Frederic C. (Frederic Chambers) Spurr.

Five years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions online

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season, and they looked quite cheerful after the effort.
One farmer printed a notice to the effect that his
profits on eggs alone during the year had been ,441.
Intimations of that kind provoke serious thought in
many directions. But the produce ! It was a perfect
revelation of the wealth of the country. The average
Englishman, coming out here for the first time,
would not believe that any State could produce the
variety that these States produce. The point to be
observed is that this wonderful productiveness is the
fertility of a country not long cleared. And the
further point to be noted is that there is very much
more to follow as the country develops. Perhaps
the most interesting thing in the show was the various
collections of exhibits from societies or groups, re-
presenting the produce of a certain district. The
whole of the produce of the district was shown in
sample. Think of one limited area producing wheat
yielding thirty-six bushels for every bushel and a
quarter of seed oats, barley, maize, peas, rye grass,
linseed, hemp, mangolds, beetroot (nearly half a yard
long), sugar beet, carrots, onions, turnips, cabbage,
potatoes (many weighing more than a pound), apples,
lemons, nuts, olive oil, meal, poultry, eggs, wool,
wine, bacon, butter and honey. That is the product
of one district only. The place seems capable of pro-
during everything. Honey is the thing that imposes
itself upon one. It is a great country for honey. In

1 86

The Annual Shows

the bush it flows wild and men gather it in bucketfuls.
And where it is cultivated it is cheap enough, being
about one-third the price of English honey. Of
course, all this means that industries are springing
up everywhere. Australia has its own condensed
milk factories ; it dries its own raisins, makes its own
chutney, and sauces, and jams, and tins fruit for
home use and export.

I said there is more to follow. The science of
agriculture is being developed. There are State
Schools' competitions, which include samples of
forestry, fruit trees, grains, forage and roots, grasses
and clovers, potatoes, fibres, vegetables, honey, etc.
But the competitors must describe as well as exhibit.
They must be able to answer questions on soils and
produce, and they must be able to make models. The
whole trend of agricultural education is scientific.

The folk at home do not know all this. They
ought to know. Now that a Land Act is in operation,
and the big estates are being cut up, we may expect a
great boom in agriculture. People will then be
wanted from the Old Country. There is plenty of
room, and a population is imperatively needed. But
let none go over until the gong sounds.




THE day had been intolerably hot. A copper haze
hung over the landscape, weighing upon it with the
solemnity of a funeral pall. All life was weary. The
leaves of the blue gum tree drooped in a manner un-
usual for them. The flowers hung their heads upon
their stalks as if the oppression of the atmosphere was
insupportable, and the day for the shattering of the
fragile floral vase had arrived. Men returned home
from their labour, and after the evening meal refused
to stir out either to concert, lecture, theatre, or enter-
tainment of any kind. It was a north wind day of a
peculiarly unpleasant type, followed by a still more
unpleasant evening. Then came a lull. A deathly
silence reigned over the city and suburbs. A curious
veil of murky cloud overspread the face of the sky.
In the bedroom the thermometer registered over 90
degrees. We glanced at the glass and thanked God
that our beds were outside in the open air. But even
there the heat was oppressive. The little lad, always
so careful to cover up his body, had flung off all the
coverings from his bed, and lay exposed to the air
of the night. It was a night when to woo the god-
dess of sleep was next to impossible. The hours

1 88

A Dust Storm in Summer

passed by eleven, twelve, one. Still no sleep.
Still that terrible oppression. Still that suffocating

And then, in a moment of time, without the least
warning or premonitory sign, there came a change
such as Englishmen never experience in their own
country. It was a sudden roar, a descending blast,
a tempest unchained. The storm literally burst upon
us. It was an explosion, instantaneous and complete.
The great trees around us were suddenly seized by
the mysterious and invisible power of the storm, and
bent and rocked and shaken and twisted in a manner
terrifying to behold. The wind travelled, so we
learned the next day, at the mad speed of sixty-five
miles an hour.

