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My Tropic Isle by E J Banfield

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"What dost thou in this World? The Wilderness
For thee is fittest place."


"Taught to live
The easiest way, nor with perplexing thoughts
To interrupt sweet life."



Much of the contents of this book was published in the NORTH QUEENSLAND
REGISTER, under the title of "Rural Homilies." Grateful acknowledgments
are due to the Editor for his frank goodwill in the abandonment of his

Also am I indebted to the Curator and Officers of the Australian Museum,
Sydney, and specially to Mr. Charles Hedley, F.L.S., for assistance in
the identification of specimens. Similarly I am thankful to Mr. J.
Douglas Ogilby, of Brisbane, and to Mr. A. J. Jukes-Browne, F.R.S.,
F.G.S., of Torquay (England).





(Not included in this eBook)

Photo by Caroline Hordern
Photo by Caroline Hordern
FIRE FISH (Pterois lunulata).
TRIGGER FISH (Balistapus aculeatus)
HARLEQUIN PIGFISH (Kiphocheilus fasciatus)
H. Barnes, Jun., Photo. Australian Museum
UMBRELLA TREE (Brassaia actinophylla)
Photo by Caroline Hordern




Had I a plantation of this Isle, my lord--

* * * * *

I' the Commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit . . . riches, poverty
And use of service, none.


How quaint seems the demand for details of life on this Isle of Scent and
Silence! Lolling in shade and quietude, was I guilty of indiscretion when
I babbled of my serene affairs, and is the penalty so soon enforced? Can
the record of such a narrow, compressed existence be anything but dull?
Can one who is indifferent to the decrees of constituted society; who is
aloof from popular prejudices; who cares not for the gaieties of the
crowd or the vagaries of fashion; who does not dance or sing, or drink to
toasts, or habitually make any loud noise, or play cards or billiards, or
attend garden parties; who has no political ambitions; who is not a
painter, or a musician, or a man of science; whose palate is as averse
from ardent spirits as from physic; who is denied the all-redeeming vice
of teetotalism; who cannot smoke even a pipe of peace; who is a casual, a
nonentity a scout on the van of civilisation dallying with the universal
enemy, time--can such a one, so forlorn of popular attributes, so weak
and watery in his tastes, have aught to recite harmonious to the, ear of
the world?

Yet, since my life--and in the use, of the possessive pronoun here and
elsewhere, let it signify also the life of my life-partner--is beyond the
range of ordinary experience, since it is immune from the ferments which
seethe and muddle the lives of the many, I am assured that a familiar
record will not be deemed egotistical, I am scolded because I did not
confess with greater zeal, I am bidden to my pen again.

An attempt to fulfil the wishes of critics is confronted with risk. Cosy
in my security, distance an adequate defence, why should I rush into the
glare of perilous publicity? Here is an unpolluted Isle, without history,
without any sort of fame. There come to it ordinary folk of sober
understanding and well-disciplined ideas and tastes, who pass their lives
without disturbing primeval silences or insulting the free air with the
flapping of any ostentatious flag. Their doings are not romantic, or
comic, or tragic, or heroic; they have no formula for the solution of
social problems, no sour vexations to be sweetened, no grievance against
society, no pet creed to dandle. What is to be said of the doings of such
prosaic folk--folk who have merely set themselves free from restraint
that they might follow their own fancies without hurry and without

Moreover, if anything be more tedious than a twice-told tale, is it not
the repetition of one half told? Since a demand is made for more complete
details than were given in my "Confessions," either I must recapitulate,
or, smiling, put the question by. It is simplicity itself to smile, and
can there be anything more gracious or becoming? Who would not rather do
so than attempt with perplexed brow a delicate, if not difficult, duty?

I propose, therefore, to hastily fill in a few blanks in my previous
sketch of our island career and to pass on to features of novelty and
interest--vignettes of certain natural and unobtrusive features of the
locality, first-hand and artless.

This, then, is for candour. Studiously I had evaded whensoever possible
the intrusion of self, for do not I rank myself among the nonentities--
men whose lives matter nothing, whose deaths none need deplore. How
great my bewilderment to find that my efforts at concealment--to make
myself even more remote than my Island--had had by impish perversity a
contrary effect! On no consideration shall I part with all my secrets.
Bereave me of my illusions and I am bereft, for they are "the stardust I
have clutched."

One confessedly envious critic did chide because of the calculated
non-presentation of a picture of our humble bungalow. So small a pleasure
it would be sinful to deny. He shall have it, and also a picture of the
one-roomed cedar hut in which we lived prior to the building of the house
of comfort.

Who could dignify with gilding our utterly respectable, our limp history?
There is no margin to it for erudite annotations. Unromantic,
unsensational, yet was the actual beginning emphasis by the thud of a
bullet. To that noisy start of our quiet life I meander to ensure
chronological exactitude.

In September of the year 1896 with a small par of friends we camped on
the beach of this Island--the most fascinating, the most desirable on the
coast of North Queensland.

Having for several years contemplated a life of seclusion in the bush,
and having sampled several attractive and more or less suitable scenes,
we were not long in concluding that here was the ideal spot. From that
moment it was ours. In comparison the sweetest of previous fancies became
vapid. Legal rights to a certain undefined area having been acquired in
the meantime, permanent settlement began on September 28, 1897.

For a couple of weeks thereafter we lived in tents, while with clumsy
haste--for experience had to, be acquired--we set about the building of a
hut of cedar, the parts of which were brought from civilisation ready for
assembling. Houses, however, stately or humble, in North Queensland, are
sacrificial to what are known popularly as "white ants" unless special
means are taken for their exclusion. Wooden buildings rest on piles sunk
in the ground, on the top of which is an excluder of galvanised iron in
shape resembling a milk dish inverted. It is also wise to take the
additional precaution of saturating each pile with an arsenical solution.
Being quite unfamiliar with the art of hut-building, and in a frail
physical state, I found the work perplexing and most laborious, simple
and light as it all was. Trees had to be felled and sawn into proper
lengths for piles, and holes sunk, and the piles adjusted to a uniform
level. With blistered and bleeding hands, aching muscles, and stiff
joints I persevered.

While we toiled our fare, simplicity itself, was eaten with becoming lack
of style in the shade of a bloodwood-tree, the tents being reserved for
sleeping. When the blacks could be spared, fish was easily obtainable,
and we also drew upon the scrub fowl and pigeon occasionally, for the
vaunting proclamation for the preservation of all birds had not been
made. Tinned meat and bread and jam formed the most frequent meals, for
there were hosts of simple, predestined things which had to be painfully
learned. But there was no repining. Two months' provisions had been
brought; the steamer called weekly, so that we did not contemplate
famine, though thriftiness was imperative. Nor did we anticipate making
any remarkable addition to our income, for the labour of my own hands,
however eager and elated my spirits, was, I am forced to deplore, of
little advantage. I could be very busy about nothing, and there were
blacks to feed, therefore did we hasten to prepare a small area of forest
land, and a still smaller patch of jungle for the cultivation of maize,
sweet potatoes, and vegetables. Fruit, being a passion and a hobby, was
given special encouragement and has been in the ascendant ever since, to
the detriment of other branches of cultural enterprise.

I have said that our Island career began with an explosion. To that
starting-point must I return if the narration of the tribulations our
youthful inexperience suffered is to be orderly and exact.

While we camped, holiday-making, the year prior to formal and rightful
occupancy, in a spasm of enthusiasm, which still endures, I selected the
actual site for a modest castle then and there built in the accommodating
air. It was something to have so palpable and rare a base for the
fanciful fabric. All in a moment, disdaining formality, and to the,
accompaniment of the polite jeers of two long-suffering friends, I
proclaimed "Here shall I live! On this spot shall stand the probationary
palace!" and so saying fired my rifle at a tree a few yard's off. But the
stolid tree--a bloodwood, all bone, toughened by death, a few ruby
crystals in sparse antra all that remained significant of past
life--afforded but meagre hospitality to the, soft lead.

"Ah!" exclaimed one of my chums, "the old tree foreswears him! The Island
refuses him!"

But the homely back gate swings over the charred stump of the boorish
tree burnt flush with the ground. Twelve months and a fortnight after the
firing of the shot which did not echo round the world, but was merely a
local defiant and emphatic promulgation of authority, a fire was set to
the base of the tree, for our tents had been pitched perilously close.
Space was wanted, and moreover its bony, imprecating arms, long since
bereft of beckoning fingers, menaced our safety. I said it must fall to
the north-east, for the ponderous inclination is in that direction, and
therein forestalled my experience and delivered the whole camp as
hostages into the hands of fortune.

In apparent defiance of the laws of gravity the tree fell in the middle
of the night with an earth-shaking crash to the south-east. There was no
apparent reason why it did not fall on our sleeping-tent and in one act
put an inglorious end to long-cogitated plans. Because some gracious
impulse gave the listless old tree a certain benign tilt, and because
sundry other happenings consequent upon a misunderstanding of the laws of
nature took exceptional though quite wayward turnings, I am still able to
hold a pen in the attempt to accomplish the task imposed by imperious

And while on the subject of the clemency of trees, I am fain to dispose
of another adventure, since it, too, illustrates the brief interval
between the sunny this and the gloomy that. Fencing was in progress--a
fence designed to keep goats within bounds. Of course, the idea was
preposterous. One cannot by mere fencing exclude goats. The proof is
here. To provide posts for the vain project trees were felled, the butts
of which were reduced to due dimensions by splitting. A dead tree stood
on a slope, and with the little crosscut we attacked its base, cutting a
little more than half-way through. When a complementary cut had been made
on the other side, the tree, with a creak or two and a sign which ended
in "swoush," fell, and as it did so I stepped forward, remarking to the
taciturn black boy, "Clear cut, Paddy!" The words were on my lips when a
"waddy," torn from the vindictive tree and flung, high and straight into
the inoffensive sky, descended flat on the red stump with a gunlike
report. The swish of the waddy down-tilted the frayed brim of my
cherished hat!

The primary bullet is not yet done with, for when the tree which had
reluctantly housed it for a year was submitted to the fires of
destruction among the charcoal a blob of bright lead confirmed my
scarcely credited story that the year before the datum for our castle,
then aerial and now substantial, had been established in ponderous metal.

What justification existed for the defacement of the virginal scene by an
unlovely dwelling--the, imposition of a scar on the unspotted landscape?
None, save that the arrogant intruder needed shelter, and that he was
neither a Diogenes to be content in a tub nor a Thoreau to find in boards
an endurable temporary substitute for blankets.

It was resolved that the shelter should by way of compensation be
unobtrusive, hidden in a wilderness of leaves. The sacrifice of those
trees unhaply in prior occupation of the site selected would be atoned
for by the creation of a modest garden of pleasant-hued shrubs and
fruit-trees and lines and groves of coconut-palms. My conscience at least
has been, or rather is being, appeased for the primary violation of the
scene, for trees perhaps, more beautiful, certainly more useful, stand
for those destroyed. The Isle suffers no gross disfigurement. Except for
a wayward garden and the most wilful plantation of tropical fruit-trees,
no change has been wrought for which the genius of the Isle need demand

Though of scented cedar the hut was ceilingless. Resonant corrugated iron
and boards an inch thick intervened between us and the noisy tramplings
of the rain and heat of the sun. The only room accommodated some
primitive furniture, a bed being the denominating as well as the
essential feature. A little shambling structure of rough slabs and iron
walls contrived a double debt to pay--kitchen and dining-room.

