In the Roaring Fifties


Edward Dyson

IT WAS some time before Jim Done visited Mrs. Kyley’s tent again. He bore Aurora no animosity, he had the kindliest feelings for her, but recognised that in frequenting the shanty he increased the difficulty of the situation and prolonged the task he had set himself. A letter had come to him from Lucy Woodrow—a bright, breezy letter, about Bush-life, about herself and the youngsters, and a good deal about him. Certainly a pleasant enough letter, but, considered as a literary production merely, not deserving of Jim’s high appreciation of it. After receiving it Jim sat down in a reverent humour and decided, with the formality of a meeting carrying a resolution, that Lucy was the only woman in the world for him, the one possible woman. The resolution practically abolished all other women so far as he was concerned. He could never think of another with patience, and his longing for her was so great that it left him little mind for Ryder, and scarcely any for Aurora. He was eager to pay Boobyalla another visit, but Mike was deaf to all insinuations, and Jim consoled himself with pretty imaginative pictures in which Lucy was vividly represented sitting on the shady veranda at Macdougal’s home stead, spotted with flakes of golden sunshine filtered through the tangle of vine and creeper. How sweet she was, how gentle, how tender, and yet brave of heart and keen-witted withal. She had understood him better than he had understood himself. That was very gratifying; it showed her deep interest in him, but he did not put it to himself in that bald way. Why hadn’t he taken her up in his arms and kissed her when they parted in the garden? Every drop of his blood prompted him to it, and something told him she would not have resented it. He had been a fool. He should have told her then that he loved her. Of course, it had hardly occurred to him then that he really did love her, but he was a fool in any case for not seeing it and understanding it.

Burton and the Peetrees had resolved to try a new rush before Done called at the shanty again.

‘I have come to say goodbye, Mrs. Ben,’ he said to the big washerwoman, ‘and to thank you for a thousand kindnesses.’

‘Thank me for nothing!’ cried Mrs. Kyley. ‘Is it true you are off on the wallaby again?’

‘We shall start for Simpson’s Ranges in the morning.’

‘It is so long since we’ve seen you that you won’t mind if we don’t break our hearts at parting.’ She glanced towards Aurora, who had turned her back to them.

‘That’s the least I expect of you, Mrs. Ben.’

‘Well, you’re not a bad lad, though inconstant. Give me a kiss, and good luck go with you. Be a man,’ she added in a whisper. ‘Say a few kind words to the poor girl.’ She nodded towards Aurora.

‘I came wishing to.’

‘You ruffian!’ she said aloud; ‘and you pretending you cared a copper dump about Mother Kyley.’ She pushed him towards Aurora, and rolled from the tent with one of her great gusts of laughter.

‘I’m off, Joy!’ said Done.

She turned and looked at him. She was in one of her quiet humours. If she had felt much grief, it had left little impression upon her. She was neatly dressed and looking very fresh and girlish to-day.

‘I heard you were going,’ she answered.

‘Joy!’ He put out an open hand. ‘Let us part friends; I’m fond of you—I am, upon my soul!’

She caught his hand in both of hers and pressed it to her breast. ‘I was wondering if you would come to see me before leaving.’

‘Ah, that’s better,’ he said. ‘I’d be pretty miserable if I went thinking I’d left you an enemy, because—because—’ He had a heart full of gratitude and big, generous emotions towards her, and could not express himself. ‘God bless you, Joy! he murmured, kissing her hair. ‘Don’t think me an utterly selfish kind of brute, dear.’

‘I haven’t one ill thought of you, Jimmy. Didn’t I woo you with every trick I know, but with my whole heart, too, for all that? It’s been a fair deal, old man.’

‘I’ll never cease to wish you happiness, and I’ll always regret any trouble I may have caused you.’

‘Regret nothing—nothing! You’ve been a big joy to me, and you bore my tantrums like a brick. I’m sorry I struck you, Jimmy.’ She drew his head down and kissed the scar over his right eye.

‘There was another blow here.’ He touched his left cheek, and she kissed that too, but she was showing no sign of sentimentality. Her attitude was that of a good friend, and in this pose she was delightful, Jim thought.

