settled
or cultivated that its appearance from the sea cannot be
much changed since Captain Cook explored it. It is
seldom that there is a sail in sight. At the very
entrance of Port Jackson hardly a living creature, few
buildings except the lighthouses, and no mast of a ship
at anchor are visible. It is not till the narrow opening
between the high precipitous cliffs is entered and the
South Head rounded, that a scene of beauty bursts
upon you as suddenly as a vision in a fairy story. In
an instant the long rollers and angry white surf (for
there are rollers and surf on the shores of the Pacific
on the calmest day) are left behind, and the vessel is
gliding smoothly over a glassy lake, doubly and trebly
land-locked, so that the open sea is hidden from every
part of it. To the north and east numberless inlets
and coves branch off, subdivide, and wind like rivers
between rocky scrub-covered shores, which are fragrant
with wattle, and brilliant with wild flowers, all new
and strange to a European eye. To the left, on the
southern side, are large deep bays, on the shores of
which the rich men of Sydney have built villas and
planted gardens, with which no villa or garden at
Torquay or at Spezzia can compare. Farther on,
perhaps four miles from the Heads, you pass three or
four men-of-war, lying motionless at anchor little more
than a couple of stone-throws from the shore, having
for their background the graceful bamboos, and trim
Norfolk Island and Moreton Bay pines, and palms,
and other semi-tropical vegetation of the Botanic Gar-
dens.

Rambles in Australia (1916)
Grew, Edwin Sharpe, b. 1867; Grew, Marion Sharpe


The railway ended abruptly in a large clearing
in the forest about fifteen miles from the coast
and two hundred miles from Perth. The air
was that of a keen autumn morning, and we
climbed down from our carriages, for there was
of course no platform, feeling stiff and chilly, to
find breakfast waiting for us in a big wooden
hall, with a great fire blazing in the kitchen, which
opened out of it, the most cheering and comfort-
able sight in the wilderness. These halls are a
feature of backwood settlements in Australia ;
they are utilised for all social and business pur-
poses, and are the common meeting ground of
the community. In this instance the landlord
leased the building from the state, and provided
meals for the men employed in the sawmills.
He invited us to inspect his pleasant kitchen, the
floor sanded with sweet-smelling, deep-red saw-
dust. At the back he was putting up bed-
rooms in small detached one-storied wooden
buildings. Big Brook with its keen, pure air, the
sweet, clean scent of the fresh-sawn wood, and all
round, the illimitable forest, mysterious and im-
penetrable, would be an ideal resting-place, if
anyone in Australia were ever over-worked.

Towards twelve o'clock the train pulled up
between a field of sugar-canes and the Moreton
Central Sugar Mill. Sugar is a very handsome
crop, when the canes are bearing their tall,
feathery flowers. The canes themselves are dark
red, jointed like bamboo ; the plant is not unlike
a very large maize in general effect. Nambour is
a centre of the sugar-growing industry, and there
are plantations on the slopes of the hills and the
banks of the rivers. Two hundred and eighty
tons a day are crushed at the Moreton Sugar
Mills just outside the town. Its neighbourhood
is pervaded by the peculiar sweet, thick, cloying
smell of the canes, a smell that can never be
forgotten ; we recognised cargoes of raw sugar
afar off on every wharf and landing-stage and
railway station on which we encountered it,
during the remainder of our stay in Australia.

The Moreton Central Sugar Mill, which we
visited, is close to the main line of railway, but
light railways run in all directions through the
district to bring the canes up on trucks to the
mill. Masses of dark red cane were lying about
round the mill, and coming in on little trucks.
The raw cane tastes faintly sour. The sugar mill
itself was filled with the all-pervading sickly,
thick, sweet smell of the raw sugar, and streaming
with moisture. The temperature is very high.
We climbed under and over moving machinery,
were asphyxiated with steam, nauseated with
sweetness, and covered with molasses, all in the
pursuit of knowledge.

There were only three cars in Darwin, and the
snorting noise made by the one in which we
returned awoke our horse to such terrified and
mettlesome curvetting, that we could only
remount the seat with considerable difficulty.
We drove back through the gathering dusk with
flying foxes soundlessly flitting across our path.
By the time we reached the jetty darkness had
come on. We had to make a hasty change, and
after a hurried dinner, we started back again in
the heavy, moist, scented darkness to find the
hall in which the evening's lecture was to be
delivered. It was very funny to find that early
closing was compulsory in Darwin. Chinatown
must hate it. The little shops were half lighted,
and in the dusk seated figures like small Buddhas
were dimly discernible outside. A strong,
Oriental smell hung over it all.


