Friday, December 20, 2019
Let little "Etta" show you the way and stop at 0:27 where on the left edge of the picture you can just see a tall white flagpole: that's "Riverbend" and that's where the Nelligen Yacht Club has its headquarters.
For more video clips of the beautiful Clyde River, click here, and make sure you also watch the full-length movie "Oyster Farmer" at the bottom of the page. Get out the popcorn and click on FULL SCREEN. It'll the best one hour and twenty-six minutes you've ever spent.
Thursday, December 19, 2019
I love a sunburnt country,|
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I wished the second stanza of Dorothea Mackellar's famous poem 'My Country' would come true, especially those flooding rains, of which we've seen nothing for many months.
Not a rain cloud in sight; just thick smoke from all those bushfires surrounding us.
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
The Nelligen Yacht Club will soon be moving into new "headquarters" on the very shores of the mighty Clyde River.
The "headquarters" will be a mere 2 x 2 metres plus a viewing platform which is sufficient for its membership of just one (plus the occasional presence of the commodore-cum-secretary-cum-treasurer-cum-only member's she-who-must-be-obeyed).
Stay tuned for further updates.
Monday, December 16, 2019
There was a man who loved islands. He was born on one, but it didn’t suit him, as there were too many other people on it, besides himself. He wanted an island all of his own: not necessarily to be alone on it, but to make it a world of his own.
An island, if it is big enough, is no better than a continent. It has to be really quite small, before it FEELS LIKE an island; and this story will show how tiny it has to be, before you can presume to fill it with your own personality.
Now circumstances so worked out, that this lover of islands, by the time he was thirty-five, actually acquired an island of his own. He didn’t own it as freehold property, but he had a ninety-nine years’ lease of it, which, as far as a man and an island are concerned, is as good as everlasting. Since, if you are like Abraham, and want your offspring to be numberless as the sands of the sea-shore, you don’t choose an island to start breeding on. Too soon there would be overpopulation, overcrowding, and slum conditions. Which is a horrid thought, for one who loves an island for its insulation. No, an island is a nest which holds one egg, and one only. This egg is the islander himself.
The island acquired by our potential islander was not in the remote oceans. It was quite near at home, no palm-trees nor boom of surf on the reef, nor any of that kind of thing; but a good solid dwelling-house, rather gloomy, above the landing-place, and beyond, a small farmhouse with sheds, and a few outlying fields. Down on the little landing bay were three cottages in a row, like coastguards’ cottages, all neat and white-washed.
What could be more cozy and home-like? It was four miles if you walked all round your island, through the gorse and the blackthorn bushes, above the steep rocks of the sea and down in the little glades where the primroses grew. If you walked straight over the two humps of hills, the length of it, through the rocky fields where the cows lay chewing, and through the rather sparse oats, on into the gorse again, and so to the low cliffs’ edge, it took you only twenty minutes. And when you came to the edge, you could see another, bigger island lying beyond. But the sea was between you and it. And as you returned over the turf where the short, downland cowslips nodded you saw to the east still another island, a tiny one this time, like the calf of the cow. This tiny island also belonged to the islander.
Thus it seems that even islands like to keep each other company.
Our islander loved his island very much. In early spring, the little ways and glades were a snow of blackthorn, a vivid white among the celtic stillness of close green and grey rock, blackbirds calling out in the whiteness their first long, triumphant calls. After the blackthorn and the nestling primroses came the blue apparition of hyacinths, like elfin lakes and slipping sheets of blue, among the bushes and under the glade of trees. And many birds with nests you could peep into, on the island all your own. Wonderful what a great world it was!
Followed summer, and the cowslips gone, the wild roses faintly fragrant through the haze. There was a field of hay, the foxgloves stood looking down. In a little cove, the sun was on the pale granite where you bathed, and the shadow was in the rocks. Before the mist came stealing, and you went home through the ripening oats, the glare of the sea fading from the high air as the foghorn started to moo on the other island. And then the sea-fog went, it was autumn, and oat-sheaves lying prone; the great moon, another island, rose golden out of the sea, and, rising higher, the world of the sea was white.