From the doorsteps of the hut we landed on mother earth, for the verandas
were not floored. Everything was as homely and simple and inexpensive as
thought and thrift might contrive. Our desire to live in the open air
became almost compulsory, for though you fly from civilisation and its
thralls you cannot escape the social instincts of life. The hut became
the focus of life other than human. The scant hut-roof sheltered more
than ourselves.

On the narrow table, under cover of stray articles and papers, grey
bead-eyed geckoes craftily stalked moths and beetles and other fanatic
worshippers of flame as they hastened to sacrifice themselves to the
lamp. In the walls wasps built terra-cotta warehouses in which to store
the semi-animate carcasses of spiders and grubs; a solitary bee
constructed nondescript comb among the books, transforming a favourite
copy of "Lorna Doone" into a solid block. Bats, sharp-toothed, and with
pin-point eyes, swooped in at one door, quartered the roof with brisk
eagerness, and departed by the other.

Finding ample food and safe housing, bats soon became permanent lodgers.
For a time it was novel and not unpleasant to be conscious in the night
of their waftings, for they were actual checks upon the mosquitoes which
came to gorge themselves on our unsalted blood. But they increased so
rapidly that their presence became intolerable. The daring pioneer which
had happened during its nocturnal expeditions to discover the very
paradise for the species proclaimed the glad tidings, and relatives,
companions, and friends flocked hither, placing themselves under our
protection with contented cheepings. Though the room became mosquitoless,
serious objections to the scavengers developed. Before a writ of ejection
could be enforced, however, a sensational cause for summary proceedings

In the dimness of early morning when errant bats flitted home to cling to
the ridge-pole, squeaking and fussy flutterings denoted unwonted
disturbance. Daylight revealed a half concealed, sleeping snake, which
seemed to be afflicted with twin tumours. A long stick dislodged the
intruder, which scarce had reached the floor ere it died violent death.
Even the snake spectre did no seriously affright the remaining bats,
though it confirmed the sentence of their immediate banishment. In the
eye of the bats the sanctuary of the roof with an odd snake or two was
preferable to inclement hollow branches open to the raids of
undisciplined snakes. Definite sanitary reasons, supplemented by the fact
that where bats are there will the snakes be gathered together, and a
pious repugnance to snakes as lodgers, made the casting out of the bats a
joyful duty.

So we lived, more out of the hut than in it, from October, 1897, until
Christmas Day, 1903. We find the bungalow, though it, too, has no
ceiling, much more to our convenience, for the hut has become crowded. It
could no longer contain our content and the portable property which
became caught in its vortex.

In the designing of the bungalow two essentials were supreme, cost and
comfort--minimum of cost, maximum of comfort. Aught else was as nothing.
There was no alignment to obey, no rigid rules and regulations as to
style and material. The surroundings being our own, we had compassion on
them, neither offering them insult with pretentious prettiness nor
domineering over them with vain assumption and display. Low walls,
unaspiring roof, and sheltering veranda, so contrived as to create, not
tickling, fidgety draughts but smooth currents, "so full as seem asleep,"
to flush each room so sweetly and softly that no perceptible difference
between the air under the roof and of the forest is at any time

Since the kitchen (as necessary here as elsewhere) is not only of my own
design but nearly every part of the construction absolutely the work of
my unaided, inexperienced hands, I shall describe it in detail--not
because it presents features provocative of pride, but because the ideas
it embodies may be worth the consideration of others similarly situated
who want a substantial, smokeless, dry, convenient appurtenance to their
dwelling. Two contrary conditions had to be considered--the hostility of
white ants to buildings of wood, and the necessity for raising the floor
but slightly above the level of the ground.

A bloodwood-tree, tall, straight, and slim, was felled. It provided three
logs--two each 15 feet long and one 13 feet. From another tree another
13-foot log was sawn. All the sapwood was adzed off; the ends were
"checked" so that they would interlock. Far too weighty to lift, the logs
were toilfully transported inch by inch on rollers with a crowbar as a
lever. Duly packed up with stones and levelled, they formed the
foundations, but prior to setting them a bed of home-made asphalt
(boiling tar and seashore sand) was spread on the ground where they were
destined to lie. Having adjusted each in its due position, I adzed the
upper faces and cut a series of mortices for the studs, which were
obtained in the bush--mere thin, straight, dry trees which had succumbed
to bush fires. Each was roughly squared with the adze and planed and

Good fortune presented, greatly to the easement of labour, two splendid
pieces of driftwood for posts for one of the doors. To the sea also I was
indebted for long pieces to serve as wall plates, one being the jibboom
of what must have been a sturdily-built boat, while the broken mast of a
cutter fitted in splendidly as a ridge-pole. For the walls I visited an
old bean-tree log in the jungle, cut off blocks in suitable lengths, and
split them with maul and wedges into rough slabs, roughly adzed away
superfluous thickness, and carried them one by one to the brink of the
canyon, down which I cast them. Then each had to be carried up the steep
side and on to the site, the distance from the log in the jungle being
about three hundred yards.

Within the skeleton of the building I improvised a rough bench, upon
which the slabs were dressed with the plane and the edges bevelled so
that each would fit on the other to the exclusion of the rain. Upon the
uprights I nailed inch slats perpendicularly, against which the slabs
were placed, each being held in place temporarily until the panel was
complete, when other slats retained them. The rafters were manipulated of
odd sorts of timber and the roof of second-used corrugated iron, the
previous nail holes being stopped with solder. A roomy recess with a
beaten clay floor was provided for the cooking stove. Each of the two
doors was made in horizontal halves, with a hinged fanlight over the
lintel, and the window spaces filled with wooden shutters, hinged from
the top. The floor (an important feature) is of asphalt on a foundation
of earth and charcoal solidly compressed. But before carting in the
material boards were placed temporarily edgeways alongside the bedlogs
round the interior. Then when the earthen foundation was complete the
boards were removed, leaving a space of about an inch, which was filled
with asphalt, well rammed, consistently with the whole of the floor

All this laborious work--performed conscientiously to the best of my
ability--occupied a long time, and from it originated much backache and
general fatigue, and at the end I found that I had been so absorbed in
the permanence rather than the appearance of the dwelling that one of the
corner posts was out of the perpendicular and that consequently the
building stood awry. Grace of style it cannot claim; but neither "white
ants" nor weather trouble it.

And to what sweet uses has adversity made us familiar! When I bought a
boat to bring hither I knew not the distinguishing term of a single
halyard, save the "topping lift," and even that scant knowledge was idle,
for I was blankly ignorant of the place and purpose of the oddly-named
rope. Necessity drove me to the acquirement of boat sense, and now I
manage my home-built "flattie"--mean substitute for the neat yacht which
necessity compelled me to part with--very courageously in ordinary
weather; and I am content to stay at home when Neptune is frothy at the

A preponderant part of the furniture of our abode is the work of my own
unskilled hands--tables, chairs, bookshelves, cupboards, &c. There is
much pleasure and there are also, many aches and pains in the designing
and fashioning serviceable chairs from odd kinds of bush timber.

In the making of a chair, as in the building of a boat by one who has had
no training in any branch of carpentry, there is scope for the personal
element. Though the parts have been cut and trimmed with minute care and
all possible precision, each, according to requirements, being the
duplicate of the other, when they come to be assembled obstructive
obstinacy prevails. One of the most fiendish things the art of man
contrives is a chair out of the routine design made by a rule-of-thumb
carpenter. Grotesque in its deformities, you must needs pity your own
mishandling of the obstinate wood. Have you courage to smile at the
misshapen handiwork, or do you cowardly, discard the deformity you have
created? How it grunts and groans as pressure is applied to its stubborn
bent limbs! Curvature of the spine is the least of its ills. It limps and
creaks when fixed tentatively for trial. Tender-footed, it stands awry,
heaving one leg aloft--as crooked and as perverse as Caliban. In good
time, botching here, violent constraint there, the chair finds itself or
is forced so to do, for he is a weak man who is not stronger than his own
chair. So, after many days' intense toil--toil which even troubled the
night watches, for have I not lain awake with thoughts automatically
concentrated on a seemingly impossible problem, plotting by what illicit
and awful torture it might be possible for the tough and stubborn parts
to be brought into juxtaposition--there is a chair--a solid, sitable
chair, which neither squeaks, nor shuffles, nor shivers. May be you are
ashamed at the quantity of mind the dull article of furniture has
absorbed; but there are other reflections--homely as well as philosophic.



"'Be advised by a plain man, (said the quaker to the soldier), 'Modes and
apparels are but trifles to the real man: therefore do not think such a
man as thyself terrible for thy garb nor such a one as me contemptible
for mine.'"--ADDISON.

Small must be the Isle of Dreams, so small that possession is possible. A
choice passion is not to be squandered on that which, owing to
exasperating bigness, can never be fully possessed. An island of bold
dimensions may be free to all--wanton and vagrant, unlovable. Such is not
for the epicure--the lover of the subtle fascination, the dainty moods,
and pretty expressions of islands. The Isle must be small, too, because
since it is yours it becomes a duty to exhaustively comprehend it.
Familiarity with its lines of coast and sky, its declivities and hollows,
its sunny places, its deepest shades, the sources of its streams, the
meagre beginning of its gullies cannot suffice. Superficial intimacy with
features betrayable to the senses of any undiscriminating beholder is
naught. Casual knowledge of its botany and birds counts for little.
All--even the least significant, the least obvious of its charms are
there to, give conservative delight, and surly the soul that would
despise them.

If you would read the months off-hand by the flowering of trees and
shrubs and the coming and going of birds; if the inhalation of scents is
to convey photographic details of scenes whence they originate; if you
would explore miles of sunless jungle by ways unstable as water; if you
would have the sites of camps of past generations of blacks reveal the
arts and occupations of the race, its dietary scale and the pastimes of
its children; if you desire to have exact first-hand knowledge, to revel
in the rich delights of new experiences, your scope must be limited.

The sentiments of a true lover of an Isle cannot without sacrilege be
shared. The love is an exclusive passion, not of Herodian fierceness,
misgiving, and gloom, but of joyful jealousy, for it must be well-nigh
impossible to every one else.

Such is this delicious Isle--this unkempt, unrestrained garden where the
centuries gaze upon perpetual summer. Small it is, and of varied
charms--set in the fountain of time-defying youth. Abundantly sprinkled
with tepid rains, vivified by the glorious sun, its verdure tolerates no
trace of age. No ill or sour vapours contaminate its breath. Bland and
ever fresh breezes preserve its excellencies untarnished. It typifies all
that is tranquil, quiet, easeful, dreamlike, for it is the, Isle of

All is lovable--from crescentric sandpit--coaxing and consenting to the
virile moods of the sea, harmonious with wind-shaken casuarinas, tinkling
with the cries of excitable tern--to the stolid grey walls and blocks of
granite which have for unrecorded centuries shouldered off the white
surges of the Pacific. The flounces of mangroves, the sparse, grassy
epaulettes on the shoulders of the hills the fragrant forest, the dim
jungle, the piled up rocks, the caves where the rare swiftlet hatches out
her young in gloom and silence in nests of gluten and moss--all are mine
to gloat over. Among such scenes do I commune with the genius of the
Isle, and saturate myself with that restful yet exhilarating principle
which only the individual who has mastered the art of living the
unartificial life perceives. When strained of body and seared of mind,
did not the Isle, lovely in lonesomeness, perfumed, sweet in health,
irresistible in mood, console and soothe as naught else could? Shall I
not, therefore, do homage to its profuse and gracious charms and exercise
the rights and privileges of protector?