‘We are certain to meet again, Joy,’ he said. ‘If ever I could do anything for you, would you ask me?’

She looked into his eyes for a moment. ‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘before anyone else in the world.’

‘That’s good. You’re one of the best, Joy. We go to Simpson’s Ranges, but may find our way down to Ballarat in the course of a few months if things don’t pan out well.’

‘When you hear of anyone coming this way, you’ll send a message, Jim?’

They were interrupted by three or four diggers, and in the course of half an hour the tent filled. Aurora was very charming that night, very gracious, very like the Aurora who supervised their open-air tea the night of Lambert’s big speech, but less buoyant. Jim felt her soft touch upon him many times, and watched her with curiosity. She had retained this peculiar quality of provoking faint wonder. He felt that he had not known her thoroughly, and drifted into the building of the suitable future for her with many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’

‘I am going, Joy,’ he whispered later.

‘Not here,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘Outside.’

They passed out together, and stood by the big tree in which Mrs. Ben’s stock was hidden.

‘Good-bye!’ he said.

‘It’s hard!’ She put her hands upon his shoulders, and her voice trembled. ‘I’ve been pretty badly in love, Jimmy. Remember that in kindness, Won’t you? It seems to excuse a good deal. It might even excuse a poor colleen makin’ the fool an’ all iv herself.’ The brogue sounded deeply pathetic. ‘A kiss,’ she whispered quickly. ‘One of the old kisses, dear.’

As he bent down to her his cheek crushed a tear on hers, and he was touched deeply. The kiss was long and tender; as the kiss of a man for whom there was only one woman in the world, and she not the one being kissed, it was emphatically successful. It drew a deep sigh from poor Aurora, and thrilled Jim with not a little of the old rapture.

‘Good-bye!’ she said; but her fingers clung to him.

‘Good-bye!’ he repeated, taking her hands in his.

‘Have you the little heart of gold?’ she asked.

‘It’s here.’ He drew it from his pocket.

‘Give it back to me.’

He pressed it into her hand, kissed her cheek, and hurried away. Aurora stood for some minutes turning the nugget over and over in her fingers; then she moved to the shanty door and looked in, but turned away with a muttered exclamation, and went to the entrance of the back tent.

‘You’ll have to attend to those brutes in there,’ she said to Mary Kyley. ‘I’ve had as much as I can stand for one night.’ She threw herself upon her bed, and hid her face in the pillow.

‘Has he gone, dear?’ asked Mrs. Kyley, laying a big but gentle hand upon the girl.

Aurora nodded her bead in the pillow, and after looking at her in silence for a moment, Mary went in to attend to her customers, shaking her head sadly as she went. When she peeped into the back tent again an hour later Aurora still lay face downwards upon the bed.

‘Are you asleep, Aurora?’ whispered Mrs. Ben.

‘No!’ answered the girl fiercely. ‘For God’s sake, don’t bother me!’

Mrs. Ben went away again, sadder than before.

‘Oh, the men, the men!’ murmured the wise woman. ‘To think of the good women wasted on them, and the chits they’re often wasted on!’


Jim Done enjoyed the tramp to Simpson’s Ranges. The weather was fine, the country was picturesque, and the company highly congenial. He liked the Peetrees better in his present mood, and his interest in the popular movement that was to culminate at Eureka was deepening daily. He had even addressed a small meeting of miners on the subject of the rights of the people, and he was no pusillanimous reformer. He declared the diggers had reached that point at which toleration meant meanness of spirit. The thought of civil war was appalling, but not so much so as the degradation of a nation in which the manhood plodded meekly under the whip, like driven cattle yoked to their load.

