Frederic C. (Frederic Chambers) Spurr.

Five years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions online

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State of Victoria alone. At the census of 1901 there
were found only 271 natives of pure blood in the
State, and 381 of half-castes. At the census of 1911
it was found that the figures had fallen to 196. If
in fifty years the decrease in population has been so


Five Years under the Southern Cross

marked and so startling, it requires no prophetic gift
to foretell the speedy extinction of the Australian
native. A few more years and not a black will be
left. That terrible law of the survival of the fittest
will again have asserted itself. When, therefore, the
opportunity presented itself to me to see one of the
three native settlements still left in Victoria, of course
I immediately availed myself of it.

Two hours' steady climbing on the railway brings
one to Healesville. And four miles from Healesville
lies Coranderrk, a Government settlement for the
aborigines. Quite off the road lies the colony of
seventy men and women. There is no indication of
its existence other than what is supplied by a finger-
post, which signifies nothing to anyone who does
not know what lies behind the name Coranderrk.
But the site is ideal for a retired residence. It lies
in the centre of a vast amphitheatre of hills, and day
and night a profound silence envelops the colony.
Never a sound from the outside world penetrates the
solitude. The quietness is that of a mausoleum. The
race that inhabits it is slowly dying; what more
fitting as an accompaniment of death than the solemn
stillness which already heralds the eternal stillness of
the tomb ?

There is more than a suggestion of the American
South in this colony. The old men and women,
dressed in an odd mixture of British costumes, might
well be the originals of some of the characters in
"Uncle Tom's Cabin." Black skins, grisly hair, and
light-coloured garments form a curious compound.

Amongst the Aborigines

There is no fashion, no symmetry in any of the
garments. Slouch hats of the Wild West, straw
hats of Bond Street, and old billycock hats make up
the male headgear; while various coloured vests,
trousers, coats, and cravats complete the attire.

The log cabins, some twenty in all, which are
scattered over the settlement, complete the illusion
that, after all, we are in the American South, amongst
the negro population. The one dash of modernity is
supplied by one or two mulattos girls who, clad in
becoming white garments, present a really attractive
picture. These girls treated us to a little service of
song in the humble meeting-hodse which is the
head-quarters of the mission propaganda in the
colony. For all these folk understand English the
younger generation nothing but English and they
all attend church. They are docile and happy, save
for an occasional row, in which the original vernacu-
lar is used with freedom and emphasis. It was touch-
ing to hear these girls of the second generation sing
simple Sankey hymns, and to reflect that the day
must inevitably come when on this Government estate
of 2,400 acres there would be no such songs sung
by native lips. The younger people marry, and
children are born ; but the race is surely dying off.
Some mixed marriages occur, and the offspring of
these are half-castes, who are as little welcomed in
the schools as the pure-blooded native children. One
of them pathetically remarked to me that they were
shunned by the white children. The colour line is
as marked here as in America.


Five Years under the Southern Cross

From the point of view of attractiveness the colony
has much to recommend it. Pasture land surrounds
the houses, and most of the natives keep their own
cows. Everything, of course, is exceedingly simple,
and it is the simplicity that attracts. Laundry work
is done out of doors in a primitive manner. We
found one buxom young lady seated lazily by the
side of a tub in which her clothes lay soaking. She
stretched forth her hands and rubbed her clothes in
a style that suggested that any day next week would
do to finish them. In a little natural basin on the
slope of the hill the water of a rivulet had been
collected into a large bath or reservoir, and the
youngsters congregated about in a way that showed
that they had not lost the instincts of their fathers
for water gymnastics. One very modern touch ap-
peared in the shape of three irregular pieces of wood
arranged as cricket stumps. It was a species of cricket
one might without difficulty have imagined prehistoric
man to have played at. For bat, the youth of Coran-
derrk employed part of a boomerang.