The entire neighbourhood appeared to be seized
in the grip of a storm fiend which wreaked its venge-
ance upon everything that lay in its path. Balconies
upon which men slept were shaken as if some malign
power determined to wreck them. Out into that
storm I stepped, clad only in pyjamas. The terror
of it fascinated me, held me spellbound, compelled me
to share it. It was a tourmente of the Alps repeated
in the streets of a Southern city, but with clouds of
dust in place of clouds of snow. The cold air from
the South encountering the hot air of the languishing
city created an aerial funnel which sucked up the
debris of the streets into its enormous mouth. That
dust ! Can I ever forget it ? It blotted out from my
vision the brilliant light of the electric lamps. It
obscured the houses across the wide streets. It black-


Five Years under the Southern Cross

ened the country beyond, and made the dark night a
scene of terror. Steadily the temperature dropped
until within half an hour the glass registered twenty-
five degrees less than it did at midnight. Then
the heavens began to blaze and the thunder to roar.
From a dozen points at once the lightning broke
forth. Crash after crash of thunder shook the house.
And still the choking dust mounted high into the air.
Would the rain never descend and give us once more
a clear atmosphere ? One short, sharp, tropical storm
of rain, one welcome deluge, and this dust fiend would
be laid for the time. The inky clouds could not pro-
mise so much benediction and after all mock us !

The lightning ceased as suddenly ^s it com-
menced. The last peal of thunder sounded, and still
no drop of rain fell. Meanwhile the storm of wind
and dust recommenced, this time with increased fury.
It drove all outdoor sleepers within doors. Beds were
hastily dragged from balconies into bedrooms. Lights
were seen in nearly every room within the line of
vision. The cries of startled children mingled with
the furious screaming of the wind. It was a night of
horror and of fear. For three hours the tempest
raged, and then, in a moment of time, it ceased with
dramatic suddenness. The dust gradually fell again
to the ground from which it had been drawn. The
face of the sky cleared, and the stars shone out. The
atmosphere became chilly, and discarded blankets
were once more drawn over shivering persons, half
asleep and half awake. The tourmente had spent


A Dust Storm in Summer

From out of a brazen sky the sun shone down next
morning upon a scene of wreckage. Trees were up-
rooted, fences torn down, shrubs destroyed, flowers
broken from their stalks and left dead upon the
ground. Gardens looked as if some demon had
wrought his evil will upon them during the night.
Poor broken lilies, prostrate roses, crushed herbs,
wounded by that cruel storm ! The house within was
enveloped in a mantle of fine dust. Nothing had es-
caped. It was but yesterday that the entire establish-
ment was clean and attractive; this morning it is a
scene of desolation, a place over which a woman can
only shed tears. The rain had not descended : we
must set to work and clean up the house and hope for
the merciful showers from heaven to come and wash
the face of that Nature which the storm has so be-

A storm so bad as this may not occur again for
weeks or months. Once in a lifetime is sufficient.
It represents the unpleasant side of Nature in a sub-
tropical country. Seasoned Colonials, while they
dislike these terrible outbursts of Nature in the South,
console themselves that these dust storms are nothing
in comparison with the dust storms of the north.
"You should go to Broken Hill to know what dust
can do," said one of them; "a dust storm there is
terrible." But that of this awful night is quite bad
enough for me.




WHILE it may be far from exact to say, with certain
modern philosophers, that climate creates and ex-
plains religions, it is undoubtedly true that climate
exercises a modifying effect upon certain of the
traditional observances of religion. Christmas is a
case in point. A man brought up in a northern
clime associates the great festival with the shortest
day, and often with the sharpest weather. Keen
frost, deep snow, biting winds, roaring fires, bare
gardens these are the framework of his Christmas.
His thought transfers these wintry conditions to the
Holy Land, and he pictures the great Birth as having
occurred amidst the rigours of a northern winter.
In this he is probably wrong, but it is an error
taught him by his native soil, and from which often
he has not sufficient knowledge or imagination
to free himself. Christmas and cold are to him

When such a man crosses the seas and lives for
a time in a tropical or a sub-tropical climate, he
finds it exceedingly difficult to adjust himstelf to
the new Christmas conditions. He finds his new
Christmas so utterly different from anything he


Christmas in Australia

has hitherto experienced, that the observance of the
festival smacks of unreality. It is now midsummer
with him; the days of the year are at their longest;
the fireplaces are filled with shavings, or discreetly
hidden from view by painted screens. The winds
that blow come with fiery breath, the gardens are
blooming with summer flowers, and the orchards are
filled with fruit trees bearing their ripened produce.
It requires a particularly powerful imagination to
surmount this actual Christmas and to replace it by
the traditional Christmas of the Old Land. And
this kind of imagination I do not possess.

