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Yarrawonga: on the Murray.

WHAT more pleasant than this river-solitude among the whispering red-gums, to swim or loiter or dream in, this serene Sunday morning. 'Tis the only church I love, and I am a devout listener. My bright-eyed little friend, the woodpecker, shall preach me a sermon, and a magpie shall sing me his doxology, and the infinite deep of blue sky shall be my Amen.

Here let me lie, then, with the roots of this big tree for my pillow, and marvel awhile at the delicate filigrane of bronze and chrysolite leaves above me, laid upon the azure air like rare tracery upon some antique vase. The air is wine-like and warm; and the endless beauty of life, and the mystery of its myriad forms, fill me with their wonder. O leaves, and wings, and antennæ, and stones, bring me closer to your great, open secret of Joy and Life!

Multitudes of ants visit me; the big, black, warlike reconnoitrers, and their red-nosed brethren out of yon tree, climb over me; little emmets go a-foraging in the folds of my garments, and lady-birds come and walk over my hands and my book and fly away again into the great unknown of poetry and blue air and forest whence they came. Moreover, a small carnation-coloured spider of large ideas has undertaken to weave my head fast to a neighbouring sapling, and evidently considers me his by right of treasure-trove. A thousand innocent insects take an interest in me, till I begin to think I am fallen, like Gulliver, upon a new Land of Lilliput. And, truth to tell, this borderland of the Australian bush is fairyland enough, with its weird beauty and peace, its forest music and silences, and wonderful colours, and multitudes of busy little creatures in earth and air and waters.

Here, are we not far enough from cities to forget their din and


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smoke? A little town, however, stands not far away in the wheat-fields of the plain, to remind us of the presence of man, but not near enough to destroy our day-dreams; you can see the pale blue roofs of galvanised iron nestling into yonder fringe of red-gums in the soft haze, a mile or so southward. How homely and beautiful in the illusion of distance! Who could dream of how many vulgar taverns and ribald gossips and police-court cases that peaceful-looking little hamlet can bring forth? Nor shall I reveal aught. To-day, one would fain look at that life from its rosier side. Perchance this afternoon, or in the twilight, a few figures will be seen in pairs emerging from the haze-veiled borders; black-clothed swains, and their sweethearts in light summery muslins decked with pink Sunday bows; and they will go loitering and cosseting and kissing in the shadows by the river, these rustic lovers, and think they are the first who have ever been so wicked and happy in the world. And long may the simpletons abide in their belief!

And the great river flows by, winding among the gum-swamps and the high marigold and ochre banks of clay, on its way to the sea. All things around it, forest and plains and sky, are rapt away in that great idyllic dream of Nature that they knew along with the emu and the flute-bird, ages ago, before the white man had come to them across the Big Water.

Through these dreamy woods great flocks of cherubim-like cockatoos fly in radiant circles among the luminous finery of the gum-tree tops, shining snow-white and yellow against the sky. Their sentinels have caught sight of me, and have shrilled the warning that a stranger is within view, and now the others fill the air with shrieks of protestation, anger, and alarm. Hitherto they had been silently tearing the bark off the dead timber, searching for the soft pink grubs, as silently as they had stripped farmer Jackson's corn for him last harvest. Now the trees are echoing like mountain caves with their raucous voices, and the forest becomes resonant as a bell. The magpies, too, take up the alarm, and a bevy of parsonic-looking crows, who have been pecking the body of a dead sheep, join in the chorus.




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In the distant lagoons, a troop of snow-white cranes look up in affright from their microscopic toil among the white water-lilies, and gather and stand, like a row of surpliced choristers, on an old log, and finally go flurrying away in alarm over the russet-flowered sedge to hunt for frogs and fish in more secluded haunts. Gradually the cockatoos cease their screaming, and the gum-swamp resumes its eternal quiet—broken only by the antique sounds which make the forest silence so strange and wonderful. Tap!—Tap! You hear the bill of the spotted woodpecker, and little chips and flecks of bark fall rustling down the trunk; in the depths of echoing trees far away some bird is calling, calling; and from yonder branches comes the sweet, roguish fluting of a magpie; and anon the twitterings of parrakeets and the wailing notes of the summer-birds are heard.

