My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin

Chapter Fourteen

Principally Letters

Caddagat, 29th Sept., 1896

My dearest Gertie,

I have started to write no less than seven letters to you, but something always interrupted me and I did not finish them. However, I’ll finish this one in the teeth of Father Peter himself. I will parenthesize all the interruptions. (A traveller just asked me for a rose. I had to get up and give him one.) Living here is lovely. (Another man inquired the way to Somingley Gap, and I’ve just finished directing him.) Grannie is terribly nice. You could not believe. She is always giving me something, and takes me wherever she goes. Auntie is an angel. I wish you could hear the piano. It is a beauty. There are dozens of papers and books to read. Uncle is a dear old fellow. You should hear him rave and swear sometimes when he gets in a rage. It is great fun. He brings me lollies, gloves, ribbons, or something every time he comes from town. (Two Indian hawkers have arrived, and I am going out to see their goods. There were nineteen hawkers here last week. I am sitting on a squatter’s chair and writing on a table in the veranda, and the road goes right by the flower-garden. That is how I see everyone.) Have you had rain down there this week? They have great squawking about the drought up here. I wish they could see Goulburn, and then they’d know what drought means. I don’t know what sort of a bobberie they would kick up. It’s pretty dry out on the run, but everyone calls the paddocks about the house an oasis. You see there are such splendid facilities for irrigation here. Uncle has put on a lot of men. They have cut races between the two creeks between which the house is situated. Every now and again they let the water from these over the orchard gardens and about a hundred acres of paddock land around the house. The grass therein is up to the horses’ fetlocks. There is any amount of rhubarb and early vegetables in the garden. Grannie says there is a splendid promise of fruit in the orchard, and the flower-garden is a perfect dream. This is the dearest old place in the world. Dozens of people plague grannie to be let put their horses in the grass — especially shearers, there are droves of them going home now — but she won’t let them; wants all the grass for her own stock. Uncle has had to put another man on to mind it, or at night all the wires are cut and the horses put in. (An agent, I think by the cut of him, is asking for grannie. I’ll have to run and find her.) It is very lively here. Never a night but we have the house full of agents or travellers of one sort or another, and there are often a dozen swaggies in the one day.

Harold Beecham is my favourite of all the men hereaway. He is delightfully big and quiet. He isn’t good-looking, but I like his face. (Been attending to the demands of a couple of impudent swaggies. Being off the road at Possum Gully, you escape them.) For the love of life, next time you write, fire into the news at once and don’t half-fill your letter telling me about the pen and your bad writing. I am scribbling at the rate of 365 miles an hour, and don’t care a jot whether it is good writing or not.

Auntie, uncle, Frank Hawden and I, are going to ride to Yabtree church next Sunday. It is four miles beyond Five–Bob Downs, so that is sixteen miles. It is the nearest church. I expect it will be rare fun. There will be such a crowd coming home, and that always makes the horses delightfully frisky. (A man wants to put his horses in the paddock for the night, so I will have to find uncle.) I never saw such a place for men. It is all men, men, men. You cannot go anywhere outside the house but you see men coming and going in all directions. It wouldn’t do to undress without bothering to drop the window-blind like we used at Possum Gully. Grannie and uncle say it is a curse to be living beside the road, as it costs them a tremendous lot a year. There are seven lemon-trees here, loaded (another hawker). I hope you think of me sometimes. I am just as ugly as ever. (A traveller wants to buy a loaf of bread.)

With stacks of love to all at home, and a whole dray-load for yourself, from your loving sister,

Sybylla.

Remember me to Goulburn, drowsing lazily in its dreamy graceful hollow in the blue distance.

Caddagat, 29th Sept., 1896

Dear Everard,

Thank you very much for the magazines and “An Australian Bush Track”. I suppose you have quite forgotten us and Caddagat by this time. The sun has sunk behind the gum-trees, and the blue evening mists are hanging lazily in the hollows of the hills. I expect you are donning your “swallow-tail” preparatory to leading some be-satined “faire ladye” in to a gorgeous dinner, thence to the play, then to a dance probably. No doubt all around you is bustle, glare of lights, noise, and fun. It is such a different scene here. From down the road comes the tinkle of camp-bells and jingle of hobble-chains. From down in that sheltered angle where the creek meets the river comes the gleam of camp-fires through the gathering twilight, and I can see several tents rigged for the night, looking like white specks in the distance.

I long for the time to come when I shall get to Sydney. I’m going to lead you and aunt Helen a pretty dance. You’ll have to keep going night and day. It will be great. I must get up and dance a jig on the veranda when I think of it. You’ll have to show me everything — slums and all. I want to find out the truth of heaps of things for myself.

Save for the weird rush of the stream and the kookaburras’ good-night, all is still, with a mighty far-reaching stillness which can be felt. Now the curlews are beginning their wild moaning cry. From the rifts in the dark lone ranges, far down the river, it comes like a hunted spirit until it makes me feel —

At this point I said, “Bah! I’m mad to write to Everard Grey like this. He would laugh and call me a poor little fool.” I tore the half-finished letter to shreds, and consigned it to the kitchen fire. I substituted a prim formal note, merely thanking him for the books and magazine he had sent me. To this I never received an answer. I heard through his letters to grannie that he was much occupied. Had been to Brisbane and Melbourne on important cases, so very likely had not time to be bothered with me; or, he might have been like the majority of his fellows who make a great parade of friendship while with one, then go away and forget one’s existence in an hour.

