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1. Chapter I Roaming Round

I voyage from England, meet Arabi Pasha and reach Brisbane —An editor's beard—Bush life—Victorian country towns—A Premier's speech and a Minister's laugh—The Eureka Stockade fight.


To residents of Ireland in the eighties and nineties of the last century, Australia was an extremely remote land. To me as a boy it was associated with sunshine, sport and adventure. What I had heard and read about it was confined to gold digging experiences, fights with bushrangers and deeds of exploration. The knowledge that my elder brother and I had of it was vague, but what ideas we had were favourable, and we hoped some day to go and see for ourselves. Our father's landed property was heavily mortgaged, and when, as the result of the Land League movement, tenants refused to pay rent and the mortgagees foreclosed, the family suffered heavily financially. Eventually my elder brother went to Australia. Letters that came from him indicated that he was well pleased with the change. A year or so later my father died, and my brother suggested that my unmarried sister and myself should join him. This we arranged to do.

My first experience of a long sea voyage was from Tilbury to Brisbane, where my brother was living. Of

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the many times I later travelled between England and Australia that early voyage remains clearest in my memory. I was scarcely twenty years of age, and felt deeply sensible of my responsibilities. I had my sister, Lydia, to look after. She was a mere girl several years younger than I. We brought with us an old and faithful family servant, Bab, a typical Irish peasant woman, unable to read or write, and about forty, honest and reliable in all ways. When she first came to the family as a young girl she spoke Irish and knew but little English. She was not as bright and quick-witted as most of the Irish peasantry: a patient soul that we loved, kind-hearted but heavy, placid, non-observant, a slow thinker and speaker. She had never been to a large town. In London she was mentally numbed by the noise, bustle and unaccustomed sights. At Tilbury, from which we sailed, as the Orient Company's liner was slowly casting off the ropes and getting free, my young sister and I were watching the distance widening between the wharf and the ship that was to take us to our new home. Bab, who was close to me, seemed mentally to wake up, and remarked, “Masthur Jack, I think she's moving.”

The voyage from the Thames to Queensland occupied six weeks. To-day, after some forty-seven years, mail steamers between England and Australia do not travel any faster than they did then. That the speed of the vessels has not been accelerated in that time is extraordinary. Certainly the steamers have increased considerably in size, passengers have more comforts, wireless keeps them in touch with the outside world and oil fuel has obviated the unpleasantness of coaling; but otherwise the experience of passengers on mail

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steamers via the Suez Canal does not differ much today from what it was half a century ago.

The ports called at are mostly unchanged, although Naples is decidedly cleaner now than it was when we called there.

To-day, as then, the scum of three continents meet at Port Said, even if there is a better observance of law and order and it is safer to go ashore.

The Suez Canal has been deepened and widened.

Colombo is decidedly less Eastern and less attractive. It has become more Europeanised; the natives are sophisticated, and the different races are less distinctive in their dresses and head-gear. In those days the harbour had more old-fashioned craft—catamarans, dhows and junks, curious, lumbering, leaky vessels that as they sailed seemed to be rotting away and liable any second to come to pieces through decrepitude. The streets were more colourful. Rickshaws were common. There were no motor-cars. Unlike the motor roads of to-day, the roads were bright red and showed up brilliantly between the deep green of the luxuriant tropical growth.

A friend brought us to see a notable man who was detained a prisoner in Ceylon, Arabi Pasha, the leader of the military insurrection in Egypt in 1882. One time he was Egyptian Secretary for War, but he did not long retain the office. The country got into financial difficulties; debts pressed heavily; the military were not paid and became discontented. Open rebellion began, and the army chose Arabi as its leader. The rebels wished to free the country from Europeans and European influences. There were some 37,000 Europeans in Egypt. They were mobbed, attacked and

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insulted. Arabi erected forts at Alexandria. When asked to desist, he refused, and his forts were bombarded by British warships. He released the convicts imprisoned at Alexandria, set fire to the city, abandoned it and proclaimed a “jehad,” or holy war against Christians, many of whom were massacred. France had refused to join Britain in restoring order. Some 30,000 troops from the British Isles and India fought and defeated Arabi's forces at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir. That suppressed the insurrection.

Arabi was brought to trial, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to death. Later the sentence was commuted, and, with some of his followers, he was exiled to Ceylon.

He shook hands with us. We met him in the grounds of the house in which he lived.

We were told he was always ready to meet British visitors, and was deeply grateful to the British, who had saved his life. The Khedive and other influential Egyptians made no secret that if they had had their way he would have been executed.

