previous
next

Chapter XII. A Trip Westward.

MR ROBERTS introduced his friend to the notabilities of Launceston. The excellent clergyman could tell him tales of past sorrows and trials there. The magistrate related stirring incidents of a criminal past. A Savings' Bank authority discoursed of the triumphs of a peaceful crusade against the wrongs of enforced convictism upon the colonists. Though the officialdom must be sought at Hobart Town, the chief enterprise and energy of the island will be found northward.

‘Now,’ said Mr Roberts, ‘you must not, for very shame, think of returning to the Derwent till you have seen the western country by the Straits. If you don't go you will grievously offend the Launcestonians, who have a just pride in that district, and you will miss an


  ― 105 ―
opportunity of worrying a Derwenter, who is so jealous of the Northerners.’

A suitable companion was found for the holiday maker.

Once upon a time the roads were loudly and justly condemned. Aided by the government, the men of the north have constructed a railway to the west.

Westbury, on the Meander or Western River, was the first place of stay. A rich grassy valley was the object of admiration. The cream of the dairies there can be cut with a knife, so rich and succulent are the grasses.

The Van Diemen's Land Company was formed in London in 1825. Their possessions extend westward, southward, and north-westward from Westbury, embracing some of the most fertile soil, the roughest country, the scrubbiest gullies, and densest forests, to be seen in any part of the globe. At the Surrey Hills they have 150,000 acres, at Middlesex Plain 10,000, and a splendid domain near the north-west corner of the island. The dividends have not been plentiful during the interval of half a century. The flocks and herds ought to have paid well, and had paid others who looked after the animals themselves. Land was sold, but not to much profit; the leases were more profitable. Farming on the company's own account has not been so remunerative as with their tenants elsewhere.

And yet the district is a glorious one. The north-west of Tasmania is the best watered settlement


  ― 106 ―
of all the Australian colonies. Some residents fancy it a deal too well watered.

Between the Tamar and the western limit are the Rubicon, the Mersey, the Don, the Forth, the Severn, the Emu, and a host of other streams rolling down from the lofty plateau of Central Tasmania. On the banks of all these waters black soil is known nearly a dozen feet thick.

Deloraine, 30 miles west of Launceston, is the chief town of the west. It is a most romantic locality, bristling with mountain peaks, bursting with vegetable luxuriance, with green and beauty everywhere.

‘This is fine,’ exclaimed Captain Douglas. ‘But how unfinished it looks! The fields are wonderful, but the roads are frightful.’

‘Wait a bit,’ answered another, ‘get up to the Mersey, and over the Mersey, before you find out what mud is.’

And so it was. The very richness and fatness of the soil made it a regular glue-pot with a little rain. The very absence of stones, elsewhere in the island too prevalent, forbade the formation of roads with anything like comfort. Trees were plentiful enough, and were cast down into ruts. Corduroy roads, of fallen logs, were the only passable thoroughfares. Yet oh! the jolting over them was a caution.

‘But just look at the crops,’ said a farmer. ‘There's my fifty acre paddock, there, as regularly turned me out from forty to fifty bushels to the acre.’




  ― 107 ―

‘How long have you been cropping?’ inquired Mr Douglas.

‘A matter of fifteen year.’

‘And get forty to fifty bushels an acre?’

‘Not exactly; call it from fifty to forty, as the yield is dropping off just a little. I must just stick the plough a little deeper, that's all.’

‘But why not put on manure?’

‘Where am I to get that from, I should like to know.’

‘Why, the stock on the farm would give you some.’

‘Indeed! But I see you are a new chum, or you would know that it would never do to knock down trees at a matter of from thirty to sixty pounds cost an acre, only to turn stock into worth a few shillings a head.’

This was an insight into colonial farming.

The old road from Deloraine to Emu Bay was forty miles longer than the present one is, which is sixty miles long. It went over terrific passes. Not very far from Deloraine it reached 2600 feet above the sea level. At a very great outlay the government struck out another line of traffic, which avoided the most dangerous pitfalls for travellers.

Near the Mersey Captain Douglas entered a limestone cave. The entrance was sixty feet by thirty. The extent already known is fully two miles. Magnificent halls, and chambers of crystal splendour, were traversed, and stalactites of beauty were brought away


  ― 108 ―
in triumph. The limestone is a great source of the fertility of this western country.