It was an announcement in a large shop in Collins
Street that first made me aware of the proximity of
Christmas : " Christmas Presents for the Folks at
Home the last English mail in time for Christmas
leaves Melbourne on Nov. 19." Thus ran the notice.
And it struck me in a most curious manner. The
calendar distinctly pointed to Christmas, but the
weather and the gardens and the general surroundings
whispered mockingly: "This is nearing midsummer;
the longest day is coming. Christmas is a fiction
poor Englishman, there is no Christmas for you ; get
out your duck suits and straw hat, and prepare for
picnics and a summer holiday." And then I knew
that I must walk by faith and not by sight. For
the first time in my life Christmas became empty of
meaning. All the sentiment of it vanished in a
moment. I was alone, an actor in the midst of a
stage devoid of scenery. Every single "property"
of the great Christmas festival slowly accumulated

N 193

Five Years under the Southern Cross

during more than forty years of life had been carried
away in an instant. Blazing logs, crackling fires,
merry parties, mysterious stockings, frosty window
panes, keen air, snow-covered ground, and, above
all, the waits all had gone, carried off by the
magician who lives on this side of the Equator.

And immediately Collins Street, for the moment,
became a place of exile. Its light turned to darkness,
its charm fled. I turned to the dear little woman at
my side, and I saw that her face was wet with tears.

We had to encounter a new kind of Christmas,
and when the first shock was over we settled to the
idea, and determined to have a good time. "But
why not have the old and the new ? " we said. If
space had placed 13,000 miles between us and the
Christmas we love so well, space could not im-
prison our thoughts. So we determined to fly to the
Old Country and have an old-fashioned English
Christmas. In a moment of time we were in
Carnage's, showing the children the wonderful toys.
Then we shopped in Regent Street, and afterwards
went to Maskelyne and Devant's, and later took the
train into the country. We watched the snow fall,
and afterwards did some snowballing. We went to
church, and sang hymns and carols. And then
came dinner and the family party. We had a real
good time, until the maid came and said: "There's
a north wind, madam. I am going to close the
windows." And in a moment we were back to our
own Christmas, with the thermometer registering a
little over ninety degrees.


Christmas in Australia

That north wind needs a word of explanation.
It is the sirocco of Victoria. Its hot breath is
heralded by a day or a night of depression. And
when it arrives it is pitiless. Great clouds of dust
come with it, making life unbearable. Like a funeral
pall the dust hangs over everything. The skin
becomes hot and dry, and everybody is out of temper.
It is useless to fight the north wind. The only
thing to be done is to run away from it by closing
up the house and hermetically sealing every window
until the calamity is overpast. When the change
comes and the wind veers to the south, the relief is
unspeakably precious. The temperature will drop
sometimes no fewer than thirty-five degrees in half
an hour. And then it is that influenza is likely to
be contracted. I said the thermometer registered
ninety degrees; that was when the north wind com-
menced to blow. But at midday the mercury had
mounted up to one hundred degrees in the shade.
It was terrible. The wind was as the breath of a
fiery oven. The trees drooped, the flowers hung
lifeless upon their stalks, the grass of the lawn turned
brown in an hour, and the parched earth gaped and
gasped. Over the entire sJoil there quivered the
fateful shimmer of the heat. Men and birds and
beasts were smitten with an overwhelming languor.
It was the African desert over again without relief.
Little wonder, then, on the next day, the journals
reported fires in every direction. One single spark
sufficed to set an entire countryside on fire. Enor-
mous crops of wheat, ripe and ready to be reaped,

Five Years under the Southern Cross

were consumed by the flames in a single morning.
Useless to fight that raging furnace ! Once the first
fiery tongue leapt from one stalk to another the
whole area was doomed. In one part of Victoria
the bush and wheat-field fires devastated fifty miles
of country.