In Ceylon he was well treated, but was a pathetic figure. A man of humble origin, he had risen to eminence and seemed to have had a brilliant career ahead of him. He fell, and was broken and dispirited. When we saw him he had been many years in exile. Those of his Egyptian colleagues who were exiled with him were living in the neighbourhood. Had they wished to escape they would have had little difficulty in getting away. They had more sense. They lived quietly amidst the delightful surroundings of Ceylon for a couple of decades, when they were allowed to retire to Egypt.

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My brother was a member of the literary staff of the Courier, the principal daily newspaper of Brisbane. Owing to his influence, I immediately got a position, also on the literary staff.

The editor was Kinnaird Rose, who had come a short time previously from England; a Scotchman by birth, well known in London as a journalist, and a barrister who never practised. Remarkable in many respects, his career was adventurous. A correspondent of the Edinburgh Scotsman with the Russians in the Russo-Turkish War, he was attached to the staff of General Skobeloff, whose Life he subsequently wrote. He was at the siege of Plevna, the capture of the Gravala redoubt and other engagements, and was wounded more than once. Among the stories that he told was of a narrow escape he had from assassination in Albania; also how he was imprisoned in Rome for possessing forged notes that he had received in change from a seller of antiques.

In Brisbane he was quite an important personage. He was tall, his appearance was striking, and he was inordinately fond and proud of his long, large golden beard that he stroked often and affectionately.

One night during a late sitting of the Queensland Parliament, whilst he was asleep in a room of the House, some wag with a pair of scissors cut off most of it.

The indignation of the editor was expressed in his paper.

The affair created considerable sensation. The Opposition members accused Government members

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and the Government blamed the Opposition. The perpetrator or perpetrators were never discovered, but the editor, shorn of his glory, went about like a bird that had lost its tail.

When I arrived in Australia there was much that I failed at first to appreciate. I had been reared amidst people with old-fashioned views. I was not taught to regard the possession of money as important. Australians were full of bustle, rush and energy. The wide, straight streets of Melbourne did not appeal to me then. I preferred the crooked, narrow thoroughfares of Sydney, which were like those of the ancient towns of England and Ireland. Wooden dwelling-houses, erected on piles sometimes six or eight feet above sand, looked to me hideous. Nothing was antiquated; the native grass appeared to be scanty; the gum trees seemed not to have enough leaves, and their trunks were ragged with bark half fallen off. It took me some time to recognise the delicate beauty of the Australian bush, its graceful foliage and wonderful wild flowers.

It was in Queensland that I got the first glimpse of what country life is like in Australia. I was only a few months on the staff of the Brisbane Courier when I resigned, my idea being to gain experience of other places in Australia. I accepted an invitation to spend some weeks in the country. It was late spring, and the aspect of the bush bearing the clean, fresh green look of young shoots and leaves was refreshing after the city's dust and bustle. I altered my views of Australia as I drove behind horses along quiet grass-grown bush tracks, through gum-tree forests and dense scrub, alive

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with animal life. The traffic we met was novel to me: groups of children riding to school; bullock teams resting under the shade whilst the drivers took their midday meal; hawkers with their ponderous wagons slowly making their way to dispose of wares at rural homes; well-mounted drovers with mobs of bellowing cattle; the solitary swagman trudging along whilst parrots and jackasses merrily chattered and laughed in the trees around. I did not travel more than a couple of hundred miles from Brisbane, but all I saw made me pleased that I had come to Australia. I got an insight into what the bush was like. It was my first introduction in their wild state to kangaroos and wallabies, native bears and 'possums, iguanas and snakes, cockatoos and flying foxes. It was the beginning of my acquaintance with the birds and beasts and all the fascinating and curious sights and sounds of the wonderful Australian bush.


From Brisbane I came to Melbourne, where I was engaged on the Press, but I was not long there before I became restless. I was eager to see more and more of Australia, to learn all I could about it and get experience. I was offered and I accepted the literary control of a bi-weekly paper published at Kerang, about one hundred and eighty miles north-west by rail from Melbourne. The town is close to the Lodden river, whilst the Murray is but a dozen miles away.

Before I left Melbourne I consulted a map, which showed that near the town there was marked “Mount

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Kerang.” I pictured Kerang as built at the foot of a mountain. When I reached the town I found the country remarkably flat and uninteresting. I inquired for the mountain. It was explained to me that one part of the town was several feet higher than the surrounding country. That was Mount Kerang.

Kerang was then comparatively new. The streets were not paved, and when rain fell they became seas of deep liquid mud. A favourite exaggeration was of a man who was seen moving along in the centre of the street in mud above his ankles, and when a woman at a shop door looked surprised at his predicament, he called out to her, “I am all right, there's a cart and horse under me.”