So autumn ended with rain, and winter came, dark skies and dampness and rain, but rarely frost. The island, your island, cowered dark, holding away from you. You could feel, down in the wet, sombre hollows, the resentful spirit coiled upon itself, like a wet dog coiled in gloom, or a snake that is neither asleep nor awake. Then in the night, when the wind left off blowing in great gusts and volleys, as at sea, you felt that your island was a universe, infinite and old as the darkness; not an island at all, but an infinite dark world where all the souls from all the other bygone nights lived on, and the infinite distance was near.
Strangely, from your little island in space, you were gone forth into the dark, great realms of time, where all the souls that never die veer and swoop on their vast, strange errands. The little earthly island has dwindled, like a jumping-off place, into nothingness, for you have jumped off, you know not how, into the dark wide mystery of time, where the past is vastly alive, and the future is not separated off.
This is the danger of becoming an islander. When, in the city, you wear your white spats and dodge the traffic with the fear of death down your spine, then you are quite safe from the terrors of infinite time. The moment is your little islet in time, it is the spatial universe that careers round you.
But once isolate yourself on a little island in the sea of space, and the moment begins to heave and expand in great circles, the solid earth is gone, and your slippery, naked dark soul finds herself out in the timeless world, where the chariots of the so-called dead dash down the old streets of centuries, and souls crowd on the footways that we, in the moment, call bygone years. The souls of all the dead are alive again, and pulsating actively around you. You are out in the other infinity.
Something of this happened to our islander. Mysterious “feelings” came upon him, that he wasn’t used to; strange awarenesses of old, far-gone men, and other influences; men of Gaul, with big moustaches, who had been on his island, and had vanished from the face of it, but not out of the air of night. They were there still, hurtling their big, violent, unseen bodies through the night. And there were priests, with golden knives and mistletoe; then other priests with a crucifix; then pirates with murder on the sea.
Our islander was uneasy. He didn’t believe, in the daytime, in any of this nonsense. But at night it just was so. He had reduced himself to a single point in space, and, a point being that which has neither length nor breadth, he had to step off it into somewhere else. Just as you must step into the sea, if the waters wash your foothold away, so he had, at night, to step off into the otherworld of undying time.
He was uncannily aware, as he lay in the dark, that the blackthorn grove that seemed a bit uncanny even in the realm of space and day, at night was crying with old men of an invisible race, around the altar stone. What was a ruin under the hornbeam trees by day, was a moaning of bloodstained priests with crucifixes, on the ineffable night. What was a cave and hidden beach between coarse rocks, became in the invisible dark the purple-lipped imprecation of pirates.
To escape any more of this sort of awareness, our islander daily concentrated upon his material island. Why should it not be the Happy Isle at last? Why not the last small isle of the Hesperides, the perfect place, all filled with his own gracious, blossom-like spirit? A minute world of pure perfection, made by man, himself.
He began, as we begin all our attempts to regain Paradise, by spending money. The old, semi-feudal dwelling-house he restored, let in more light, put clear lovely carpets on the floor, clear, flower-petal curtains at the sullen windows, and wines in the cellars of rock. He brought over a buxom housekeeper from the world, and a soft-spoken, much-experienced butler. These too were to be islanders.
In the farm-house he put a bailiff, with two farm-hands. There were Jersey cows, tinkling a slow bell, among the gorse. There was a call to meals at midday, and the peaceful smoking of chimneys at evening, when rest descended.
A jaunty sailing-boat with a motor accessory rode in the shelter in the bay, just below the row of three white cottages. There was also a little yawl, and two row-boats drawn up on the sand. A fishing net was drying on its supports, a boat-load of new white planks stood crisscross, a woman was going to the well with a bucket.