"When thus I hail the moment flying,
Ah! still delay, thou art so fair!"

Sea, coral reefs, forest, jungle afford never ending pleasure. Look, where
the dolorous sphinx sheds gritty tears because of the boldness of the sun
and the solvency of the disdainful sea. Look, where the jungle clothes
the steep Pacific slope with its palms and overskirt of vines and
creepers! Glossy, formal bird's-nest ferns and irregular mass of
polypodium edged with fawn-coloured, infertile fronds fringe the sea-ward
ending. Orchids, old gold and violet, cling to the rocks with the white
claws of the sea snatching at their toughened roots, and beyond the
extreme verge of ferns and orchids on abrupt sea-scarred boulders are the
stellate shadows of the whorled foliage of the umbrella tree, in varied
pattern, precise and clean cut and in delightful commingling and
confusion. Deep and definite the shadows, offspring of lordly light and
steadfast leaves--not mere insubstantialities, but stars deep sculptured
in the grey rock.

And when an intemperate sprite romps and rollicks, and all the features
of prettiness and repose are distraught under the bluster and lateral
blur of a cyclone, still do I revel in the scene. Does a mother love her
child the less when, contorted with passion, it storms and rages? She
grieves that a little soul should be so greatly vexed. Her affection is
no jot depreciated. So, when my trees are tempest-tossed, and the grey
seas batter the sand-spit and bellow on the rocks, and neither bird nor
butterfly dare venture from leafy sanctuary, and the green flounces are
tattered and stained by the scald of brine spray, do I avow my serenity.
How staunch the heart of the little island to withstand so sturdy a

In such a scene would it not have been wicked to have delivered ourselves
over to any cranky, miserly economy or to any distortion or affectation
of thrift? Had fortune smiled, her gifts would have been sanely
appreciated, for our ideas of comfort and the niceties of life are not
cramped, neither are they to be gauged by the narrow gape of our purse.
Our castles are built in the air, not because earth has no fit place for
their foundations, but for the sufficient reason that the wherewithal for
the foundations was lacking. When a sufficiency of the world's goods has
been obtained to satisfy animal wants for food and clothing and shelter,
happiness depends, not upon the pleasures but the pleasantnesses of life;
not upon the possession of a house full of superfluities but in the
attainment of restraining grace.

It might be possible for us to live for the present in just a shade
"better style" than we do; but we have mean ambitions in other
directions than style. Style is not for those who are placidly
indifferent to display; and before whom on a comely, scornful Isle shall
we strut and parade? "You and I cannot be confined within the weak list
of a country's fashions," for do we not proclaim and justify our own? Are
we not leaders who have no subservient, no flattering imitators, no
sycophantic copyists? The etiquette of our Court finds easy expression,
and we smile decorously on the infringements of casual comers.

Once a steamer anchored boldly in the bay--a pert steamer with a saucy,
off-duty air. Certain circumstances forewarned us of a "formal call." So
that the visit should not partake of an actual surprise a boat containing
ladies and gentlemen was rowed ostentatiously across to land awkwardly at
such a point as would herald the fact and afford a precious interim in
which we were plainly invited to embellish ourselves--to assume a
receptive style of countenance and clothes and company manners. Careless
of dignity, the charitable prelude was lost upon us. Our self-conscious
and considerate visitors dumbly expressed amazement at their informal
reception and our unfestive attire. Yet my garments were neat,
sufficient, and defiantly unsoiled. Had I donned a full, white suit, with
neat tie and Panama hat, and stood even barefooted on the beach,
conspicuous, revealed as a "gentleman" even from the decks of the defiant
steamer, the boat-load would have come straight to the landing smiling,
and chatting, to drop "their ceremonious manna in the way of starved
people." They would have been elated had I assumed robes of reverence--a
uniform indicative of obligation--a worthy response to their patronage.
With compliments expressed in terms of functionary clothes they had hoped
to soothe their vanity. White cotton and a tinted tie would have been
smilingly honoured; and the mere man was not flattered to perceive that
he was less in esteem than the drapery common to the species. I never will
be content to be a supernumerary to my clothes.

Our visitors reflected not on their intrusion. My precious privacy was
gratuitously violated, and in such circumstances that my holiday humour
was put under restraint for the time being. Though I do profess love for
human nature, for some phases I have but scant respect.

But our house was open. None of the observances of the rites of
hospitality was lacking. Gleams of good humour dispersed the gloom on the
faces of our guests. They had penetrated the thin disguise of clothes,
and it was then that I silently wished in Portia's words that "God might
grant them a fair departure."

Another class of visitor came on a misty morning in a fussy little
launch. After preliminary greetings on the beach he remarked on my name,
presuming that I belonged to a Scotch family.

"A good family, I do not question."

"Oh, yes. A family of excellent and high repute."

"Then, I cannot be any connection, for I am proud to confess that our
family is distinguished--greatly distinguished--by a very bad name. It
comes from Kent. I am a kinsman of a king--the King of the Beggars!"

"Ah! Quite a coincidence. I remarked to my friend as we came up to your
Island: 'If the exile is a descendant of the King of the Beggars, this
is just the kind of life he would be likely to adopt.'"

"Exactly. I am indeed complimented. Blood--the blood of the vagabond--will

And my friendly visitor--a man whom the King had delighted to
honour--with whimsical glances at my clothes, which tended to "sincerity
rather then ceremony," strolled along the beach.

If we were disposed to vaunt ourselves, have we not, in this simplicity
and lack of style, the most persuasive of examples?

Indifferent to style, we do indulge in longings--longings pitifully
weak--longings for the preservation of independence toilfully purchased
during the poisonous years of the past. Beside all wishes for books and
pictures and means for music and the thousands of small things which make
for divine discontent, stands a spectre--not grim and abhorrent and
forbidding, but unlovely and stern, indicating that the least excess of
exotic pleasures would so strain our resources that independence would be
threatened. If we were to buy anything beyond necessities, we might not
be certain of gratifying wants, frugal as they are, without once more
being compelled to fight with the beasts at some Australian Ephesus.
Rather than clog our minds with the thought of such conflict and of
fighting with flaccid muscles, dispirited and almost surely ingloriously,
we choose to laugh and be glad of our liberty, to put summary checks upon
arrogant desires for the possession of hosts of things which would
materially add to comforts without infringing upon pleasures, and find in
all serene satisfaction.

We have not yet pawned our future. No sort of tyranny, save that which is
primal, physical, and of the common lot, puts his dirty foot on our
haughty, sun-favoured necks.

"It is still the use of fortune
To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,
To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow
An age of poverty."

May Heaven and our thrift avert the fate!

The nervous intensity, the despotic self-sufficiency of this easy and
indifferent existence may expose us to taunts; but how sublimely
ineffective the taunts which are never heard and which, if heard through
echoing mischance, would provoke but serene smiles; for have we not
avoided the aches of uniformity, the seriousness of prosperity, most of
the trash of civilisation, and the scorn of Fortune when she sniggers?

How magnificently slender, too, is our boasted independence! What superb
economists are we! Astonishment follows upon an audit of our slipshod
accounts at the amount spent unconsciously on small things which do not
directly affect the actual cost of living. Taking the mean of several
years' expenditure, the item "postage stamps" is a little larger than
the cost of my own clothing and boots. The average annual cost of
stamps has been 5 4s.; clothing and boots, 4 12s. Indeed, this
latter item is inflated, since, while I have stamps worth only a
few shillings on hand, clothes are in stock sufficient (in main
details) to last twelve months. The "youthful hose, well kept," with
other everlasting drapery brought from civilisation, is still wearable.
The original clothing, such as conformity with the rules of the streets
implies, remains serviceable, however obsolete in "style," which is
another word for fashion, "that pitiful, lackey-like creature which
struts through one country in the cast-off finery of another." For the
privilege of citizenship in what, at present, is the freest country in
the world my direct taxation amounts to 1 5s. per annum; and, since
"luxuries" are not in demand, indirect contributions to State and
Commonwealth are so trivial that they fail to excite the most sensitive
of the emotions. All our household is in harmony with this quiet tune,
and yet we have not conquered our passion for thrift but merely
disciplined it.

A young missionary who became a great bishop, after some experience of
"the wilds," expressed the opinion that there were but six
necessaries--shelter, fuel, water, fire, something to eat, and blankets.
Our practical tests, extending over twelve years, would tend to the
reduction of the list. For the best part of the year one item--blankets--is
superfluous. Water and fuel are so abundant that they count almost as
cheaply as the air we breathe; but we do lust after a few clothes--a very
few--which the good missionary did not catalogue. Our essentials would
therefore be--shelter, something to eat, and a "little" to wear. Fire is
included under "something to eat," for it is absolutely unnecessary for
warmth. We do still appreciate a warm meal. Our house contains no means
for the production of heat, save the kitchen stove.

Fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, poultry, fish, and nearly all the meat
consumed--emergency stocks of tinned goods are in reserve--are as cheap as
water and fuel. Our unsullied appetites demand few condiments. Why
olives, when if need be--and the need has not yet manifested itself--as
shrewd a relish and as cleansing a flavour is to be obtained from the
pale yellow flowers of the male papaw, steeped in brine--a decoration and
a zest combined? Our mango chutney etherealises our occasional salted
goat-mutton--and we know that the chutney is what it professes to be.

What more wholesome and pleasant a dish than papaw beaten to mush,
saturated with the juice of lime, sweetened with sugar, and made
fantastic with spices? What more enticing, than stewed mango--golden and
syrupy--with junket white as marble; or fruit salad compact of pineapple,
mango, papaw, granadilla, banana, with lime juice and powdered sugar?

We lack not for spring chicken or roast duck whenever there is the wish;
for the best part of the year eggs are despicably common. Every low tide
advertises oysters gratis, and occasionally crabs and crayfish for the
picking up. Delicate as well as wholesome and nutritious food is ours at
so little cost that our debt to smiling Nature, if she kept records and
tendered her accounts, would be somewhat embarrassing. And if Nature
frowns with denial and there are but porridge and goat's milk and eggs
and home-made bread and jam, thank goodness she blesses such fare with
unjaded appreciation!