The men carried small swags, having entrusted their tools and tents to teamsters, and, travelled quietly, taking four days to accomplish the journey. The route lay through trackless country. As yet few parties from Forest Creek had set out for Simpson’s Ranges, and Jim and his friends encountered no other travellers until they were approaching the new rush, and then the road assumed the familiar characteristics, and the noisy, boisterous troops went gaily by. These might have been the identical men who tramped to Diamond Gully through the Black Forest, so much did they resemble the former in their joyousness and their wild exuberance of word and action, and in their manner of conveying their belongings too, and in their frank good-fellowship. But by this time Jim was an experienced Antipodean, and knew that in such circumstances men always behave much in the same way, and that dignity is the first oppressive observance to be abandoned immediately man breaks loose from the restraints of society. The novelty had gone from the rushes, but not the charm. The sight of the courageous, healthy, happy gold-seekers swinging by struck sympathetic chords in his own heart. He had kindred impulses, and was by far the most jubilant of his party, the Bush-bred Australians being the least demonstrative of all the men on the track.

On the morning of the fourth day Jim encountered a face he knew amongst a party of five travelling with a waggon.

‘Hullo, Phil Ryan!’ he said.

Phil advanced with a puzzled expression on his face, that presently gave way to a broad grin.

‘The Hermit!’ he cried, and, seizing Jim’s hand, he shook it with effusive heartiness. One might think he had occasion to remember Done for many kindnesses, whereas the ignominious beating the Hermit had given him on the Francis Cadman was all he had to be grateful for.

‘I’ve given up trying to be a hermit,’ said Jim. ‘There was nothing in it.’

‘Begor, I’m that glad!’ said Phil, and he certainly looked radiant. ‘But you’re th’ changed man, Done. I hardly knew you wid th’ amiable shmile. Have things been goin’ rare an’ good?’

‘They have, Ryan. I’m a made man.’ Jim meant the expression to be taken in a spiritual rather than a pecuniary sense.

‘It’s hearin’,’ said Phil. ‘My soul, but it’s th’ great land, man! I’ve had more gold through me hands these twelve munts than I iver dramed iv before. But it don’t shtick,’ he added ruefully, glancing at his horny palms.

‘And the others—have you heard of them?’

‘We broke up into twos an’ twos whin we come near Geelong, fer fear iv being nailed by th’ police fer disertion. Jorgensen’s made his pile over be Buniyong; an’ Tommy th’ Tit—him what seconded me in th’ bit iv a contention we had aboard—have been rootin’ out nuggets be th’ tubful at Ballarat, an’ talkin’ fight and devilment t’ th’ min iv nights in th’ intherests iv peace an’ humanity an’ good gover’mint. Be th’ same token, there’s goin’ t’ be no ind iv sin an’ throuble down there, an’ I’d be sorry to be missin’ it.’

‘He’s no true digger who’ll stand out when the time comes, Ryan.’

‘Thrue fer you, man. Och! it’s a lovely land fer a gravyince, an’ I’ll niver lave it.’ He looked Jim up and down again. ‘It’s put th’ good heart in you, Done.’ Jim nodded smilingly. ‘D’ye be hearin’ iv th’ little lady from off the ship?’ continued Phil, as if following a natural sequence.

‘Yes,’ answered Jim, his cheeks warming a little. ‘She is with Mrs. Macdougal at Boobyalla, just beyond Jim Crow, and is well and cheerful.’

‘Good agin!’ Ryan sighed heavily as he resumed his swag. ‘It’s th’ on’y thing I’m lamentin’ here, th’ mighty scarcity iv fine wimmin,’ he said.

‘They’ll be bringing them out by the ship-load presently, old man.’

‘Th’ sooner th’ quicker. Manewhoile I haven’t seen th’ taste iv one fer sivin munts. So long to you! We’ll be meetin’ on the new rush?’

‘Yes. So long and good luck!’

Phil hastened on to overtake his mates, and Jim, looking after him, wondered that he had ever been anything but good friends with this man, whose lovable, ugly face radiated geniality as a diamond reflects light.

Simpson’s Ranges at first sight was a repetition of the other fields Jim had seen. The scene was one of intense excitement. No experience prepared the ordinary miner to take the possibilities of a new field in a philosophical spirit. The impetuosity, the bustling hurry, and the clamour that had so impressed him at Forest Creek were repeated here. Everywhere over a space of some fifty acres tents were being unfurled and carts and waggons unloaded in the midst of chaotic disorder. The feverish eagerness of new arrivals to peg out their claims on a rich lead accounted for much of the tumult. Those already in possession of golden holes were working like fiends to exhaust their present claims, and secure others before the land was pegged out all along the lead and the whizzing of windlasses and the monotonous cries of the workers added the usual character to the prevailing clamour.

