Australian Access Federation

You are here: Home Corpora Corpus of Oz Early English 3-217 (Original)

3-217 (Original)

Item metadata
author,female,Atkinson, Louisa,27 addressee
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
Plaint Text :
Public Written
Webby, 1989
Document metadata

3-217.txt — 16 KB

File contents

Many a cloudy morning turns out a fine day," says a hopeful adage, which, in these misty and rainy times, it is very pleasant to believe. The day arranged for our excursion was a confirmation of its prediction, and though the ride from Fernhurst to the foot of the hill at Wheeney Creek was performed under a cloudy sky, with dewdrops sparkling on the branches by the wayside, it was soon evident that the rains of the preceding day and night were not about to return again so shortly.
The South Kurrajong is a series of undulations, extending from the foot of the higher portions of the range towards the Hawkesbury. Much of this tract is under cultivation, and offers such cheery, smiling, trite home pictures as might tempt the artist to portray: cottages nestling among the dark foliage of the orange, the higher branches of the acacia and bean-tree, or the kurrajong (Hibiscus heterophyllus), now starred with its white blossoms; green slopes, where sleek cows feed and horses roam at liberty, or corn, and the golden wheat, vary the hues. The plentiful moisture of the past season has added those lively greens and luxuriant tints which are so essential to such scenery. The high-wooded mountains on one side, and the glimpses of the low lands of Cumberland are accessories of great value to our picture.
Two or three miles of such scenery brought us to the forest land; the road was still good, the grass green, the trees fine and umbrageous, and the transition was from one style of beauty to another only. [170] The owner of "Cabbage-tree Hollow" has constructed an excellent road to his property, which winds along the side of a hill crowned with beetling masses of sandstone, fretted and excavated by the atmosphere, while below the road lies a vale through which a small stream flows, bearing its waters onwards to join the Grose River. The extreme luxuriance of the vegetation attracts the attention no less than the greenness of the leaves and the superabundance of the ferns.
The deep shade, only broken by flecks of sunlight, or occasional gleams thrown across the road, rendered the ride particularly pleasant, and became doubly grateful as the sun gained power and poured a fiery glow upon the earth. Many little streams trickled down the hill side and, crossing the path, added their tributary waters to the brook in the glen below; altogether keeping up that pleasant cool sound which only running water can make.
Man's industry has already levelled some acres of the dense brush, and we found an embryo farm and orchard in the vale. The labour of the harvest field was in progress, and the slope of a hill was dotted with shocks standing amidst the stubble.
At the cottage we alighted, and our horses were secured while we proceeded to investigate the course of the stream by which we had ridden for the last mile, and another which joined it. Having been led to this spot by what an amusing modern writer is pleased to designate the Pseromania, the most ferny spots had the greatest powers of attraction. By more than one fallen tree did we cross rills hastening through the wheat field between their steep high banks, till the paling fence was reached. Here for a while bidding adieu to my companions, I left the comparative civilisation of the farm for the unbroken solitude.
Rocks, impeding the course of the stream, lashed the water into puny wrath, now leaping exultingly over an obstacle, again creeping beneath it - a curious churning, gurgling sound was the result, fit music for these sylvan solitudes, sombre with heavy shadows. On the edge, and even in the stream, grow Alsophilia Australis and A. offinis, Todea barbara, etc., with numerous lesser ferns, which cluster beneath their arborescent compeers, while the stones are green with Hymerophyllum and Jungermannia.
The stems only of the large cabbage-trees remain, but numerous small palmate leaves indicate the presence of young trees. Pensile moss-woven nests, attached to the extremities of the branches of trees or creepers, swayed above the stream, and their little builders flitted about them in all the importance of nesting season. The walk through the harvest field was varied by a rather large black snake crossing the path, which little interlude kept the attention awake till we remounted. [171]
A rather abrupt and rocky path led up the hill, and we soon passed from the luxuriant and pretty vale to the thick scrub of a sandstone range. Here the advantages of a guide who thoroughly knew the country, and who could appreciate fine scenery, was experienced.