Since deprived of the society of blacks, our domestic expenditure has
dwindled by nearly one-half. Indeed, it is almost as costly to feed and
clothe three blacks as to provide essentials for three whites of frugal
tastes. Here are a few items of annual domestic expenditure, proffered
not in the spirit of gloating over our simplicity or of delighting in
economy of luxuries, but to illustrate how few are the wants which Nature
(with a little assistance) leaves unsatisfied. The figures are presented
with the utmost diffidence, but with indifference alike to the censure of
those who may scent obsequiousness to the stern philosophy of Thoreau in
the matter of diet, or to the jeers of others who despise small things:

Flour 4 5 0
Groceries, lighting, &c. 40 0 0
Sundries 12 0 0
Total 56 5 0

And the irreducible minimum has yet to be reached. For many years my
exacting personal needs demanded the luxury of coffee. Pure and
unadulterated, I quaffed it freely, and (being no politician) neither
did it enhance my wisdom nor enable me to see through anything with
half-shut eyes. Yet did it make me too glad. Under such vibrant, emphatic
fingers my frail nerves twanged all too shrilly, and of necessity coffee
was abandoned--not without passing pangs--in favour of a beverage direct
from Nature and untinctured by any of the vital principles of vegetables.
Thus is economy evolved, not as a foppish fad but as due obedience to
the polite but imperious decrees of Nature.

And having confessed--far too literally, I fear--to so much on the
expenditure side of the simple life in tropical Queensland, it might be
anticipated that the items of income would be stated to the completion of
the story. The affairs of the busy world were discarded, not upon the
strength of large accumulated savings or the possession of means by
inheritance or by the success of investments or by mere luck, but upon
merely imperative, theoretic anticipations upon the cost of living the
secluded life. We had little in reserve, how little it would be
unbecoming to say. Our theories proved delusive, though not bewildering.
Some of the things abandoned with unphilosophic ease at the outset proved
under the test of experience to be essential. Others deemed to be needful
to desperation were forsaken unconsciously. Under the light of experience
forecasts as to actual requirements were quite as vain as our
preconceptions contrariwise. No single item which was not subjected to
regulation. Without imposing any more impatient figures, be it said,
then, that, though all preliminary estimates of ways and means underwent
summary evolution, the financial end was close upon that on which we had
calculated. Compulsion had all to do with the result. During each of the
years of Island life our total income has never exceeded 100 and has
generally fallen considerably below that amount. From the beginning we
felt--and the foregoing lines have failed of their purpose if this
acknowledgment has not been forestalled

"To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus";

and to draw again from the unplumbed depths of Shakespeare:

"What's sweet to do, to do will aptly find."



"Go and argue with the flies of summer that there is a power divine yet
greater than the sun in the heavens, but never dare hope to convince the
people of the South that there is any other God than Gold."--KINGLAKE.

No "saint-seducing gold" has been permitted to ruffle this placidity.
Gold! Our ears were tickled by the tale that good folks had actually
thrilled when we slunk away to our Island. Rumour wagged her tongue,
abusing God's great gift of speech, until scared Truth fled. She
said--how cheap is notoriety!--that secret knowledge of hidden wealth
which good luck had revealed during our holiday camp had induced us to
surreptitiously secure the land, that in our own good time we might
selfishly gloat over untold gold! Some came frankly to prospect our hills
and gullies, others shamefacedly, when our backs were turned; for had it
not been foretold that gold was certain to be found on the Island, and
were not the invincible truths of geology verified by our covert ways?
Had not one of the natives told of a lump so weighty that no man might
lift it and on which hungry generation after hungry generation had
pounded nuts? Had not another used a nugget as a plummet for his
fishing-line? It mattered not that the sordidly battered lump proved to
be an ingot of crude copper--probably portion of the ballast from some
ancient wrecks--and that Truth was sulking down some very remote well
when the fable of the golden sinker was invented. Ordinary men--men of
the type whom Kinglake designated "Poor Mr. Reasonable Man"--men with
common sense, in fact, the very commonest of sense--were not to be
beguiled by the plain statement that apparently sane individuals wilfully
ventured into solitude for the mere privilege of living. Gold must be the
real attraction--all else fictitious, said they. "They have" [Rumour is
speaking] "the option of an unwitnessed reef, sensationally, romantically
rich, or know of a piratically and solemnly secreted hoard." Indeed, we
did think to enjoy our option, but over something more precious than

But one visitor was so confidentially certain about the gold that he
boldly made a proposition to share it. A fair exchange it was to be. He
would, then and there, lead to a shaft 60 feet deep, and deep in the
jungle, too, at a spot so artfully concealed that no mortal man could
ever unguided hope to find it, where was to be revealed a reef--a rich
reef blasted by the mere refractoriness of the ore, a disadvantage which
would vanish like smoke before a man of means. To this sure and certain
source of fortune he would provide safe and speedy conduct if on our part
we would with like frankness confide in him our secret.

Our lack of secret, was it not boldly writ on our faces? But it was fair
to assume an air of mystery. "Our secret," said we, "is more desirable
than gold, yea, than much fine gold. Yours, at the best, is but dross!"

The very worst that could happen would be the discovery on this spot of
anything more precious than an orchid. Gold, which would transform the
Isle into a desert, is therefore selfishly concealed, and the reason for
the concealment remains an incomprehensible enigma. Was it not the
pinnacle of folly to retire to an Island where gold was not to be gotten
either by the grace of God or by barter or strife with man? So bold a
foolishness was incredible. Yet we get more out of the life of incredible
folly than the wise who think of gold and little else but gold.

The singular perfection of our undertaking--"the rarity to run mad
without a cause, without the least constraint or necessity," the exercise
of that "refined and exquisite passion"--stamped me a disciple of Don
Quixote, and such I remain.

Some ancient said that the more folly a man puts into life the more he
lives--a precept in which I steadfastly believe, provided the folly is of
the wholesome kind and on a sufficient and calculated scale.

For several years prior to our descent no blacks had been resident on the
Island. After the blotting out of the great multitude, the visits of its
descendants had been irregular and brief. Therefore--and the assurance is
almost superfluous--most of the evidences of the characteristics of the
race had, in the course of nature, been obliterated. A few frescoes
adorning remote rock shelters, a few pearl shell fish-hooks, stone axes
and, hammers, a rude mortar or two (merely granite rocks in which shallow
depressions had been worn by the pounding of nuts), shells on the sites
of camps, scars of stone axes on a few trees--these were the only relics
of the departed race.

Has a decade of occupation by wilful white folks wrought any permanent
change in the stamp of Nature? None, save the exotic plants, that time,
fire, and "white ants" might not consume. My kitchen midden is less
conspicuous than those of the blacks, and, decently interred, glass and
china shards the only lasting evidence thereof, for the few fragments of
iron speedily corrode to nothingness in this damp and saline air.
Unwittingly the blacks handed down specimens of their handicraft--the
pearl shell fish-hooks, a thousand times more durable in this climate
than hooks of steel. Geologists tell us that shells with iridescent
colours are found in clays of such ancient date that if stated in
centuries an indefinite number of millions would have to be assigned to
them. It is not strange, then, that some of my pearl shell hooks are as
lustrous and sharp to-day as when the careless maker mislaid them in the
sand for me to find half a century later. We leave no records on the land
itself which would betray us after the lapse of half a dozen years. Is it
not humiliating to find that the white man as the black records his most
durable domestic history in rubbish, easily expungible by clean-fingered

Is humanity ever free from worries? What it has not it invents. Remote
though we are from the disturbance of other folk's troublous cries, the
ocean does not afford complete exemption from the sight of the shocking
insecurity of the street.

One memorable day, casually glancing at the mainland, I saw on the beach
something moving at astonishing speed. Whereupon the telescope was
brought to bear, and to my dismay revealed, actually and without fiction,
a practical spring cart, drawn by a real horse at a trot, which horse was
driven (as far as the telescope was credible) by a man! Over four years
have elapsed since I saw any wheeled vehicle other than my own
barrow--the speed of which is sedate (for I am a sedate and determined
man, and refuse to be flurried by my own barrow). Nervousness and
excitement began to play. Thank the propitious stars, two miles and more
of mighty ocean separated me from the furious car. Otherwise, who may
say? I might in my confusion have been unable to avoid disaster. This
place is becoming thrilling. Let me move farther from the rush and
bewilderment of traffic. Let me flee to some more secluded scene, where
my sight, unsoiled hitherto by motor-car, may for ever preserve most
excellent virginity. I have since made inquiries, and have been assured
that the nerve-shocking juggernaut of the opposite beach is
palsied--liable, indeed, to dissolution at any moment. When the collapse
occurs I propose to venture across to inspect the remains and renew
youthful memories of the species of conveyance to which it belonged.

How do we spend our day? How fill up the blank spaces? Goats are to be
milked', fowls to be fed, dough to be kneaded, breakfast to be prepared,
firewood to be cut, house to be looked after. Most of the substantial
improvements have long since been finished, but there is no place but has
to be kept in repair. One day, a week practically, is bestowed on the
steamer. All odd moments and every evening are devoted to books.

During the cool season, when day tides range low, hours are passed on the
coral reef, as often as conscience permits, in contemplation of the life
of that crowded area. Seldom do we leave the Island, and rarely does any
but a casual visitor break in on our privacy. Satisfied of the
unpotentiality of wealth, here we materialise those dreams of happiness
which are the enchantment of youth, the resolve of maturity, the solace
of old age. Let other questants abandon hope, for I have found the
philosopher's stone.

My concerns are far too engrossing to permit my mind to wander on the
trivial, unreal, incomprehensible affairs of the Commonwealth, for the
command of which practical politicians continuously grapple, though, I am
one of those who mourn for democracy, since democracy has chosen to
indulge in such hazardous experiments. The Government of a country which
gives equal voice in the election of its representatives to university
professor and unrepentant Magdalene is not altogether in a wholesome way,
even though over a dozen Houses of Parliament clamour to manufacture its

It is enough for me to possess the Isle of Desire--the evergreen isle
that "sluttish time" has never besmeared with ruin--where one may wander
whithersoever the mood of the moment wills, or loll in the shade of
scented trees, or thread the sunless mazes of the jungle--that region of
shadow where all the leaves are dumb--listening for faint, ineffective
sounds, or bask on the sand--on clean, unviolated, mica-bespangled
sand--dreamily gazing over a sea of flashing reflections where fitful
zephyrs, soft as the shadows of clouds, alone make blueness visible.

The individual whose wants are few--who is content, who has no treasure
to guard, whose rights there is none to dispute; who is his own
magistrate, postman, architect, carpenter, painter, boat-builder, boatman,
tinker, goatherd, gardener, woodcutter, water-carrier, and general
labourer; who has been compelled to chip the superfine edges of his
sentiments with the repugnant craft of the butcher; who, heedless of rule
and method, adjusts the balance between wholesome toil and whole-hearted
ease; who has a foolish love for the study of Nature; who has a sense of
fellowship with animate and inanimate things; who endeavours to learn the
character and the purpose of varied forms of life; whose jurisdiction
extends over fifteen sacrosanct isles; who is never happier than when
reading--need never bewail the absence of human schemes and sounds or
fret under the galling burden of idleness. Here is no bell to affright;
nor are we subject to the bidding or liable to the assault of any passer
by. Smooth-flowing time knows not mud or any foulness, while its
impassive surface, burnished by August sunshine, reflects fair scenes and
silent doings.

The freedom from care, the vague sense of selfish property in the whole
scheme of Nature, the delicious discovery of the virtues of solitude, the
loveliness of this most gay and youthful earth, and the tones of the
pleasant-voiced and often surly sea fill me with joy and embellish
hope--vague and unsubstantial--for is not this Isle the "place where one
may have many thoughts and not decide anything"?