Storekeepers who had dumped their stocks down in the open air were desperately busy, serving profane customers, or running up hasty structures over their goods. Newcomers were pouring in like visitors to a fair, shouting as they came, and of all the people Jim could see, Mike Burton and the Peetrees alone were prepared to take things calmly. For his own part, he had again proof of his susceptibility to the humours of the crowd; the excitement of the scene communicated itself to him; he wanted to add to the noise and the movement without acknowledging any sensible reason for doing so.

‘Me an’ Mike ’ll get up the lead an’ spike a claim while you boys rig the tent,’ said Josh.

The mates had brought one tent to serve them, pending the arrival of their other belongings. It had been resolved that the five men should work on shares during their stay at Simpson’s Ranges, and Mike and Peetree senior secured the land to which the party was entitled under its licenses.

‘She’s well in on the lead all right,’ said Josh, commenting on their claim that evening after tea, ’an’ if we don’t hit it rich I’m a Dutchman.’

Josh’s opinion proved correct in the main. Mike cut the wash-dirt on the following evening, and after sinking in it to the depth of two feet, washed a prospect that promised the party an excellent return for their labour. So far Jim Done had every reason to be grateful for his luck; and the diggers were nearly all implicit believers in luck; a faith they held to be justified by the scores of instances recited of good fortune following individuals through extraordinary conditions, when less favoured men all around them were not earning enough to satisfy the storekeepers.

Although the various Victorian rushes were much alike in general character, some peculiarity attached to each of them. Jim Crow was famous for its vigorous and varied rascality; Simpson’s Ranges became notorious as the most reckless gambling-field in the country. Card-playing was the recreation the diggers most indulged in here, if we except a decided penchant for Chow-baiting. Done found that already the gambling propensity had impressed itself on the lead, and the luckiest man on Simpson’s was a short, fat, complacent Yankee, who refused to handle pick or shovel because, as he said to Done, it might spoil his hand. Jim did not doubt that hands so slick in the manipulation of cards were worth all the care Mr. Levi Long devoted to them. Jim became rather interested in Long. The man was an amusing blackguard, and took the ‘gruellings’ that occasional manual lapses led him into with a placidity that amounted almost to quiet enjoyment, and tickled Done’s sense of humour immensely.

‘Man who drifts down the stream o’ life in a painted barge on the broad of his back among the Persian rugs, with a fat cigar in his teeth, an’ all his favourite drinks within reach, has gotter strike a snag now ’n agin,’ said Long. ‘The question’s just this—is it wuth it?’

‘I can’t understand why a tired man like you takes the trouble to shave,’ Jim said to him one night.

‘Ever been tarred ’n feathered in your busy career, Mr. Done?’ answered Long.


‘If you had you’d realize that the onpleasantest thing that kin happen to a man this side o’ the great hot finish is to get his chin whiskers full o’ tar. In my native town tarring the man you disagreed with was a favourite amusement.’

‘But there is no tar here.’

‘Well, no; but I guess this has become instinctive.’ He passed a hand over his fat, smooth face.

Chow-baiting was a later development. The Chinese and Mongolians came early to Victorian rushes, and remained long. They were never discoverers, never pioneers, but, following quickly upon the heels of the white prospectors, they frequently succeeded in securing the richest claims in the alluvial beds, and from the first they were hated with an instinctive racial hatred, that became inveterate when the whites found in Sin Fat a rival antagonistic in all his tastes and views, in most of his virtues, and in all his pet vices, bar one. The Chows were industrious diggers; they worked with ant-like assiduity from daylight to dark, and often long after that were to be seen at their holes, toiling by the light of lanterns.

