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BARCROFT BOAKE'S LETTERS

1887-1891


DROVING LETTERS

 

Mullah

Trangie

Sept 88

(From a letter to Rosedale)

 

. . . We left Ann's Vale two Sundays after we left you. It was a great "chuck in" for us stopping there; it did our horses a lot of good. In fact if it had not been for that we would never have seen Trangie. Besides, Boydie and I were both getting full of travelling: it is not much of a lark, I can assure you.

 

We got on very well after we left Burrowa, till we got to Molong, where we were going to turn off to go to Dubbo. I knew there must be some shorter road, but did not know where to find it out. Just by the merest chance I went into a bakers for some bread, and happened to ask the man: and by good luck, he told us he had been up there and knew all the country. So he directed us how to go a back road which cut off a day's journey; but the country was awfully dry - not a blade of grass and our last day before getting to Naromine we rode the whole day and never saw a blade the whole twenty miles - nothing but the bare ground covered with leaves.

 

To crown it all, we pushed on to get to Naromine for a camp, and got there just at dark, having to turn out at the first place we came to - and in the morning our horses were gone! Well, I sent Boydie one way to inquire if they had gone back through the town, and I went the other way. I walked from eight o'clock till eleven; came back and saw Boydie; no news. I started straight away again and walked till three o'clock, when I came home and had some dinner; and by Jove! wasn't I tired! Well I had a rest till four, and started again, and did not get back till eight o'clock. It took me two hours to come the last two miles. I was never so knocked up in my life. I did not seem to care whether I ever got back. I felt I would have gladly died straight away. Besides I felt so miserable. To get on so well till just within twenty miles of our destination, and then to meet with a knock like that! I you could have seen me crawling along, hardly able to drag one foot after another. I am sure you would have pitied me. I can assure you I pitied myself.

 

Well, next day I started out again, but I was so stiff it was misery to walk. Boydie went out to Trangie by rail to see if he could get the loan of a horse from Mr Chapman. This was on Wednesday. I was just mooching back with some water for tea when I met Boydie with a smile all over his face, and he told me he had not been able to get a horse, but had heard of ours - they had been seen seven miles back on the road we had come, and were going straight away.

 

Well, we could not get a horse high or low, so the lad started after them on foot. He did not start till after dark, and got five miles on the road and turned back. He had my heavy boots on, and they blistered his feet, so he took them off and footed it back barefoot. By George! he was about full of it when he got back.

 

The next day I started at daylight, and, as luck would have it, found them just where Boydie had turned back. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw them feeding towards me. I fetched them back quick, and we packed up and shook the dust of Naromine off our feet; and I hope I never set eyes on it again....

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

Mullah

Trangie

Oct 17th 88

My Dear Father

 

I was not expecting a letter from you for some time as Grannie wrote and told me you were away in Melbourne and she had not forwarded my last. I expect your ideas of the way things go on in the country are pretty vague. You say that you never hear of any of the young men who start as I do, rising to any solid position. But whence come all the drovers, stock & commission agents, overseers & managers, men in charge of stock in Queensland or in the mountains, Wool Classers, and all the people who make up the country population and all connected in one way or another with the squatting interest.

 

There are dozens of different ways of earning a living and there is one advantage that a fellow is never looked down on because he has to work with his coat off. I have got a very comfortable home here and think I shall stay as though I was only engaged for the shearing still the boss from what I hear has been satisfied with the way I have been working and will keep me on during the shearing.

 

I have been employed mustering, if you know what that is – gathering the sheep out of the paddocks & bringing them into the shed to be shorn. As the run is about 30 miles long you see we have had to keep pretty well on the go – three of us – Will Chapman – I & a man have had the bringing in of the sheep from the far corner of the run and we bring in a few thousand & stop a night at the homestead and then go back to Enmore for more. It takes two days to travel them in from there, the greater part of the last six weeks I have spent in the pigskin, away from sunrise and home at dark. Sometimes we go out and think to be back in time for lunch & then the sheep won’t drive or something else and we get no dinner till tea time. Mustering sheep and drafting, that is separating ewes from wethers and so on, forms my principal work. It sounds very simple but it takes years to learn all about sheep, to tell the different kinds of wool etc.