Just then extensive works for the irrigation of the plains were in process of construction. The system adopted was large open water channels with smaller channels running into farms. There was no lack of water in the rivers and lakes in the vicinity, and the flatness of the country was suitable to flooding, but the administration was faulty. The various schemes were controlled by locally elected bodies called “trusts.” It was part of my duty to attend trust meetings. I was much struck by the incapacity and want of business knowledge of most of the members. Much of the money for construction work was wasted. It was borrowed from the Government, and members of trusts never thought of the question of repayment. The sole idea of certain members was to get money spent in the district. There were well-managed trusts, but they were the exception.

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One large trust that had control of a huge amount of Government money held its meetings at a bush hotel. The hotel keeper was chairman, and the trust's office was part of the hotel. When cheques were paid to contractors and employees the recipients felt it was wise to keep friends with the chairman by spending money freely over the bar. Trust meetings were held at night. They were often continued until a late hour, and usually degenerated into mere drunken orgies. It was no wonder the trusts became financially involved, and ultimately the Government had to take them over and administer the schemes directly.

One vivid memory that I have was of a grasshopper plague of exceptional virulence. It was the worst I ever experienced. It was before science and experience were so successful in lessening the disastrous consequences of such a visitation. Rumour of the approach of grasshoppers had been current, and one day, when driving some miles from the town, I met the wave of insects, millions and millions of them, travelling slowly but steadily. They were young and could hop only a few inches, but as they grew older and stronger they took to the wing and their progress was quicker. A curious whirring noise is heard during their flights. Scientists say it is due partly to their wings, but largely to a stridulation caused by rubbing a criss-cross sculpture of the hind-leg.

When the wave reached a wall or other obstruction, the insects were piled up in a struggling mass that became putrid and vile smelling. Railway cattle pits became full of them. The insects on railway lines were

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so thick that when they were crushed by passing trains the wheels and rails became greasy and trains were frequently stopped. The most desperate efforts failed to save even small gardens from the ravages of the pest. The face of the country was left perfectly bare.

The work of the natural enemies of grasshoppers was of little consequence. Emus, wild turkeys and ibises feed on them greedily. Flights of grasshoppers are followed by hawks, magpies, crows, wood-swallows and other birds. Happily, grasshoppers are rarely troublesome two years in succession.

A few days after the insects had denuded the country of vegetation rain fell. Then I first realised the amazing recuperative powers of the land. Over and over again after that I have seen it subsequent to a prolonged drought utterly without a vestige of vegetation; a heavy fall of rain comes, and in a week or so it presents a beautiful picture, its former barrenness hidden by a covering of green verdure.


I was not anxious to remain long at Kerang. I wished to get away and learn more about Australia. I readily accepted the offer of a better position at Casterton, where there was a bi-weekly paper of which I was given literary control. The town is picturesquely situated on the Glenelg river in the south-western part of Victoria. There were many pastoral properties in the locality that were held by families descended from pioneer settlers. It was in 1834 that the Henty brothers formed a settlement at Portland Bay. This settlement was responsible for the occupation of the inland

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pastoral country and is a notable event in the early history of Victoria.

My recollections of Casterton are most pleasant. I saw country life in Australia at its best and also enjoyed excellent sport. The people were charming and most hospitable.

During my stay in Casterton the member for the district, Mr. Shiels, became Premier of Victoria. As is customary in such cases, his policy speech was delivered in the chief centre of his constituency. A special train brought to Casterton several members of the Ministry and other prominent political supporters, as well as a crowd of pressmen. For the place it was a great—almost historic—event. Mr. Shiels was a fine orator, and certainly made a magnificent speech crowded with brilliant points. One of his Ministers, Mr. (later Sir Alexander) Peacock, was then an untried man only thirty-one years of age. He was Minister for Education and Postmaster-General in the new Ministry. In referring to this appointment, Mr. Shiels said he did not believe that men of talent should have responsibility withheld from them until they “eat their meat with dentists' teeth.”

Suddenly the huge audience was startled by a most remarkable sound. It was not unlike the concatenations of an exceptionally noisy kookaburra. It was the laugh of Peacock. I cannot describe it. Sir George Reid attempted to do it. “Peacock's laugh,” he said, “is probably the most wonderful in the world. He cannot subdue it or regulate it or stop it. It begins with reverberations as sharp and independent as the discharge of

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a battery of field guns; it continues with rises and falls of overwhelming and contagious jocularity. Just as you think something fearful must happen, it stops as suddenly as it began.”