While at Caddagat there were a few duties allotted to me. One of these was to attend to the drawing-room; another was to find uncle Jay–Jay’s hat when he mislaid it — often ten times per day. I assisted my grandmother to make up her accounts and write business letters, and I attended to tramps. A man was never refused a bit to eat at Caddagat. This necessitated the purchase of an extra ton of flour per year, also nearly a ton of sugar, to say nothing of tea, potatoes, beef, and all broken meats which went thus. This was not reckoning the consumption of victuals by the other class of travellers with which the house was generally full year in and year out. Had there been any charge for their board and lodging, the Bossiers would surely have made a fortune. I interviewed on an average fifty tramps a week, and seldom saw the same man twice. What a great army they were! Hopeless, homeless, aimless, shameless souls, tramping on from north to south, and east to west, never relinquishing their heart-sickening, futile quest for work — some of them so long on the tramp that the ambitions of manhood had been ground out of them, and they wished for nothing more than this.

There were all shapes, sizes, ages, kinds, and conditions of men — the shamefaced boy in the bud of his youth, showing by the way he begged that the humiliation of the situation had not yet worn off, and poor old creatures tottering on the brink of the grave, with nothing left in life but the enjoyment of beer and tobacco. There were strong men in their prime who really desired work when they asked for it, and skulking cowards who hoped they would not get it. There were the diseased, the educated, the ignorant, the deformed, the blind, the evil, the honest, the mad, and the sane. Some in real professional beggars’ style called down blessings on me; others were morose and glum, while some were impudent and thankless, and said to supply them with food was just what I should do, for the swagmen kept the squatters — as, had the squatters not monopolized the land, the swagmen would have had plenty. A moiety of the last-mentioned — dirty, besotted, ragged creatures — had a glare in their eyes which made one shudder to look at them, and, while spasmodically twirling their billies or clenching their fists, talked wildly of making one to “bust up the damn banks”, or to drive all the present squatters out of the country and put the people on the land — clearly showing that, because they had failed for one reason or another, it had maddened them to see others succeed.

In a wide young country of boundless resources, why is this thing? This question worried me. Our legislators are unable or unwilling to cope with it. They trouble not to be patriots and statesmen. Australia can bring forth writers, orators, financiers, singers, musicians, actors, and athletes which are second to none of any nation under the sun. Why can she not bear sons, men of soul, mind, truth, godliness, and patriotism sufficient to rise and cast off the grim shackles which widen round us day by day?

I was the only one at Caddagat who held these silly ideas. Harold Beecham, uncle Julius, grannie, and Frank Hawden did not worry about the cause of tramps. They simply termed them a lazy lot of sneaking creatures, fed them, and thought no more of the matter.

I broached the subject to uncle Jay–Jay once, simply to discover his ideas thereon.

I was sitting on a chair in the veranda sewing; he, with his head on a cushion, was comfortably stretched on a rug on the floor.

“Uncle Boss, why can’t something be done for tramps?”

“How done for ’em?”

“Couldn’t some means of employing them be arrived at?”

“Work!” he ejaculated. “That’s the very thing the crawling divils are terrified they might get.”

“Yes; but couldn’t some law be made to help them?”

“A law to make me cut up Caddagat and give ten of ’em each a piece, and go on the wallaby myself, I suppose?”

“No, uncle; but there was a poor young fellow here this morning who, I feel sure, was in earnest when he asked for work.”

“Helen!” bawled uncle Jay–Jay.

“Well, what is it?” she inquired, appearing in the doorway.

“Next time Sybylla is giving a tramp some tucker, you keep a sharp eye on her or she will be sloping one of these days. There was a young fellow here today with a scarlet moustache and green eyes, and she’s dean gone on him, and has been bullying me to give him half Caddagat.”

“What a disgusting thing to say! Uncle, you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” I exclaimed.

“Very well, I’ll be careful,” said aunt Helen, departing.

“What with the damned flies, and the tramps, and a pesky thing called Sybylla, a man’s life ain’t worth a penny to him,” said uncle.

We fell into silence, which was broken presently by a dirty red-bearded face appearing over the garden gate, and a man’s voice:

“Good day, boss! Give us a chew of tobaccer?”

“I’m not the boss,” said uncle with assumed fierceness.

“Then who is?” inquired the man.

Uncle pointed his thumb at me, and, rolling out on the floor again as though very sleepy, began to snore. The tramp grinned, and made his request of me. I took him round to the back, served him with flour, beef, and an inch or two of rank tobacco out of a keg which had been bought for the purpose. Refusing a drink of milk which I offered, he resumed his endless tramp with a “So long, little missy. God bless your pleasant face.”

I watched him out of sight. One of my brothers — one of God’s children under the Southern Cross. Did these old fellows really believe in the God whose name they mentioned so glibly? I wondered. But I am thankful that while at Caddagat it was only rarely that my old top-heavy thoughts troubled me. Life was so pleasant that I was content merely to be young — a chit in the first flush of teens, health, hope, happiness, youth — a heedless creature recking not for the morrow.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53