 

I generally go about with young Chapman, who is a grand young fellow, about 18 he stands 6 ft 3 in his socks and weighs 13 stone. There are some tremendous big men about here. Three brothers Perritot 6.3. – 6.4 & 6.7. I have seen the 6 ft 7 man. He is a perfect giant. Will and I are very good friends, and he is very kind to me. He and I ran a big kangaroo down the other day at Enmore. 10 ft from tip of the tail to his nose. We did not run him more than a mile before we were alongside of him and knocked him on the head with a stick. It is surprising how easy it is to kill them with a tap on the head. Shooting kangaroos is a very profitable game. A good shot can make a pound a day at it.

 

If we don’t have rain soon I don’t know what things will come to. God knows they are heart rending now. There is no permanent water in this country. It’s all stored in dams and tanks and they are drying up everywhere. There is plenty of grass from last year though it is very dry but without plenty of water the stock will not exist. When we start out of a day unless we are certain of being at a tank during the day you….

 

Grannie told me that there was prospect of my becoming an uncle soon. The idea of Vi having a house of her own. Some of these….

 

Well I suppose I had better say goodbye now – with love to Grannie and Addie

 

Your affectionate son

                                    Bartie.

(Note: Permission to publish this letter was given by the National Library of Australia. It is held in the Manuscripts Collection - Call Number MS9843)

*           *           *           *           *           *

Mullah

Trangie

Nov 88

(From a letter to his Father)

 

?? For the last three weeks we have been camped out lamb-marking and mustering, and I have not been in at the station once during that time except one day to get a fresh horse. We are working very hard at the camp from four o'clock in the morning to dark. I shall be glad when it is over and we can settle down again.

 

Boydie went to Sydney last Monday. He was very glad to get out of the dust and heat. My word! it is getting hot now. Last Sunday, at four in the afternoon, it was 98 degrees in the shade. It is a terror working in the yards now, but it is nothing to what we got putting out a bush fire the other day. We were all drafting when Will Chapman came galloping up to tell us there was a fire coming across the paddock about a mile away. We all made a rush for horses, and galloped off like mad along a swamp where the grass is four or five feet high and as dry as a bone. There was a wall of fire coming across like the side of a house. You could not get near the front of it, so we had to start at the sides, and one would rush in with a bush and beat it out till the smoke drove him back, and then another would take his place. After about half an hour I was nearly dead. It was a boiling hot day to start with; and what with the heat of the fire, and smoke, and no water, it was worse than anything I ever experienced before. We stopped the fire by lighting another one in front, and letting it burn back.

 

I am still doing the same old ride around the paddocks. I generally take a rifle now and shoot kangaroos when I see any.

 

Have a stiff neck from sleeping in the verandah last night. I always sleep there now, so as to get up early. One does not want bed-clothes. I just chuck a rug down and a pillow, and camp on that; and as the day breaks I saddle my horse and off. The only things that disturb me are the 'possums. They run up and down the verandah and squeak the whole night. One ran up and sat on the eave of the house, and incautiously let his tail dangle over the edge, and I sneaked up and caught of it - and didn't he jump! He must be going yet. ...

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Mullah

Trangie

Dec 10th 88

Dear Father

 

            it seems very strange that you have not answered my last letter, so as there is a chance you have not received it I write this. I have nothing new to tell.- we are still anxiously waiting for the breaking of the drought which continues with great severity. It is getting very hot now, it is 100 and over nearly every day. It has been up to 114 in the shade, the other night it was 96 in the evening at bed time in the sitting room.

 

I don't feel the heat nearly so much as I expected: in fact, I can stand it with much less inconvenience than I could the cold of the Monaro. The only thing I feel is the thirst: I never seem to be satisfied.