Thus our Christmas week opened. After that all
Christmas ceremony was obviously mere stage acting.
Yet the form was rigorously observed. Cards were
exchanged and presents given. But such presents !
Take the following alluring notices, for example, and
let anyone imagine how they struck an Englishman
for the first time :

"New sunshades and parasols splendid presents
for Christmas." "New summer hats just the thing
for a Christmas present." "Indian muslins, just
arrived nothing better for a Christmas present." It
was all lost upon me. For parasols I insisted upon
reading "umbrellas"; for summer hats, "furs and
snow-boots"; for Indian muslins, "warm West of
England tweeds " habits like mine cannot be broken
in a moment. Of course, there are toy fairs arranged
for the youngsters, and there is even a pretence of
having Father Christmas in traditional garb. But
what can the white-bearded, frosted patriarch mean
to children who have never seen snow and whose
patriarchs are sunburnt with long exposure to the
atmosphere in the hot Bush ?

Most of all I miss the poultry display. Those
long lines of turkeys and geese killed a week in
advance of Christmas, and exhibited in enticing


Christmas in Australia

fashion until Christmas Eve ! we have none of that
here. Imagine a turkey being hung day after day
for a week in an atmosphere like this I There is
one display, and that is on Christmas Eve, and
even that one is modest compared with what we
have been accustomed to in the Old Country. The
birds are not killed until the last minute, hence they
are not so tender as English turkeys. It is mere
slavery, this traditional eating of turkey and plum-
pudding at Christmas time; but the older folk here
permit themselves to be willing victims of custom.
It is turkey and plum-pudding at home; then it
shall be that here, so they argue. Climate and
season protest against it, but in vain. One family
of which I heard drew down their blinds one Christ-
mas, and lit the gas, and ate their Christmas dinner
under artificial light. It was the nearest approach
they could make to the Old Country way.

The younger generation is making the daring ex-
periment of trying to abandon the English Christmas,
and to replace it by an Australian festival. They
argue that the transplanting of Northern customs to
these hot climes is ridiculous, and that whereas rich
and heavy meals may be in place at Christmastide in
a climate where snow and frost are found, they are
utterly out of place here under azure-burning skies.
Some plants will not bear transplanting, and this is
one of them. The Yule-log and furs have never
established themselves here at midsummer, neither
should the turkey and plum-pudding be permitted to
do so. Hence the young Australian is quietly drop-


Five Years under the Southern Cross

ping the traditional Christmas fare, and substituting
for it ices, cool drinks, and fruit. And as peaches and
apricots are now selling at one penny per pound, he
finds it advantageous, in more ways than one, to ac-
cept the natural boon of the country rather than the
artificial one of tradition.

A new Christmas is being born in which the old
spirit is finding fresh forms more consonant with the
climate. God forbid that the old spirit should ever

The great heat which ushered in our last Christmas
week in Australia was exceptionally trying during the
hours of public worship. For many, church-going
was out of the question. People remained at home,
seeking coolness in darkened houses. Those who
ventured out to church on the Sunday morning had
to travel in stifling railway carriages, or walk over
baking pavements. Within the church electric fans
were moving, together with a multitude of hand fans.
At first it is distracting to a preacher to speak to hun-
dreds of people who are fanning themselves; after
a time, however, neither preacher nor audience takes
any notice of the motion. The feminine portion of
the congregation is clad wholly in white; the men
affect light cashmeres, tweeds, or tussore silk.
Scarcely a black hat is seen. "Topees," tropical
helmets, and straws are the order of the day. At
night the church was full for a special Christmas
service. But everybody was languid. The hymns
were sung without the usual enthusiasm. The great
heat had, for the time being, ruined the organ, which


Christmas in Australia

remained silent. The poor preacher used up a hand-
kerchief or two in the effort to keep his face dry.
Then it was that the incongruity of keeping the tradi-
tional Christmas under the Southern Cross was mani-
fest in its fullest form. For the choir stood and sang
the carol, beginning :

"See amid the winter snow,"

and the thermometer registered over ninety degrees !
They sang again Rossetti's beautiful song,

"In the bleak mid-winter,"

and the great organ solemnly protested that it had
been ruined temporarily by midsummer heat.