That word reminds me of the remarkably clever
display given to us by the natives of boomerang
throwing. The boomerang is an innocent-looking
weapon which the ignorant would never suspect could
be applied to dangerous work. In appearance it
resembles a rude Tee-square, and each side is about
a foot long. Thrown by an ignorant Briton like
myself the weapon merely careers along the ground
for a space of thirty or forty feet and nothing further
happens, save the ironical laughter of the natives,


Amongst the Aborigines

who receive a demonstration that even a Briton does
not know everything. But when the native throws
it, the weapon accomplishes wonders. It suddenly
becomes alive. It defies all general laws. The black
sends the wood from him in a straight direction,
but lo ! it whistles and sings and describes circles
in the air like a bird, and then suddenly descends
to the earth in a vertical direction, landing at the
very place from which it was projected. When we
saw how easily the thing was done, we all caught
the fever and became boomerang throwers. Lawyer,
doctor, parson, and merchant stood in the field and
went back in an instant to the primitive hunting ways
of the savage. The boomerang is an ugly instru-
ment to play with, however. After a flight of thirty
seconds, during which it gains momentum, it de-
scends like lightning, sometimes where it is not
wanted. The doctor threw his boomerang with such
precision that it returned twice and struck him vio-
lently on the hand the hand that had thrown it.
If boomerang throwing were introduced into England
it would become a perfect craze. It would completely
eclipse the diabolo craze. But then it would be
necessary to increase the number of surgeons and
ambulance men, for a blow from a boomerang might
inflict serious damage.

Another native custom was shown to us, and
proved to be most fascinating. It was the art of the
fire-stick. Here, under our eyes, was exposed the
primitive way of obtaining fire. The apparatus
looked most unpromising. It consisted of a piece of


Five Years under the Southern Cross

soft wood about a foot long and six inches wide, a
piece of dry fibre, and a short, narrow cane made of
hard wood. Placing the cane between the palms of
his two hands, the operator swiftly turned it into the
soft wood beneath with a friction so powerful that the
cane pierced the wood, causing it to smoke. The
air, blowing through the hole thus made, fanned the
spark which, falling upon the dry fibre beneath, set
it on fire. Thus in one minute, by simple friction,
a fire equal to any kindled by a match was blazing.
The process was picturesque and exciting. In that
group of darkies gathered round a piece of wood, a
handful of fibre, and a hard cane, we beheld primi-
tive man engaged in the task of kindling his fire.
It was, for the moment, ancient history incarnate.
And when it was over, a member of our party, draw-
ing forth a box of vestas, remarked, "Good old
Bryant and May." He remembered his mercies, and
was thankful.

The one pathetic scene of the afternoon's visit
was our encounter with the "King" of the natives.
From the distance we observed a venerable figure
approaching. As he came nearer we perceived a
brass plate suspended by a chain around his neck.
The apparition resembled, for all the world, a
facchino of an Italian railway station brass plate
and all. Inscribed upon the tablet was this legend:

King of Birchup.

And this was the deposed chief of the district, van-


Amongst the Aborigines

quished by the white man, chased out of his patri-
mony, and reduced to the proportions of an exile 1
I could not discover the native name of the ancient
chief; it was certainly not Anthony Anderson. Nor
could I discover why he had assumed the name of
Anderson. He was a truly pathetic figure. Skin
black as coal, his hair and beard were nearly white.
The odd costume he affected served only to set off
the antiquity of his own person. An ancient pair
of light trousers, no longer white; a begreased coat;
a flaming red tie with the flame expiring, and a shape-
less billycock hat dyed through and through with
grease such was his dress. The old man wept as
he told us that all the friends of his youth were dead :
he alone was left. Once, in the long ago, he was an
agile chief, master of all that great stretch of property
around the hills. But the white man came, and his
reign was over. All that remains to him is a memory
of the past, and a quiet asylum for the few remaining
months or years of his life. The king wept as he
recited his story, and then bathos ! he asked for a
pourboire and got it. But, then, all kings get their
"tips," some in one way, some in another. And
Anthony Anderson, King of Birchup, was primitive
in his manner of asking that is all.




Two cities of Australia lay claim to the designation
of the "Golden City " Ballarat and Bendigo. Need-
less to say that the cities are rivals, and needless
further to say that I am not so foolish a man as to
enter into any dispute as to which is the better city.
Both cities have been very kind to me, and each
of them has its own peculiar charm. Ballarat is built
upon an eminence many hundreds of feet above the
sea level, while Bendigo is built upon a plain, and
is, therefore, a much warmer place than Ballarat. In
both places gold has been discovered to an enormous
extent, and to-day each city calls itself the golden
city. And there, from that point of view, my inte-
rest in the matter ends.

