Finch-Hatton discusses the relative health benefits of city and country living, Brisbane, and travel. Coastal towns, heavy drinking, "Musca", women, shouting, Brisbane, railway, Cobb & Co., ship to Sydney.
Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, lies about twenty-five miles from the coast, on the river of the same name. The town is rather prettily situated on some high ridges sloping down to the river. Except in point of size, all coast-towns of Queensland are pretty much alike, and are certainly not pleasant places to live at. They have all the disagreeables of town as compared with country life, and none of the advantages which are to be found in the older-established towns of Sydney and Melbourne. I never knew anyone who was obliged to live in a Queensland coast-town who did not complain of his lot, and wish himself elsewhere; and no Bushman will every stay a day longer in one of them than he can help. This is not to be wondered at, for the heat and dust in summer are intolerable, and flies and mosquitoes abound. There are hardly any places of amusement of any kind, and the consequence is that in order to kill time, and to counteract the depressing effects of the climate, most of the inhabitants drink a great deal more than is good for them.
Nothing is more common than to hear a charge of drunkenness brought against Bushmen, as if they as a class possessed a monopoly of this vice. That there are drunkards in the Bush is beyond all question, but that they are as numerous in proportion to the population as they are in the towns is very doubtful. Neither is their method of drinking, though equally deplorable, by any means as destructive to health as that pursued by the inhabitants of the towns.
In the first place, a man working hard in the open air can consume with perfect impunity an amount of alcohol that would soon finish off a man leading a less healthy life.
In the second place, the Bush drunkard works hard for his cheque, adjourns to the nearest public-house, and, having drunk it out, returns to work again, to recruit his health and refill his pocket. "Though this be madness, there is method in it."
Now the town drunkard, and many who would be inexpressibly shocked to hear themselves described as such, indulge in a series of "nips," the frequency of which increases to such an alarming extent, that at last the fleeting remnant of their brain is barely equal to the effort of elaborating an excuse for swallowing another nobbler.
It is the undivided opinion of medical men that this habit of soaking is far more injurious to the system than getting occasionally drunk. Either is bad enough, of course. Like Cassio, "we could well wish that courtesy would devise some other custom of entertainment." It is only the fallacy of upholding the sobriety of the towns in Australia against that of the Bush that I wish to draw attention to.
In the columns of the Queenslander I read not long ago a most deplorable description of life in the Bush by an old colonist who signed himself "Musca." Anyone who read it would come to the conclusion that Bushmen are the only men alive who really know how to drink and to swear.
After drawing a most romantic picture of the benign influence of a "fair and virtuous woman" upon the destiny of man, and deploring her absence in the Bush, "Musca" next proceeded to lay down the extraordinary doctrine that the hardships and privations which the pursuit of duty in the Bush entails must end in "moral degradation."
This prepares us for his no less startling theory that the "comforts, luxuries, and enjoyments of a town life" are more conducive to health than working in the Bush. The first of these fallacies is so ridiculous as to need no answer. If the second required one, it would assuredly be found in a glance at the relative physiques of the inhabitants of the Bush and of the towns. Health is as conspicuous by its presence in the one as it is by its absence in the other.
How many men have I seen who, having exchanged a life of roughing it in the Bush for the "comforts, luxuries, and enjoyments of a town," have exchanged with it the exterior of an athlete for that of an anatomical specimen creeping about to save the expense of a funeral. Really I should be ashamed to quote such rubbish, but for the fact that "Musca" is unfortunately only a type of a large class who endeavour to represent the Bush as a place entirely unfit to live in.
In extolling the influence of a "fair and virtuous woman," we must all sympathise with "Musca," and with him regret that her presence in the Bush is not more frequent than it is. But we must also remember that all women are not fair, neither are all women virtuous.
Woman's influence, equally potent for either, is more frequently exerted for evil than for good. Were we to compare the instances where a man's downward career has been arrested with those where his progress to the dogs has been assisted by the fair sex, numerous as are the former, we fear the latter would greatly preponderate. We must conclude, therefore, that the extreme scarcity of muslin in the Bush is not a matter for unconditional regret.
All through Australia, in every class, it is not considered good form for a man to drink by himself. Very few even of the most hopeless drunkards ever do so. The consequence is, that when a man feels inclined for a drink he immediately looks out for someone to drink with him. This accounts in a great measure for the annoyance that is aroused by a refusal.
In America an "Anti-shouting Society" has been formed, the members of which bind themselves never to drink at anyone else's expense. This is a move in the right direction. Without going the length of forming any society, which always argues a conscious weakness on the part of its members, it would be an excellent thing for Queensland, and for Australia generally, if the etiquette of drinking were so far relaxed as to enable a man to refuse to drink when he does not want to without risk of giving offence.
There is no doubt that anyone who put up a really first-rate hotel in Brisbane, and ran it upon sound principles, would soon make an enormous fortune. In the meantime, however, the want of hotels in Brisbane is greatly made up for by the hospitality of the people who live there. For several miles up and down the river the northern bank is dotted with the country houses of those who have business in the town.