 

Times are pretty easy now. Most of the work is over among the sheep, and all I have to do is ride round about twenty miles of the boundary to see that no sheep are getting bogged at the water. I generally make a start at about four in the morning, when it is cool, and get back about ten o'clock. After that, as a rule, I have nothing to do for the rest of the day except pass the time reading, unless I feel inclined to take a ride round the lagoon about sundown, I generally carry a rifle in my rounds, and shoot an odd kangaroo when I come across one, as soon as we get rain though there will be plenty of work as the sheep are all mixed up any how on account of having to let them go anywhere they like for water. The losses are very heavy among the stock, I am glad to say they have been very small comparatively speaking on the run but on others thousands of sheep have become food for the crows. In a month's time Mr Chapman's brother on the Brogan will not have a single sheep alive on his run if we don't have rain - I hope you are doing all right at the new venture. I would have written before but did not know your address. Today I happened to pick up your last letter to read it again and noticed your new address at the top, have you heard from Vi lately - how is Addie - give my love to Grannie, and tell her I will write to her very shortly, don't forget to find out Rolla Harnett's address for me so goodnight.

 

Your affectionate son

                                    Bartie.

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Mullah

Trangie

Dec 29th 88

My dear Father

 

your last letter must assuredly have miscarried, as it is two months or more since I heard from you, from the tone of your letter I should say the world is treating you better than hitherto. It is about time too

 

- so there is another inhabitant added to this continent. Poor little beggar, I wonder whether he will ever wish he had never been born, like most of us do - I think it is a natural consequence of being face to face with nature so continually, but the great mystery of human nature often comes before me as I ride about, it seems to me so sad and disheartening; to toil, with the knowledge of the vanity of it all in our hearts, civilisation is a dead failure, it only brings these truths more forcibly before us, a savage never thinks of these things - I have been reading a book that gives expression exactly to the ideas I have been trying to set down here it is one of Rider Haggard's called "Allan Quartermaine," this and the one to which it is a sequel are really worth getting if you want a real good soul stirring account of a battle told in most animated and picturesque language - but the best part to my thinking lies in two pages of the introduction which is a sort of a little philosophical essay in itself.

 

- I have very easy times now, far too easy in fact, the less I have to do the more time I have to grumble. Good hard work, physical labour; is the best panacea imaginable for a discontented mind. When I used to be in the yards in the heat and dust all I would think of was how to do the work well and expeditiously and have done with it. But now, from eleven o['clock in the morning I have absolutely nothing to do but kill time. I am up early and my riding is done by ten or eleven and I find it very hard to pass the time away; but I believe this will be all over soon, as the stock out back will be in great straights for water soon, and then our joy begins.

 

I have read your advice and I wish for your sake and Grannie's I could bring myself to follow it. But oh I should smother if I were to go back to Sydney again, I should have no heart. There is a curious phenomenon in stock-breeding called "throwing back". After years and years of careful breeding, you will sometimes find a beast born with all the characteristics of the original stock. In the same way, I believe some of the wild blood of our savage Irish ancestors has been transmitted to me. At any rate my home is in the bush and as no good is to be done but on the confines of the settled country, that is where I hope to go within the next year.

 

I had just finished a letter to Grannie this afternoon just before receiving this of yours - I enclose a slip of paper for her in this. Give my love to all.

 

Your affectionate son

                                    Bartie

 

By the bye I have dropped that and now adopt the more common one of Thomas.

 

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Brewarrina

May 10th 89

Dear Father

 

            You will see from the above address that I have shifted my quarters at last. I am two hundred miles away from Mullah now, this place is on the Barwon River on the main stock road to Queensland. I left Mullah in company with the two Boyds last Monday week. We have had a very good trip so far, the country looks splendid. I never saw such grass as there is in some places. We had beautiful weather too, only one wet camp which was last Sunday.