It was in 1851 that the first gold was found in
Bendigo; and, like so many other things, it was
discovered by accident. A man named Johnston
simply stooped and picked up a nugget of gold, the
glitter of which attracted him. Then some shepherds
saw gold in the roots of a large tuft of grass which
had been washed by the waters of the creek. And


The Golden Cities

with that accidental find the fortunes of Bendigo were
made. A desolate region, uninhabited, became in
an incredibly short space of time a flourishing city.
Like lightning the news travelled that gold had been
found in Bendigo, and at once there was a rush from
all parts of inhabited Australia and from the utter-
most ends of the earth. "Claims" were measured off
to the new-comers, and the desolate plain became a
camp of fever-stricken men, all intent upon securing
as much as possible of the yellow metal that was to
make their fortunes. Men endured any hardship in
order to compass their end. They scarcely lived;
theirs was a bare existence. All they cared for was
the amassing of gold; and when they were satisfied,
or when they had exhausted their "claim," they went
back to the ordinary ways of life some of them set
up for life, others to squander their fortune and to
arrive at a last state worse than their first. The
Bendigo historian says without exaggeration that
gold was dug up almost in bucketfuls. In one
morning two young men sank a shallow hole, and
extracted from it fifty pounds weight of gold.

The face of the earth was scarred and hacked by
pick and shovel until at last it resembled a battlefield,
desolate to the last degree. And to-day, on the site
of the great struggle at White Hills, there is left a
stretch of country filled with sand, and intersected
with numerous gullies through which the cleansing
water once flowed. And as on battlefields men con-
tinually wander in search of relics, so at White Hills
the refuse is to-day subjected to a cyaniding process
L 161

Five Years under the Southern Cross

by means of which the last morsel of gold is com-
pelled to yield itself up.

A year later gold was discovered in Ballarat.

Until that year the country as far as Sydney,
was a gigantic sheep-walk. Houses were few and
far between. The inhabitants of the country around
Ballarat could have been counted quite easily by a
child had one chanced to light upon them. But in
a moment, when the magic word "gold" was pro-
nounced, men sprang, as it were, from the abyss.
Hundreds of fragile tents covered the ground; hun-
dreds of tools were busily employed in digging for
the enriching ore. A township arose, as by miracle,
followed by a city, ever extending its borders, until
to-day there is left, as the result of sixty years' work,
one of the most beautiful cities of Australia. " Ballarat
the beautiful " they name it, and with justice. It is
beautiful. Beautiful for situation ! Its altitude is
1,500 feet above sea level. Snow falls in the winter-
time when at Melbourne the feathers of the sky never
descend. In the summer, when Melbourne is grilling
in the heat, Ballarat remains with a temperate atmo-
sphere. In this springtide the great boulevard is a
flower-garden entrancing and perfumed. The streets
are clean and wide very wide and everywhere im-
posing buildings stand. Temples of prayer, fine
piles of commercial houses, schools and colleges,
institutes, libraries, hospitals, and, above all, statuary
adorn the city. In the mayor's room of the Town
Hall is an old print showing Ballarat in 1852, the
year of the gold fever. Not a house was then erected.


The Golden Cities

The countryside is shown dotted with canvas abodes.
A decade later, a second print shows a large and
flourishing town, laid out after the best models. And
the last photograph reveals a modern, busy city, full
of life and prosperity. It seems to be a dream, this
sudden rise to power. Fifty years leave a city fresh,
with the marks of its making still upon it. Ballarat,
young in years, has somehow acquired the dignity
and solidity of a city twice its age. In the old land
I used to imagine these cities to be of the mushroom
type hastily grown, and with the mark of premature
decay upon them. They are far from that. Ballarat,
type of the gold-made city, is substantial, and it is
built to abide. Another illusion cherished in the old
days was that cities such as this, having sprung out
of filthy lucre, must of necessity possess the mark of
vulgarity. Ballarat shatters that illusion, for with
all its material prosperity it possesses an air of refine-
ment that cannot be mistaken. A high standard of
education is sought. There is a School of Mines,
there are fine colleges, there are scientific and literary
societies, and there is an Eisteddfod. And this last
thing is self-revealing. It means that in some way
or other Welsh influence has been at work. And the
number of Welshmen in Ballarat is explanatory of the
Eisteddfod. With pride, Ballarat people call their
city the Athens of Australia. All that is beautiful
and artistic is encouraged. Annual competitions are
held for the youth of both sexes, and at these there is
wholesome rivalry in song, music, dramatic repre-
sentations, literature, art, on the mental side, while