The metamorphic rocks were in great force near the Mersey River. The Asbestus range is so denominated from veins of that substance detected in the serpentine rock. The Dysodile is an inflammable resinous matter, got out of a formation also near the Mersey. It is sometimes in a vein six feet thick, and it burns with an offensive odour. Between that river and the Tamar is a greenstone tier, a thousand feet in height, with grand vertical columns; but its iron mountains will some day be a mine of wealth.

Two hills attracted the tourist's attention.

‘What may they be?’ asked he.

‘That on this side of the Mersey is Gog, and on the other is Magog,’ was the information given, with this addition: ‘The originals may be seen at the Guildhall in London.’

‘The odd appellations appear to have travelled far south,’ was the captain's next remark.

‘You should see, then, the Devil's Glen further on, and the Chimney Stacks.’

Toward the Middlesex Plains, belonging to Van Diemen's Land Company, the last named curiosity presented itself.

The Vale of Belvoir was fitted to be the scene of the residence of Johnson's Rasselas. It was three miles broad, with the hilly sides clothed with grass. A stream, after wandering like a silver thread, suddenly


  ― 109 ―
disappeared within the limestone caverns below. Myrtle trees towered to an enormous height, and were of the richest green.

At one end of this Vale of Belvoir was a basaltic mountain. Along the top was almost a regular row of prismatic columns. Their singular appearance, and the blackness of the stone, made some visitors call them the Chimney Stacks. One more refined than the rest had the suggestion of a chimney sweeper's day, and called the place May Day Mount.

The traveller did not admire the country about the Forth, as he had done that by the Mersey. The latter has the best of land along both banks. Indeed, he never more doubted the stories of yield per acre.

‘But how do you get the produce to any market?’ said he.

‘That's the trouble of our lives,’ replied a farmer. ‘We have been hoping so long for roads, a tramway, or a railway, that we begin to think it will come in with the millennium.’

‘But if you could only get your potatoes and corn out, you ought to make a lot of money.’

‘Ah!’ sighed the man. ‘We did dream of that at one time of day. But the best market is now shut against us.’

‘Where is that?’

‘Melbourne, to be sure.’

‘But in Victoria they can never grow your crops.’

‘That is true enough. But don't you see theirs is


  ― 110 ―
another country to ours. They can run a plough for miles and miles without stick or stone to stop them; and if the yield be not so much, the expense is less.’

‘But wages, I hear, are greater than with you.’

‘They are. Yet look at me. I cleared this land. See what a power of cash that took away. There was an average of thirty big trees on every acre, some of which were fifty feet round. I say nothing about the smaller sort. A friend of mine counted over two thousand trees on one single acre. There were fifteen hundred under two feet in girth, and a score of them from twenty to forty feet round. He counted eighty tree ferns as well. If we have the best land in the world, it costs us a mighty deal before we can get the plough into it.’

‘But you seem satisfied to remain here.’

‘I am. The land is my own. The climate, in spite of the rain, suits my family. We can live, anyhow. And the time will come for my children, when a good road shall be made, and when schools and churches may travel this way. When that time comes there won't be such a place anywhere else.’

‘But you must be troubled with low fevers and agues in so damp a climate, with rank vegetation, and confined air.’

‘No, not at all. Do you take this to be the backwoods of America? Go there, if you want agues and low fevers. That's the country for sallow faces. Do my children seem sallow?’




  ― 111 ―

‘By no means,’ quoth the captain. ‘They are models of rosy health.’

‘Well, then, we must put up with the rest. Another man, used to fine society, and more book learning than me, might find it dull to be shut up in this valley, without seeing a soul, maybe for months. No morning newspaper comes this way, and not many travellers show themselves.’

‘Are you not afraid of your children being lost here?’

‘My wife often is frightened about that. But the youngsters born up here are pretty 'cute, and know how to take care of themselves. Your town folks are in the greatest danger. Did you ever hear of the surveyor on this road being lost?’

‘No, tell me the story, if you please.’

‘Well, I had it from himself. Like a great flat, he got off the track of his working party, and by the merest chance like got into it again. But he had a great shock to his feelings. Thinking it was all up with him, he made a sort of will in his note-book. He showed me what he wrote, and I copied a part.’

‘What did he write?’