 

At the crossing of the Womerah River we had been told to cross in a certain place by an old sheep bridge. I did not like the look of it at all, but as there were dray tracks both in and out the other side I supposed it could not be very bad, so I rode in leading a packhorse, but had not gone three paces when my horse went down to the saddle flaps in mud. I let the packhorse go and jumped off and when he was relieved of my weight my old horse managed to struggle through and go across - to let him go straight ahead was the only chance as you could not turn around in the mud. There were we on this side of the river and my horse on the other. However I found a place where I could wade across, so I got my horse and waited till the others crossed higher up at a dam.

 

I was a nice state I can assure you, pants and leggings all covered with thick mud - my old horse was the one though, he was pure white when he went in but after he got out he was a sight, the mud is not all off him yet and it is a week ago nearly - I am in this part of the country looking for travelling stock. The agent yesterday told me of a drover who is going out to Queensland in a short time with sheep and I am going up the river now to see him. I shall stay here a week and if I don't meet with any drovers shall travel on towards Barringun, that is the first border town, and meet some of the cattle coming in, of which there will be any amount in a month of time.

 

Well I don't think it is any use your answering this as I don't know what address will find me - give my love to Grannie and the girls.

 

Your affectionate Son

                                    Bartie

 

I am writing this on the river bank where we are camped, on the stump of a tree which has been sawn.

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Thelungral

Queensland

June 16th 89

My dear Father

 

            Just a short note to tell you where I am now I expect you have been wondering. I fell in with a drover a few weeks after I last wrote to you and am going out with him to the Diamantina to bring back a mob of cattle. I have a good chance of doing well for I and the second in charge are very good friends and he has promised to take me down to Albury if I go through with this fellow all right, and also to do this best for me with Cobb & Co who are the owners of the cattle. I don't find Queensland much different from N.S.W. except the stations are very far apart and everything very dear - I must close this now I just snatched a moment before tea, I don't get a minute to do a thing, up at five and going all day long. Give my love to Grannie and the girls.

 

Your affectionate Son

                                    Bartie.

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Carrawilla

Queensland

August 11th 89

 

My Dear Father

 

            I suppose you are thinking me very neglectful for not letting you know my whereabouts but we are kept going so continually that it is with great difficulty I can snatch these few minutes to let you know I am alive. We are on the road now with eleven hundred head of cattle for Cunnamulla, from Devonport Downs, Diamantina river. We were five weeks mustering on the station and the time passed very quickly as everything was new to me. It is not very hot as yet it is quite chilly of a night time but just for a few hours in the middle of the day it is just as warm as I like it. The night work is the worst part on the road as the cattle have to be watched all night. They are remarkably quiet I'm glad to say and we have single watches two hours apiece. I am lucky and have the first from six to eight. Still as we are going from before daylight of a morning it makes the hours pretty long, fourteen hours a day I reckon I have in the saddle straight off - at first we had two men on watch at a time and Parker and I used to take the last from two in the morning till sunrise. My word it used to be cold turning out of bed to go and sit on your horse for five hours. Still this is the only life worth living that I see. No more New South Wales for me except for a visit. This is the only place where a poor man can get a cheque together in a short time. But you would be surprised at the price they charge for things. All drinks are a shilling a nobbler so a cheque can be dissipated in a very short time. There are any quantity of blacks about here, at every station there is a camp twenty or thirty nice specimens of human beings they are too, dirty lazy and just about low in the scale of morality as well can be. I have not seen a white woman for goodness knows how long nearly three months. I think the cattle are just drawing on to camp, it is almost sundown as I must get my supper and be ready for my watch - Give my love to dear Granny and don't think I am forgetting you because you get so few letters - love to the girls.

 

Your affectionate son

                                    Bartie.

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Windorah

Aug 29th 89

Dear Father

 

            Your letter and Grannie's dated the 3rd June only reached me today how they got here goodness knows for they went to Bourke and from there on here. I wish to goodness I had got yours for it would have been very acceptable. The Mr Hungerford you speak of has country out here on the Georgina about 100 miles west of where I have been on the Diamantina. I don't know if you got a letter I sent you from here when I was coming out if so you will know what I have been doing. Enclosed you will find a note in pencil. I don't know if you will be able to decipher it. The day I wrote it I was very sick and was bad for three days with a touch of the fever they get out her, at present I have very bad eyes from the flies and dust, everyone gets it - We are dodging the cattle along pretty well and have been very lucky so far in having no bad rushes at night. That is the worst the night work. I ought to be in bed now as I go on next watch but this is the only chance I get to drop you a line. This writing is a bit shaky but I am lying full length on the ground as that accounts for it.

