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4-040 (Raw)

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author,male,Curr, Edward Micklethwaite,63 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Clark, 1977
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4-040-raw.txt — 7 KB

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In the matter of books I believe we were better off than most of our neighbours, though those in our possession had been got together in a haphazard sort of way, at various times and without any idea of making a collection for the bush. However, from a pair of stout wooden pegs in the wall-plate of the sitting-room of our rough, but not uncomfortable, slab hut at Tongala, surrounded by a miscellaneous collection of fire-arms, foils, masks, wooden sabres, fencing gloves, stockwhips, spurs, and other articles which embellished the walls, hung, in the place of honour, some shelves made of bark, on which were ranged our literary treasures. [284] These volumes, our great resource for years against ennui, for want of something new, were read, re-read, and discussed, I cannot say how often. In fact, several of them became studies in our small circle. Amongst them were a number of histories, ancient and modern, Bourrienne's "Napoleon", Segur's "Flistoire de Napoleon et de la Grande Armée", O'Meara's "Voice from St. Helena", "The Court and Camp of Bonaparte", "The Aihambra, or New Sketch Book"; the plays of Racine, Corneille, and Moliere; the poetical works of Milton, Shakespeare, Byron, Tommy Moore, Scott, and Burns.
There were also several of the Waverley Novels, some of them in French translations, "Travels in the East", by Lamartine, Stephens, and Chateaubriand; Silvio Pellico's "Le Mie Prigioni", Horace's "Odes", Pope's "Iliad",Junius's "Letters", some of Florian's works, Sterne's "Sentimental Journey", "Blackstone's Commentaries", Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations"; two or three elementary works on natural science; "Youatt on the Sheep and Horse"; and a pile of old magazines, chiefly Blackwood's, and amongst them those in which the "Noctes Ambrosianae" had appeared. We had, besides, a few colonial works, such as "Major Mitchell's Explorations", and the "Memoirs of Jorgen Jorgenson, ex-king of Iceland," whom I remember to have seen when a clerk in my father's office.
Altogether our collection amounted to about a hundred and fifty volumes, of which those mentioned are fair samples. None of them, perhaps, were left entirely unread; diversity of taste, however, leading to one of us interesting himself in one subject, and another in another. A subject we all enjoyed was Eastern travel; and, indeed, two of our little circle visited later on many of the scenes we so often read and talked about in our solitude at this time. As the reader may imagine, the confinement of our reading within such narrow limits was not a matter of choice. It arose from the circumstance that books were hardly obtainable in Melbourne in those days. As an instance of this, I may mention that, having taken a fancy to learn something of the discovery and conquest of America, I tried to obtain "Herrera", "Bernal Diaz", and some other works, but without success. Of the volumes in our collection, very favourite ones with me were those of Washington Irving, which treat of Moorish times in Spain; and as that writer's studies on the subject at his villa on the Hudson were the cause, as he tells us, of his visiting Granada, so my acquaintance with the pages of the American resulted subsequently in my paying a visit to Andalusia. [285]
As, however, one cannot always be reading, especially the same books, we used sometimes, in the evening, by the light of our tallow candle, to pass an hour at cards, chess, or draughts. We had also a number of out-of-door amusements, which stood us in good stead, and enabled us to while away many a morning which otherwise would have been dull enough. Amongst them were swimming, shooting, throwing spears, and so forth. To such exercises, indeed, we were much more given than any of our neighbours; and as for horses and hunting, many of my happiest hours were passed in the saddle, for which, in my youth, I had a perfect passion.
But though in those days I doated on horses, and especially on a horse at a gallop through a pleasant sapling scrub, where the chances of getting a broken neck or a knee knocked out of joint seemed about equal, still in wet weather, when the then untrodden soil was too soft for galloping, I made shift to amuse myself with hunting on foot. In this pursuit the charm of the thing was the scope it gave for the exercise of ingenuity in tracking and reading from the tracks the history of the chase. On the whole, I do not know but that one got as much amusement and excitement out hunting on foot as on horseback. Of course, the nature of the amusements was quite different. At that time tracking was comparatively easy, where it is now impossible.
Another out-of-door amusement to which I was much given was duck-shooting, especially in winter and spring, when trees and shrubs and the banks of lagoons are in their best attire. To me the stillness and freshness into which this sort of shooting led were always a great attraction. Another of our pastimes was breaking young horses, though, as we had only a dozen brood mares, our pleasures in that direction were necessarily limited. We also domesticated some emu and wild pups, the observance of whose habits used to amuse us. Corroborees, which were very frequent at one or other of our stations, were another resource, though eventually we became rather blasé as regards that amusement, and only sat out the choice morceaux. After all, however, yarning with the Bangerang, swimming, climbing trees in the native fashion, throwing spears, and hunting principally occupied our leisure hours; and, as the poet says - "Thus the days of Thalaba went by!"
As the reader may imagine, these were dull enough at times; but there were others worse - lengthy intervals of mixed ennui and low spirits, literally of times a fumer pipette et a ne rien faire. When overtaken by this complaint, which, of course, was when we were out of work, horses, dogs, guns, spears, and books became alike insufferable. [286] We came to loathe everything about us, and for the time it seemed to me there was little to choose between our position and that of Pellico in the Spielberg; conversation dried up, and gloom gradually overshadowed us.
Intervals of solitude, too, each of us had occasionally to go through. Once, for instance, it was my luck to pass three weeks at Tongala, during which I did not see a face, white or black. We were short-handed, so one of us had to remain at the head station, and by chance it fell to my lot. The weather was frightfully hot at the time, and, being a prisoner with nothing to occupy me, I fell into very irregular ways. Of the days of the month I soon lost count. Sometimes I went to bed late and sometimes early. When I rose late in the morning, I fancy the crows thought the silence of the place, the unopened doors and smokeless chimneys, portended something suspicious. At all events, they used to annoy me a good deal with their cawing, as they stealthily approached the hut along the top rails of the paddock fence. Probably the muzzle of my gun thrust through the window, and the discharge of one or both barrels, conveyed to them the first intimation of my being still in the flesh, and of my objection to being disturbed. Quiet restored, I used to sally out with my kangaroo-dog into the intense glare of the sun, despatch the wounded, have a look round, and saunter to the bathing-place, some fifty yards away. The weather was so hot that even at an early hour the choondoonga, as the Bangerang called the little birds, had taken shelter in the trees, out of which occasionally one dropped dead. Days of this sort were, of course, very hard to get through. Except to cook for myself and chop my firewood, I had no employment. Reading I found it difficult to settle down to in the absence of bodily labour, of which I got but little, as it was probable if I left my hut to hunt or shoot (the only things I could do) that it might be robbed in my absence. Still this idleness, compulsory though it was, always brought with it feelings of self-reproach.