Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 9 — A Visit to Northern Queensland
A Visit to Northern Queensland
Shortly after our cricket team's visit to Sydney, Mr. Howard Smith said to me, “Mr. Reese, I am going to send you to Queensland, and want you to go as far as Cairns.” Elaborating further, he said, “A new steamer has begun trading between Townsville and Cairns. She's much more modern than our own Lass O'Gowrie on that run, and to hold our share of the passenger traffic we'll need to build a new ship. Use your discretion in making enquiries about the opposition's ship, but you can speak quite frankly to our managers at Townsville and Cairns.”
I could hardly believe my ears when I heard him say this. Queensland in June! The mid-winter month when those who can leave Melbourne to go north to bask in the sun of this sub-tropical State, and see the beautiful scenery for which Queensland is noted.
In due course I sailed by the Peregrine, remembered as the Flyer of the 'nineties. It was not until we had crossed Port Phillip, and passed through the Rip at the Heads, that the passengers became aware—as the crew, no doubt, knew from the start—that the smoke from one of the steamers astern was from the Iniminca, a well-known steamer of a rival company. We had no sooner turned along the coast when out through the Heads crept our challenger—for a challenge it was. She was only a mile or two behind. I daresay the contest had really started in Port Phillip, but coming through the Rip is no place to race; however, once outside, it was a case of the “lid off.” The unlimited burning of coal in an ocean race is frowned upon by owners of to-day—except in the case of the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, when fuel-oil is scoffed without regard to cost. This day all hands and the cook were in the front line. Passengers, too, were partisans, and were to witness a stern struggle.
At first, the Iniminca appeared to be gaining. A fireman of the Peregrine would climb to the deck, and then dash back to report to his mates in the stoke-hold. The Chief Engineer paced the deck, keenly watching the Adelaide Steamship Company's page 121 crack steamer behind us. He probably had a guilty feeling that he was breaking the regulations, but knew in his heart that his chief in Melbourne would act like Nelson at Copenhagen! Presently there was the rat-tat-tat of the safety valves as they danced on their seats, when the steam proved too strong for the springs that held them down. The “white feather” from the top of the exhaust pipe at the back of the funnel meant fight, not fear, and showed that the firemen, at any rate, were doing their job.
Modern practice is to have the boilers a little more powerful than the engines, thus making a continuous head of steam always available, without great physical effort on the part of the firemen. In the days of which I speak, the engines and boilers were balanced units, and only the most expert fireman could force the safety valves to lift when the engines were in full stride. “Blowing off” was considered a challenge to the engineers, so down went the Chief to his beloved engines and opened them out. The practised ear could soon hear the thud, thud, thud, with a rhythm that was like music to the engineers. The Captain, officers and firemen, too, knew that steady and powerful beat of the engines, for the old Peregrine had been in many a race. Modern ships, with their turbine and Diesel engines, and smaller diameter high-speed propellers, cannot provide that sense of power produced by the triple expansion engines of steamers in those early days. Passengers, aware of the special effort being made below, sent bottles of beer to the firemen.
This was indeed a great race. The engineers of the rival ship, while knowing the ordinary speed of the Peregrine, may not have known to what extent McPherson, the old Chief, could open her out, or what those great firemen could do. At any rate, it was that little extra that turned the scale, and we gradually drew away, until at nightfall the Iniminca was nearly out of sight.
The good old Peregrine! There will be many people in Australia who remember her well. She made Howard Smiths name in the passenger trade, and held the Blue Riband in the Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane-Townsville run for many years.
It was my first experience of a race at sea, and at dinner that night passengers were able to celebrate what was then a certain win.
I had often heard of the Cutty Sark—Thermopylœ races, first page 122 with tea cargoes from India and China, and later with wool from Australia. With them, it was not a side by side race, for the tactics of the skippers varied, and they did not often sight one another on the voyage. The great races across the Atlantic, between the giant liners of modern times, are not so much ship against ship, as time against time. One must go back to those old “track” races of ship versus ship, over the same course at the same time, to get the thrill of racing at sea, and an insight into the personal qualities of those who wage the fight.
Next morning there was no sign of our rival, and it was not long before we arrived in Sydney. A day here enabled me to see one or two of my cricket friends, then we were off again to Brisbane, another five hundred miles farther north. As was the case coming up from Melbourne, a calm sea enabled us to make good time to the Queensland capital.