For all my occupations, I am often driven to "dialogue with my shadow"
for lack of less subservient auditor, and though, as the years pass, I
find that I become more loose of soul and in broad daylight indulge the
liberty of muttering my affairs and addressing animals and plants and of
confiding secrets to the chaste moon--poets and dramatists term such
incontinence of speech soliloquy and employ it for the utterance of
edifying inspiration--it is because it is impossible to be ever quite
alone. Not so very long ago in Merrie England if a person muttered to
himself it was enough on which to establish a charge of wizardry; but it
is also said that real witches and wizards, though subject to the most
ticklish tests, never perspired--a default which hastened conviction.
Therein is my hope of salvation. If it be my fate some day to be found

"With age grown double,
Picking dry sticks and mumbling to myself."

I shall claim a profuse prerogative, and continue to saunter down into
the gloom at the foot of the hill of life unblinking in the sun.



"Who has not hearkened to Her infinite din?"--THOREAU.

Free alike from the clatter of pastimes and the creaks and groans of
labour, this region discovers acute sensibility to sound. Silence in its
rarest phases soothes the Isle, reproaching disturbances, though never so
temperate. All the endemic sounds are primitive and therefore seldom
harsh. Even the mysterious fall of a tree in the jungle--not an unusual
occurrence on still days during the wet season--is unaccompanied by thud
and shock. Encompassing vines and creepers, colossal in strength and
overwhelming in weight, which have strained the tree to breaking point,
ease their burden down, muffling its descent, though now and again the
primal rupture of trunk or branch rings out a sharp protest, and
following the fall is silence--that varying, elusive sensation not to he
expressed by the absence of actual noise.

There are silences which tinkle or buzz in the ears, causing them to ache
with stress and strain; silences dull and sad as a wad of wool; silences
as searching as the odour of musk--as soothing as the perfume of violets.
The crisp silence of the seashore when absolute calm prevails is as
different from the strained, sodden, padded silence of the jungle as the
savour of olives from the raw insipidity of white of egg, for the
cumbersome mantle of leafage is the surest stifler of noise, the truest
cherisher of silence.

The most imperious hour of this realm of silence is three o'clock in the
afternoon, when the sun has absorbed the energies of the most volatile of
birds and insects. An hour later all may begin to assert themselves after
a reviving, siesta; yet during the intensest hour of silence any abrupt
noise--a call, or whistle, or bark of a dog--finds an immediate response.
No sound has been heard for an hour. All the birds have been stricken
dumb or have been banished, yet as an echo to any violation of the
silence comes the sweet, mellow, inquisitive note of the "moor-goody" (to
use the black's name, for the shrike thrush). The bird seems fond of
sound and will answer in trills and chuckles attempts to imitate its

The condition of perfect silence is not for this noisy sphere. The artist
in so-called silences merely registers certain more or less delicate
sound-waves flowing in easy contours, which others have not the leisure
to distinguish. Often have I found myself as I strolled gloating over the
exquisite absence of sound--enjoying in full mental relish the quaint and
refined sensation. Yet when I have stopped and listened determinedly,
viciously analysing my sensations, have I become aware of a hubbub of
frail and interblended sounds. That which I had thought to be distilled
silence, was microphonic Babel--an intimate commingling of analogous
noises varying in quality and intensity. By wilful resistance to what
Falstaff called "the disease of not listening," I have been privileged to
become aware of the singing of a quiet tune, some of the phrases of which
were directly derivative from inarticulate vegetation--the thud of glossy
blue quandongs on the soft floor of the jungle, the clicking of a
discarded leaf as it fell from topmost twigs down through the strata of
foliage, the bursting of a seed-pod, the patter of rejects from the
million pink-fruited fig, overhanging the beach, the whisper of leaves,
the faint squeal where interlocked branches fret each other unceasingly,
the sigh of phantom zephyrs too elusive to be felt.

Echoes from vistas of silence far in the jungle lost their individuality
in a sob. Grasshoppers clinked in the forest, the hum of bees and
beetles, the fluty plaint of a painted pigeon far in the gloom, the
furtive scamper of scrub fowl among leaves made tender by decay, the
splash of startled fish in the shadows, commingled and blended to the
accompaniment of that subdued aerial buzz by which Nature manifests the
more secret of her functions and art--that ineffable minstrelsy to which
her silent battalions keep step. Preoccupation, the whirl of my own
temperate thoughts, scared silence, while as soon as the mental machine
was stilled, the very trees became vocal. Thus have I caught fleet
silences as they passed in chase of fugitive sounds.

Since the morning stars sang together, absolute silence has not visited
the uneasy earth. In this Silent Isle the ears--

"Set to small measure, deaf to all the beats
Of the large music rolling o'er the world"--

become almost supernaturally alert, catching the faintest sound.
Kinglake, who heard in the Syrian desert while dozing on his camel and
for ten minutes after awakening "the innocent bells of Marlen,"
attributed the phenomenon to the heat of the sun, the perfect dryness,
the deep stillness, "having rendered the ears liable to tingle under the
passing touch of some mere memory that may have swept across my brain in
a moment of sleep." Homesick sailors, too, lost in the profound stillness
of mid-ocean, have listened with fearful wonder to the phantom chiming of
their village bells.

Apart from the tricks which memory plays upon the solitary individual,
inviting him by scents and sounds to scenes of the past, I find that the
moist unadulterated atmosphere is a most compliant medium for the
transmission of certain sorts of sound waves. The actual surface of the
sea--differing from its resonant bulk--seems to sap up, rather than
convey sounds, though on given planes above its level sounds travel
unimpeded for remarkable distances. The resonance of the atmosphere
appears at times to be dependent on the tone and quality rather than on
the abruptness and loudness of the sound. I have listened with strange
delight to the rustle of the sea on the mainland beach--two and a half
miles distant--when the air has been so idle that the sensitive
casuarinas--ever haunted by some secret woe upon which to moan and
sob--have been mute and unable to find excuse for the faintest sigh. The
branches which thinly shaded me hung limp and still and yet the soft,
white-footed sea marking time on the harder sands of the mainland set
distance at naught in one continuous murmur.

However listless the air, the coral-reef, though its crowded life is
inarticulate and mute is ever brisk with minor but strenuous noises.
Splashes and gurgles, sighs and gasps, coughs and sneezes, sharp clicks
and snaps and snarls--telling of alarms, tragic escapes, and violent
death-dealings--blend with the continuous murmur of the sea, and are
occasionally punctuated by sudden slaps and thuds as a blundering,
hammer-head shark pursues a high-leaping eagle-ray, or the red-backed sea
eagle dashes down upon a preoccupied bream, the impact of its firm breast
embossing a white rosette on the blue water.

In the absence of vibratory media the noises of the reef are isolated.
furtive, echoless--staccato accidentals and dull dissonances out of tune
with the soothing theme of the sea. Hence, when, as I wandered absorbed
in an inspection of minor details, and a mellow whistle, constant but
varying in volume, broke in upon my musings, it was vain to repress the
thrill of excitement. A sound so foreign and incongruous also had a
certain element of mystery. In a flash unsensational ponderings were
displaced by a picture of a steamer in distress far away. Had I not on a
similar occasion of a secret-disclosing tide heard through seven miles of
insulted and sullen air the flop of an inch or so of dynamite exploded by
a heartless barbarian for the illicit destruction of vivacious fish? Had
I not listened with amazement to the buzz of a steamer's propeller and
the throb of her engines six miles away when unaccustomed "nigger-heads"
of coral showed yellow in the sun? The calm, shallow sea conveyed the
sounds with marvellous fidelity and surety. Yet this unaccountable call
came from a quarter whence steamers may not venture, and was I not the
only whistler within a range of many miles? No steamer ever gloated or
warned or appealed in so fluty a note--plaintive, slightly tremulous,
nervously imploring.

Alert, I tracked the strange sound along an eccentric course to its
haunt, finding nothing more than the empty shell of a huge sea urchin,
which in accord with a whim of the sea had floated and was now held aloft
slantwise to the lips of the wind, firm in the branching tines of
stag's-horn coral. A rustic pipe--giving forth a sonorous moan, now
cooing and crooning, now bold and confident, and again irresolute and
unschooled. Not too sure of instrumentalism, oft the note was hesitating,
soliciting a compliant ear as became a modest wooer of the muses,
polishing his unceremonious serenade to some, shy mermaid, or hooting at
shyer silence.

A new art, a rare accomplishment! So the musician was diffident,
half-ashamed, half-shocked at his audacity, wholly self-conscious;
earnest to please yet doubtful of the reception awaiting his untutored,
artless play. Gathering courage, the breeze moistened his lips and a
triumphant spasm of sound boomed out, and again the tremulous undertone
prevailed. It was more than a serenade--a primitive sensation from
primitive matter--a vital function, for as long, as the wind blew and
until the lapping sea gurgled in its throat and its note ceased with the
bursting of a bubble, there, held fixedly by living coral, the dead shell
could not choose but whistle. So I left it to its wayward pipings, happy
to have been the sole auditor to a purely natural, albeit mechanical,
monotone. Upon such an instrument did the heavenly maid beguile the time
when she was yet uncouthly young--at the hoydenish age when men also
cajoled her with clicking sticks and the beating of hollow logs, and
music was but a variety of noise.



"The pot herbs of the gods."--THOREAU.

Those branches of the cultural enterprise which depend upon my own
unaided exertions fail, I am bound to confess, consistently. However
partial to the results of the gardener's art, I admit with lamentations
lack of the gardener's touch. Since bereft of black labour by the
seductions of rum and opium, the plantation of orange-trees has sadly
degenerated; the little grove of bananas has been choked with gross
over-bearing weeds, the sweet-potato patch has been absorbed, the
coffee-trees elbowed out of existence. But how may one man of many
avocations withstand acres of riotous and exulting weeds? Therefore do I
attempt atonement for obvious neglect by the scarcely less laborious
delight of acclimatising plants from distant tropical countries.

A valued and disinterested friend sends seeds which I plant for the
benefit of posterity. Who will eat of the fruit of the one durian which I
have nurtured so carefully and fostered so fondly? Packed in granulated
charcoal as an anti-ferment, the seed with several others which failed
came from steamy Singapore, and over all the stages of germination I
brooded with wonder and astonishment. Since the durian is endemic in a
very restricted portion of the globe, and since those who have watched the
vital process may be comparatively few in number and therefore unlikely
to be jaded by the truisms of these pages, a few words in explanation may
not be resented. The seed of the durian is roughly cordate, about an inch
and a quarter long. In the form of a disproportionately stout and
blundering worm the sprout of my seed issued from the soil, peered vaguely
into daylight, groped hesitatingly and arched over to bury its apex in the
soil, and from this point the delicately white primal leaves sprang, and
the growth has been continuous though painfully slow ever since.

Perhaps the deliberate development of the plant is gauged by eagerness
and anticipation. Do I not occasionally indulge the hope of living long
enough to sample the first fruits? When in such humour I long for the
years to come, and thus does my good friend stimulate expectations:--

"I have been spending a small fortune in durians, they are relatively
cheap and very good this season in Singapore. Like all the good things
in Nature--tempests, breakers, sunsets, &c. durian is indescribable.
It is meat and drink and an unrivalled delicacy besides, and you may gorge
to repletion and never have cause for penitence. It is the one case where
Nature has tried her hand at the culinary art and beaten all the CORDON
BLEUE out of heaven and earth. Would to Heaven she had been more lavish
of her essays!