 

This is a regular dog's life. Breakfast by starlight, with the cattle till dark, then get up in the night to do two hours' watch. Still it has its charms as a song of ours says "still his wild roving life with its hardships, is dear to the heart of each wandering Bush Cavalier". About those letters of intro. it was very good of you to go to so much trouble about me, I don't deserve it really - I am very sorry I never got them. I am going down with these cattle to Cunnamulla if I have a bit of luck I shall be there about the end of October. We deliver them to Cobb & Co's head man at Burrumbilla, Mr Leeds. He is a very influential man as he has control of five big stations in Queensland all the managers are under him if I got an intro. to him it would be just right as I have a pretty good name now as far as the work is concerned. But of course he would only think as it is that I was just a stockman, but a letter would ensure the treatment of a gentleman if nothing more. The principal producer in the firm of Cobb & Co is Mr Rutherford of Bathurst and their head manager in Queensland is Mr Leeds, Burrimbilla Station, Cunnamulla, Queensland. You might drop across somebody who knows him. Address to me P.O. Cunnamulla. Give my dear love to Grannie and the girls. I often think of you on watch. I am getting good wages and with a bit of luck if I get in so far this trip will see you for a few days somewhere after Xmas.

 

Your affectionate son

Bartie.

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Burrumbilla

Cunnamulla

Queensland

21 Oct 89

Dear Father

 

            I got all your letters the other day when I came into Cunnamulla to report the cattle. I had been looking forward to getting them for a long time - it doesn't matter much about the letters of intro. - I only reckoned on them as an off chance in any case - We let the bullocks go yesterday; and went to bed last night with the strange feeling that we had no watch to do. However, it won't be for long; for we start tomorrow for the Yowah, another of Cobb's stations about 80 miles from here, to bring in a mob of fat cows, which will be drafted here, and then go on to Bathurst. In all probability I shall go with them, so that is four months of the future mapped out. I have a new boss now, the man I came in from the Diamantina is not going to get any more cattle to drove - he loses too many.

It is just getting hot now, we have had a few scorchers already. I got a fright the other day I made sure I had got a sunstroke. I felt very sick and feverish and went to bed early about nine o'clock. I woke up and felt very bad. I thought I was going to vomit and so got up and walked down into the dry bed of the river about fifty yards from the camp. I felt giddy and stood for a minute when my had swam and I suppose I fainted. It must have been some time before I recovered for when I did so it was pitch dark and raining. I thought I was going to be real bad but next day I was as right as the bank.

Nov 2nd 89

I had to leave this to go after horses, and have not had time to continue until today. We are out at the Yowah now, very busy mustering; and hope to be away next week some time. They had to knock off today to shoe horses, as they are nearly all footsore from the stones. It is very rough country here - nothing but stones and scrub. A bit different to the Diamantina, where it is nothing but plains. The cattle here are as wild as hawks, and we are galloping all day long. The first day we went out to camp about ten miles away. We just took pack horses and as it was very hot weather only a blanket apiece. In the middle of the night it started to rain hard, and I lay in two inches of water til morning. Nobody had any coats, only shirts and pants on. We were quite unprepared for any bad weather. We had a job to light a fire, and it was infernally cold but it cleared up after breakfast. Anthony Trollope, in one of his books about Australia, says: "The life of the Australian bushman is one of continual picnic." He would not have said so if he had put in that night alongside me.