I had a letter of introduction to Mr. Bernays, the Clerk of the Queensland Parliament. His son, Harry, was very attentive, and showed me the sights of the city. In the evening, I had dinner with the family, and experienced the pleasure of seeing home life in surroundings similar to those of my own home. Old Mr. Bernays was typical of the best from the Homeland, and he and his wife made charming hosts. After dinner we went to the House of Representatives to hear the debate in the evening session. I still have a vivid memory of the fine type of men that controlled the destinies of Queensland. They were clearly representative of the best and most successful men of the State. As the majority wore beards, they appeared much older than would men of their age to-day.
During my stay in Brisbane I was to learn of the horrors of the shark menace in Australian waters. Although the port is some twenty miles from the open sea, sharks penetrate up the river, even as far as the city. One day a young lad was fishing from a boat, with his legs dangling over the side, when suddenly a shark snapped off his feet. Fortunately, the boy fell back into the boat, thus saving himself from being pulled into the water. It was a gruesome story to read. The warmer seas on this coast make the shark even more feared than in the southern States, though it is bad enough on the New South Wales coast, and in Sydney Harbour.
On the seven hundred miles run to Townsville we called first at Rockhampton, and then Mackay, staying only a few hours page 123 at each place, and were soon inside the first of the reefs off the coast of Queensland, where the sea was as calm as a mill-pond. The warm nights, with the slight breeze caused by the speed of the steamer, made travelling delightful, and enabled one to appreciate why this is such a popular winter trip with the people of Melbourne, for Melbourne alone of Australian capital cities experiences the cold snaps that accompany the southerly winds from May to August.
On arrival at Townsville, I was at once interested in this far northern port, for under Mr. Howard Smith's directions I had once made drawings of the harbour from data he had in Melbourne. My chief was ever interested in improving port facilities, as well as wharfage accommodation for his own steamers.
As stated earlier, the object of my trip was to gather information and report on the rival steamer that had already begun running on the coast. My passage had been booked on our own old Lass O'Gowrie, now about to be replaced, but my own intuition told me I should travel one way on the new ship, even if she was a rival. I remember our Townsville manager hesitating a little, for friendly relations between the companies were now established, but my practical point of view prevailed, and I booked on the Kuranda, due to sail in a few days.
Suggesting I should fill in the time by making a short trip inland, he gave me a letter of introduction to the manager of the Day Dawn quartz mine, at Charters Towers, a famous gold-mining town about one hundred miles from the coast.
On the trip up from Melbourne, I had been impressed by the great distances between the main ports. When looking up the route to be taken by train from Townsville to Charters Towers, I was further impressed by the distance the railways penetrated into the hinterland. To enable the reader's mind to grasp the meaning of distances in Australia, the length of the railways across this State provides a good illustration. There are three different lines running due west into the back country; one from Townsville, one from Rockhampton, and the other from Brisbane, each extending about five hundred miles, equal to the distance from London to Aberdeen, yet reaching little more than half-way across Queensland.
Being shown over the Day Dawn workings was an interesting and instructive experience. Clad in overalls, we descended by lift to a depth of 3,000 feet. I had not previously seen a page 124 quartz reef, nor had I seen a Jack Hammer Drill at work. On the surface, at the mouth of the mine, were the stampers and cyanide plant.
On this trip I was to get a close-up view of the problem one so frequently saw referred to in the newspapers as the “Yellow Peril.” As a result of the inauguration of the Commonwealth, and the forming of a National instead of a State policy, all the Kanakas—the natives of the Solomon Islands—were replaced by white labour on the sugar-cane fields, yet here were the Chinese, the Japanese, and Japanese women, too, in this mining town. I confess it gave me a bit of a shock. I was to see this emphasized farther north, round the sugar mills, and the impression left was one of sympathy for the politician who preached “white Australia,” even though he was sometimes a loud-voiced advocate for big wages for white men working in these regions. High wages have long since been conceded, and the uneconomical effect on the industry has been met by a subsidy from the National purse.