Afar off in the swamp you hear the tinkling of a bell, which betrays the presence of Bill Rafferty's bullock “Strawberry”—affectionately addressed by his owner in forms of rhetoric unknown to Quintilian. Strawberry is at present out with the rest of the team for a fortnight's holiday in the gum-swamp, and as he pokes his nose among the flags and rushes each movement is accompanied by the wonderful fairy music of his bell. Unseen in the midst of the thickets, one might imagine that the tired and stolid old waggon-bullock, which has been sworn at and flogged these last ten years over all the roads of Riverina, and plagued by labour, dust, flies, and heat till his spirit is broken and fled for ever—one might imagine, I say, that this broken-down old beast were some wood-faun pursued with forest music; some forest Ariel, with his invisible minstrelsy; or might it not be that celebrated lady of nursery enchantment who has

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And sweetest of music wherever she goes.

Did you not see that sapphire-and-crimson sprite that flitted by on the river like a flash? It was the little kingfisher, first cousin to the Momus of the woods, the laughing-jackass. Here in the clay-bank is the kingfisher's little nest, and there is the branch over the


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stream where he sits in the shadow and sees the bright waters pass beneath him in the mid-day.

And if you go round that next curve of the river some evening in the twilight, very silently, the brown crane that sits in the red-gum over the water may invite you to share his choice supper of river mussels, served up upon yon mud bank, and you may eat them out of their own dainty shells of mother-of-pearl, enamelled and polished in Nature's most marvellous workshop, where the colours were learnt from the clouds and waters at day dawn. With royal prodigality, my lord the Brown Crane leaves these jewelled and opaline dishes uncared-for after once using them, and they shall glitter and shine in every morning sun till next Winter come with his floods to bury them in the muddy river-deeps again. But the Brown Crane cares not, and haunts the river shallows still with majestic ease and dignity.

And, as if by contrast to his sedateness, Nature has created a certain little blue-black fantail, a sweet-voiced, dainty little fairy which sings in the woods and around the settlers' huts till long after sundown. Its movements are all bows and flirtings and pirouettes. Its whole life is one courtly minuet; it cannot be sedate or thoughtful a moment, but poses and flirts and is for ever sprightly, timid, and gay like some roguish maid, or some elf out of the “Midsummer Night's Dream.” I have a hundred times desired to ask it for news of Cobweb and Mustard Seed, or of the Queen Titania, but have been called back from such fantasy by a rude, hilarious shout over-head among the gum-trees.

It is the laughing-jackass—the goburra. A rare realist, is Jack, and plays havoc with the moods poetical and sentimental. A worse Philistine than Aretino! Hard to believe that he and his mates are not laughing at me. The deuce! can they know of that old love-letter I kissed the other night as I was putting on my nightcap? Or of those belated sapphics I tried to cobble to the moon—or of my despair at finding no rhyme for Boomanoomanah? Or do they know of more serious things? Egad, I distrust these birds! Early of a morning, before the faint white of dawn appears


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in the sky over the eastern swamps, the river-banks resound with their mad laughter. “Some people calls 'im the ‘larfin'-jackass,’ but I calls him the mornin'-watch,” says my friend, Pete the fisherman, who has been a soldier in his time. “A reg'lar regimental bugler he is, and it's my belief as that there cuss of a bird takes a mortal delight in rousin' the whole lot of other birds out of their sleep,—just like my old woman, for the matter of that, out of sheer devilry.” So the magpie is called to his glees and matins, and the kingfisher pokes his head forth from his mud-hole in the bank of the stream and considers whether it is yet time to go bee-hunting in the peppermints or fish-spearing in the lagoons. The water-rats are startled like criminals, in their prowling round the fisherman's lobster traps. And by-and-by the sleepy wood-dove is awakened and flies into the great new world of the new day.

And now the goburras are silent again.

Oh, the wide, sacred silence—the ethereal morning of this Australian fairyland of bush! This Riverina air is as the clear, joyous atmosphere of Attica, when marbles and poetry were its religion.

And the long, luxurious tresses of the red-gums sway gently and cast their play of violet shadows upon the rosy grey boles, and the infinite heaven of blue embraces the earth in its soft arms, and all is well!

F. S. DELMER.

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