"Though all durians are, perhaps, much alike and not divided like apples
and mangoes into varieties, the flavour varies much according to size and
ripeness. In some the taste of the custard surrounding the heart-like
seeds rises almost to the height of passion, rapture, or mild delirium.
Yesterday (21st June, 1907) about 2 p.m. I devoured the contents of a
fruit weighing over 10 lb. At 6 p.m. I was too sleepy to eat anything,
and thence had twelve hours of almost unbroken slumber."

Since my friend is not an enthusiast in regard to tropical fruits, his
reverie is all the more reasonable.

The Dyaks, who are passionately fond of the durian, distinguished it by
the title of DIEN, which signifies the fruit PAR EXCELLENCE. Under such
circumstances my anticipations are justifiable. To my friend I am also
indebted for several young plants of the sapodilla plum (ACHRAS SAPOTA),
sold in some parts of India under the spurious title of MANGOSTEEN, and
considered to be one of the most luscious fruits of the tropics. Like the
durian, the sapodilla plum grows all too slowly for my precipitate
tastes, though I console myself plenteously with mangoes.

Now, the mango in its infinite variety possesses charms as engaging as
those of Cleopatra. Rash and vain though it be, I am in such holiday
humour in respect of the sweet anticipation of the durian that I cannot
refrain from an attempt to chant the praises of the "little lower"
fruit. Yet it is

"Beyond the power of language to enfold
The form of beauty smiling at his heart"

whose palate is tickled with such dulcet, such fantastic flavours.

How may one hope to externalise with astringent ink the aesthetic
sensation of the assimilation of gusts of perfume?

A mango might be designated the unspeakable eatable, for who is qualified
to determine the evanescent savours and flavours which a prime specimen
of the superb fruit so generously yields? Take of a pear all that is
mellow, of a peach all that is luscious, of a strawberry all that is
fragrant, of a plum all that is kindly, of an apricot all its aroma, of
cream all its smoothness. Commingle with musk and honey, coriander and
aniseed, smother with the scent of musk roses, blend with cider, and the
mixture may convey a dim sense of some of the delectable qualities of one
kind of mango. To do justice to the produce of the very next tree another
list of triumphant excellences might be necessary. A first-class mango is
compact of so many sensations to the palate, its theme embraces such rare
and delicate surprises, that the true artist in fruit-flavours is fain to
indulge in paraphrase and paradox when he attempts to record its virtues
and--yes, its vanities.

There are mangoes and mangoes. The very worst is not to be wholly
despised. For the best there are due moods and correct environments. For
some, the lofty banquet-hall, splendid with reflected lights and the
flash of crystal and silver and the triumphal strains of a full band
hidden by a screen of palms and tree-ferns. There are others best to be
eaten to slow, soft music in a flower-bedizened glade of fairy-land.

September is the season of scents. Partly as a result of the dryness of
the month, the mango trees continue to bloom as though each had
determined (for the time being) to abandon all notion of utility and to
devote itself solely to the keeping up of appearances. Appearances
are well worth maintaining, for however trivial from a florist's point
of view the flower of the mango in detail, yet when for six weeks on end
the trees present uniform masses of buff and pink, varied with shades
of grey and pale green, and with the glister of wine-tinted, ribbon-like
leaves, and the air is alert with rich and spicy odour, there is ample
apology ever ready for the season and the direct results thereof. The
trees are manifestly over-exerting themselves, in a witless competition
with others which may never boast of painted, scented fruit. There is
not a sufficient audience of aesthetics to tolerate the change of which
the mango seems ambitious.

In Japan, where the cultured crunch hard and gritty fruits, peach and
plum trees may be encouraged to expend all their force and prime in the
production of bloom. Vagrant Englishmen are still so benighted that the
desire for sweet and aromatic fruit vaunts over that which gives delight
merely to the eye. But to assume indifference to present conditions, to
decline to accept in full measure the redolence of the season which
stands for spring in tropical Australia, to refuse to be grateful for it
all, would be inhuman.

The limes have flowered and scattered their petals; the pomeloes (the
forbidden fruit) display posies of the purest white and of the richest
odour, an odour which in its depth and drowsy essence epitomises the
luxurious indolence of the tropics; the lemons and oranges are adding to
the swectness and whiteness, and yet the sum of the scent of all these
trees of art and cultivation is poor and insipid compared with the results
of two or three indigenous plants that seem to shrink from flaunting their
graces while casting sweetness on the desolate air.

Just now, in some situations, the old gold orchid rivals the mango in
showiness and fragrance; the pencil orchid dangles white aigrettes from
the trunks and branches of hundreds of trees, saturating the air with a
subtle essence as of almonds and honey; and the hoya hangs festoons from
rocks and trees in such lavish disregard of space and the breathings of
less virile vegetation, that the sensual scent borders on the excessive.
On the hill-tops, among rocks gigantic of mould and fantastic of shape,
a less known orchid with inconspicuous flowers yields a perfume
reminiscent of the violet; the shady places on the flats are showy with
giant crinum lilies.

It is the season of scents, and the native, untended, unpampered plants
are easily and gracefully first in an uncatalogued competition. Haunting
conceit on the part of the mango will not permit acknowledgment of
defeat; but no impartial judge would hesitate in making his selection
from among plants which in maturing make no formal appeal whatever to
man, but in some cases keep aloof from notice and renown, while
dissipating scents which fertilise the brain, stimulating the flowers of
fancy. Not all the scents which sweeten the air are salubrious. Several
are distinctly injurious. Men do not actually "die of a rose in aromatic
pain," though many may become uncomfortable and fidgety by sniffing
delicious wattle-blossom; and one of the crinum lilies owes its specific
title, (PESTILENTIS) to the ill effects of its stainless flowers, those
who camp in places where the plant is plentiful being apt to be seized
with violent sickness. An attractive fruit with an exalted title
(DIOSPYROS HEBECAPRA) scalds the lips and tongue with caustic-like
severity, and a whiff from a certain species of putrescent fungus produces
almost instantaneous giddiness, mental anguish, and temporary paralysis.

The most elemental of all incenses--that which arises from warm, dry soil
sprinkled by a sudden shower--is undoubtedly invigorating. The spirituous
scent of melaleuca-trees burdens the air, not as an exhalation but as an
arrogant physical part of the Isle, while a wattle (ACACIA CUNNINGHAMI)
shyly proclaims its flowering by a scent as intangible and fleeting as a

"The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense." Not so in
respect of the organ of smell. The more educated, the more practised nose
detects the subtler odour and is the more offended by grossness. And upon
what flower has been bestowed the most captivating of perfumes? Not the
rose, or the violet, or the hyacinth, or any of the lilies or stephanotis
or boronia. The land of forbidding smells produces it; it is known to
Europeans as the Chinese magnolia. Quaint and as if carved skilfully in
ivory, after the manner of, the inhabitants of its countrymen, the petals
tumble apart at the touch, while fragrance issues not in whiffs but in
sallies, saturating the atmosphere with the bouquet of rare old port
commingled with the aroma of ripe pears and the scent of musk roses.

Some of the flowering plants of old England here dwell contentedly,
leafage being free, however few and dwarfed in some cases the bloom.
Roses, violets, honeysuckle, pansies, cosmos, phlox, balsams, sunflowers,
zinnias, blue Michaelmas daisies, dianthus, nasturtiums, &c., are on
common ground with purely tropical plants, while ageratum has become a
pestiferous weed.

An early or late arrival among flowers and fruit cannot be hailed or
chidden where there is but trifling seasonable variation. Without
beginning and without end, the perpetual motion of tropical vegetation is
but slightly influenced by the weather. Who is to say that this plant is
early or that late, when early or late, like Kipling's east and west,
are one? It is not that all flowering trees and plants are of continuous
growth. Many do have their appointed seasons, producing flowers and fruit
according to date and in orderly progress, leaving to other species the
duty of maintaining a consecutive, unbroken series which defies the
mechanism of cold countries with their cast-iron calendars.

Here but three or four trees deign to recognise the cool season by the
shedding of their leaves. FICUS CUNNINGHAMI discards--by no means
consistently--its foliage in obedience to some spasmodic impulse, when the
many thin branches, thick-strewn with pink fruit, stand out against the
sky as aerial coral, fantastically dyed. But in two or three days
burnished brown leaves burst from the embraces of elongated buds which,
rejected, fall--pink phylacteries--to decorate the sand, while in
a week the tree wears a new and glistening garment of green. The
flame-tree (ERYTHRINA INDICA) slowly abandons its foliage; but before the
last yellow-green leaf is cast aside the fringe of the blood-red robe soon
to overspread has appeared. The white cedar (MELIA CONFERTA) permits its
leaves to become yellow and to fall lingeringly, but its bareness is
merely for a week or so. So also does the foliage of the moo-jee
(TERMINALIA MELANOCARPA) turn to deepest red and is discarded, but so
orderly is the disrobing and the never varying fashion of foliage that
the tree averts the scorn of the most respectable of neighbours.

Month after month of warm days and plenteous rain during the early part
of 1909 produced an effect in the acacias which cannot be too thankfully
recorded. The blooming season extended from March 29th to July 17th,
beginning with ACACIA CUNNINHHAMI and ending with the third flush of A.
AULACOCARPA. During a third of the year whiffs of the delicious perfume
of the wattle were never absent, for two flushes of A. FLAVESCENS filled
in the brief intervals between those of AULACOCARPA. This latter, the
commonest of the species on the island, produces its flowers in long
spikes in the axils of the leaves on the minor branches, weighting such
branches with semi-pendulous plumes laden with haunting perfume. The
fragrance of the bounteous, sacrificial blooms saturates miles of air,
while their refuse tricks out the webs of spiders great and small with
fictitious favours, and carpets the earth with inconstant gold.



"And therefore is the glorious planet, Sol,
In noble eminence enthron'd and spher'd
Amidst the ether, whose medicinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil."


Twelve years of open-air life in tropical Queensland persuade me that I
am entitled to prerogative of speech, not as an oracle or a prophet on
the prodigious subject of the weather at large, but of the effect thereof
on my sensations and constitution, since the greater part of that period
has been spent under conditions calculated to put them to the test.
Especially has the sun given penetrating tastes of his quality and
bestowed enduring marks of his favour. During these twelve joyful years
the annual rainfall has averaged over 131 inches, the average number of
days on which rain has fallen being 134. Of the heat of the sun during the
hottest month of the year let two unstudied records speak. As January 29,
1907, gave early promise of exceptional heat, I watched the thermometer
closely, noting the consistency with which its ups and downs tallied with
my perceptions These are the readings:

6 a.m. 75
10 a.m. 94
Noon 96
12.30 p.m. 97
1 p.m. 98
3 p.m. 97
4 p.m. 88
5 p.m. 85
6 p.m. 82

In the sun at 1 p.m. the glass registered 108, at 2 p.m. 110, and
at 3 p.m. 107. A thunderstorm accounted for the rather early
culmination of the temperature and its rapid decline.

The shade temperature of January, 1910, at 6.30 a.m. was 73, at 3
p.m. 88. The sun registered 98 on the hottest day of that month
when my diary tells me I took part in the erection of rough fencing,
horse-driving, and lifting and carrying logs.

