DAD had now been three months in the “House,” and was beginning to find his way about, and to understand the ways of the Institution. Dad enjoyed being a member of Parliament, and felt all the weight and importance of the position. He spent a lot of time about the building, looked upon it as a sort of home—a refuge—and every morning visited the library and hobnobbed and yarned with members, read the newspapers, and answered his correspondence. Dad’s correspondence took a lot of answering, too; it required a deal of tact and skill and local knowledge to answer it properly. The correspondence gave Dad more trouble than his election, and came harder on him than sinking post holes or putting out a bush fire. Nearly every man in the Eton electorate was in communication with Dad—especially those who had opposed him at the poll. Some sent him points and information for his speeches; some required the railway freight for carrying produce to the markets reduced at once; some wished him to secure a level crossing near the siding; some wanted a grain shed; some more a Government dam; one end of the electorate desired him to obtain the grant of ten acres of land for a sports ground; the other end of it had no place to bury their dead, and instructed him to find out “how they were to go about getting a cemetery?” One wanted him to “find out quietly” if a certain piece of land owned by a neighbouring squatter for over twenty years wasn’t “a reserve,” and if it “couldn’t be got some way.” Another “had heard” that someone in Brisbane had a lot of “second-hand galvanised iron for sale,” and asked him to find out all about it and let him know; another had sent a crate of fowls to a poultry dealer “over a week ago, and hadn’t received no money for them,” and wished Dad to “go and see the cove about it at once and get the money.” Scores of them were “waiting anxious” to know if he had done anything “about gettin’ Willie (or Tommy or Johnny or some-one) on the Railway,” while others had sons yearning to be made policemen. And regularly each week the P.S. to mother’s letter ran, “Sandy says for me to tell you he hasn’t heard any thing yet about being made rabbit inspector.”
Dad was in the refreshment bar. The members for Mopoke Meadow and Fillemupagen and the Government Whip were there, too. The Government Whip shook hands with Dad, and complimented him on the speech he made on the Land Settlement Bill. “For a maiden speech,” he said, “I can assure you it was one of the best I have ever heard delivered in the House.” Dad took a liking to that Whip then, and assured him there was a lot more he could have said. “But I’m not used to talkin’ on me feet,” Dad said. “If I’d been sittin’ down as we’re talkin’ now, I’d have given it to them!”
“You did very well,” the Whip went on; “and though I supported the bill myself, I candidly admit the force of everything you said.” Then he asked Dad what he’d have to drink. Dad would have whisky. The Whip took some whisky, too; then broke new ground. He spoke of a motion which had been moved by the Leader of the Opposition to defeat the Dry Creek-Currajong Railway Bill, the voting on which was to take place in a night or two. “Why these fellows,” he said, referring to the opponents of the bill, “are against the line passes my comprehension. The short and long of it is they’re so d—— ignorant that they don’t know what they’re talking about! Not one of them has ever been over the country the line’s to go through; and I can assure you, Mr. Rudd” (laying his hand affectionately on Dad’s knee) “that right from Dry Creek, where it’s proposed to start this line, to Currajong—and I’ve been over every inch of it dozens of times, myself—is to be found some of the finest land that ever you set eyes on. There is not a foot of it bad, and the amount of country it must open up would simply mean that the whole width of those great, expansive rolling downs would, in a few years, be teeming with prosperous settlers of the right class, and this country would go ahead. And with your intelligence, and with all your practical experience, I needn’t tell you how desirable that is to a young country.”
Dad agreed with every word the Whip said.
“But all these fellows,” the Whip continued, “are talking through their necks. For the life of them they can’t see that this country is simply languishing for the want of intelligent farmers, and that before a farmer can do any good for himself on the land he must have a railway to carry his stuff to the market. You know that?”
Then the amiable Whip retailed and detailed more of the proposed railway’s virtues and its glorious prospects, and the good intentions with which it would be paved. But he didn’t tell Dad it was a job railway— that its construction would benefit a big syndicate only, or that it wouldn’t bring a single farmer within a hundred miles of it, or any settlement worth talking about for the next hundred years. Neither did he tell Dad that some of those who were the most earnest advocates of the bill were members of the syndicate. He left that for a member of the Opposition to do later on.
“Well, I suppose, then,” the Whip said, bringing matters to a head, “we can reckon on your vote?”
“Well,” Dad answered, “I dare say—yes—perhaps—no doubt, no doubt.”
Then it was Dad’s turn to break new ground. He did it suddenly.
“How do you get a man on rabbit inspectin’?” he said.
The Whip smiled. “How? By saying the word. By simply putting him on yourself.”
“Why, what is it? Who’s the man you want to put on?”
Dad unbosomed himself, and told the Whip all about Sandy. Just then the Minister for Lands entered the refreshment bar.
“You know Mr. Rudd, Mr. Carter?” the Whip said, drawing that gentleman’s attention to Dad.
“Well, after the spirited speech he made against me the other night,” the Minister said, with a broad smile, and shaking hands enthusiastically with Dad, “I ought to.”
Then Dad shook.
“Though we may be bitter opponents inside the Chamber, Mr. Rudd,” the Minister added, “there’s no reason why we shouldn’t meet on friendly terms outside.”
Dad felt like a criminal. The Minister’s good nature and affability softened his heart.
“Mr. Rudd,” the Whip put in, with a knowing look at the Minister, “I understand, has a little matter he wants fixed up which comes under your department.”
The Minister pricked his ears.
“I’ll be very pleased,” he said, looking at Dad. And once more Dad went into details regarding Sandy’s aspirations.
“By Jove, then!” the Minister exclaimed, “you have just spoken in time. There’s a vacancy of that description at this very moment, if I’m not mistaken.”
Then, after reflecting:
“I’ll tell you what” (placing his hand on Dad’s broad shoulder). “Come round to my office—say about two o’clock tomorrow, and we’ll talk it over.”
Dad said he would, and the Minister returned to the Chamber.
“That was easy enough,” the Whip said, with a triumphant wink at Dad.
“Different fellow to what I thought he was,” Dad murmured.
“Oh, a good fellow—splendid chap—real white man. Carter,” the Whip said; then added confidentially, “You can always get any little thing like that fixed up if you keep in with Ministers. And it’s worth your while—take it from me!”
The members for Mopoke Meadow and Fillemupagen strolled into the Chamber, and in a while were followed by Dad.