Pursuing the top of the range I presently descried with satisfaction the fine species of dwarf palm which obtains on the Shoalhaven River. While our obliging guide was seeking for nuts, some lyre birds (Menura superba) were disturbed, but continued to whistle and flutter about in much agitation till we resumed the order of march. Suddenly the thick scrub gave way, and the summits of distant mountains appeared. Hardly were the words uttered "We will alight here," before the ground was trodden, and eager steps pressing forward to the edge of the valley of the Grose.
There are scenes which baffle description when we can only feel like - 
- stout Cortes, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent upon a peak in Darien.
Something of that hushed wonder for a moment held us spellbound, and then came the deep heartfelt, "Beautiful, how beautiful - how grand."
We stood on a rock looking down into the deep gorge, through which flowed a turbulent stream, yellow and froth-laden from recent inundations, while tributaries, which in their course clove asunder the mountains, dashed down the steeps. The heights are wooded to their summits with grand masses of yellow sandstone varying them, and the rich greens of Backhousia myrtifolia, Pittosporum, and Tasmania aromatica indicating the course of the various rills. After having brought the sketch book into requisition, we mounted our horses and rode through a scrubby piece of country, not without interest to the botanical student, to another spur of the mountain, from whence we again obtained a fine view of the Grose, perhaps hardly so striking as the first point of view, or else the repetition of the scene had lost its first startling effects.
Down the right-hand ranges fall the waters of Burrolow, and to the left is Springwood; through the furthermost part of the gorge we catch a glimpse of a distant cone - Mount Hay, perhaps.
On our return we did not descend to the lovely Cabbage-tree Hollow, but, pursuing a marshy stream, turned from thence across to a surveyor's road leading through a casuarina country till we reentered the farmlands, and exchanged the grandeur of the vast scenes, the great depths and dense woods of the other localities for the sunny homes of the South Kurrajong. - As we purposed to devote the remainder of the day to further explorations, the kind invitation of one of our companions to dine at her house, was cordially accepted, and, having been in the saddle almost uninterruptedly from nine till after three o'clock, her hospitality was well appreciated. [172] Quite refreshed and in excellent spirits we started up the mountain, and again bade soon farewell to the homesteads of man, and turned our backs on orange groves and vine-covered porches to pursue a shady road, which quickly led us up the range. The road, being in use to draw timber from the mountains, is broad and good, and offers a pleasant riding ground. Numerous bellbirds made the brush vocal.
After reaching the summit, the road leads over and along the opposite decline; from hence it is not in use for wheeled vehicles. It was originally cut by the former proprietor of Burrolow, and is the only means by which vehicles can gain access to the valley. The scene gains in interest as we proceed, high rocks rising on one side, Pipeclay is found in the road, and extolled as very pure, an old woman who was collecting it for the use of the cleanly housewives of the Kurrajong was recently lost, and exposed to a wet night.
The atmospherical effects upon the rocks increases in interest. In one place a mass has fallen from the cliff, and rolling so close beside the path exhibits an aperture about eighteen inches in diameter, which communicates with an extensive cavity occupying the centre of the boulder.
During a great part of this ride the forest is very dense, and the path is over arched with luxuriant vegetation, the trees being so festooned by creepers as at times to threaten to put a stop to further progress. Some rills of water cross the path, and the whole place is very humid and shady. When expecting shortly to descend into the valley, this path was found impeded by a fallen tree, and, therefore, leaving it, we wound through the scrub to the margin of the stream - the same which, much augmented, we had traced with the eye in its headlong course into the Grose. Many beautiful flowers adorn this portion of Bunolone. The vale is here contracted and wooded, but a short ride led us to the more clear land and ruined dikes - the evidences of what had been - and thence, by the usual narrow stony path, we wound up the hill, leaving the valley already grey with evening hues, though the sun shone brightly on the mountain tops.