The Kanaka was a peaceful, pleasant worker, who came to Queensland for the cane-cutting season only, returning to the Solomons and other groups, to bask in the sun for the rest of the year. The Japanese, however, made one feel that here was a menace—a real menace—with little restriction upon their entry into Australia. The Chinese, on the other hand, were much more under control, with a poll tax regulating their immigration. The Chinaman migrates to a country intending to stay but a few years, save enough money to return home, and live among his people as a relatively rich man.
We were, however, not so complacent in our views concerning the Japanese arriving in our midst. Too many cameras! “Too muchee the look around,” for he gave the impression of being on the quiz all the time. Australia was to become aware of the danger and better informed than she was in the days about which I write. It took many years of vociferous clamouring for protective legislation before Congressmen and Senators, representing California at Washington, forced the Government of the United States to wake up to the fact that the crafty little man from the Land of the Rising Sun was boring his way into every walk of life in that part of America.
The day following my return to Townsville, I sailed by the Kuranda for Cairns, two hundred miles farther north. Although page 125 there are patches of reef off Rockhampton and Mackay, the southern end of the Great Barrier is opposite Townsville, and from there stretches away north, nearly to Cape York. The Reef, though many miles from the shore, has the effect of a breakwater in keeping the waters calm along this coastline. The island of Hinchenbrook lies fifty miles north of Townsville, and between it and the mainland is a strait, but a few miles wide, known as the Hinchenbrook Channel. This is reputed to be among the most beautiful pieces of tropical scenery in the whole of Australia. With bush on either side down to the water's edge, and the fresh green foliage, such as the tropics alone can provide so lavishly, it makes a brilliant scene.
Cairns is more than two thousand miles from Melbourne, and the distance seems incredible to anyone used to thinking in terms of space in, say, New Zealand or England. Australia is truly a continent, destined to be a United States in the Southern Hemisphere. Although I was then but twenty-three years of age, I found myself assimilating some of the atmosphere and national spirit of Australia—a trait that gathered momentum with the Australians themselves following the amalgamation of all the States into one great Commonwealth.
I had, up to then, more or less measured Australia by her cricketers, who frequently toured New Zealand, and many of whom I had met and played with and against. Australians have a high reputation in the sporting world, but here, even in my youth, I was able to discern qualities of nation-building that were apparent right up into this northern State stretching into the tropics.
I spent several days in Cairns with our energetic representative of that port. He was an enthusiastic advocate for a new ship to compete with the attractive Kuranda whose presence was already being felt in the passenger trade. It is, however, a strange thing about travellers that they often persist in sticking to their “old love,” and the Lass O'Gowrie was not without friends, while, so far as cargo was concerned, it mattered little to shippers whether a ship was old or new.
I was advised to visit the Barron Falls at Kuranda; they were certainly well worth seeing, and rank as one of the beauty-spots of Australia.
The abundance of tropical fruit is a feature of the Cairns page 126 district, and it was enlightening to see pineapples, bananas, granadillas and paw paws as plentiful and luscious as, say, peaches, oranges and grapes in the other States. Pineapples and bananas are known to everyone, and need no description, but granadillas and paw paws are fruits about which few people are informed. The former is a sort of large passion-fruit, while the paw paw is a stone fruit with a slight carrot flavour—altogether different from other stone fruits. It is very luscious and juicy, and I remember we used to say one should sit in a bath to eat it. The trade in pineapples and bananas, particularly the latter, is very great.
Northern Queensland, with Cairns as the terminus of the voyage, has become more and more the great attraction for winter holidays in Australia. Just as English people go to the South of France, and Americans go to Florida and California, so do the people of Victoria and New South Wales create a busy tourist season in Queensland in the months of June, July and August.
After several days in Cairns I left by the Lass O'Gowrie for Townsville, to connect with the Peregrine for the long run down to Melbourne. Some fifty miles south of Cairns we called at Geraldton. The name of this Queensland port was later changed to Innisfail, a place that plays an important part in the sugar industry of the State. Our arrival in the early morning provided a highly amusing diversion. Manned by Chinese, large punts, loaded to the gunwales with bananas, awaited our dropping anchor in the stream, and there was then a mad rush to be first alongside. The Chinamen, in their native tongue, were loudly urging their mates on the punts to pull harder, and with a combination of poling and paddling, they fought for position. Two punts collided, and overboard went a man off the bow of his craft. The Geraldton River is a sluggish stream, with discoloured water, and as the man took some time to come up, we gazed expectantly at the spot. Presently he bobbed up, and immediately began laughing and yelling to his mates, who were all excitement in this contest for first place. I could not understand why they were so anxious to be unloaded first, but the Captain explained that the Chinaman, being a wily bird, knew that if his bananas were at the bottom of this small ship on the short run to Townsville. he would have his part of the cargo at the top of the hold page 127 on the longer run south. Bananas are loaded green, and actually do not finally ripen until they reach the fruit shops in the cities.