They had vices of their own, and not nice ones, but they gave way to only one of the amiable little social weaknesses in which the Europeans indulged, and displayed the overpowering passion for gambling that has since become characteristic of the China-men in all their Australian camps. They had no other amusement, and desired no leisure; they were squalid in their habits, and herded like animals; they were barren of aspirations, and their industry was brutish (though of a kind still belauded), since it left no leisure for humanizing exercises, no room for sweetness and light. They were law-abiding, but that was not a virtue to commend itself to the Victorian diggers at this date, and they were only law-abiding because of their slavish instincts and their lack of courageous attributes. The antipathy bred then survives in the third generation of Australians, but is less demonstrative now that laws have been enacted in accordance with the racial instinct.

The Pagans had secured a big stretch of the field close to the claim pegged out by Mike and Josh Peetree, and they were thought to have possession of the most profitable part of the alluvial deposit, but worked their claims with great caution, and were as secretive as so many mopokes, so that the whites really had no idea what their ground was like, excepting such as the experienced miners could gather from the general trend of the richer wash dirt. Extraordinary stories of the success of the Chinese were in circulation, and provoked strenuous profanity and exceeding bitterness in the Europeans, Particularly in those whose luck was not good. There was already talk of a white rising to drive the heathen from the field, and Done found his mates entirely in sympathy with the common sentiment; to him; also the Celestials became exceedingly repellent as he grew more familiar with their habits and manners, although he was opposed to making differences of race an excuse for wholesale robbery.

The Chinese camp was strictly apart from that of the whites, and there was no intercourse between the two parties, Levi Long being the only man who seemed attracted to the squalid huts into which the Mongolians packed themselves by some process mysterious to the Caucasian understanding. Men in whom gambling was an absorbing passion could never be wholly objectionable to a man of his peculiar principles; but he came back from his third visit to their camp with his hands sunk to the bottoms of his pockets and a troubled look on his smooth countenance.

‘They’ve sprung a new game on me down there,’ he said to a crowd in the shanty, nodding his head back. ‘I thought I’d picked up something about it, an’ it’s cost me every bit o’ glitter I had on me to demonstrate to my entire satisfaction that I was quite wrong. I haven’t got a scale left. I’m feelin’ like a little boy who’s been tryin’ to teach his gran’ mother all about eggs.’

‘Fantan?’ said Burton.

‘Somethin’ o’ that character an’ complexion. Boys, I begin to think that p’r’aps after all we’re doin’ wrong in submittin’ to the encroachments o’ the alien.’

‘Hear, hear!’ shouted half a dozen voices.

‘It strikes me that the inferior race that can skin Levi Long to his pelt in a gamble is providin’ no fit associates for guileless an’ confidin’ children o’ the Occident, like yourselves, f’r instance.’

Long’s professional pride was hurt; the idea of being beaten at his own business by a pack of unlettered Asiatics made him sad. ‘It kinder destroys a man’s faith in himself.’ he said. As a result of his eloquence the miners knotted windlass-ropes together, and stole down upon the Chinese camp in the small and early hours of morning. There were twenty men on each cable, and one lot kept to the right of the camp, the other to the left, and, going noiselessly, they dragged the ropes through the frail huts and kennels in which the Mongols were sleeping, mowing them down as if they had been houses of cards, and towing an occasional screaming Chow out of the ruins, rolled in his filthy bedding. The whole camp of huddled shanties was razed to the ground in about two minutes, and the diggers drew off, without having given any clue to the cause of the disaster, leaving the heathen raging in the darkness.

At about six o’clock Jim Done and his mates were awakened and brought pell-mell from their bunks by the sound of a great commotion coming from the direction of the Chinese camp. They saw the Chinamen gathered near the ruins of their dwellings, evidently in a state of tremendous excitement. A number of them were jumping about, gesticulating wildly, and uttering shrill cries, while half a dozen or so, armed with stout sticks, were energetically beating an object that lay upon the ground.

‘By thunder! it’s a man they’re murdering!’ cried Jim.

Mike and the Peetrees laughed aloud. ‘Not a bit of it,’ said Burton. ‘They’re only bastin’ their Joss!’

