Last Leaves from Dunk Island, by E. J. Banfield

Cause and Effect

All that matters has not yet been said about the recent cyclone which thrilled the people of this coast, threatened more than it fulfilled, caused much discomfort, did a good deal of unrecorded mischief, and inflicted real loss and hardship.

Some of the oldest inhabitants of a certain district are well assured that the big wind and flood were brought about by human agency for what the majority of us conceive to be a very paltry purpose. However deplorable some of the results of the disturbance, students of meteorology are bound to take into consideration every incidental circumstance, even though it tends in the direction of what in drama is known as “comic relief.” In the spirit, then, of offering some out-of-the-way information illustrative of the subject from a standpoint different from that of the ordinary “weather-prophet” is this story penned.

Those who read newspapers, and who consult and have greater or less faith in forecasts, official and others, and who find themselves elated or otherwise in accordance with the slow-moving finger of the barometer, generally confirm or deny one another’s sage observations after the event. We are all grateful for the “special warnings,” which in some cases (where telegraphic communication does not exist) seem to embody the spice of irony, coming as they do in cheerless print a week too late to be sensational.

Thackeray tells us that yesterday’s unfinished champagne is but a feeble representation of the staleness of written records of transient hilarity. How “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” the “special warnings” which arrive at remote localities many days after the cyclone has done its worst; and how greatly are those inhabiting such spots beholden to the individual who not only boldly foretells such visitations, but sees that they are not only in accordance with his passing whims, but up to time!

It happens that in this district there is more than one such important person. They are natives of the soil, whose accumulated knowledge, handed down from self-confident father to undoubting son, is certainly (as far as “the long results of time” may avouch) in advance of such upstarts as the Commonwealth prophet, who relies upon day to day information. They who will give, on occasion, practical proof of capability to push back overshadowing clouds, laugh indecorously at the pretensions of a “doctor” who acknowledged inability to make commonplace rain during a superabundant wet season.

Of such class is “Old Billy,” who believes in the existence of a very singular species of debil-debil known as “Bidgeroo,” and many other weird things utterly beyond the comprehension of unromantic white men. Old Billy’s connections with the recent meteorological disturbance is summed up in a very few words:

“Old Billy, he bin make ’em milgar.”

In our arrogant assumption, we may have thought that it was due to a monsoonal depression. If we had all known that a week beforehand, Old Billy had performed the rite in which the “milgar” is the most potent paraphernalia, we might have saved ourselves the trouble of watching the barometer, and just have sat back and calmly waited the inevitable.

Old Billy’s warning anticipated the cyclone by a week, and as there are scores of men along this part of the coast still able to trace connections between cause and effect, Old Billy’s reputation has been triumphantly applauded.

The milgar is simply a spoon-shaped piece of bark which is put in a waterhole, and generally attached to a convenient root by a yard or two of twine, made from the bark of a particular species of fig-tree. A week after Old Billy’s deliberate act, the cyclone swooped down, accompanied by rains which made Old Billy and others very uncomfortable.

Now, a “doctor” of Old Billy’s renown does not resort to such extremes unless to work off spite or vexation, and as he is a silent man given to mumbling, it is not always easy to understand his meaning, though at times his gestures are wonderfully eloquent. On this occasion, however, there is traceable a reason for the exercise of his vicarious anger, if not vengeance.

He has a son, Charley, who took as a child-wife a poor slip of a girl named Mungallo, with whom he lived for some time. Then his still-wavering fancy was captivated by a young woman, slightly more mature, known as Nelly, who lived some miles away, being employed as a domestic servant. These twain practically eloped; but, after the topsy-turvy fashion of their kind, took up their quarters at an old-time spot and induced the juvenile Mungallo to live with them.

Soon Charley wearied of Nelly, and again smiled on his child-wife. Unhappily, the smiles were reciprocated, and soon the uproar in Charley’s humpy almost crowded him out. He found that if marriage is on the path to bliss, with just an occasional swerve in the direction of purgatory, polygamy is right on the track to the place where the company, if not the climate, must be very objectionable.

In due time his marital distresses came to the ears of his sympathetic father, and Old Billy — never on the side of the angels, for has he not had three wives? — forthwith made a milgar and put it into a very deep hole in the creek, so that the wilful females who were “too flash belonga Charley” might have something else to think about for a few days. That the wind and the tempestuous rain likewise interfered with his own happiness, was of little concern to Old Billy, who is a philosopher who can bear more than the toothache philosophically. But he was guilty of thoughtlessness. He forgot that about the time when the potency of the milgar would be working up to a climax, the tides would attain the highest level of the year. The bumptious surges threatened destruction to his own home and estate; smashed several boats, destroyed the best part of a laboriously-built jetty; flooded houses and lands; performed riotous deeds of beachcombing; and everybody talked weather for a week.

If Nelly had not been quite so pleasing a jade, if Charley had been less susceptible to feminine charms; if the injured Mungallo had bestowed her face and fortune on some other boy; if Old Billy had chanced to remember the incidence of February’s spring tide (which he was not at all likely to do, for he detests the sea almost as heartily as he does the Bidgeroo) we had lacked all the recent excitement, and many would have been better off than they find themselves to-day.

Old Billy, thinking only of Charley and the brawling females, worked up a compensatory storm. At least, such is the steadfast belief of scores of serious-minded men who have had yet another demonstration of Old Billy’s success as a rainmaker, who are consequently assured of the wisdom of refraining from acts likely to make him peevish, and in whose eyes he is “a prophet and much more than a prophet.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/banfield/ej/b21l/chapter18.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32