In the end cottage lived the skipper of the yacht, and his wife and son. He was a man from the other, large island, at home on this sea. Every fine day he went out fishing, with his son, every fine day there was fresh fish on the island.
In the middle cottage lived an old man and wife, a very faithful couple. The old man was a carpenter, and man of many jobs. He was always working, always the sound of his plane or his saw: lost in his work, he was another kind of islander.
In the third cottage was the mason, a widower with a son and two daughters. With the help of his boy, this man dug ditches and built fences, raised buttresses and erected a new outbuilding, and hewed stone from the little quarry. His daughters worked at the big house.
It was a quiet, busy little world. When the islander brought you over as his guest, you met first the dark-bearded, thin, smiling skipper, Arnold, then his boy Charles. At the house, the smooth-lipped butler who had lived all over the world valeted you, and created that curious creamy-smooth, disarming sense of luxury around you which only a perfect and rather untrustworthy servant can create. He disarmed you and had you at his mercy. The buxom housekeeper smiled and treated you with the subtly respectful familiarity, that is only dealt out to the true gentry. And the rosy maid threw a glance at you, as if you were very wonderful, coming from the great outer world. Then you met the smiling but watchful bailiff, who came from Cornwall, and the shy farm-hand from Berkshire, with his clean wife and two little children, then the rather sulky farm-hand from Suffolk. The mason, a Kent man, would talk to you by the yard, if you let him. Only the old carpenter was gruff and elsewhere absorbed.
Well then, it was a little world to itself, and everybody feeling very safe, and being very nice to you, as if you were really something special. But it was the islander’s world, not yours. He was the Master. The special smile, the special attention was to the Master. They all knew how well off they were. So the islander was no longer Mr So-and-So. To everyone on the island, even to you yourself, he was “the Master”.
Well, it was ideal. The Master was no tyrant. Ah no! He was a delicate, sensitive, handsome Master, who wanted everything perfect and everybody happy. Himself, of course, to be the fount of this happiness and perfection.
But in his way, he was a poet. He treated his guests royally, his servants liberally. Yet he was shrewd, and very wise. He never came the boss over his people. Yet he kept his eye on everything, like a shrewd; blue-eyed young Hermes. And it was amazing what a lot of knowledge he had at hand. Amazing what he knew about Jersey cows, and cheese-making, ditching and fencing, flowers and gardening, ships and the sailing of ships. He was a fount of knowledge about everything, and this knowledge he imparted to his people in an odd, half-ironical, half-portentous fashion, as if he really belonged to the quaint, half-real world of the gods.
They listened to him with their hats in their hands. He loved white clothes; or creamy white; and cloaks, and broad hats. So, in fine weather, the bailiff would see the elegant tall figure in creamy-white serge coming like some bird over the fallow, to look at the weeding of the turnips. Then there would be a doffing of hats, and a few minutes of whimsical, shrewd, wise talk, to which the bailiff answered admiringly, and the farm-hands listened in silent wonder, leaning on their hoes. The bailiff was almost tender, to the Master.
Or, on a windy morning, he would stand with his cloak blowing in the sticky sea-wind, on the edge of the ditch that was being dug to drain a little swamp, talking in the teeth of the wind to the man below; who looked up at him with steady and inscrutable eyes.
Or at evening in the rain he would be seen hurrying across the yard, the broad hat turned against the rain. And the farm-wife would hurriedly exclaim: “The Master! Get up, John, and clear him a place on the sofa.” And then the door opened, and it was a cry of: “Why of all things, if it isn’t the Master! Why, have ye turned out then of a night like this, to come across to the like of we?” And the bailiff took his cloak, and the farm-wife his hat, the two farm-hands drew their chairs to the back, he sat on the sofa and took a child up near him. He was wonderful with children, talked to them simply wonderful, made you think of Our Saviour Himself, said the woman.