Five Years under the Southern Cross

upon the physical side the games are held after the
manner of the ancient city which Ballarat would fain
copy. To the golden city come, annually, musicians,
singers, reciters, and wrestlers from all parts of the
Commonwealth. Trophies, prizes, and money are
awarded to the winners. The judges are brought
from England at enormous fees to adjudicate in the
competitions. To quote the words of a municipal
enthusiast, who is speaking sober truth, "a prize won
at Ballarat is the antipodean equivalent in actual dis-
tinction to a trophy won at the Olympian games at
Athens, with the difference that in our festival the
athlete gives pride of place to the young artist in
music and elocution." From all of which it may
justly be inferred that a city built upon gold mines
is not necessarily a vulgar and a bloated city, having
a population whose one ambition is the worship of
the golden calf. It is a happy task to bear this

But the crowning taste of Ballarat is in its
statuary. There is no other city in the Southern
Hemisphere that can boast of so many beautiful
carved figures as Ballarat. The main street of the
city is adorned with statues, amongst which is one of
Moore and another of Burns. The most imposing of
all is the statue of Queen Victoria crowned as Queen
and Empress. Burns and Moore, Scotsman and
Irishman, are not to monopolise the honours of the
poets. Place is to be made for a statue of Shake-
speare. Then happiness will reign, unless the Welsh-
men demand a place. But they have the living


The Golden Cities

Eisteddfod. In the Botanical Gardens there are a
number of figures, the most beautiful of which is the
group by Benzoni, "The Flight from Pompeii." It
is a wonderful conception. Life-like are the mother,
the father and the child, seeking escape from the
terrible rain of dust which falls upon them. The
husband shields the mother with a mantle, while she,
in turn, protects the face of her infant from the piti-
less fire flakes which threaten her little one. It is a
group of which any city in the world might be

Ballarat is thus the destruction of an illusion the
contradiction of the doctrine that a golden city must
be vulgar and self-assertive. The people respect all
who in any way contribute to the good of the com-
munity. I went up to lecture there, and lo ! before
I was aware of what had happened, I found myself
" received " by the mayor, the town clerk, some of
the councillors, and most of the clergy. It was em-
barrassing and they honoured their visitor simply
because it is their way to show respect to any man
who, in their judgment, has a word of helpfulness to
speak to the community. And that function over,
behold, at the door of the Town Hall was a motor-
car in which I was whisked round to be shown the
sights. And all that for a Free Church minister who
had come to lecture to one congregation 1

In the matter of appreciative open-mindedness
Australia has much to teach the mother country. Her
sons listen heartily to any man who brings a living
message to them, independently of his creed or his


Five Years under the Southern Cross

political opinions. A land without a State Church
does lend itself to liberty.

This, then, is the golden city of to-day. But the
making of the city is a veritable romance. All
Ballarat knows its history, yet there is but one solitary
man alive who has seen it all from the beginning.
The sole survivor of the pioneers of 1851 is Mr. James
Oddie. Each year, on September i, it has been the
custom of the survivors to have a banquet in com-
memoration of the discovery of gold in Ballarat. As
the years have advanced the number of attendants at
the banquet have declined, until on September i,
1910, Mr. Oddie alone remained. But he had the
banquet just the same. It was a one-man affair. In
a room at the hotel dinner was served in great state
for one. The guest and host in one was very cheer-
ful. Not a soul save himself touched the meal.
Waiters thoughtfully and longingly looked on while
the veteran ate. Afterwards he gave a speech to the
Pressmen intended for the world beyond, and in that
he recalled the story of the founding of Ballarat.
Melancholy meal ! Mr. Oddie, it goes without say-
ing, is an old man, and it cannot be long before the
annual banquet will end for ever.