This salubrious sun does not excuse man from day labour in unshaded
scenes. During January, I, who am blessed with but slight muscular
strength and no inherent powers of resistance to noontide flames, have
toiled laboriously without registering more than due fatigue. Those
accustomed to manual work experience but little inconvenience. It would
be palpably indiscreet and vain to say that outdoor work in excessive
heat involves no discomfort, but it may be truthfully asserted that
midday suspension therefrom, though pleasant, is not absolutely necessary,
at any rate where the environment is such as this.

Bounteous rain and glorious sunshine in combination might seem to
constitute a climate unsuitable to persons of English birth, or at least
trying to their preconceptions of the ideal. My own experience is
entirely, enthusiastically favourable. I proffer myself as an example,
since there is none other upon whom publicity may be thrust, and really
in the spirit of performing an inevitable duty, such duty being
comprehended in the fervent desire to proclaim from the lowly height of
my housetop how health unbought and happiness unrealisable may be enjoyed
in this delicately equable clime.

When I landed feebly on September 28, 1897, and crawled up on the beach
beyond the datum of the most recent high tide to throw myself prone on
the consoling sand I was worn, world-weary, and pale, and weighed 8 st. 4
lb. Now my weight is 10 st. 2 lb., and my complexion uniformly sun-tinted.
Perhaps it would be more exact to say that my uniform has been bestowed
by the sun, because having early discovered the needlessness of
clothes--that "the body is more than raiment"--most of the apparel in
which civilisation flaunts was promptly discarded, and through the few
thin things retained the sun soon worked his will. Latterly while in the
open air I have abandoned the principal part of the superfluous remnant,
to the enjoyment of additional comfort and the increase of
self-complacency. As a final violation of my reserve be it proclaimed
that to the super-excellence of the air of the Island, to the tonic of the
sea, and to the graciousness of his Majesty the Sun--in whose radiance
have I gloried--do I owe, perhaps, salvation from that which tributary
friends in their meed of tenderness predicted--an untimely grave.

It is natural that those who live in cold climates and who wear for their
comfort clothing designed to exclude the air from all parts of the body
save the face should be steeped in conservatism; but the farther one
ventures from the chaste opinion of the world the less subserviency he
shows to customs and habits authoritative and relevant among
century-settled folk, and the more readily he adapts himself to his
environment the sooner does he become a true citizen of the country which
he has chosen. Preconceptions he must discard as unfit, if not fatal. He
is an alien until he learns to house, feed, and dress himself in
accordance with the inviolable laws which Nature prescribes to each and
every portion of her spacious and discordant realm.

Was I to remain fully clad and comfortless, or the reverse? The
indulgence of my sensations has brought about revolutionary changes of
costume and custom. Such changes were bound to react mentally, for are
they not merely the symbols of ideas? Once it was unseemly, if not
uncleanly, to perspire freely. Now the function is looked upon as
necessary, wholesome, and the sign of one's loyalty to the sun. The sun
compels thoughts. Daily, hourly does he exact homage and reign supreme
over mind, body, and estate. So commanding is his rule, so apparent his
goodwill, so speedy his punishment for sins of disobedience, so
influential his presence, that I have come to look up to him as the
transcendent manifestation of that power which ordains life and all
its privileges and abolishes all the noisesomeness of death. Alive,
he nourishes, comforts, consoles, corrects us. Dead, all that is mortal
he transforms into ethereal and vital gases. Obey him, and he blesses;
flout him, and you perish.

An old historian of sport quaintly expressed a correct theory as to the
virtue of profuse perspiration: "And when the hunters do their office
on horseback and on foot, they sweat often; then if they have any evil in
them it must come away in the sweating; so that he keep from cold after
the heat." So does the wise man in the tropics regard perspiration--not as
an offensive, certainly not as a pleasant function, but as one that is
really inevitable and conducive to cleanliness and health.

Can the man who swathes his body in ever so many separate, superimposed,
artificial skins, and who is careful to banish purifying air from contact
with him, save on the rare occasions of the bath, be as healthful as he
who furnishes himself with but a single superfluous skin, and that as
thin and penetrable as the laws which hold society together permit?

The play of the sterilising sun on the brown, moist skin is not only
tolerable but delightful--refreshing and purifying the body, while even
light cotton clothing saturated to the dripping stage with perspiration
represents the acme of discomfort, and if unchanged a good deal of the
actually unwholesome.

All the hotter hours of the day have I worked in the bush felling trees,
sawing and splitting logs, and adzing rough timber, the while November's
unclouded sun evaporated perspiration almost as speedily as it flowed
from high-pressure pores. There was no sensation of overheat, although
the arms might weary with the swinging of the heavy maul and the back
respond with aches to the stiffened attitude imposed by the adze.

Then at sundown to plunge into the tepid sea, to frolic and splash
therein, while the red light in the west began to pale and the pink and
silver surface of the ocean faded to grey; then to a vigorous soaping and
scrubbing in the shady creek, where the orange-tinted drupes of
pandanus-palms give to the cool water a balsamic savour; then, clad in
clean cotton, to the evening meal with a prodigious appetite; and to bed
at nine o'clock to sleep murmurlessly for eight hours--tell me if thus
you are not fitted for another day's toil in the sublimating sunshine!

A medical man on the staff of one of the earliest of European voyages in
the Pacific Ocean expressed the opinion that the "cutaneous disorders
which so generally affect the inhabitants in the neighbourhood of the
equator are caused by an acrimonious alteration of the humours brought on
by the great heat of these climates"; and he adds: "I have no doubt
that the constant action of the air and sun upon the skin of the people
who go continually naked contributes much to these maladies, and renders
them more obstinate." Though it would be presumptuous to pose as counsel
for the defence of his Majesty the Sun, one who is blessed with so many
of the privileges he bestows cannot ignore so scandalous albeit musty a
libel which time, the only dispassionate judge, has long since condemned
in respect of the generality of manhood. It is surprising, too, that
Byron, though he revelled in the sea, was also under a delusion as to the
more vitalising element, for he fancied the scorching rays to be
"impregnate with disease," whereas the sun, the sea, and, in lesser
degree, the torrid sand do actually represent "the spice and salt which
season a man," and are the elements whence are derived many of his
cleanest, superfine thoughts.

Kinship with his Majesty the Sun of the tropics is not to be claimed
offhand. The imperious luminary does not grant his letters-patent to all.
Very few does he permit to wanton in his presence without exacting
probation. He is a rare respecter of persons. Though there are faces,
like King Henry V.'s, which the sun will not condescend to burn,
sometimes he smites savagely. He makes of the countenances of his foes a
fry and of their bodies a comprehensive granulation. But if you find
favour in his eyes--in those discriminating, ruthless, sight-absorbing
glances which none may reciprocate--accept your privileges with a thrill
of chastened pride that you may bask in his presence and be worthy his
livery and of gladsome mind. The harpings of the sweet singer of Israel
could not have been more effectual in the dispersal of depression than
the steadfast beams of the sun supreme in tropic sky.

Let the sun scorch the skin and blister it until it peels, and scorches
and peels again, and scorches and peels alternately until, having no more
dominion over the flesh, it tinctures the very blood and transmutes mere
ruddiness to bronze. Thereafter you know not for ever the pallor of the
street for have you not the gold of the sun in your blood and his iron
in your bones?

Of the graciousness of the sun a special instance has been preserved in
my erratic diary. Here it is: November 24, 1908: Spent from 10 a.m. to
1.15 p.m. on the beach and on the Isle of Purtaboi, bare-limbed,
bare-bodied, save for scant cotton pants. Above high-water mark the sand
was scorchingly hot to the feet. The heat of the glowing coral drift on
the Isle forced me promptly to amend my methodic gait to a quick step,
though my hardened soles soon became indifferent. Nutmeg pigeons were
nesting plentifully on trees and shrubs amongst masses of orchids, and on
ledges almost obscured by grass. Brown-winged terns occupied cool nooks
and crannies in the rocks, and other species of terns had egg
reserves--they cannot be called nests--on the unshaded coral bank. After
gazing intently on the white drift, eagerly making mental notes of any
remarkable mutations in the colouring of the thickly strewn eggs, and
admiring the fortitude or indifference with which the fledglings endured
the sizzling heat, I found myself subject to an optical illusion, for
when I looked up and abroad the brightly gleaming sea had been changed to
inky purple, the hills of the mainland to black. Though absolutely
cloudless, the sky seemed oppressed with slaty gloom, and the leaves of
the trees near at hand assumed a leaden green. For a few seconds I was
convinced that some almost unearthly meteorological phenomenon, before
which the most resolute of men might cower, had developed with
theatrical suddenness. Then I realised that the intense glare of the
coral, of which I had been unconscious, and the quivering heat rays had
temporarily deprived my vision of appreciation of ordinary tints.
Saturated by vivid white light, my bemused sight swayed under temporary
aberration. I was conscious of illusion creating symptoms, tipsy with
excess of sunshine. This condition passing, I found the atmosphere,
though hot, pleasant and refreshing, the labour of rowing across the
bay involving no unusual exertion or sense of discomfort. During my
brief absence the beach of the island seemed to have absorbed still
more effectively solar rays. "Scoot" (my terrier, exulting companion
on land and sea) skipped in sprightly fashion across the burning zone,
while I was fain to walk on the grass, the sandy track being impracticable
to bare feet. In the house protests against the intolerance of the sun
were rife. Crockery on the kitchen shelves seemed to have been
artificially heated, while the head of an axe exposed to the glare was
blisteringly hot. Yet to me in the open air, most scantily draped and
wearing a frayed, loopholed, and battered straw hat, the sunbath had
been a pleasant and exhilarating indulgence in no way remarkable on the
score of temperature.

Dress, other than fulfils the dictates of decency, is not only
unimportant but incongruous and vexatious. During bright but cloudless
days the less worn the higher the degree of comfort, and upon comfort
happiness depends. Sick of a surfeit of pleasures, the whining monarch,
counselled by his soothsayers, ransacked his kingdom for the shirt
of a happy subject. He found the enviable man--a toil-worn hind who had
never fidgeted under the discomfort of the badge of respectability.

In his native state the black fellow is nearer the ideal than the white
alien in his body clothes, starched shirt, high collar, cloth suit, and
felt hat. The needs and means of the black are non-existent. His dress
corresponds, whereas the white usurper of his territory--servile to the
malignant impositions of custom and fashion--suffers from general
superfluity and winces under his sufferings. Would he not be wiser owning
subservience to the sun, and adopting dress suitable to actual needs and
the dominant characteristics of the land of the sun? He would pant less,
drink less, perspire less, be more wholesome and sweeter in temper, and
more worthy of citizenship under the sun, against whose sway there can
be no revolt. Kings and queens are under his rule and governance. His
companionship disdains ceremonious livery, scorns ribbands, and scoffs at
gew-gaws. Bronze is his colour, native worth the only wear.

Whosoever has seen (himself unseen) an unsophisticated North Queensland
black parading his native strand has seen a lord of creation--an inferior
species, but still a lord. His bold front, fluent carriage, springy step,
alert, confident, superior air proclaim him so, innocent though he be of
the frailest insignia of civilisation. The monarch arrayed in seven
colours ascends the steps of his throne with no prouder mien than that in
which the naked child of the sun lords it over the empty spaces.