Always he was greeted with smiles, and the same peculiar deference, as if he were a higher, but also frailer being. They handled him almost tenderly, and almost with adulation. But when he left, or when they spoke of him, they had often a subtle, mocking smile on their faces. There was no need to be afraid of “the Master”. Just let him have his own way. Only the old carpenter was sometimes sincerely rude to him; so he didn’t care for the old man.
It is doubtful whether any of them really liked him, man to man, or even woman to man. But then it is doubtful if he really liked any of them, as man to man, or man to woman. He wanted them to be happy, and the little world to be perfect. But any one who wants the world to be perfect must be careful not to have real likes and dislikes. A general good-will is all you can afford.
The sad fact is, alas, that general good-will is always felt as something of an insult, by the mere object of it; and so it breeds a quite special brand of malice. Surely general good-will is a form of egoism, that it should have such a result!
Our islander, however, had his own resources. He spent long hours in his library, for he was compiling a book of reference to all the flowers mentioned in the Greek and Latin authors. He was not a great classical scholar: the usual public-school equipment. But there are such excellent translations nowadays. And it was so lovely, tracing flower after flower as it blossomed in the ancient world.
So the first year on the island passed by. A great deal had been done. Now the bills flooded in, and the Master, conscientious in all things, began to study them. The study left him pale and breathless. He was not a rich man. He knew he had been making a hole in his capital, to get the island into running order. When he came to look, however, there was hardly anything left but hole. Thousands and thousands of pounds had the island swallowed into nothingness.
But surely the bulk of the spending was over! Surely the island would now begin to be self-supporting, even if it made no profit! Surely he was safe. He paid a good many of the bills, and took a little heart. But he had had a shock, and the next year, the coming year, there must be economy, frugality. He told his people so, in simple and touching language. And they said: “Why surely! Surely!”
So, while the wind blew and the rain lashed outside, he would sit in his library with the bailiff over a pipe and a pot of beer, discussing farm projects. He lifted his narrow handsome face, and his blue eye became dreamy. “WHAT a wind!” It blew like cannon shots. He thought of his island, lashed with foam, and inaccessible, and he exulted . . . No, he must not lose it. He turned back to the farm projects with the zest of genius, and his hands flicked white emphasis, while the bailiff intoned: “Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir! You’re right, Master!”
But the man was hardly listening. He was looking at the Master’s blue lawn shirt and curious pink tie with the fiery red stone, at the enamel sleeve-links, and at the ring with the peculiar scarab. The brown searching eyes of the man of the soil glanced repeatedly over the fine, immaculate figure of the Master, with a sort of slow, calculating wonder. But if he happened to catch the Master’s bright, exalted glance, his own eye lit up with a careful cordiality and deference, as he bowed his head slightly.
Thus between them they decided what crops should be sown, what fertilizers should be used in different places, which breed of pigs should be imported, and which line of turkeys. That is to say, the bailiff, by continually cautiously agreeing with the Master, kept out of it, and let the young man have his own way.
The Master knew what he was talking about. He was brilliant at grasping the gist of a book, and knowing how to apply his knowledge. On the whole, his ideas were sound. The bailiff even knew it. But in the man of the soil there was no answering enthusiasm. The brown eyes smiled their cordial deference, but the thin lips never changed. The Master pursed his own flexible mouth in a boyish versatility, as he cleverly sketched in his ideas to the other man, and the bailiff made eyes of admiration, but in his heart he was not attending, he was only watching the Master as he would have watched a queer, alien animal, quite without sympathy, not implicated.
So, it was settled, and the Master rang for Elvery, the butler, to bring a sandwich. He, the Master, was pleased. The butler saw it, and came back with anchovy and ham sandwiches, and a newly opened bottle of vermouth. There was always a newly opened bottle of something.
It was the same with the mason. The Master and he discussed the drainage of a bit of land, and more pipes were ordered, more special bricks, more this, more that.
