WHEN “order” had been restored by the Speaker, the Minister for Lands said that the bill had cost him a lot of labour, and thought and trusted it would become law, and that it would be the beginning of the country’s happiness and salvation.
A lawyer on the Opposition side of the House rose at the same moment that Dad jumped to his feet. The Speaker caught the former’s eye, and Dad sank back into the cushion.
The legal one cleared his throat, and said he had no fault to find with the bill except as regards the clauses which excluded settlers from having recourse to litigation in order to decide their disputes.
“That,” he declared, with great emotion, “is depriving them of the rights and privileges enjoyed by the humblest subject of our glorious Empire. ’Tis a harsh, a sad, a sorrowful condition to impose upon any body of poor people; and I earnestly hope that when the bill gets into committee, Sir, this House will, in the interests of the people, see its way to amend it in the direction I have indicated.” Then he sat down.
Dad rose again, and the Speaker caught the eye of the member for Mundic, “Mr. Doolan,” he murmured; and Dad looked round and said:
“Well, I’m!——” (Laughter.)
“Order!” the Speaker cried, and Mr. Doolan proceeded. He stood with thumbs hooked to the arm-holes of his vest, and talked fluently and rapidly, and bowed and grimaced at intervals.
“It isn’t a bad bill,” he said, “and it isn’t a good one; but, seeing the sort of Government it emanates from, the wonder to me is that there’s any good or any intelligence in it of any kind.” (“Oh! Oh!” from the Premier.) “It is a pleasant surprise, anyway. I never expected to find anything useful in it whatever. I would never expect to find anything useful in a measure introduced by the present unprincipled party that’s in power.” (Dissent.) “Only a fool or a madman could be capable of such wild expectations.” (Laughter from the Labour party.) “To search an Act of theirs for anything beneficial to the people would be conclusive evidence of insanity. I would as soon think of hacking down the biggest and toughest ironbark tree that ever grew in the bush with half a shear-blade to get honey from the hollow of a limb that I knew contained nothing but flies and a dead ’possum.” (Shrieks of laughter from the Labour party.) “But having received more wisdom than could reasonably be expected from a lot of political sundowners, I do not intend, therefore, to offer the bill much serious opposition. It would only be a waste of intelligence if I did. The clause prohibiting lawyers, though, from entering these communities and making money out of the settlers before they make any for themselves, deserves the approbation of every right-minded person in the country——”
“They haven’t mine, anyway!” snapped a sorrowing legal member.
“I said every right-minded person.” (Roars of Labour laughter.) “It is wise, in the first place, to prohibit their entering, because it will deprive the settlers of a reasonable excuse for murdering the whole pilfering profession; and, in the second place, it will save the wives and children of the settlers the humiliation of seeing their breadwinners hanged by the neck on an old wooden beam for a paltry and trivial offence, for having done the country a good turn, in fact.” (More laughter.) “For this, if for no other reason, Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to offer any opposition to this contemptible bit of a bill.” (“Hear, hear,” and more laughter. )
Dad rose once more, and this time the Speaker bowed to him and murmured, “The member for Eton.” Dad groaned, expanded his chest, extended his nostrils, and for several seconds glared in silence at the Minister for Lands. The Minister for Lands seemed to be Dad’s “man.” Members flocked in from the library, from the refreshment room, from every nook and corner, every rendezvous of the luxurious institution, to hear his maiden speech. Occupants of the galleries brightened up, and grinned and leaned over the balustrading, and kept the policemen occupied.
“Sir!” Dad shouted, in a voice that might have been heard across the river, “this bill is trash. It’s humbug!” (Laughter.) “It’s waste of time talkin’ of it.” (More laughter.)
“Well, you’re not likely to waste any sense on it,” from the Minister for Lands. (Applause.)
“No!” Dad yelled back at him. “Nor you didn’t waste any sense on it, neither. The man who could think of such a thing as it has nothing in his head but nonsense——”
Commotion, laughter, and “Order, order!” from the Speaker.
“What do it all mean? Where is the use of makin’ a lot of shabby, little camping grounds for a few broken-down swells—for a few fellows who want to go out farming with gloves on their hands and belltoppers on their heads, like this man’s here” (pointing to O’Reilly). (Laughter.) “Findin’ land and money and machinery and all the rest of it for men who’ve never even seen a selection—fer men who don’t know a jug of milk from a jew lizard! (Laughter.) Fer men who don’t want to take their wives with them, for fear they might hurt their hands or wet their feet or get sunburnt! (Cheers.) And they’re to have rules made fer them, and a secretary to look after the camp, same as if it were a football club. My God! what sort of Ministers are ye at all?” (Loud laughter.)
“Order! Order!” the Speaker cried, and fresh laughter came from the Opposition.