I knew nothing of Mr. Peacock when I heard that laugh. I wondered if he would prove the truth or otherwise of Goldsmith's line, “The loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind.”

Subsequent to those days, he occupied with distinction many public offices and more than once filled the Premiership of Victoria with credit. Despite the loud laugh, he proved that there was nothing vacant about his mind.


I had heard and read so much about the far-famed gold-mining centres of Bendigo and Ballarat that I paid them a special visit. They were quiet and prosaic towns from which all the excitement and glamour of the digging days had passed. I thought Ballarat particularly delightful, and was interested in the scene of the Eureka Stockade fight, or, as someone has called it, “Australia's little insurrection,” when in 1854 the diggers revolted against the severity with which a monthly license fee was exacted from miners, whether they were successful in finding gold or not.

I was shown round by an intelligent man who had been one of the rebels, and at the time of the trouble he was in his early twenties. He was not in the stockade when it was stormed, but was in his camp about a mile away, and was awakened by the sound of firing. He explained that the garrison were taken by surprise.

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Two or three sentries were awake, but the rest of the men were sound asleep. A strong force of mounted troops, infantry and police were quietly brought to the stockade during the night. They had not been observed. Mounted men surrounded the stockade, and suddenly in the early morning the infantry rushed over the barriers. There were only 200 diggers, and they were poorly armed as compared with the soldiers, each of whom had a rifle and bayonet. Not more than 50 of the miners had rifles. The rest had pikes made by blacksmiths. The troops numbered 300.

“How many were killed?” I asked.

“A military captain and half a dozen soldiers. About fifteen were wounded. Thirty diggers were found dead, but several of the wounded died in hiding. It was a cruel and bloody business.”

“Probably there were faults on both sides. There always are in such cases.”

“Perhaps so,” said the old man, whose views had been softened by time, “but I cannot forgive the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham. He was chiefly to blame. It may not be right to be too hard on him. He was a naval officer and accustomed to the severe discipline of those days. Besides, the colony's finances were in a bad state. His instructions were to put them straight. The first license fee was thirty shillings a month. When there was an outcry he reduced it to £1. Still, £12 a year was too much for diggers, most of whom were getting no gold. Had he imposed a royalty on each ounce of gold that was sold or exported, the tax would have only affected successful diggers and would not have operated so harshly.

“The penalty for not having a license was high. It

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ranged up to £5 for a first offence. For subsequent offences the fines were much higher, and the punishment might be extended to six months' imprisonment.

“There was trouble on other goldfields in the colony. Protests against the license fee developed into riots at Beechworth and Castlemaine.

“A saloon keeper named Bentley, who came from California, was responsible for further incensing public opinion at Ballarat against the governing authorities. He evidently brought with him the disregard for human life and indifference to law and order that characterised the early days of the Californian diggings. His saloon was closed one night when a man named Scobie at a late hour knocked at the door in order to have the place reopened so that he could get a drink. He kept knocking and would not go away. Bentley was annoyed and rushed out at Scobie, who was under the influence of drink. Bentley struck Scobie with a shovel, cleaving his skull open. It was a fatal blow. Bentley dragged the body some distance from the hotel and went back to bed. He was arrested. In the opinion of the diggers his guilt was clearly proved, but he was acquitted. They said that the acquittal was secured through the influence of a magistrate who was supposed to be a friend of Bentley's and a part-owner of the hotel. What inflamed public feeling still more was that Scobie was extremely popular and that it was said by diggers who had come from California that Bentley had done to death several men there.

“That gross miscarriage of justice,” added my informant, “intensely aroused the anger of the public against the authorities. At a meeting that was held it was decided to lynch Bentley. The infuriated crowd

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went to get him. He escaped on a fast horse, but they wrecked and set fire to his hotel. That was the beginning of the subsequent defiance of the law. The spirit of lawlessness became rampant.

“There were some 20,000 men at Ballarat. They had no voice in the Government and they felt the grievances sorely. Three of them who were tried for participation in the destruction of Bentley's hotel were sentenced to several months' imprisonment. Two of those who were thus punished were known to have been miles away when it was burned, and the third, though present, took no part in the riot. A deputation was sent to Melbourne to secure their release. The Governor refused the request. Additional troops arrived in Ballarat. As they marched through the town with bayonets fixed, the miners, without the authority of their leaders, made an attack on them. Stones were thrown, their ranks were broken, and a bugler boy was struck on the head by a piece of rock and killed. The death of this boy and the wounds some of the soldiers got caused them to feel very bitter. This bitterness was reciprocated by the miners, but they felt most bitter towards the police, some of whom were ex-convicts who had risen to be warders in Tasmania.