Fine weather came at last, there was a little lull in the hard work on the island. The Master went for a short cruise in his yacht. It was not really a yacht, just a neat little bit of a yawl. They sailed along the coast of the mainland, and put in at the ports. At every port some friend turned up, the butler made elegant little meals in the cabin. Then the Master was invited to villas and hotels, his people disembarked him as if he were a prince.
And oh, how expensive it turned out! He had to telegraph to the bank for money. And he went home again, to economize.
The marsh-marigolds were blazing in the little swamp where the ditches were being dug for drainage. He almost regretted, now, the work in hand. The yellow beauties would not blaze again.
Harvest came, and a bumper crop. There must be a harvest-home supper. The long barn was now completely restored and added to. The carpenter had made long tables. Lanterns hung from the beams of the high-pitched roof. All the people of the island were assembled. The bailiff presided. It was a gay scene.
Towards the end of the supper the Master, in a velvet jacket, appeared with his guests. Then the bailiff rose and proposed: “The Master! Long life and health to the Master!” All the people drank the health with great enthusiasm and cheering. The Master replied with a little speech: They were on an island in a little world of their own. It depended on them all to make this world a world of true happiness and content. Each must do his part. He hoped he himself did what he could, for his heart was in his island, and with the people of his island.
The butler responded: As long as the island had such a Master, it could not but be a little heaven for all the people on it. — This was seconded with virile warmth by the bailiff and the mason, the skipper was beside himself. Then there was dancing, the old carpenter was fiddler.
But under all this, things were not well. The very next morning came the farm-boy to say that a cow had fallen over the cliff. The Master went to look. He peered over the not very high declivity, and saw her lying dead, on a green ledge under a bit of late-flowering broom. A beautiful, expensive creature, already looking swollen. But what a fool, to fall so unnecessarily!
It was a question of getting several men to haul her up the bank: and then of skinning and burying her. No one would eat the meat. How repulsive it all was!
This was symbolic of the island. As sure as the spirits rose in the human breast, with a movement of joy, an invisible hand struck malevolently out of the silence. There must not be any joy, nor even any quiet peace. A man broke a leg, another was crippled with rheumatic fever. The pigs had some strange disease. A storm drove the yacht on a rock. The mason hated the butler, and refused to let his daughter serve at the house.
Out of the very air came a stony, heavy malevolence. The island itself seemed malicious. It would go on being hurtful and evil for weeks at a time. Then suddenly again one morning it would be fair, lovely as a morning in Paradise, everything beautiful and flowing. And everybody would begin to feel a great relief, and a hope for happiness.
Then as soon as the Master was opened out in spirit like an open flower, some ugly blow would fall. Somebody would send him an anonymous note, accusing some other person on the island. Somebody else would come hinting things against one of his servants.
“Some folks thinks they’ve got an easy job out here, with all the pickings they make!” the mason’s daughter screamed at the suave butler, in the Master’s hearing. He pretended not to hear.
“My man says this island is surely one of the lean kine of Egypt, it would swallow a sight of money, and you’d never get anything back out of it,” confided the farm-hand’s wife to one of the Master’s visitors.
The people were not contented. They were not islanders. “We feel we’re not doing right by the children,” said those who had children. “We feel we’re not doing right by ourselves,” said those who had no children. And the various families fairly came to hate one another.
Yet the island was so lovely. When there was a scent of honey-suckle, and the moon brightly flickering down on the sea, then even the grumblers felt a strange nostalgia for it. It set you yearning, with a wild yearning; perhaps for the past, to be far back in the mysterious past of the island, when the blood had a different throb. Strange floods of passion came over you, strange violent lusts and imaginations of cruelty. The blood and the passion and the lust which the island had known. Uncanny dreams, half-dreams, half-evocated yearnings.
The Master himself began to be a little afraid of his island. He felt here strange violent feelings he had never felt before, and lustful desires that he had been quite free from. He knew quite well now that his people didn’t love him at all. He knew that their spirits were secretly against him, malicious, jeering, envious, and lurking to down him. He became just as wary and secretive with regard to them.