At Geraldton there was also a large sugar mill, and it was interesting to watch the different processes in the manufacture of this great staple product of Queensland. Here again I came in contact with the Japanese, for many of the men working in the mill were the sturdy little chaps from the Far East. Is it any wonder that the Queenslanders, in particular, had become alive to the danger? At a later date the immigration of Italians was fraught with the same sort of national danger, for they got together in settlements, spoke their own language and generally did not become typical Australians.
I had a unique experience on the night of our stay at Geraldton when the Company's agent asked me if I would like to see over Chinatown. A police detective, I was told, would accompany us—a precaution usually taken when visits were made to the underworld, for it was an opium den the agent wished to show me. I remember feeling scared as we wended our way through the dimly-lit, narrow right-of-way to the haunt of the opium smokers. The sight that met our eyes when we followed the police officer into the lantern-lit apartment is not a pleasant one to remember. Not a word was spoken, though some of the Chinese nodded to our guide. We were in a large, square room with bunks all round, like the old-fashioned saloon sleeping accommodation on coastal steamers of fifty years ago. There was a low table in the centre, with a naked light burning—this being where the smokers “lighted up.” The opium resembled a sort of treacle, and it often took some time to get a pipe lit. The Chinaman would then go to his bunk and puff away. Some of the men sat staring into spaces; others, with half-closed eyes, appeared to be dozing; while several, with eyes closed, completed the group. Whatever the attitude, they all seemed to be in a state of stupor.
The men of the Orient, both Chinese and Japanese, are probably the most expert in the world at presenting an imperturbable countenance in any set of circumstances, but for expressionless faces I have never seen anything to equal those of the opium smokers of Geraldton. I have been to many parts of the world since then, but have never had any desire page 128 to see a repetition of that performance. It would not now be possible in Australia to obtain police escort to these Chinese quarters. At this time the vigilance of the police was directed to prevent the spread of this vice, confining it to the Chinese themselves. To-day there is a world-wide effort to stamp it out altogether.
The old Lass O'Gowrie was loaded down to her marks when we left Geraldton for Townsville. There is little doubt that this ship must have been a profitable investment for her owners in those days. No motor-cars and no concrete or bitumen roads forced all traffic north and south to go by steamer. Modern mechanized transport must have taken away much of the passenger traffic up the coast of Northern Queensland. In some parts of New Zealand the motor-bus and private car have caused passenger steamers to cease running on certain routes.
We were in Townsville the following morning, and saw all our cargo transhipped into the Peregrine, which vessel had been down to Melbourne and back since I disembarked from her some weeks previously.
It was not long before she was heading south again to Melbourne, via Brisbane and Sydney. Just before leaving the latter place we got word of the result of the first day's play in the Test Match at the Oval, between Darling's famous Australian XI of 1902, and an equally strong English XI, captained by MacLaren. Australia had just notched a sensational win in the Manchester Test Match, when England failed by three runs to reach the total set them.
I have already described the public interest in Australia when a cricket Test Match is being played, whether it be in England or Australia. This was no exception, and we talked of the first day's play and discussed the prospects of each side, with the usual predominance among Australians of unbounded faith in their own men. This was before the days of wireless, so we heard no more news till we were nearly berthed at the wharf in Melbourne. As the mooring ropes tightened and we drew nearer the wharf, someone from the top deck called out, “Who won the Test Match?”
Back came the ready reply, “England won by one wicket.”
This anxious enquiry from the ship's deck revives the story page 129 of a hundred years ago, when Charles Dickens was publishing, in serial form, The Old Curiosity Shop. The American people, who were great readers of Dickens, had to await the arrival of the next ship from England to read a further instalment. As the vessel was being berthed at New York, and the mooring lines slowly pulled her nearer, an anxiously expectant voice called aloud from the wharf to the passengers lining the deck, “Did Little Nell die?” Hushed silence provided the answer.