In civility to his Majesty the Sun do I also proudly testify to his
transcendent gifts as a painter in the facile media which here prevail.
Look upon his coming and his going--an international, universal property,
an ecstatic delight, an awesome marvel, upon which we gaze, of which we
cannot speak, lacking roseate phrases. A landscape painter also is he,
for have I not seen his boldest brush at work and stood amazed at the
magnificence of his art?

Do those who live in temperate and cold climates realise the effect of
the sun's heat on the sea--how warm, how hot, blessed by his beams, the
water may become? The luxuriousness of bathing in an ocean having a
temperature of 108 is not for the multitude who crowd in reeking cities
which the sun touches tremulously and slantwise.

On November 21, 1909 (far be it from me to bundle out into an apathetic
world whimpering facts lacking the legitimacy of dates), we bathed at
Moo-jee in shallow water on the edge of an area of denuded coral reef
fully two miles long by a mile broad. For three hours a considerable
portion of the reef had been exposed to the glare of the sun, and the
incoming tide filched heat, stored by solar rays, from coral and stones
and sand. The first wallow provoked an exclamation of amazement, for the
water was several degrees hotter than the air, and it was the hottest
hour (3 p.m.) of an extremely hot day. No thermometer was at hand to
register the actual temperature of the water, but subsequent tests at the
same spot under similar conditions proved that on the thermometerless
occasion the sea was about 108 F.--that is, the surface stratum of about
one foot, which averaged from 4 to 6 F. hotter than the air. Beneath,
the temperature seemed ordinary--corresponding with that of the water a
hundred yards out from the shore. This delectable experience revealed that
in bathing something more is comprehended than mere physical pleasure. It
touched and tingled a refined aesthetic emotion, an enlightened
consciousness of the surroundings, remote from gross bodily sensations.
For the time being one was immersed, not in heated salt water only but in
the purifying essence of the scene--the glowing sky, stainless, pallid,
and pure; the gleaming, scarcely visible, fictitious sea and the bold blue
isles beyond; the valley whence whiffs of cool, fern-filtered, odorous
air issued shyly from the shadowed land of the jungle through the
embowered lips of the creek. The blend of these elements reacted on the
perceptions, rendering the bathe in two temperatures that of a lifetime
and a means also whereby the clarified senses were first stimulated and
then soothed. With an occasional lounge on the soft sand, when the body
became clad in a costume of mica spangles and finely comminuted shell
grit, the bathe continued for two hours, with an after effect of sleek
and silky content.

Another date (January 10, 1910) may verify details of such a sybaritic
soak in the sea as is to be indulged in only in the tropics and remote
from the turmoil of man. Between noon and 3 p.m. the thermometer hanging
on the wall of the house under the veranda, five feet from the corrugated
iron roof, wavered between 89 and 90, while the unshaded sun registered
98. My noontide bath failed to detect any difference in temperature
between air and water, and putting my perceptions to scientific test
found the sea to be heated to 90. With the bulb buried in the sand six
feet from the edge of the water, the mercury rose to 112 in a few
seconds and remained stationary.

It being far more blissful to lounge in the sea than on the veranda, I
sat down, steeped chin deep in crystal clearness, warmth, and silence,
passively surrendering myself to a cheap yet precious sensation. Around
me were revealed infinitely fragile manifestations of life, scarcely less
limpid than the sea, sparkling, darting, twisting--strong and vigorous of
purpose. Tremulous filaments of silver flashed and were gone. No space
but was thickly peopled with what ordinarily passes as the invisible, but
which now, plainly to behold, basked and revelled in the blaze--products
of the sun. Among the grains of sand and flakes of mica furtive
bubblings, burrowings, and upheavals betrayed a benighted folk to whom
the water was as a firmament into which they might not venture to ascend.

Sought out by the sun, translucent fish revealed their presence by
spectral shadows on the sand, and, traced by the shadows, became
discernible, though but little the more substantial.

This peace-lulled, beguiling, sea, teeming with myriad forms scintillating
on the verge of nothingness--obscure, elusive, yet mighty in their wayward
way--soothed with never so gentle, so dulcet a swaying. This
smooth-bosomed nurse was pleased to fondle to drowsiness a loving mortal
responsive to the blissfulness of enchantment. Warm, comforting,
stainless, she swathed me with rose-leaf softness while whispering
a lullaby of sighs. Her salty caresses lingered on my lips, as I
gazed dreamily intent upon determining the non-existing skyline.
Yet, with no demarcation of the allied elements this rimless, flickering
moon, to what narrow zone, I pondered, is man restricted! He swims
feebly; if he but immerse his lips below the shining surface for a space
to be measured by seconds, he becomes carrion. On the mountain-tops he is
deadly sick. Thus musing, the sorcery of the sea became invincible. My
thoughts drifted, until I dozed, and dozing dreamt--a vague,
incomprehensible dream of floating, in some purer ether, some diviner air
than ever belonged to wormy earth, and woke to realities and a skate--a
little friendly skate which had snoodled beside me, its transparent
shovel-snout half buried in the sand. Immune from the opiate of the sea,
though motionless, with wide, watery-yellow eyes, it gazed upon me as a
fascinated child might upon a strange shape monstrous though benign, and
as I raised my hand in salutation wriggled off, less afraid than curious.

Beyond, a shadow--a disc-shaped shadow--drifted with a regular pulsating
motion. Shadowlike, my thoughts, too, drifted, but how remote from the
scene! They transported me to Thisbe--Thisbe who

"Saw the lion's shadow ere himself
And ran dismayed away."

How different the shadow of the moment from that of the king of beasts
which led to the tragedy under the walls of Babylon, where the blood of
the lovers dyed the mulberry red! It is the evidence of a bloodless thing,
a rotund and turreted medusa, the leader of a disorderly procession,
soundless and feeble as becomes beings almost as impalpable as the sea
itself. Shadows of fish exquisitely framed flit and dance. I see naught
but shadows, dim and thin, for I doze and dream again; and so fantastic
time, whose footfalls are beads and bubbles, passes, and grosser affairs
beckon me out of the sunlit sea.

Oh, great and glorious and mighty sun! Oh, commanding, majestical sun!
Superfine invigorator; bold illuminator of the dim spaces of the brain;
originator of the glow! which distils its rarest attars! Am I not thy
true, thy joyful knight? Hast thou not touched my toughened, unflinching
shoulders with the flat of thy burnished sword? Do I not behold its
jewelled hilt flashing with pearls and precious stones as thou sheathest
it for the night among the purple Western hills? Do I not hail its golden
gleams among the fair-barked trees what time each scented morn I milk
my skittish goats?



"Come and compare
Columns and idol-dwellings, Goth or Greek,
With Nature's realms of worship, earth and air,
Nor fix on fond bodies to circumscribe thy prayer."


For a week the wet monsoon had frolicked insolently along the coast, the
intermittent north-east breeze, pert of promise but flabby of performance,
giving way to evening calms. Then came slashing south-easters which,
having discourteously bundled the cloud banks over the mountains, retired
with a spasm upon the reserves of the Pacific.

All day long the sea had been pale blue with changeful silvery lights,
and now the moon, halfway down on her westward course, shines over a
scene solemn in its stillness--the peace and repose more impressive than
all the recent riot and haste.

Here on the verge of the ocean, at the extreme limit of the spit of soft,
shell-enamelled sand, where the breakers had roared in angry monotone,
the ears thrilled with tender sounds. Though all the winds were dead the
undertones of the sea linger in lulling harmonies. The tepid tide on the
warm sand crisply rustles and hisses as when satin is crumpled and
smartly rent. Weird, resonant tappings, moans, and gurgles come from a
hollow log drifting, with infinite slowness. Broken sighs and gasps tell
where the ripples advancing in echelon wander and lose their way among
blocks of sandstone. As the tide rose it prattled and gurgled, toying
with tinkling shells and clinking coral, each tone separate and distinct,
however thin and faint. My solitary watch gives the rare delight of
analysing the night thoughts of the ocean, profound in its slumber though
dreamily conscious of recent conflict with the winds. All the frail
undertones suppressed, during the bullying day now have audience. Sounds
which crush and crowd have wearied and retired. The timid and shy
venture forth to join the quiet revelry of the night.

On its northern aspect the sand spit is the steeper. There the folds of
the sea fall in velvety thuds ever so gentle, ever so regular. On the
southern slope, where the gradient is easy, the wavelets glide up with
heedless hiss and slide back with shuffling whisper, scarce moving the
garlands of brown seaweed which a few hours before had been torn from the
borders of the coral garden with mischievous recklessness.

The sounds of this most stilly night are almost wholly of the faintly
pulsing sea--sibilant and soft. Twice have the big-eyed stone plovers
piped demoniacally. Once there were flutterings among the nutmeg pigeons
in the star-proof jungle of the crowded inlet to the south. A cockatoo has
shrieked out in dismay at some grim nightmare of a snake. Two swamp
pheasants have assured each other in bell-like cadences that the night is
far spent, and all is well.

As the moon sinks a ghostly silence prevails. Even the subdued tones of
the sea are hushed. Though I listen with aching intentness no sense of
sound comes to my relief. Thus must it be to be bereft of hearing. This
death-like pause, this awful blank, this tense, anxious lapse, this
pulseless, stifling silence is brief. A frail moan, just audible, comes
from the direction of the vanishing moon. There is a scarcely perceptible
stir in the warm air--a sensation of coming coolness rather than of
motion, and a faint odour of brine. A mile out across the channel a black
band has settled on the shining water.

How entrancing these night-tinted sights and soft sounds! While I loll
and peer and listen I am alert and still, for the primitive passions of
the universe are shyly exercised. To be sensitive to them all the
faculties must be acutely strained. With this lisping, coaxing,
companionable sea the serene and sparkling sky, the glow beyond the
worlds, the listening isles--demure and dim--the air moist, pacific and
fragrant--what concern of mine if the smoky messenger from the stuffy town
never comes? This is the quintessence of life. I am alive at last. Such
keen tingling, thrilling perceptions were never mine before. Now do I
realise the magnificent, the prodigious fact of being. Mine not only a
part in the homely world, but a fellowship with the glorious firmament.

It is night--the thoughtful, watchful, wakeful, guardian night, with no
cloud to sully its tremulous radiance. How pretty a fable, I reflect,
would the ancients have associated with the Southern Cross, shimmering
there in the serene sky! Dare I, at this inspiring moment, attempt what
they missed, merely because they lacked direct inspiration? Those who
once lived in Egypt saw the sumptuous southern jewel, and it may again
glitter vainly for the bewilderment of the Sphinx if the lazy world
lurches through space long enough. Yes, let me invent a myth--and not tell
it, but rather think of the origin of the Milky Way and so convince
myself of the futility of modern inventions.

Juno's favourite flowers were, it is written, the dittany (a milk-like
plant), the flaunting poppy, and the fragrant lily. Once, as she slept,
Jupiter placed the wonderfully begotten Hercules to her alien, repugnant
breasts. Some of the milk dripped and as it fell was dissipated in the
heavens--and there is the Milky Way. Other drops reached the earth and,
falling on the lily, which hitherto had been purple, purified it to

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