The story of the golden city is one of the romances
of the world. A deserted vale, flanked by beautiful
hills, was in a day converted into a camp of fever-
stricken people "yellow fever," as it is sarcastically
styled. From all parts of Australia, from New Zea-
land, from Tasmania, and from Europe thousands of
adventurous spirits found their way to Ballarat. The

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The Golden Cities

first comers marked out their "claims," and forthwith
entered into them to dig up the precious metal.
Thirty ounces of gold per day was the capture of that
earliest party. Like the lepers of Samaria, these for-
tunate men desired to keep to themselves the news of
the great find. But the inevitable newspaper man
came on the spot, and within a few hours a Geelong
newspaper had given the secret to the whole world,
much to the chagrin of certain of the explorers, who
foresaw a distribution amongst many of a treasure
they would fain keep for themselves. In less than a
fortnight after the news had been made public "three
men were left in Geelong and half Melbourne was
on the gold-field." Within three weeks guns were
brought up by a small band of soldiers, and the
scramble for gold was converted into commercial
"prospecting" on licence issued by the Commis-
sioners. The Church followed the Commissioners,
and in a month's time a Methodist church was erected.
For walls there were the trunks of trees, for roof a
piece of tarpaulin.

The springtide was in full beauty; the weather
was settled, hence the primitive church was suffi-
cient for t'he needs of the people. Great nuggets of
gold were unearthed, some of them weighing 134
and 126 ounces. Fortunes were made in a day.
Curious stories are told of the effect of digging. The
Wesleyan church sank bodily into the ground as the
result of undermining. The court house also suffered
wreckage. It was a mad rush by men unpractised in
mining, hence accidents and submergences were fre-


Five Years under the Southern Cross

quent. The amount of gold found in Ballarat in fifty
years was 19,375,000 ounces. The surface gold has
been worked out long ago, and now deep shafts are
sunk, at the bottom of which men work while water
is sprayed upon them. It is said that fabulous wealth
still remains to be discovered in Ballarat, which for
long enough will retain the title of the Golden City.
The one and only battle Australia has ever known
between white men was fought at Ballarat in connec-
tion with the gold-finding. The raising of the price
of the gold-tax incensed some of the diggers, who be-
came riotous, and the Government sent up from Mel-
bourne detachments of two British regiments. On
Sunday morning, December 3, 1854, soldiers and
diggers fought. Life was lost on both sides, the
diggers suffering more heavily than the soldiers. On
the outskirts of Ballarat a monument is erected to the
memory of the fighters. Blood and gold : they have
always gone together, and although little blood was
shed at Ballarat, there was enough of it to keep un-
broken the tradition that the lust of gold means the
loss of something human. Many a man made a
rapid fortune in the early days of Ballarat. Those
halcyon times have passed away. Never again can
the old conditions and the old fever be repeated.

Governments are wiser to-day than formerly.
They do not throw away their gold or their land to
adventurers. The law of honest work is beginning
to apply. Our youth can no longer wander into the
world and pick up nuggets of gold at will. Some of
them try and do this in a modern way by prospecting


The Golden Cities

at gambling. That folly must also pass. The world
will only be happy and fraternal when its gold fever
has passed, and when honest work of brain or hand
shall have taken its place.

It was at Bendigo that I had the new experience of
descending a gold mine. In almost any part of the
world one may descend a coal mine, but a gold mine
is much rarer, and when the opportunity was offered
of seeing the conditions under which the most pre-
cious of all metals is extracted from the earth, I
naturally embraced it immediately.

Once upon a time, within living memory, fifty
years ago, there was no need to penetrate deeply into
the bowels of the earth to discover gold. It lay upon
the surface and just beneath it.

Rarely are surface nuggets found to-day; the
country has been so thoroughly scoured. But ex-
ceptions occur, and as I write there is a note in the
daily papers to the effect that a man picked up a
nugget of gold last week worth ^500. There may
be yet another rush to that neighbourhood.

Deeper and deeper the mines have been sunk.
When the surface and the sub-surface had yielded all
their precious secrets, men went ever farther down in
search of the yellow metal. Sometimes the mines
were a failure and the owners of shares were glad

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Online LibraryFrederic C. (Frederic Chambers) SpurrFive years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions → online text (page 10 of 18)