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2-310 (Original)

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There is one feature in colonial society (at least in that of a new colony like Port Phillip,) which gives it a life and spirit which you do not find at home, except in the capitals of Europe. This arises from the variety of the materials of which it is composed, and from the different views, the different knowledge, and experience of men differently educated, whose lives have been passed in different scenes, in different professions, and in different parts of the globe. If you want to hear the particulars of some Chinese custom, probably your next neighbour can inform you; a second illustrates an argument on draught, by a description of the mode of harnessing dogs in Greenland; a third has personally inspected the isthmus of Panama, and can give you an opinion as to the practicability and expense of cutting it through; while from a fourth you may learn all the details of the Niger expedition. You see a pale and delicate, but resolute-looking man - he was the first who made the dangerous experiment of taking cattle overland to Adelaide; he opposite you, with a quiet expression and mild blue eye, is one of the most determined and adventurous explorers and the best bushman in the country; that other florid and rather effeminate-looking youth has gone through dangers and surmounted difficulties which would appal many a stout heart; and so on of the rest, for there are Few who have not had occasions to try them when they had nothing else to depend on, for the preservation of their lives, but their own courage and perseverance.
The labouring population may be divided into two classes, the old hands and emigrants. The old hands are men who, having been formerly convicts, (or lags as they are generally termed,) have become free by the expiration of their sentences. Some of these men came over in charge of the stock originally brought from Van Diemen's Land and Sydney at the first settlement of the colony, and many have since followed them. As a body, they are a daring, energetic, hard-working class of men, with a considerable fear of infringing the law, or at least of the consequences of being made amenable to it, but at the same time requiring a strict hand to keep them in order, as it is part of their system to impose (or as they term it to try it on) whenever they have a chance of success, which of course is most likely with new settlers. If the first encroachment succeeds. they try snottier, thus trying it on until, if unchecked, they establish a system very much calculated for their own comfort and convenience, but by no means conducive to their masters' interests. They are generally well acquainted with splitting, building, fencing, and bushwork of all kinds; and from their experience in woodcraft, and their knowledge of the resources and expedients of which a man may avail himself, or to which he may have recourse in the bush, were of the greatest service, if not actually indispensable, to the first settlers in occupying a new country. [314]
With respect to sheep management, there is a great difference between the Sydney and Van Diemen's Land old hands. In Van Diemen's Land, the sheep are all reared in enclosed paddocks or fields as in England, and the sheep farmers there never attempt the thorough eradication of scab, contenting themselves with merely keeping it down, as it is called, and from the circumstances of the sheep not being enclosed in hurdles at night or fed in flocks during the day, it does not spread with the same rapidity or become so formidable a disease as when the contrary is the case. Hence the experience with regard to sheep, both of settlers and labourers from thence, was of little avail in a country so differently circumstanced as Port Phillip. In Sydney, on the contrary, the system, with regard to both these points, was the same as at Port Phillip; and it is from the settlers and old hands of the Sydney district that we have learned most of what we know with respect to the improved management of sheep and the eradication of scab. [315] On the whole, the old hands have been of essential service to the country, and when kept in order by persons who understand what is their duty, and who make them perform it, they are useful servants. They are, however, a disagreeable set of men to deal with; rarely, if ever, identifying their master's interests with their own, but looking upon him as a person to be overreached and imposed on, and despising him when he permits them to do so. The person who excites their greatest respect is the man who is alive to their attempts, (or, as they express it themselves, who drops down to their moves,) and the highest encomium they can pass on such a one is, that there are no flies about him.
They are very fond of change, wandering about the country generally in pairs, and rarely remaining more than a year in one service. They are to be found more at the distant stations and in newly-settled country where wages are higher, and there is more difficulty to contend with, than in the more civilized parts where the emigrants have in a great measure superseded them. Still, through the whole country the great mass of shearers, splitters, and even bullock-drivers are old hands. They have a strong esprit de corps, which is kept up by their speaking a language so full of cant expressions as to become almost a separate dialect. Their best trait is their liberality towards each other; and indeed when money was more easily made than at present, this was carried to a pitch of reckless profusion. When a man was paid his wages, or had made a good sum of money by shearing, splitting, or other job-work, he used to go to Melbourne and treat all his friends, and frequently keep open house at a public-house for a week or a fortnight together. In this way, I have known some of them to have spent upwards of a hundred pounds in that short time; they were, of course, extensively plundered by the publicans. Now, however, that money is not so easily earned, they are something less lavish, but still a large proportion spend all their earnings of several months', or even a year's hard labour in a few weeks' dissipation; and it is a common thing to deposit a sum with the landlord upon the understanding that he is to furnish drink while it lasts. When the money is out, they start away in search of new scenes and fresh employment, carrying on their backs their heavy packs, containing cloths and blankets or kangaroo rug. Two generally travel together, who are called mates; they are partners, and divide all their earnings.
Though amongst this class of men the standard of morality is very low, yet they are not without their rude notions of honour, modified, however by a kind of public opinion amongst themselves, which exercises a considerable influence over their actions. They have a pride in fulfilling their engagements; and when they undertake a piece of job-work, they generally adhere faithfully to their contract, although it may turn out an unprofitable job. I have known several instances in which money has been lent to them to the amount of two or three pounds, and I have never known it not to be repaid; and in general. when a confidence is reposed in them for the performance of any particular service, they acquit themselves creditably, though, as this arises from that pride which urges a man to show himself worthy of being trusted, and as it is a feeling which, however creditable in itself, is inferior to that principle which prompts a man to do his duty irrespectively of all other considerations, it might not, perhaps, be safe to count on a prolonged exertion of this kind. [316] A man guilty of crimes of a mean and unmanly nature is despised by them; and one who robs from his fellows, but especially from his mate, is regarded as infamous. On the other hand, drunkenness and debauchery of any kind are not regarded as crimes indeed to omit an opportunity of getting drunk would be considered a kind of breach of privilege; nor are they very scrupulous on the subject of honesty. if the person injured be not a poor man. Defrauding one not of their own class they seem to regard as a spoiling of the Egyptians. I have always considered the observation of the effects produced on these men by their peculiar position as a most interesting study; and although this effect may be modified by peculiarity of disposition, yet I think that I have correctly delineated the leading characteristics of the class.
The emigrants, or new hands, contrast in some respects very favourably with the class which I have sketched. They are more easily managed, have fewer tricks, are less fond of change, often remaining for a long time in the same situation, seeming to become attached to their employers, and to take an interest in the property committed to their charge. They are less reckless about money, several of them having made considerable savings out of their wages. When they were new in the country, the old hands, vain of their own knowledge, looked down on their inexperience, while the emigrants in turn despised them for being convicts: so that it seldom answered to have them on the same station; but now the two classes amalgamate better, for the emigrants have had time to gain experience, and are able to hold their ground - indeed some of them are in every respect as useful, even in those departments, which were at first exclusively in possession of the old hands.
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