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By Louis Becke
I returned to the hut at noon, and to my surprise found a party of thirty or more blacks camped under some Leichhardt trees. They seemed a fairly healthy lot of savages, and were not alarmed when they saw I was carrying a gun. I rode quietly up to them, and shook hands with two or three of the bucks, who spoke a little English. They were, they told me, from the Ravenswood district, which they had left some weeks ago, and were now travelling towards the Burdekin, hunting as they went.
Some of them came to the hut with me, and I saw at once that they had not taken anything of mine, though among other articles I had left on a wooden seat outside were several plugs of tobacco. I gave them a plug to divide, and then asked the most voluble of them how many cattle they had speared.
“Baal blackfellow spear him cattle,” he answered.* “What about that young fellow bullock you been eat longa creek?” I inquired.
* Lit., “We blacks did not spear any cattle.”
They assured me that they had not speared the animal, which they had found lying at the bottom of a deep gully with a broken leg. Then knowing it could not live, they had killed and eaten it. I was pleased to hear this, and have no doubt the poor creatures told the truth. They remained with myself and mate for a month, and proved of great assistance to us in fencing and other work, and I learnt much valuable bush—craft from these wandering savages, especially of their methods of hunting and fishing. I shall now give the reader an account of some of the happy days my mate and myself spent in this lonely spot.
A few days later my mate arrived with the dray, which we at once unloaded, and then turned the horses out to feed and have a spell before working them again. Every night since I had arrived a thunderstorm had occurred, much to my delight, and already the once cracked and baking flats were beginning to put on a carpet of grass; and indeed, in three weeks it was eighteen inches high, and made a glorious sight, the few remaining cattle eating it so hungrily that when night fell the creatures were scarcely able to move, so distended were their stomachs.
Having started our aboriginal friends to cut down ironbark saplings to repair the fencing, we first of all paid a visit to our nearest neighbour, a settler named Dick Bullen, who lived ten miles away. He received us most hospitably, like all good bushmen, and offered to assist us in looking for lost cattle. He was a splendid type of the native—born Australian bushman, over six feet two in height, and simple and unaffected in his manner. I shall remember this man for one thing. He had two of the finest teams of working bullocks I have ever seen, and handled them in a way that commanded our admiration. Never once did he use his whip for any other purpose than to crack it occasionally, and it did one good to hear his cheery call to the fourteen labouring beasts as they toiled up the steep side of a creek or gully with a heavy load of timber, straining every nerve in their great bodies, while the sweat poured off their coats in streams. He was like one of his own bullocks, patient, cheerful, and strong, and an exclamation of anger seldom passed his lips–an oath never. He took a great pride in the appearance of his teams, and especially of the fact that no one of them showed the marks of a whip.
We spent a pleasant hour with this man, and returned home by a different route, in the hope of getting a “plain” turkey–an altogether different bird from the “scrub” turkey. Hansen (my mate) was an excellent shot, especially with a rifle, and indeed when shooting turkeys preferred to use a 44 Winchester rifle. We managed to get one bird–a cock–but so old and poor that we gave it to the black contingent to eat. Nothing in the shape of food came amiss to these people, and their appetites were astounding. One day Hansen and I were following down a creek which junctioned with the Reid River, when we saw smoke ascending from a dry gully. Riding up we came across a very old and shrivelled gin and a boy and girl of about eight years of age. They were busily engaged in eating emu eggs, and out of thirteen had already devoured eleven, together with four or five hundred of fresh—water cockles! Such a meal would have satisfied half a dozen hungry white men. Their over—loaded stomachs presented a disgusting appearance, and they were scarcely able to articulate.
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