But it was too much. At the end of the second year, several departures took place. The housekeeper went. The Master always blamed self-important women most. The mason said he wasn’t going to be monkeyed about any more, so he took his departure, with his family. The rheumatic farm-hand left.
And then the year’s bills came in, the Master made up his accounts. In spite of good crops, the assets were ridiculous, against the spending. The island had again lost, not hundreds but thousands of pounds. It was incredible. But you simply couldn’t believe it! Where had it all gone?
The Master spent gloomy nights and days, going through accounts in the library. He was thorough. It became evident, now the housekeeper had gone, that she had swindled him. Probably everybody was swindling him. But he hated to think it, so he put the thought away.
He emerged, however, pale and hollow-eyed from his balancing of unbalanceable accounts, looking as if something had kicked him in the stomach. It was pitiable. But the money had gone, and there was an end of it. Another great hole in his capital. How could people be so heartless?
It couldn’t go on, that was evident. He would soon be bankrupt. He had to give regretful notice to his butler. He was afraid to find out how much his butler had swindled him. Because the man was such a wonderful butler, after all. And the farm-bailiff had to go. The Master had no regrets in that quarter. The losses on the farm had almost embittered him.
The third year was spent in rigid cutting down of expenses. The island was still mysterious and fascinating. But it was also treacherous and cruel, secretly, fathomlessly malevolent. In spite of all its fair show of white blossom and bluebells, and the lovely dignity of foxgloves bending their rose-red bells, it was your implacable enemy.
With reduced staff, reduced wages, reduced splendour, the third year went by. But it was fighting against hope. The farm still lost a good deal. And once more, there was a hole in that remnant of capital. Another hole, in that which was already a mere remnant round the old holes. The island was mysterious in this also: it seemed to pick the very money out of your pocket, as if it were an octopus with invisible arms stealing from you in every direction.
Yet the Master still loved it. But with a touch of rancour now.
He spent, however, the second half of the fourth year intensely working on the mainland, to be rid of it. And it was amazing how difficult he found it to dispose of an island. He had thought that everybody was pining for such an island as his; but not at all. Nobody would pay any price for it. And he wanted now to get rid of it, as a man who wants a divorce at any cost.
It was not till the middle of the fifth year that he transferred it, at a considerable loss to himself, to an hotel company who were willing to speculate in it. They were to turn it into a handy honeymoon-and-golf island!
Then, take that island which didn’t know when it was well off! Now be a honeymoon-and-golf island!
The islander had to move. But he was not going to the mainland. Oh, no! He moved to the smaller island, which still belonged to him. And he took with him the faithful old carpenter and wife, the couple he never really cared for; also a widow and daughter, who had kept house for him the last year; also an orphan lad, to help the old man.
The small island was very small; but, being a hump of rock in the sea, it was bigger than it looked. There was a little track among rocks and bushes, winding and scrambling up and down around the islet, so that it took you twenty minutes to do the circuit. It was more than you would have expected.
Still, it was an island. The islander moved himself, with all his books, into the commonplace six-roomed house up to which you had to scramble from the rocky landing-place. There were also two joined-together cottages. The old carpenter lived in one, with his wife and the lad, the widow and daughter lived in the other.
At last all was in order. The Master’s books filled two rooms. It was already autumn, Orion lifting out of the sea. And in the dark nights, the Master could see the lights on his late island, where the hotel company were entertaining guests who would advertise the new resort for honeymoon-golfers.
On his hump of rock, however, the Master was still master. He explored the crannies, the odd handbreadths of grassy level, the steep little cliffs where the last harebells hung, and the seeds of summer were brown above the sea, lonely and untouched. He peered down the old well. He examined the stone pen where the pig had been kept. Himself, he had a goat.