Leaving the church behind we wan-
dered down towards the shore, and came to a
wonderful tangled garden. Tall palms grew
there, and masses of feathery crimson grasses ;
bananas drooped their immense purple bells, and
the frangipani tree was bursting into bloom,
holding out to us over the fence bunches of its
dazzling, scented, creamy blossoms at the end
of its bare, blunt boughs. Returning, we faced
the strong breeze off the sea, which had been at
our backs on the way up. We knew all about the
kdust on that walk, and were very glad to attain
once more the haven of the ship.

The second day of our stay there, we climbed
the granite peak that rises behind the town,
going across by a little ferry-boat that plies
between the wharf and the opposite side of the
harbour. A strong wind was blowing in from
the sea, as we steamed across to Townsville, lying
deep in dust in the hot sun. We made our way
up to the Castle Hill, the red granite peak that
dominates the town. A very steep path leads
up to it, and on the rocks above some goats and
kids were silhouetted against the clear blue sky
like a scrap of Swiss scenery. The town from this
side is scattered along the shore, and the slopes
above it half hidden in tropical foliage. Below
us were the Botanical Gardens, the hospital
embowered in trees, with the patients lying out
on a shady balcony. Everywhere was the heavy
scent and glorious bouquets of gold and white
frangipani. We had been sent in the wrong
direction, and missed the path, so that the ascent
was very steep and rough, but we went on,
slipping and scrambling up among falling stones,
clinging on where we could, among big butter-
flies and lizards, and large brown grasshoppers
with black spots. As we climbed higher Towns-
ville spread itself out beneath us charmingly.
Bungalows nestled among vivid green foliage,
beyond were the blue bay, and its boats, ours
amongst them, riding gaily at anchor, with the
dark green wooded mass of " Magnetic Island "
rising behind. Higher still we rested, while a
fish hawk soared far above in the clear blue, and
on the southern side Townsville looked like
nothing but a vast mud flat with the river
winding through it, and houses dotted among
the mangrove swamps. One fancied that one
big wave might submerge the whole.


An untamed territory, the Northern Territory of Australia (1915)
Masson, Elsie R

At last there appeared ahead two fuzzy,
cone-shaped hills, which, as we approached,
turned out to be formed of big rocks piled
on each other, with jungle growing in the
clefts. There were two or three of these
strange cones, scattered over a yellow plain,
where a few pandanus palms grew in sketchy
clumps. Here we stopped to reconnoitre, and
lit upon a strange discovery. We climbed
up a cleft between two rocks through a
tangle of creeper, crawled on our hands and
knees up a dark tunnel, with little bats softly
hitting our faces, and emerged on a sunny
platform, surrounded by great rocks and
smelling sweetly of spinifex. The under-
side of one of these was covered with crude
images in red, yellow, and white clay. It was
a native picture gallery we had discovered.
For the most part the paintings seemed to
be of birds and fishes, but here and there
was an unmistakable alligator or a human
form ; and scattered amongst them all was
the imprint of a red hand. We longed for
some one learned in black lore to tell us
if the paintings were old, or lately made.
The place, so silent, remote, and smelling
sweetly, gave the impression that it had
been a sacred spot for long ages, and that
not one man but the artists of many
generations had come there alone to spend
sunny hours, lying on their backs below
the rock and daubing it with their coloured
clays.


On one occasion such a party came to
Darwin from Borroloola, and made their
camp at the back of the police station, on
what was at one time the concrete foundation
of a house which was blown down in the
great cyclone. Here not only they, but also
all the Borroloola natives who were already
in Darwin would collect when the day's
work was over. Every night, as soon as
darkness fell, the regular beating of sticks and
clapping of hands from behind the police
station announced that the corroborce had
begun. On the third night the clapping
was more insistent than ever ; at last a
snatch of chant, wafted over to us by the
breeze, proved irresistible. We made our way
across the road to a stretch of common
ground, pushed aside the prickly branches
of sweet- smelling horehound, and found our-
selves at the scene of a corroboree.

