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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

The Mudlarks

page 9

The Mudlarks.

What is humour?

Nobody knows.

Some things are irresistibly comic—to some people. I once saw a portly, bald-headed old gentleman frantically chasing a silk hat down Collins Street: truly a heart rending sight; for his agony was extreme and his condition pitiful. Yet the heartless Melbourians laughed unrestrainedly.

Who is the most important citizen in the Commonwealth?

Why, the policeman, of course. Yet once, when a stalwart upholder of law and order trod on a banana skin in Paddy's Market, and sprawled unhappily in the mud, the youngsters thereabouts screamed with delight. And I ask you, what is more painfully annoying than a snowball fair under the left ear? Nothing at all—unless it be two snowballs fair under the right ear. Yet I remember, in the winter of our discontent at Weymouth, an apoplectic English dignitary received this churlish greeting at the hands of several alleged Anzacs, and every one of the assailants made the welkin ring with their hilarity.

I think the saddest spectacle I ever saw in Palestine was the trek of the Cameliers to Bethlehem. Now the camel—as Macaulay's schoolboy knows— is a sandiverous beast and not a mudiverous one. His habitat is the sandy wilderness. Mud is foreign to his nature. So most of our sandiverous mounts had never experienced a mudiverous environment till they trekked to Bethlehem. That fact alone should have won, the sympathy of the soldiers. But no. Oh dear, no. Every time a camel struck a particulary slimy, slippery patch and sent his four legs in diametrically opposite directions, the unthinking Cameliers laughed immoderately. And when, in crossing a flooded wady, a comrade was precipitated into the muddy flood, the whole Battalion—except poor comrade —jeered and cheered ironically. I regret to state that the only ones who showed a proper appreciation of the situation, were the camels themselves. Their dignity was admirable; their restraint superb; their perseverance heroic. Mud and mire, slush and slime were alike to them. Sometimes in a morass a camel would sink from sight, and the following files, thinking some one had lost a hat, would lean down and find a rider underneath .... Talk about Black Soil Plains!

Yet each successive interlude, no matter how sorrowful, provoked more and more laughter. Now, Moses was on the way to Jerusalem for the first time, and his khaki tunic and wide-cut breeches were a model of cleanliness and style. Yet, at an inopportune moment, his camel stuck and subsided ungracefully into the oozy slime. Moses had no desire to follow his mount, so he sought hurriedly to dismount. But his bagified breeches proved his undoing. As he endeavoured to spring clear, his breeches caught on the muzzle of his rifle, and he remained suspended in midair, with arms and legs waving frantically. It was truly a harrowing experience. His distress of mind and body was extreme. If the breeches held, he would be hanged; if they proved unequal to the strain, he would he drowned, choked or smothered in the slough of despair. Truly he was on the hump of a dilemma .... Yet in his agony, did his comrades fly to his assistance? No. Oh dear, no. Once again their perverted sense of humour obsessed them, and they chuckled and laughed "Ha! Ha!". And various alleged humourists yelled, "Stay with him, Mo! There stretched a string of mud-bespatterd Cameliers and mud-covered camels for miles and miles. Like a Brobdignagian serpent, the cavalcade meandered over or through the soggy plain. Flotsam and jetsam in their wake bore mute testimony to their sufferings Now and then a camel with a broken shoulder had to be shot and abandoned. Riding soon became an agony, so the bulk of the men dismounted and plugged on through the bog. What an amount of water that plain must have assimilated. In places the earth was of the consistency of pea-soup. Mud to the knees and over—yet the Mudlarks struggled on. The head of the column was nearing Zecharia while the tail was floundering through Junction Station. Every minute some hapless creature landed full length in the
Familiar Faces And The Artist Who Sketched Them.

Familiar Faces And The Artist Who Sketched Them.

mud. This, I maintain, was not a bit funny to the parties concerned. Yet the hilarious cacophony never failed to follow immediately on these misadventures.

Covered with mud, tired and weary, footsore and hungry, the Cameliers won through to Bethlehem. Just as the sun was gilding the lips of the Judæan hills the vanguard lobbed into Solomon's Wells. Then on till far into the night the remainder straggled in. It was a memorable trek. The camels were game as fighting cocks and struggled bravely through. But the men I Why, instead of seriously contemplating their unhappy lot, or sympathising with and helping their fallen comrades, they did nothing but laugh and crack jokes, and indulge in the Australian slanguage.

Which only goes to prove that humour is an elusive, incomprehensible thing, after all.