Many of these houses are delightfully situated, with lovely gardens sloping down to the river. The cool shade of these gardens is a heavenly change from the blinding glare and dust in the town. Bamboos, orange-trees, lime-trees, bananas, and other fruit-trees abound, and their dark-green foliage is illuminated by the masses of gorgeous colouring from the Boganvillea and other creepers which grow here in perfection.
Brisbane possesses a fair club, and supports a theatre, which is visited by a succession of travelling companies. The chief recreations of the inhabitants are standing on the wharf to see the steamers arrive and depart, or going for a walk with the mosquitoes in the botanical Gardens.
In a few years there will be a railway right through from Brisbane to Sydney. At present (1884) it only extends from Brisbane to Stanthorpe, on the borders of Queensland, leaving a distance of 160 miles to be done by coach to Armadale [sic; Armidale], in New South Wales. From there the railway runs to Newcastle, a town on the coast sixty miles north of Sydney. Between Armadale and Stanthorpe, and between Newcastle and Sydney, the line is in course of construction. The latter section crosses some very rough country.
In the meantime anyone who wishes to see a marvellous performance in the way of four-in-hand driving cannot do better than travel by one of Cobb and Co.'s coaches from Stanthorpe to Armadale. This firm run a perfect network of coaches all over Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria; and their drivers, for a rough country, are probably the finest in the world. It is perfectly extraordinary how these men will remember every bad place, and hole, and stump over a stretch of perhaps fifty miles, so as to be able to avoid them on a dark night, while going ten or a dozen miles an hour. It is not as if the road always kept the same. Violent storms and floods are constantly washing out fresh holes, and blowing down fresh trees, so that the driver has to remember the road from day to day and from night to night. It is possible that something fresh may have happened in the few hours that have elapsed since he last went down the road, but he runs the chance of this with perfect complacency.
On a pitch dark night there is something awesome in the way these mail-drivers slam through the forest, along what is by courtesy called road, but which in places is more like a rocky water-course than anything else. An occasional log, or a fallen tree across the track, prevent the road from being at all monotonous. If a passenger has time to do anything but hold on he will be greatly interested. At every turn of the road the glare of a lamp on each side of him will reveal some obstacle or pitfall, which his pilot contrives to avoid with marvellous dexterity. Sometimes he comes to grief, but not half so often as would seem inevitable to anyone who did not know the capabilities of an Australian mail-driver. An axe and a coil of green hide make him independent of any catastrophe short of smashing a wheel, and when this occurs there is nothing to but to sit down and wait patiently for the arrival of the coach coming the opposite way. They change horses about every ten miles, and, barring accidents, they keep excellent time.
The distance from Brisbane to Sydney is about 500 miles, and ought to be a forty-four hours' run. I have lively recollections of the indefinite way in which it can be prolonged by a bad boat in bad weather.
One Tuesday morning I got on board an old egg-shell fitted with paddle-boxes, described by the advertisements of the A.S.N. as "the magnificent full-powered steamship City of Brisbane, 450 tons, to sail for Sydney at 10 A.M." My heart sank as I observed the stormy appearance of the sky, and noticed the steam escaping in every direction but the right one from the boilers, the authorised pressure on which had been reduced from 60 lbs. to 15 lbs. to the square inch.
Quivering like a leaf, the old tub set off down the river at the rate of a well-conducted funeral, and in the course of a few hours, assisted by the tide, we got outside. The only other passengers besides myself were a Roman Catholic priest, nearly dead with consumption, and a man who went into violent delirium tremens a few hours after we left Brisbane. Anything so utterly depresing as that voyage I never wish to see again. The weather, for the first day, was not bad, and with the help of the great Australian current we got on capitally, and found ourselves nearing Smokey Cape. Then it came on to blow, and got worse and worse till the sea and wind were something startling.
At a very early stage of the gale a big sea smashed the saloon skylight, and left us with about a foot of water on the main deck. The priest was sick with monotonous regularity about twice every three minutes, and with a violence that made itself heard above the howling of the storm. The man with D.T. wandered about yelling and howling horribly, and tumbling up against all the fixtures until he had cut his face out of all resemblance to anything human. With his eyes fixed with horror, and the blood streaming down his face and neck, he presented the most dreary spectacle I every saw. We could do nothing for him, for it was impossible to hold him, and we were at last obliged to put him in irons.
Meanwhile the old boat had managed, in the course of three days and a half, to get down opposite Sydney, but there was such an awful sea on that the captain dared not alter her course to enter the harbour for fear of foundering. It now came on to blow worse than ever, and it is a positive fact that by next morning we had been blown fifty miles back, and found we were nearly opposite Newcastle. Here we lay for thirty hours, without going either backward or forward. Had the wind been a few points more on shore nothing could have saved us, as we were never more than a few miles distant from land. Fortunately there came a lull of a few hours, and we managed to sneak down and run into Sydney just as it came on to blow as badly as ever. We had been five days and a half out from Brisbane, and were running rapidly short of coal.
The man with D.T. expired just as we got into harbour.
Two years afterwards I found the old City of Brisbane still running the same track, the only change in her being a further reduction of 5 lbs. pressure on the boilers. This time it did not blow so hard, and we reached Sydney in three days and three quarters.
Jim Foley || Email me