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IV

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.

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