The Somerset travels down the Queensland coast to Rockhampton where Finch-Hatton meets his brother Henry and catches another boat back to Mackay. They start the trip to Henry's station, visiting another station on the way. Somerset, Rockhampton, Mackay, leaving town, an alligator, Sleepy Hollow, rum swizzle.
The town of Somerset:
No one was sorry when, about sixteen days after leaving Singapore, the coast of Australia hove in sight. We passed through Torres Straits, which were adorned with the remains of three recent wrecks, and anchored off Somerset, the northernmost township in Australia. It is merely a pearl-fishing station, and will never develop into anything, as there is no back country to it. The pearl-fishers who live there are a rough-looking lot, not encumbered with any superfluous clothing, and generally without shoes or stockings. Their trade, which is an exceedingly profitable one, is carried on by means of black divers, who go down and bring up the mother-of-pearl shells. These shells, which are about a foot or sixteen inches across, and shaped like an oyster-shell, were worth at that time nearly £250 per ton.
The Somerset did not call off Mackay which was my destination, so I had to go on to Keppel Bay, the port for Rockhampton, 200 miles further south, and wait for a boat back to Mackay.
I left the Somerset with unmixed joy, and with a hearty hope that she might go to the bottom when she got into Sydney harbour, and stay there. ...
My brother met me in Rockhampton, and we were fortunate enough to find a boat sailing for Mackay a few hours after I landed. We ran up to the entrance of the Pioneer River, on which Mackay is situated, in about twenty-four hours, and had to anchor there and wait for the tide to get in. We amused ourselves by fishing for sharks, and caught one about six feet long. ... About one o'clock in the morning the tide served, and we steamed up the Pioneer for a couple of miles, and lay alongside of a rather dilapidated wharf.
After going along this for a hundred yards, some buildings began to loom up against the starlit sky, and a little farther on we turned a corner, and found ourselves in the main street of Mackay.
It might have been the city of the dead for any signs of a population. Not a light was to be seen in the rows of uneven, low, wooden buildings that ran along each side of the street, and the only living creatures were several dogs fast asleep in the middle of the road. Turning another corner, we stumbled over the body of a man with his heels on the pavement and his head in the gutter. His hat was off, and he was evidently in the total-collapse stage of drunkenness. My brother struck a match and examined his features.
"Ah, I thought so," he observed; "it's the doctor. He's been like that, off and on, for a fortnight. Here, lend a hand, and pull him out of the gutter. He'll have a fit if he lies like that much longer."
Meanwhile, I amused myself by examining the town of Mackay. Of all horrible places to live in, the worst is a small coast town in Queensland. They are all alike. The streets are very broad, and almost all the houses build entirely of wood, with verandahs in front of them, extending over the pavement. There is not a green thing to be seen anywhere. Dust is everywhere, inches deep in the streets that are not macadamised, and trees, bushes, houses and everything are powdered over with it. In summer it is sweltering hot, the glare is frightful, and before I had been half an hour in Mackay, I began to understand why my brother was in such a hurry to get out of it. When I first landed there, the white population of the whole district was under 2000, and that of the actual township under 1000, but I counted seventeen public-houses in the place. The first thing that struck me was that not a single man in the town had a coat or waistcoat on, and the next thing that struck me was what very sensible people they all were, for it was about the middle of March, and the weather was so hot that any superfluous clothing was unbearable.
There was a table d'hôte at the hotel at which we camped, and at dinner-time a crowd of men assembled for the feed. Squatters down from the country, bank-clerks, planters, and business men, not one of them had a coat on. Their invariable costume was a pair of moleskins or tweed trousers, fastened round the waist with a leather belt, a cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a silk handkerchief loosely tied round the neck. The Bushmen were easily distinguished by the mahogany brown to which constant exposure to the sun had turned their faces, necks, and arms.
The fashion of wearing no coats is peculiar to Mackay, and has been adopted by the planters, who consider themselves the elite of the place. At a dinner-party on one of the plantations, it is a most curious sight to see all the ladies, en grande tenue, dressed in the latest fashion, and the gentlemen sitting down with no coat or waistcoat, and their arms bare to the elbow.