‘These were his words,’ said the man, reading them from an old pocket book:—

‘If it be the will of Divine Providence that I perish in this dreary forest, these are my last words. Let my imprudence in quitting the main track, (unfortunately without a compass, without food, or the means of kindling a fire,) be a warning to others.’




  ― 112 ―

‘Poor fellow!’ ejaculated the listener.

‘Did you ever hear of Commissary Creek, sir?’

‘I saw it marked on the map.’

‘Do you know why that name was given it?’

‘No, I don't; but I suppose it was in honour of some commissary officer.’

‘Not at all. There was a chap lost in the scrub there. He ate all he could to sustain life, and at last finished by eating his cap. As he was a convict, and the leather caps furnished by government were called commissaries, the creek got named after his devoured cap.’

Captain Douglas did not venture through to Emu Bay, nor visit the wonderful potato region about Circular Head. But he was satisfied that, though a little too moist and rude for him, the locality would be a happy home for many working men. Already the fruit trees were in full bearing, and the soil produced almost a hundred-fold.

It was on this trip the traveller learned some facts upon the natural history of the Island.

He knew many of the animals from description. The kangaroo and opossum were familiar enough. He did not see in Tasmania the Tree Kangaroo of New Guinea, though aware of the singular coincidence of many forms of Flora and Fauna in both countries, so far removed from each other. The Kangaroo Rat is much complained of by the potato growers. The other burrower, the Bandicoot, he observed to have


  ― 113 ―
the tail of a rat, and occupy a position somewhat between the Kangaroo and the Opossum.

The Wombat, or native Pig, was common up that quarter. It burrows like a badger, eating the coarse grass and nuts. Clumsy enough to be styled a pig, although a marsupial animal, its flesh has a pork-like flavour. The hair is very thick and coarse, and the head is large and flat. The fore feet have each five toes, and crooked nails; but the hind feet have only four. It never comes out of its hole but at night, to gambol and feed.

Tasmania has no Dingo, or Wild Dog, as Australia owns, but boasts of a Tiger and a Devil.

The latter is an ugly-mouthed creature of the size of a dog, but wolf-like in aspect. The broad white bands on the black short fur of its chest and haunches give it an odd and unpleasant appearance. The tail is thick and short. Its habits are nocturnal, sneaky, and cowardly. Its favourite food is mutton, when a stray sheep can be caught.

The Tiger is of the cat kind. Tasmania, in addition to the ordinary Australian native cat, has a Tiger-Cat and a Tiger. All are marsupial. A cat may be found with seven or eight young ones attached to her pouch. The creature is hopelessly savage. The Tiger-Cat has weasel-like legs, and a long body, sometimes even a yard long. It is also nocturnal, and uncommonly fierce, though never attacking anything but birds and small quadrupeds. The Tiger,


  ― 114 ―
or Hyena, is also one of the marsupial, carnivorous animals. Though possessed of great strength, and running to four or five feet in length, it is singularly timid at the approach of man. It is now nearly extinct in the island. The colour is brown, with tiger-like black stripes on the back and haunches. The cat itself is remarkably spotted white on a black or dark grey fur. The Tiger-cat has the spots on a rusty brown ground. All the tribe have very short legs, and are quite untameable.

The Tasmanian Porcupine-Anteater, or Echidna, is marsupial. The legs and tail are very short. The claws are made for burrowing. The tongue and snout are long. It has no teeth, and has very small eyes. When pursued, if unable to burrow, it will roll itself up in a ball, and present its spines to the foe. The body is about a foot long, and the yellowish white spines are tipped with black.

But the Platypus, or Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus, is the most remarkable of all. With the bill and feet of a duck, it has the fur or skin of a quadruped. There is no external ear, and the eyes are uncommonly small and lively. It burrows in the ground, and is quite amphibious. When asleep, it rolls itself up in a ball, and lays its flat, obtuse tail over its back for warmth. Two teeth, with flat tops and no roots, are placed on each side at the back of the mouth. It is about fifteen to twenty inches in length. The female lays her eggs; the male carries a bag of poison, and


  ― 115 ―
has a spur on his hind legs. This near approach to the reptile has its home in quiet retreats by rivers.

According to Dr Krefft of Sydney, Australia has eighty marsupials, and thirty rodents. It has also six hundred and seventy birds, a hundred and fifty reptiles, and four hundred and forty fishes.

previous
next