A lady, her family, a friend, and several servants, among others a black boy, had occasion to perform a journey which, though not long, was rendered tedious by the nature of the ground traversed. So steep were the mountains, so unbridged the streams, that no vehicle could cross them. Goods were therefore conveyed on pack-saddles placed on the backs of bullocks trained to the work. [173] The party, excepting the drivers, were mounted on horseback. The first fifteen miles accomplished, not without great fatigues, dangers, and delays, the cavalcade reached the descent of the M - Mountain. The pass had been improved by cutting steps down the face of the rocks, and the oxen, accustomed to such scenes, stumbled down as they best could, while the horses groaned audibly, trembled, and even in some instances sunk powerless on the dangerous declivity, not encouraged by the sight of the gully yawning at the side of the narrow road.
Coaxing, shouting, and other exertions of will surmounted this difficulty, and the party proceeded briskly, leading their horses; the pack bullocks and their drivers soon falling into the rear. The nature of the country had entirely changed, the barren sand had given place to vegetable mould; the flowering scrub to a dense semi-tropical thicket; the sun's rays were obscured by the over-arching branches, or fell like mosaic upon the moss green stones and ferns. The cabbage-palms stretched their slender stems above the tangled copse and looked up at the face of heaven; the tree ferns, elkshorn and birds-nest ferns revelled in the humid shades. The shrieks of the blue mountain and king parrots gave life to the green wood, and every stream was occupied by frogs which vied with each other in their shrill-toned croaking.
Onward trudged the travellers, hastening to the foot of the mountain where they were to encamp for the night. Darkness gathered round early in that deep narrow vale, where mountains rose abruptly on either side of the creek. Persons who travelled these parts with stock had erected a yard near the little stream on a small level, to secure their cattle in during the night, and near this the party sat them down, after lighting a fire, awaiting the arrival of the tents, provisions and servants, for only the black boy Charley had accompanied them. But total darkness closed above them, and the absentees came not; all ears were strained to catch the first sound of them; conversation had flagged, then ceased.
During this anxious hush the fire had died down - it was a darkness which could be felt - when suddenly appeared a small light, scarcely larger than a spark. "Charley, what is that?' enquired several tremulous voices.
"Debel debel, I believe," returned the lad in a tone as if his teeth were chattering. On came the light, about two feet from the ground.
"Nonsense, Charley; what can it be?"
Charley again hinted the possibility of the presence of his Satanic Majesty - while the little luminous speck crept cautiously onward towards the horror-struck group.
"Can it be a bushranger?" whispered the lady. "I believe so, missus," returned the aboriginal. [174] 
A bushranger with a lighted pipe in his mouth, about to fire upon the helpless victims, rendered visible by the flickering of a tongue of flame in the fire, while darkness concealed him, and goodness knows how many more! All this presented itself to the assembled imaginations. The lady fainted, the young people were panic-struck, Charley equally so. The gentleman who was recently from England, and entirely unused to bush life, although then on his way to inspect a station, prior to entering on possession, entered into the general alarm, but surmounted it so far as to throw some dead branches on the almost expiring fire. A bright blaze shot up, illuminating the surrounding scene - not revealing a band of brigands, but setting the light flickering in a way that bore evidence of its insect origin.
Inspired by new courage, active exertions were made, and a small brown beetle about three lines long captured; the light appeared to be emitted from a pale yellow spot on the under part of the body.
Still the men and the pack bullocks did not arrive; the chill dews of evening were falling, and no tents erected, no supper to refresh and invigorate the weary travellers. There is nothing like sitting in the dark watching, and listening, to provoke or evoke fear. Spite of the bushranger turning out a little beetle, fear held possession of all hearts, when presently was heard the tramping of heavy feet; one of the pack bullocks was running wildly down the mountain, dragging behind him a heavy body.
Again the black was applied to, as being better provided with bush lore, not courage, for he was overpowered by cowardice and superstition. In reply to a volley of questions he expressed an opinion that the bullock had killed his driver, and was dragging his lifeless body behind him. The ghastly suggestion was received in all faith, everyone being too horror-struck to reflect that as the driver was in no way attached to the bullock's harness, he would not be dragged.
On rushed the animal, concealed by the darkness, plunged into the creek, and hurried to the stockyard where it was in the habit of being released from its load. There was a pause, as of death - again were heard hurried feet, and again. The three pack bullocks had assembled at the yard, each dragging something behind them - their loads, suggested some one; and so it proved.
Now came the drivers and related the cause of their detention. A bright fire, warm cup of tea and the snug canopy of the tent, disposed the travellers to acknowledge "that there is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous".
As the family, who formed the greater number of the party, were intending to make rather a lengthy stay when they reached their destination - a cattle station - they had brought with them a very important member of the household, no less a one than a pet bear. This rather portly gentleman had been accommodated with a seat in a pannier, and swung on one side of the pack saddle, while, "to make the balance true", a hamper of earthenware and a writing desk were suspended on the other side. [175] 
Whatever were Master Maugie's thoughts on this occasion, he had manifested that philosophy which usually marked his actions and given no expression to them, till he found his bearer descending the steep mountainside. This was too much for any choleric gentleman, who had nerves. Maugie waxed wrath, and stuck his long claws through the wicker-work into the bullock's back, no doubt intending 'to make assurance doubly sure," but such a one-sided arrangement did not suit the ox; he began to run, the shaking causing Maugie to roar aloud, much to the horror of the bovine trio, who thereupon ran away, scattering such of their load as was insecure along the road, breaking the fragile, to wit, the earthenware, and releasing the bear, who speedily made his way up a tree. The drivers being unable to coax him down, felled it - a work of some time, trusting to the bullocks keeping the right road, and then had to secrete such of the loads as were scattered about, by which time night had closed in.
The bear, it must be understood, was neither the great polar, nor the Russian black, the Californian brown, or the North American grizzly bears, but only a phascolarctus fuscus, of leaf-eating habits, not given to hugging its prey, and a drug in the bears-grease market. And thus ends this "o'er true tale".