It was on o'clock before we were ready for a start, and, as our station was forty-five miles away, we settled to go out and camp at a station about five-and-twenty miles up the Pioneer River, and go on home next day. The country round Mackay is a dead level alluvial plain for ten or twelve miles, and is all under cultivation for sugar-growing. Our road for the first mile and a half went through a sort of straggling township of small detached houses, each surrounded by a grass paddock; but after this we got among the cane-fields, and the sight of them was very refreshing after being shut up for weeks at sea. There are few prettier plants than sugar, and the panorama of the Mackay cane-fields is really beautiful. A broad belt of dark green forest marks the course of the Pioneer, winding through the plains, and beyond this again the cane-fields rise right away to the base of rugged mountains, thickly wooded to the very summit. All along the horizon the mountains of the coast range are piled one behind the other in dark blue masses, their outline rising here and there into sharp peaks against the western sky, and forty miles away towers the mighty form of Mount Dalrymple, over 4000 feet high, the second highest mountain in Queensland [Actually, it's not]. On both banks of the Pioneer, at intervals of a few miles, are the residences of the planters, and certainly the lines have fallen to them in pleasant places. Their houses, as a rule, are extremely comfortable and very well furnished, and the gardens of many of them are paradises of beauty. In good times they make tremendous profits, and their occupation chiefly consists in watching other people work, in the intervals of which they recline in a shady verandah with a pipe and a novel, and drink rum-swizzles.
Finch-Hatton encountered his first 'alligator' (actually a crocodile, as he was well aware). These are no longer found in the Pioneer River, fortunately for our high school swimming classes, and there seems to be no nostalgia to reintroduce them.
At one bend of the river, just at the head of a deep pool, where the "scrub" on the banks was very thick, my brother said there was pretty sure to be an alligator, and if we went quietly we might get a sight of it; so we got off, hung our horses up to a tree, and crawled through the scrub down the bank to the water's edge. Peering cautiously through a tangled curtain of creepers that hung over the water, we were rewarded by the sight of a huge alligator, basking on a sandbank about sixty yards off, and apparently fast asleep. The instant we showed ourselves, however, he shuffled in the water with incredible speed. The upper waters of the Pioneer are inhabited by numbers of these brutes, and some of them grow to an enormous size. One was killed not long before I arrived, nineteen feet long, but even this was eclipsed by Big Ben of the Fitzroy, who measured twenty-three feet six inches, and who, when last I saw him, was in the possession of Mr. Jamrach in London.
"Sleepy Hollow," or, as it is always called, "The Hollow," the station at which we were going to camp that night, is about the prettiest place on the whole of the Pioneer. As we rode up we were greeted with a chorus of barking from a small army of cattle-dogs that were lying about the outbuildings, and Mr. Charles Rawson, the owner of the Hollow, came out to meet us. He gave a wild shout of delight when he saw who it was. He was an old friend of my brother, and seizing me by the hand, he bade me welcome to Australia with a heartiness there was no mistaking.
...The owner of the Hollow is probably one of the most popular men in the north of Queensland. He was one of the earliest settlers in the district, has been identified with its rise and progress, and has not an enemy in the place. There were wild times in the early days of Mackay, and most of his contemporaries have been stretched out for the undertaker, or, if they still live, are mere wrecks of their former selves. But sixteen years of hard work and hard living in the tropics have made never a mark on the iron constitution of our host. His head is marble, and perfectly proof against the influence of Mackay rum, forty-five over proof, as anyone who drinks alongside of him will find to their cost.
We followed our host into a cool shady verandah, and he quickly produced the materials for a drink. "Now, then," said he, "just let me mix you a swizzle. What's a swizzle! Oh! I forgot you'd only just landed. Well, I believe a swizzle is about the squarest drink that's yet been invented, and there's no one in the district can lay over me at mixing one. But hold on till you try it."
Never having heard of a swizzle, which is a drink peculiar to Mackay, I believe, I watched his proceedings with interest. First of all he put two inches of Jamaica rum into the bottom of a tumbler, into which he shook a few drops of Angostura bitters from a bottle, with a small hole in the cork. Next he added a small teaspoonful of brown sugar, and a squeeze of a lemon, and filled the tumbler two-thirds full of water. He then took a small stick with three prongs growing the reverse way up at the end, and whirled it around in the tumbler between his hands, with a dexterity only to be acquired by constant practice, till the decoction was foaming to the top of the glass.
Handing it to me quickly, with directions to "drink it while fizzing," he watched it going down, with one eye shut, and an expression of sympathetic interest on his face.
"How's that for high?" he asked as I set down the glass with a sigh of satisfaction.
I acknowledged that he had not overrated the beauties of the drink, and asked him where he got the peculiar little stick with which he stirred it up.
"Ah!" he said, "that's just it. That's nothing short of a swizzle-stick, and it grows on a tree that's peculiar to the Mackay district, and no doubt a bountiful Providence placed it there on purpose for the inhabitants to stir up their liquor with. I discovered it myself, and it hadn't a name, so we christened it Swizzlestickia Rawsoniensis. There's two of them growing down there in the paddock, alongside the fence."
The Rawson Archive at the John Oxley Library in Brisbane, Australia
Jim Foley || Email me