“It isn’t some good you want to do the country!” Dad shouted warmly. “It’s harm—it’s mischief——”
“Order!” the Speaker broke out again. “The honourable member must not——”
“Call it what you like,” Dad rattled on. “It’s bad—villainous!”
“Order! Order! The honourable member must not use language in debate which is——”
“Then why don’t they do something that’s honest—that’s sensible. Why can they not help the people who are on the land now—people who’ve been there all their lives, workin’ their hearts and souls and very eyes out among stones, and sand-hills, and bog-holes, and dry cricks, and the devil on’y knows what. (Great laughter.) Let them show they’re in earnest by help-in’ those poor deservin’ people, and stop foolin’ about with these gentlemen friends of theirs—these men who are only thinkin’ they might go on to a selection if everything is made nice enough for them. (Applause from the Opposition.) Just fancy givin’ them rations to go on with! God bless my soul, ain’t there enough sundowners in the country already? (Loud hilarity.) And fancy puttin’ good new ploughs in the hands of men with gloves on—men who don’t know a swingle-tree from a piece of sugar-cane—to go scratching about their camps with! (Continued merriment.) Did I get flash machinery and money and a secretary to run after me with his inkpot, when I went into the bush forty years ago? (Hear, hear.) No! I had to take my wife and youngsters with me. They weren’t left in town to be kept by the Government. (Cheers.) They put up with an old humpy with wide cracks in it, and took their chance against wind and wet and bad water, and no water, and snakes, and heaven knows what.” (Laughter and cheers, and “Order!” from the Speaker.) “But they didn’t mind—they didn’t sulk and whimper and howl for the town. (More cheers. ) They worked—worked night an’ day, worked in the house, and in the yard, and in the paddicks, and on the drays, and beside the stacks. They weren’t afraid of gettin’ sunburnt. They had courage. They had hearts! (A burst of applause.) And many a time they went without a bit o’ meat.” (More applause. )
“Weren’t there any ’possums or dingoes where you were?” squeaked the member for Coal Falls, from a distant corner of the Chamber. (Laughter.)
“There was dingoes,” Dad said, jumping round, “but there was no donkeys. (Loud laughter.) I didn’t meet any till I come here. (Renewed laughter.) And that was how my family, Sir, faced the land,” Dad went on, “and hundreds of families are doing the same this very day. And if the Gover’ment have any honesty (“Order!”), if it have any shame (dissent), it have no intelligence (laughter from the Opposition), it will tear this bill up and burn it. (“Nonsense!” from the Premier.) For it’s not wanted. It’s no good. It’s the work of a luna——”
“Order! Order!” the Speaker called. “The honourable member is violating——”
“Only a mad Minister would——”
“Order! Order! Order! The hon——”
‘Would come here and say that a country that’s already loaded to the ground with taxes and paupers and rogues of politicians——”
“A country that’s been a drag and a dead horse to the poor, hard-working man for God knows how long, should pay two pounds a week for keepin’ men’s wives in town to do nothin’! Why th’ devil——”
“Order! Order! Order!”
“Do he not let them have a trap and servants and a governess as well” (“Hear, hear,” and laughter), “and supply the men at the camps with merry-go-rounds and swings, so as they won’t get lonely and fret for their women?” (Roars of laughter from the gallery, during which the Speaker adjusted his glasses and cast dark, threatening looks at the occupants.)
A member seated at the table handed Dad a glass of water. Dad swilled it, and waving the empty glass about, fairly yelled:
“Do any sensible man think these men will stay on a selection when they get there?”
“Certainly; why not?” said the Minister in charge of the bill.
“Of course, you do,” Dad snorted. “You do, but you were never a sensible man!” (Rounds of laughter, in the midst of which an occupant of the Strangers’ Gallery was thrown down the stairs.) “You are an unsensible man!” (More laughter, and “Order, order!” from Mr. Speaker.) “You are an in- —an un——” (Language failed Dad, and the Chamber rang with more mirth.)
“You’re no man!” he jerked out. (Increased merriment.)
“Order!” interrupted the Speaker. “I must ask the honourable member not to indulge in personalities, but to confine himself to the bill be——”
“Well, Where’s the sense,” Dad rolled on, “of leaving their wives in town? If they can’t go on the selection, and wash and starch and stitch and help to burn off like other women, what good will they be?” (Laughter.) “What good will it do the country? Do you call that settling people on the land? Taking people who don’t want to go by the scruff of the neck, and puttin’ them on a hundred and sixty acres, and givin’ them a secretary to polish their boots, while young fellows who take up places themselves are charged sixteen and twenty pounds for surveyin’, same as you did young Mulrooney!” (Loud laughter.) “Is that the way to settle them on the land? Pshaw!” (Laughter.) “Rubbish!” And Dad sat down.