No ! it is useless to try and link up a Northern
Christmas with our Australian climate. The effort
miserably fails.

Christmas Day, however, compensated us for all
the trying heat of the previous week. There came
one of those dramatic changes in temperature for
which Melbourne is noted. In one hour the glass fell
nearly thirty degrees. A "southerly buster" broke
over us without warning, and when the dust storm
had passed people were glad to put on thicker cloth-
ing. And so it came to pass that Christmas Day was
chilly. The tempest broke up the heat and gave
weather less than normal. With the cooler tempera-
ture, goose and plum-pudding seemed more in place
than in former years. But how could there be an
English Christmas Day when the light remained until
half-past eight? Before the kindly darkness came


Five Years under the Southern Cross

on, the little people, who "at home " would have been
busy with the Christmas-tree, were yawning and in-
quiring after bed.

One can never forget these Christmas days under
the Southern Cross, but to experience the ancient
sentiment of Christmas one must be in the ancient




IT is intensely interesting in a new country like Aus-
tralia to watch the evolution of the aristocracy. The
process is very rapid. That old idea about ten
generations being necessary to make a gentleman
has no countenance in that part of the world. Ten
years or less now suffice. It is all a question
of money-bags, and money is made with great
ease and rapidity in Australia at least by some.
A heavy gamble in land will change a man of
moderate fortune into a wealthy person. Indeed,
when one comes to look into the matter, quite a large
number of the people in Australia who are to-day
extremely rich owe their wealth not to trading of
any kind but to a gamble with land. They came
out in the early days, and obtained land for nothing
at all, or next to nothing. The Government of that
time had no foresight, nor backsight either. Crimin-
ally forgetful of the iniquitous land laws of the old
world, they did not scruple to transfer these to the
new soil, and so lay the foundation of serious trouble
in the days to come. Men who paid a ten-pound note
for a piece of land were enabled to sell it some years
later for a fabulous sum, with the consequence that to


Five Years under the Southern Cross

the end of time the public must pay increased prices
for the wares it purchases. In Collins Street, for
example, land which was once ten pounds an acre is
now sold at twelve hundred sovereigns per foot, and
at the chemist's shop in that street we must pay half-
a-crown for a bottle of mixture which in England
would be sold for ninepence !

But, of course, the public does not count ; it merely
looks on, suffers, and pays, while the land gambler
is clothed with purple and fine linen, and fares sump-
tuously every day. And that brings me back to this
gentleman, now in the guise of an aristocrat, but often
bearing marks of the clay out of which he has
fashioned himself. The evolution of the aristocrat
out here, I was saying, is rapid. A few years, and
his children obliterate all traces of their father's
former life. The old deal is stained and varnished,
and appears as excellent mahogany. As I gaze upon
this throng of well-dressed people, and remember
their beginnings, I perceive a mirror of the world,
"Queen Anne in front and Mary Ann behind." It is
not their success that offends so much as their veneer
and pretence. These people conveniently forget their
humble origin. They assume important airs which
ill fit them. They gather themselves together into a
close corporation from which the unmoneyed are ex-
cluded. When they marry their weddings are de-
scribed as "fashionable" weddings. A nod from
Government House is their beatitude. An English
title is worshipped by them., It is all very comic to an
Englishman, this bid for place and fame. Aristo-


Social Life in Australia

cratic pretence in England is bad enough, where
family pedigrees count for something; it is vulgar
here*, where many of the pretenders have no pedigree
at all. Australia has the chance to maintain a pure
and wholesome democracy of the highest type ; it will
be a pity if she forfeits it.

Over against this crowd of would-be aristocrats
there must be placed a smaller and nobler company of
people who, ascending from humble life, have never-
theless preserved their simplicity, their modesty, and
their Christianity. They are amongst the very best
men of Australia, admired by all who can appraise

The great social season begins at the end of
October. Everybody who is anybody must now go
to milliner, dressmaker, tailor, and bootmaker, and
henceforward, until the end of the season, appear in
public places with the great. Dinners, luncheons,
"five o'clocks," balls, and all kinds of reunions serve
to assemble our new aristocracy. Government House,

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Online LibraryFrederic C. (Frederic Chambers) SpurrFive years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions → online text (page 12 of 18)