At last there appeared ahead two fuzzy,
cone-shaped hills, which, as we approached,
turned out to be formed of big rocks piled
on each other, with jungle growing in the
clefts. There were two or three of these
strange cones, scattered over a yellow plain,
where a few pandanus palms grew in sketchy
clumps. Here we stopped to reconnoitre, and
lit upon a strange discovery. We climbed
up a cleft between two rocks through a
tangle of creeper, crawled on our hands and
knees up a dark tunnel, with little bats softly
hitting our faces, and emerged on a sunny
platform, surrounded by great rocks and
smelling sweetly of spinifex. The under-
side of one of these was covered with crude
images in red, yellow, and white clay. It was
a native picture gallery we had discovered.

With darkness, especially in the coastal
districts, come the mosquitoes; so, after to-
morrow's plans have been discussed, every
one goes off to bed. There is nothing more
delicious than a night in camp. The soul
of the bush seems to be breathed out in the
fragrant scents of roots, earth and trees.
You wake to hear the gentle tinkle of horse
bells, rustling of birds and beasts, the whistling
wail of curlews, and the black boys round the
fire exchanging guttural words. Towards
morning it becomes unbearably cold, and
there is a general movement of campers
turning and rolling themselves tighter in
their rugs. Then silence, until the cry of
" Daylight " wakes them to another day's
trek.

The newcomer's first experience of the
climate of Darwin is in the dry season, when
the days are so cool that she can hardly
believe that the weather is not playing some
trick upon her. Every day is bright and
cloudless, with a fresh wind blowing over
the blue harbour. At night a brilliant tropic
moonlight glitters on the sea and the air is
rich with warm scents. The roads about
the town are thick with red dust, the grass
in the bush is long and yellow, in bed at
night a blanket is always welcome.
Australian life in town and country (1905)
Buley, Ernest Charles, 1869-


This is a common aspect of the bush, but it is
only one aspect, and the bush has many. There
are Australians to whom the word recalls the
picture of a roaring mountain stream of cold, clear
water. The banks are carpeted knee-deep with
maiden-hair and coral fern, and out of this tender
green rise the velvety brown boles of the tree
ferns, each crowned with its wide circle of broad
fronds. Above the tree ferns trembles the grace-
ful feathery foliage of the sassafras, and higher
than the sassafras grows the myrtle, most shapely
of all Australian trees. From this tangle of
forest and fern, the tall mountain ashes rear their
smooth grey columns, one hundred and fifty feet of
straight timber before the first branch. The air
is sweet with the scent of fragrant meadow plants,
and from the thicket close at hand there comes
the long-drawn note of the whip bird, with its
curious and startling staccato ending. Some-
where in the distance the lyre bird is imitating
all the sounds of the forest, now fluting like a
magpie, and anon warbling like a whole chorus
of wrens. This is the bush in one of its most
gracious aspects.

Fifty miles nearer the coast, the mountain stream
has become a brimming river, winding through
fertile valleys and broad sunlit plains. Its banks
are lined with groves of pleasant wattles, that are
covered in the early spring with a garment of
yellow blossoms, so fragrant that the warm
breezes carry their message to the distant city, and
men there know that winter has now become
spring again. Between the river and the distant
blue hills, the grassy meadows are unbroken by
any tree, save the clumps of lightwoods, with
thick and shining foliage. These cast across the
grass a welcome shadow, in which the sheep and
cattle cluster as the sun grows warm. From the
distance, blue hills beckon invitingly, but viewed
close at hand, they are forbidding and desolate.


Station life provides other amusement besides:
long drives through open paddocks and over
rough bush tracks, where the clear air is aromatic
with the scent of the eucalyptus and fragrant with
the perfume of the wattle, wild rides through the
scrub after dingoes and kangaroos, or madder
gallops still after the long-tailed wild horses that
shelter in the fastnesses of the hills. Such diver-
sions only take place during the intervals between
the busy seasons. The real life of an Australian
station can best be observed, however, at these
periods of activity, when numerous extra men are
employed, and the whole machinery of station life
is working at high pressure.

The seasons, the climate, and the fauna and
flora of Australia are all united in one conspiracy
against the Australian remaining "more English
than the English." I can still remember that
the most pronounced efiect of the British books
and poetry I read when at school was to convince
me of the unreality of literature. ' ' Chill October' '
was to me the gladdest month of the year, when
the bush was flecked with light and deep yellow,
and the aromatic air was fragrant with all wood-
land smells. Even in the city streets, the groves
of eucalyptus trees were swarming with honey-
questing parrakeets, that flashed screaming from
one blossom-laden tree to another like living
jewels. Why, then, did the poet write so sadly
of chill Qptober ?