Yes, it was an island. Always, always, underneath among the rocks the celtic sea sucked and washed and smote its feathery greyness. How many different noises of the sea! deep explosions, rumblings, strange long sighs and whistling noises; then voices, real voices of people clamouring as if they were in a market, under the waters; and again, the far-off ringing of a bell, surely an actual bell! then a tremulous trilling noise, very long and alarming, and an undertone of hoarse gasping.
On this island there were no human ghosts, no ghosts of any ancient race. The sea, and the spume and the wind and the weather, had washed them all out, washed them out, so there was only the sound of the sea itself, its own ghost, myriad-voiced, communing and plotting and shouting all winter long. And only the smell of the sea, with a few bristly bushes of gorse and coarse tufts of heather, among the grey, pellucid rocks, in the grey, more pellucid air. The coldness, the greyness, even the soft, creeping fog of the sea! and the islet of rock humped up in it all, like the last point in space.
Green star Sirius stood over the sea’s rim. The island was a shadow. Out at sea a ship showed small lights. Below, in the rocky cove, the row-boat and the motor-boat were safe. A light shone in the carpenter’s kitchen. That was all.
Save, of course, that the lamp was lit in the house, where the widow was preparing supper, her daughter helping. The islander went in to his meal. Here he was no longer the Master, he was an islander again and he had peace. The old carpenter, the widow and daughter were all faithfulness itself. The old man worked while ever there was light to see, because he had a passion for work. The widow and her quiet, rather delicate daughter of thirty-three worked for the Master, because they loved looking after him, and they were infinitely grateful for the haven he provided them. But they didn’t call him “the Master”. They gave him his name: “Mr Cathcart, Sir!” softly, and reverently. And he spoke back to them also softly, gently, like people far from the world, afraid to make a noise.
The island was no longer a “world”. It was a sort of refuge. The islander no longer struggled for anything. He had no need. It was as if he and his few dependents were a small flock of sea-birds alighted on this rock, as they travelled through space, and keeping together without a word. The silent mystery of travelling birds.
He spent most of his day in his study. His book was coming along. The widow’s daughter could type out his manuscript for him, she was not uneducated. It was the one strange sound on the island, the typewriter. But soon even its spattering fitted in with the sea’s noises, and the wind’s.
The months went by. The islander worked away in his study, the people of the island went quietly about their concerns. The goat had a little black kid with yellow eyes. There were mackerel in the sea. The old man went fishing in the row-boat, with the lad. When the weather was calm enough, they went off in the motor-boat to the biggest island, for the post. And they brought supplies, never a penny wasted. And the days went by, and the nights, without desire, without ennui.
The strange stillness from all desire was a kind of wonder to the islander. He didn’t want anything. His soul at last was still in him, his spirit was like a dim-lit cave under water, where strange sea-foliage expands upon the watery atmosphere, and scarcely sways, and a mute fish shadowily slips in and slips away again. All still and soft and uncrying, yet alive as rooted sea-weed is alive.
The islander said to himself: “Is this happiness?” He said to himself: “I am turned into a dream. I feel nothing, or I don’t know what I feel. Yet it seems to me I am happy.”
Only he had to have something upon which his mental activity could work. So he spent long, silent hours in his study, working not very fast, nor very importantly, letting the writing spin softly from him as if it were drowsy gossamer. He no longer fretted whether it were good or not, what he produced. He slowly, softly spun it like gossamer, and, if it were to melt away as gossamer in autumn melts, he would not mind. It was only the soft evanescence of gossamery things which now seemed to him permanent. The very mist of eternity was in them. Whereas stone buildings, cathedrals for example, seemed to him to howl with temporary resistance, knowing they must fall at last; the tension of their long endurance seemed to howl forth from them all the time.
Sometimes he went to the mainland and to the city. Then he went elegantly, dressed in the latest style, to his club. He sat in a stall at the theatre, he shopped in Bond Street. He discussed terms for publishing his book. But over his face was that gossamery look of having dropped out of the race of progress, which made the vulgar city people feel they had won it over him, and made him glad to go back to his island.