It was a different atmosphere that prevailed on the Peregrine when that prompt and loud answer came from the wharf at Melbourne. Partisans of England cheered, while Australians, too, were loud in their praise of the Englishmen's magnificent win. It was an animated scene, with the exciting finish and Jessop's century the main topics of conversation.
It does not take passengers long to disembark when they reach port, and soon all were ashore. What most of us wanted to learn were the details of what was clearly a famous match. Jessop's wonderful innings stood out above all else.
Back in Melbourne, I was soon at work again after a month of interesting experiences. My eyes had been opened with regard to the potentiality of Australia, while the attractiveness of the physical features of the sub-tropical regions of Queensland had surpassed my expectations.
I had been fortunate in meeting many men in high positions, and was shown the greatest courtesy by all the managers of the branches of the Howard Smith organization. The technical nature of my mission appeared to win me greater respect than would have been shown to other young men on our staff, of a similar age, who would no doubt still have been looked upon as juniors had they been clerks in the freight, passenger or accountancy departments. Besides stirring my imagination, the sights I had seen kindled in me an even greater admiration for my chief's judgment and optimism with regard to the future of Australia. It needed vision to plan on a scale in keeping with the rapid development that was taking place, and Mr, H. B. Howard Smith was one of the many great Australians who contributed largely to what has been termed the birth of a nation.
In addition to making a full report on all I had seen on my voyage, I was able to make drawings of the steamer we were planning to compete against in the Townsville-Cairns run. page 130 The design of our steamer was different from the Kuranda, for my chief had set his mind on a ship with a maximum amount of upper deck space. It was, however, useful to have knowledge of the passenger accommodation we had to equal or surpass. There is no doubt that the finished plans of this pocket-liner made her an attractive ship on paper, but in reality not more attractive than she looked when she arrived on the coast. Named the Mourilyan, she was a popular ship until the big passenger vessels began running as far north as Cairns, which was the final blow.
It is interesting to record that the Mourilyan was later purchased by the Northern Steamship Company of New Zealand, for the Auckland-Whangarei run. Ousted by both rail and road transport she was purchased by the Anchor Shipping Company, re-named the Matangi, and is, at this date, in the regular run between Wellington and Nelson. She now meets a new type of competition, for who can say what the final effect of the daily air liner service across Cook Strait will be upon the fortunes of this much-travelled little ship.
At about this time I was becoming a little restless, having intended to stay in Australia but a year or two before going on to England. Nearly three years in the beautiful City of Melbourne had enabled me to make many friends and gain splendid cricketing experience. Although obtaining unique business training and enjoying the advantage of being in close touch with Mr. Howard Smith, whom I held in respectful, if not awesome regard, I saw no future prospect for my advancement from the niche into which I was so pleasantly settled. One day, with a feeling of hesitation, I told Mr. “H. B.”—as we always called him among ourselves—of my thoughts and ambitions, and to my pleasant surprise he said, “Well now, Reese, that'll suit me very well, for I wish to pay a visit to England and will be taking these plans with me. If you'll stay on for, say, another few months, to enable me to finalize my ideas of this latest ship, it will then make a very easy and suitable ending to your employment with us.”
One of the earlier plans was of the Bombala, a very good ship, but my final pencilled sketches, although not gone on with for some time, saw the hatching in Mr. H. B. Howard Smith's mind of the great Canberra, the best of Howard Smiths' fleet, and still one of the most popular ships on the Australian coast. page 131 It is interesting to note from the naming of these two ships that my chief was searching in anticipation for the name of the capital city of the Commonwealth.
In this way I said good-bye to a man who inspired me, and who was to play a big part in the shipping and industrial world, for Howard Smiths reached out beyond the confines of shipping to become largely interested in the coal, sugar, steel and cement industries, all with interlocking benefits to their original freight-carrying business.
Mr. C. M. Newman, later to become Managing Director, Captain Lyttle, the Marine Superintendent, and Mr. A. B. MacDonald, the Engineer Superintendent, who were often at my drawing table, all wished me a pleasant farewell and loaded me with letters to people in England who they thought might assist me in getting placed. This association with the big men of the firm was a valuable experience, and gave me a confidence that might have taken years to acquire had I been climbing the ladder in the usual way of a junior.