 

Oh, well I suppose a man reaps as he sows. I often grumble at these sort of things but at the same time console myself by the thought that it is my own choosing. I might have been jogging along in monotonous respectability as a civil servant but they don't live these men they only vegetate. We have a pleasure and excitement in our work that they never feel. Every day brings something new. No two are alike. There is a charm about this life always in the saddle, only those can appreciate who have lived it.

 

I got dear Grannie's letter. This must do for her and Addie as well as for you for I have to go up to the station presently. I am afraid Grannie must be getting very feeble dear old lady. Won't she be glad to see her good-for-nought grandson again. I often think about my prospective trip to Sydney when between the blankets, with the mosquitoes singing a sweet lullaby round my head. I have not decided yet whether I am going to surprise you at Croydon or in town. Don't be surprised if you see a lanky young man with a cabbage tree hat on walk into the office and say hello dad for that will be me. I have not altered a bit in appearance at least not that I can see. Some time in February we hope to be in Bathurst, when I may be able to run down for a few days.

 

I got a letter from Addie telling me about her little girl Doris. It is a pretty name. Fancy those two girls married and mothers, it will be right enough as long as they stop at one. But I have seen too many when I was in the Survey- with big families and small salaries. Better to keep single than to drag your wife down to the level of a household drudge as many do - Well, my dear Dad I must say goodbye. I have a little while yet but I must devote that to a letter to Mrs McKeahnie as they have not heard from me for a long time. Give my love to Grannie and Addie and the girls. Hoping to see you all in a few month's time.

 

Your affectionate son Bartie.

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Cunnamulla

Queensland

Nov 18th 89

 

Dearest Grannie

 

            I got your letter on my return from the Diamantina. I was very pleased to get one from home. I almost used to think sometimes that it was all a dream and that I had never been in Sydney at all - Dear Grannie I hope you are getting stronger - Addie and Dad told me that (you) had some sort of an attack which left you very weak. They attributed it to overwork - You ought not to have much to do now Claire and Evelyn ought to be able to look after things now - so I have got a little niece. I suppose the next thing will be that one of the other girls will be getting married. As for me I think it will be a long while before I turn Benedict however much I might wish to do so - I could never bring myself to ask the girl I cared for - to become a household drudge as most of them do become who marry on a small income. I can't imagine how they can pretend to be happy.

 

I have not heard from any of my girls for a long time now; but I told them not to write, as I did not know where I might be. I am staying in this town for a fortnight until Mr Leeds comes back to start a mob of cattle away to Bathurst. I hope to go with them. It is getting very hot and dry here now, and the sooner I turn my back on Banana-land for a few months the better I will be pleased. It is right enough here for 9 months of the year but the three summer months God forbid - On the Diamantina in summer the stockmen wear nothing but a pair of trousers and hat; down to their waist some of them are burnt as black as a nigger - The storekeeper at Devonport told me that the thermometer kept at 149 degrees for days together and the worst of it is that it falls hardly at all during the night. Just towards daylight it gets a bit cool - I am writing up all of my arrears of correspondence. This is the seventh letter I have written and I have four or five more - Once I make a start I can soon rattle them off but the thing is to make the start. I am enjoying the unaccustomed luxuries of clean sheets and mosquito curtains. It seems quite strange to sleep in a bed once more, but I wish I was on the road again. Lying about doing nothing but smoke does not suit me at all - I suppose the dad got my letter the other day. I must turn to now and congratulate Addie. Give my love to every one and write to P.O. Cunnamulla, Queensland, not as Addie addressed Cunnamulla N.S.W.

 

Your affectionate grandson

                                    Bartie

 

*           *           *           *           *           *

 

Cunnamulla

Queensland

Nov 20th 89

Dear Dad

 

            In my last letter I omitted to mention one or two things, so as I have lots of time now worse luck I may as well write you a few lines.

 

Besides I feel very lonely here - a stranger in a far land, and the time hangs very heavy. I am waiting till Leeds comes back to start a mob of cattle away. We finished the last trip much sooner than was expected. I don't expect he will be back till the end of the month.