‘What’s that?’

‘They’re beatin’ their god. They keep a few of them little pottery or wooden gods round, an’ if things don’t go quite as well as they think they ought to go, they up an’ take it out o’ the god just then on the job, by knocking splinters off him.’

‘They argue that Joss ain’t been attendin’ to his part o’ the contract,’ said Harry Peetree, ‘an’ they belt him for neglectin’ his business. Saw a lot o’ them blow up a big Joss at Bendigo ’cause their dirt was pannin’ out badly.’

By this time the Europeans were all up and out, enjoying the spectacle, and Simpson’s Ranges echoed their laughter, it being assumed that the Celestials’ gods were being punished for the sins of those diggers who had wrecked the camp. Jim and Con joined a few curious men sauntering down to take a nearer view of the ceremony.

‘Wha’ for?’ Con asked one grave Chow who was looking on.

‘Welly much bad Joss!’ answered the Celestial composedly. ‘Let um earth shake-shake, all sem this, knockum poo’ Chinaman’s house down.’

A favourite way of tormenting the Chows was to rob them of their pigtails. A Mongolian’s pride in his pigtail is very great, and his grief over the loss of it seems to be tinged with a superstitious fear. As soon as the diggers were made aware of this they vied with each other in reaving Sin Fat and his brethren of their cherished adornments, and the rape of the lock was a daily occurrence at Simpson Ranges. No Red Indian was ever prouder of his trophy of scalps than the diggers were of their collection of tails, and the woe that fell upon the despoiled Asiatics was most profound, but touched no sympathetic chords in the callous hearts of the miners.

It is not to be assumed that the Chows bore all their afflictions like lambs. They had methods of their own of getting even, and were efficient tent thieves, and peculiarly expert in the art of rifling tips, although this was not proved against them until the eleventh hour. They fought back on occasions, and one morning a big Californian was found near their claims, beaten almost to death. Evidently the digger had deserved his fate, and had been caught stealing wash-dirt from Sin Fat’s tips; but his denials were readily and gladly accepted by the whites, and another excellent reason for demolishing the Chows was registered in the minds of the men.

Being up just after daybreak one morning, or not yet having gone to bunk, Levi Long was the unsuspected witness of acts of Chinese iniquity that brought about the climax of the anti-Chinese agitation. There was no water-supply at Simpson’s Ranges, and the wash-dirt had to be carted four miles to the river at Carisbrook, to be puddled and washed. This morning the Chinamen were busy bright and early, carting their wash away; but the Celestials, always frugal, to save as much as possible the expense of drays, each carried two hide-bags of dirt suspended on a bamboo, and followed the loaded carts through the diggings with the peculiar trot they always adopted when bearing burdens. What Long noticed was that every now and again, when passing the tips on the claims of the Europeans, the sly Celestials dug their shovels into the wash-dirt, and threw a few shovelfuls on to their own loads or into the bags they carried. Keeping himself in concealment, Levi quietly awakened a few of the diggers, and drew their attention to what was going on. The Chinamen chattered noisily as they passed, and the movements of the crowd were evidently artfully designed to cover the depredations of the thieves.

Within a quarter of an hour every white man on the field knew what had been going on, and now the miners thought they understood the motive of the Chows in always carting their dirt away in the gray hours of morning, before the too-confiding Europeans were up and about. This was the last straw. A meeting was held very quietly, and, to Done’s astonishment, his mate took an active part in the proceedings.

‘The lepers have got to change their spots, I guess,’ said Long. ‘Is that understood, men?’

‘You bet!’ answered a prominent digger, and the crowd uttered a unanimous ‘Hear, hear!’ that left no room for doubt.

‘Then, get ready!’ cried Mike. ‘Every man get a pick-handle. There’s to be no killin’. We’ll drive ’em out like sheep. If the troopers interfere, unhorse them, an’ bolt the nags. Meet here again as quick’s you can.’

The miners scattered, and within half an hour the whole body of the white diggers marched upon the Chinamen remaining on the claims.

In the Roaring Fifties - Contents    |     XVIII

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