Life in Melbourne in these few short years was pleasant indeed. I found the people very similar to New Zealanders, and private entertainment and dances played their part, just as in my own country. The present-day young men and women would have found getting home from dances a more exacting problem than it is to-day, when motor-cars and taxis are at everyone's disposal. In a large city like Melbourne, with the distances between the suburbs so great, it was often a case of the good old-fashioned horse cab—usually capable of holding six people—bringing a group back into the centre of the city, there to connect with other cabs going to one's particular residential area. Getting to a dance was an easier matter, for Melbourne had a wonderfully efficient suburban railway service, and one was soon out to such places as Kew, St. Kilda, Toorak and Camberwell. Getting home was a different matter when all the trains had stopped! To be called for at one's front door and delivered home again at the hour of her own choosing, makes the modern young woman's lot much easier than it was at the beginning of this century, but there was something pleasant even in the difficulties of those times.
Little or no bridge was played, but solo whist had many adherents. I have often regretted that I did not take up golf then, for living in a boarding house is the same all the world page 132 over, with Sunday the hardest day to fill in. It was usual to call on friends, or make courtesy calls on hostesses on Sunday afternoons. But this boarding-house life brought many interesting experiences, and one met people in all sorts of occupations and representing all types.
After twelve months I moved from Jolimont Terrace to a more comfortable place nearby in Clarenden Street, and overlooking Fitzroy Gardens. These gardens, while a lovely place in the day-time, with beautiful trees, many of the English variety which found the Melbourne climate suitable to their rigorous growth, were held in awe at night, for stories had been handed down from the earliest years, telling of robbery by violence and garrotting. This made people timid about going through late at night or in the early hours of the morning, for there were no lights in this park. Despite the fact that it was a longer way home, I always made “discretion the better part of valour,” and kept to the road, yes, to the middle of the road, when passing between the gardens on the one side and Jolimont Reserve on the other, if walking home after the trams and trains had stopped.
One day there came to our boarding house in East Melbourne a quiet little German lady. A few days later a German battleship, paying a courtesy call to Australia, arrived at Port Melbourne, and it turned out that our fellow guest was the wife of the Admiral, and he came ashore to stay with her. They had a private suite, so we did not see much of the Admiral, but saw enough to judge that the arrogance of his race was strongly in evidence, even in those days. No wonder his wife was tractable and docile, for in no other way could there be peace in a home ruled over by such a man.
On another occasion an amusing interlude brightened the atmosphere round the dinner table. Strangely enough this story also refers to a German woman. Charles Arnold and his company were playing that humorous play Why Smith Left Home. Our German friend was a bright young thing—twenty-eight as usual—and, bubbling with excitement, said she was going to the theatre—pronouncing it “teatre”—that night. When asked what she was going to see, she replied in her broken English “Why Left Schmidt Home”! She joined in the roars of laughter, for she was very good-humoured about her efforts to master the English tongue. Why Left Schmidt page 133 Home was laughed over for many a year afterwards, when any of those old fellow-boarders met.
During the whole of my stay in Melbourne, I lived under the same roof as an outstanding man, one William Montgomery, the leading stained-glass artist in Melbourne. He changed to the house overlooking Fitzroy Gardens at the same time as I did. He came originally from Newcastle, England, had studied art in Heidelburg, and specialized in church windows. His quiet manner, combined with his wisdom and sagacity, made a lasting impression upon me.
Another interesting fellow-boarder was a genial Swiss. He had a good sense of humour, and although he spoke fairly good English, it became a bit broken when he got excited, and caused great laughter, in which he always joined. So much for my first experiences of boarding-house life.
My cricket with the Melbourne Club continued to prove valuable experience, and in my last year Billy Bruce became Captain, for Hugh Trumble was not back from his last visit to England. As Bruce made three centuries in club cricket this season, I saw flashes of the form that had thrilled the cricket world ten to fifteen years earlier.