“At a mass meeting licenses were publicly burned. It was resolved to renounce allegiance to the Government, to form a defence organisation, to fight for a republic and to adopt a light blue flag adorned with the stars of the Southern Cross.

“Nearly 1,000 men swore to stand by each other for their rights and liberties.”

Peter Lalor was elected leader. He was an Irishman, the son of a one-time member for Queen's County in

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the House of Commons, who was known as “Honest Pat Lalor,” the friend and supporter of Daniel O'Connell and a younger brother of Finton Lalor, a prominent rebel of the 1848 Young Ireland movement. Peter Lalor, who evidently had hatred of injustice in his blood, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin; he was a civil engineer by profession and but twenty-seven years of age.

My companion, continuing his story, said: “After that meeting we felt that war had been declared. Drilling was actively carried on. Weapons were collected. About an acre of land on the summit of Eureka Hill was enclosed. This formed the stockade which was our headquarters. It was three days later that the troops made their attack. The vast majority of the miners who took the oath were asleep in their camps, which were spread all over the country, some of them miles away. When they heard the firing they came rushing up and found the stockade in the possession of the soldiers. Unarmed as the new arrivals were, they could do nothing.

“Lalor was conspicuous when the stockade was stormed. He was cheering on his men when a musket ball shattered his right shoulder.

“There was fierce hand-to-hand fighting. The diggers had long-handled pikes sharpened to a keen edge, but they were no match for bayonets and revolvers.

“Lalor was carried away and concealed in an old mine working. From there he was taken to a friend's camp, where his arm was amputated by a friendly doctor. Then he was brought to Geelong, where he remained whilst police and soldiers searched for him.

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He was never captured, though a reward was offered for him.

“The diggers were beaten in the field,” said my friend, “but they won in another sense, for Miners' Rights with a currency of one year were reduced to £1. They did not really want to establish a republic. That was wanted only by the foreign element, which was strong on the field. The Britishers who participated or sympathised with the outbreak merely did so as the result of their indignation at what they felt to be grave wrongs done by those in authority.”

Shortly after the capture of the stockade the ring-leaders who were secured were tried by juries and acquitted.

Lalor was but at the beginning of his public career. His empty sleeve was a constant reminder to those who saw him of the part he had taken at the Eureka Stockade. The year after the outbreak he was elected to the Victorian Parliament. He served in several ministries. Ultimately in 1880 he was elected Speaker. Curiously enough, his predecessor in the office was Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, an ex-Irish rebel. As Speaker, Lalor showed himself possessed of sound judgment and firmness combined with a spirit of fairness to all parties. When he resigned, through failing health, the Parliament of Victoria, in recognition of his public services, voted him £4,000. He died in 1889.

Many years after my visit to the site of the Eureka Stockade I received a formal official call in Kalgoorlie from a smart Australian soldier who had been appointed military area officer of the district. He was

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bright-eyed, cheerful, mentally and physically alert, had the fighting spirit highly developed, was keen on his profession and had had military experience in the French army, where he served in the Foreign Legion. We became friends. I knew his name was Lalor, but it was some time before I heard that he was the grandson of the leader of the miners. Then we talked together often about his father and the Ballarat outbreak.

When the Great War came Lalor proved that despite his diminutive size he was full of pluck. Contrary to orders, he insisted on wearing a sword at the Gallipoli landing. Soon after reaching the shore on the first day he was shot dead whilst gallantly leading his men.

The fighting spirit of the family was evidenced by another grandson of the Eureka leader, Dr. Peter Lalor, who, from the Kew Hospital, Melbourne, after the war-time conscription referendum in Australia, wrote:

“It was with mingled amusement and indignation that I noticed in a morning newspaper a statement from the Trades Hall associating my grandfather with the ‘No’ side in the recent Referendum, inferentially, at any rate. On behalf of my family and my brother, who was killed in Gallipoli in April, 1915, I wish to repudiate the infamy of this suggestion. My grandfather, the late Mr. Peter Lalor, proved by his life that he would never have countenanced the cowardice of the betrayal of our soldiers, or have consented to the brand of shameful desertion placed on the

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fair fame of the Australia he loved and fought for.

“There is no doubt that many people voted ‘No,’ conscientiously believing conscription to be tyranny, not visualising the greater tyranny against which they were refusing to use an effective weapon; but there also is no doubt that the worst elements of cowardice, pacifism and disloyalty also voted with the ‘Noes,’ and it is an insult to even suggest that my grandfather would have voted with such as these.”