 

In regard to that affair of Reece's if you will procure me his address I will write. As you say; it is a matter that wants looking after, perhaps Higinbotham knows his whereabouts, but I am much mistaken in my knowledge of Reece if a letter will make him aute up and most unfortunately I don't see that I have any claims in a legal point of view - Of course if he were a man of honor there would be no difficulty but I am afraid Reece and L quarrelled long ago. There's not a bit of use though crying over spilt milk. When I think of that miserable episode I feel as contemptible in my own eyes as you must have found me then. Only for that I would in all probability be in Sydney now. It is strange how easily the current of our life is turned. I don't think in Sydney I could have found the pleasure in life that exists for me here that is at times, oftener I feel sick of the whole thing and long for some other country and a more stirring life.

 

There is a pleasure in a mad gallop, or in watching the dawn of day on a cattle camp - to see the beasts take shape, and change from an indistinguishable mass of white and black into their natural colours. Or in the dead of night to find yourself alone with the cattle, all the camp asleep perhaps only a red spark betokening the camp. I always (when I think of it) find something unearthly in this assemblage of huge animals ready at any moment to burst forth like a pent up torrent and equally irresistible in their force - when every beast is down, asleep or resting, just pull up and listen, you will hear a low moaning sound rising to a roar, then subsiding to a murmur like distant surf or as I fancy the cry of the dammed in Dante's Inferno. When the cattle are like that it is a good sign. But in the moonlight this strange noise, the dark mass of cattle with the occasional flash of an eye or a polished horn catching the light, it always conjures up strange fancies in me. I seem to be in some other world.

 

If only I could write it, there is a poem to be made out of the back country, some man will come yet who will be able to grasp the romance of Western Queensland and all that equally mysterious country in Central and Northern Australia, for there is a romance, though a grim one - a story of drought and flood, fever and famine, murder and suicide, courage and endurance.

 

And who reaps the benefit, not the poor bushman, but Messrs So and So merchants of Sydney or Melbourne, or the mutual consolidated cut-down-the drovers' wages Co Ltd, or some other capitalist. If you showed them the map half of them could not point out the position of their runs. All they know is that their cheques come in regularly from the buyers and if the expenses pass the limit they in their ignorance place, they sack the manager and get another easy enough.

 

Yes. I wonder if a day will come when these men will rise up. When the wealthy man perhaps renowned inside for his benevolence, shall see pass before him a band of men, all of whom died in his service, and whose unhallowed graves dot his run - the greater portion hollow, shrunken, burning with the pangs of thirst - others covered with the evil slime of the Diamantina, Cooper, and those far western rivers - burnt unrecognisably in bush fires, struck down by sunstroke, ripped up by cattle, dashed against some tree by their horse, killed in a dozen different ways - and what for? A few shillings a week and these are begrudged them; while their employer travels the Continent, and lives in all the luxury his wealth can command, they are sweating out their lives under a tropic sun on damper and beef.

 

This is no exaggerated picture, I can assure you. Marcus Clarke has grasped the meaning of Australia's Mountains and forests in his eloquent preface to Gordon's poems but neither he nor Gordon has written about the plains and sandhills of the far west. It remains for some future poet to do that.

 

I got a volume of Gordon here the other day and at length had an opportunity of studying his writings in their entirety. I have long been familiar with his most well known poems. There is no man within the last century who has achieved such lasting fame as he has. His poems appeal not only to one class of cultured minds as Tennyson or Browning and that lot, but there is not a bushman or drover who does not know a verse or two of "how we beat the favourite" or "the sick stockrider." I call this fame. Gordon is the favourite I may say only poet of the back blocker. And I am sorry to say Emile Zola is his favourite prose writer. His books are published now in very cheap form and have a tremendous circulation. A strange partnership indeed for these two men so different in their tone, to share popularity. I am afraid after all the bushman is not a very fine animal but at any rate even in his most vicious moments he is far above many of the so called respectable dwellers in towns. Well I must write a letter to Addie now so will say goodbye - give my love to Addie and Grannie

 

Yours affectionately

                        Bartie

 

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