I visited many parts of Victoria with M.C.C. teams, and came to know the different districts of the State. One Easter tour in particular was outstanding for the amount of fun we had. We played matches on the Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with parties or dances at night. We had with us Arthur Aiken, a good-looking young man and probably the best-dressed cricketer in Australia. He was just as fastidious over his cricket flannels as he was over his ordinary clothes. In his youth he had been nicknamed “The Duke,” which, as one would expect in Australia, soon became “The Dook.” When we arrived at Stawell, it was discovered that Aitken's cricket bag was missing. He had to be provided with borrowed flannels, and one never saw such discomfiture in anyone as he walked on to the field with trousers and shirt both badly crinkled and in need of cleaning and pressing. The fun old Hugh Trumble made out of this incident was intensely amusing to everyone. He told the girls that Aitken was always slovenly in his dress, making, in his inimitable way, the most of the joke in his apology for “The Dock's” appearance. But Aitken was too attractive, and “too good” with the ladies, and at page 134 the finish they believed him instead of Trumble. One can imagine Aitken's feelings, for there were many young women from country homes in the surrounding districts, who often drove considerable distances in buggy or gig to witness these matches. All was well on the following day when Aitken walked on to the field dressed in his own flannels, trousers pressed and his neat little bow tie in the club's colours, which he always wore. Even his team-mates admired Aitken's taste and choice of clothes. As most of our young men were in the centre of the party life of Melbourne, they were always a social success and made the M.C.C. tours very popular in whatever country district they went to.
Ballarat and Bendigo were two places that interested me and many thrilling stories were told of the gold-rushes of many years ago. These places made men rich overnight while others toiled without success. The storekeepers and the hotel-keepers were always on the regular vein of gold, and fortunes were made by these suppliers of merchandise and liquor. In one small gold-mining village in New Zealand, in 1865, there were as many as thirteen pubs, so it can be imagined how many there were in Ballarat and Bendigo in the early days.
Then there were the stories of Ned Kelly and his mates, known as the “Kelly Gang,” famous for their bush-ranging exploits, told by people who were able to point out the places where these daring and desperate men had operated. I saw, for the first time, the blue gum and mountain ash, species of trees that form the bush of Victoria. It was easily seen how these bush-rangers were able to commit robbery and then appear at another place many miles away, for with no undergrowth in this bush, it is possible to ride anywhere. In New Zealand the undergrowth in the bush is so thick it is impossible to ride through on horse-back, and this was the reason for the failure of the remnants of this bush-ranging group when they tried to operate on the West Coast of the South Island of the Dominion. What limited success they did have was by waylaying the successful miner when he followed the road or beaten track to a town to deposit his gold in the bank. They told me that Ned Kelly would not take a life if he could help it, but his brother and other members of the gang, when operating in New Zealand, acted on the policy of “dead men page 135 tell no tales.” The killing of young Dobson, a surveyor, whom they mistook for a miner, was one of the worse things they did, and helped to bring about their downfall. Such a trail of cruel and heartless deeds was left, it was well that their operations were of short duration. These men paid the full penalty, but it is not pleasant to record that the most cruel member of the party turned Queen's evidence and saved his own life.
The stories of Ned Kelly and his gang are still exciting to read, but it seemed more realistic to hear them in the districts where the bush-rangers had operated, and from men who knew the details, and in some cases knew the men.
These brief sketches will show that I was favoured with many opportunities for seeing the country districts of this the smallest mainland State of the Commonwealth. The wealth and importance of Victoria is not to be measured by its relative dimensions as compared with the other States, for practically every acre of land is either fertile or covered with valuable bush, while the manufacturing capacity of its capital city, even in those days, was rivalling that of Sydney. Truly, this part of Australia, of which I have seen so much, was to prove of great educational value to me.
When I left Melbourne, I was able to claim friendships that have remained constant throughout the years; my cricket friends, especially, brought much pleasure into my life. Sailing by the Moeraki, the vessel I frequently went down to see at the wharf, and to which I have referred earlier, I had an uneventful trip back to New Zealand.
Home! What it meant to me to return to my family circle! The reunion was a joyous affair, for we Reeses were indeed a happy clan. Many mirthful evenings were spent exchanging stories of incidents and happenings covering the period of my absence. In that arresting book, The Mortal Storm, the dear old professor says that the happiness of family life is founded on tolerance and a sense of humour: these qualities were certainly predominant in ours.