He didn’t mind if he never published his book. The years were blending into a soft mist, from which nothing obtruded. Spring came. There was never a primrose on his island, but he found a winter-aconite. There were two little sprayed bushes of blackthorn, and some wind-flowers. He began to make a list of the flowers on his islet, and that was absorbing. He noted a wild currant bush, and watched for the elder flowers on a stunted little tree, then for the first yellow rags of the broom, and wild roses. Bladder campion, orchids, stitchwort, celandine, he was prouder of them than if they had been people on his island. When he came across the golden saxifrage, so inconspicuous in a damp corner, he crouched over it in a trance, he knew not for how long, looking at it. Yet it was nothing to look at. As the widow’s daughter found, when he showed it her.
He had said to her, in real triumph:
“I found the golden saxifrage this morning.”
The name sounded splendid. She looked at him with fascinated brown eyes, in which was a hollow ache that frightened him a little.
“Did you, Sir? Is it a nice flower?”
He pursed his lips and tilted his brows.
“Well — not showy exactly. I’ll show it you if you like.”
“I should like to see it.”
She was so quiet, so wistful. But he sensed in her a persistency which made him uneasy. She said she was so happy: really happy. She followed him quietly, like a shadow, on the rocky track where there was never room for two people to walk side by side. He went first, and could feel her there, immediately behind him, following so submissively, gloating on him from behind.
It was a kind of pity for her which made him become her lover: though he never realized the extent of the power she had gained over him, and how SHE willed it. But the moment he had fallen, a jangling feeling came upon him, that it was all wrong. He felt a nervous dislike of her. He had not wanted it. And it seemed to him, as far as her physical self went, she had not wanted it either. It was just her will. He went away, and climbed at the risk of his neck down to a ledge near the sea. There he sat for hours, gazing all jangled at the sea, and saying miserably to himself: “We didn’t want it. We didn’t really want it.”
It was the automatism of sex that had caught him again. Not that he hated sex. He deemed it, as the Chinese do, one of the great life-mysteries. But it had become mechanical, automatic, and he wanted to escape that. Automatic sex shattered him, and filled him with a sort of death. He thought he had come through, to a new stillness of desirelessness. Perhaps beyond that, there was a new fresh delicacy of desire, an unentered frail communion of two people meeting on untrodden ground.
But be that as it might, this was not it. This was nothing new or fresh. It was automatic, and driven from the will. Even she, in her true self, hadn’t wanted it. It was automatic in her.
When he came home, very late, and saw her face white with fear and apprehension of his feeling against her, he pitied her, and spoke to her delicately, reassuringly. But he kept himself remote from her.
She gave no sign. She served him with the same silence, the same hidden hunger to serve him, to be near where he was. He felt her love following him with strange, awful persistency. She claimed nothing. Yet now, when he met her bright, brown, curiously vacant eyes, he saw in them the mute question. The question came direct at him, with a force and a power of will he never realized.
So he succumbed, and asked her again.
“Not,” she said, “if it will make you hate me.”
“Why should it?” he replied, nettled. “Of course not.”
“You know I would do anything on earth for you.”
It was only afterwards, in his exasperation, he remembered what she had said, and was more exasperated. Why should she pretend to do this FOR HIM? Why not for herself? But in his exasperation, he drove himself deeper in. In order to achieve some sort of satisfaction, which he never did achieve, he abandoned himself to her. Everybody on the island knew. But he did not care.
Then even what desire he had left him, and he felt only shattered. He felt that only with her will had she wanted him. Now he was shattered and full of self-contempt. His island was smirched and spoiled. He had lost his place in the rare, desireless levels of Time to which he had at last arrived, and he had fallen right back. If only it had been true, delicate desire between them, and a delicate meeting on the third rare place where a man might meet a woman, when they were both true to the frail, sensitive, crocus flame of desire in them. But it had been no such thing: automatic, an act of will, not of true desire, it left him feeling humiliated.
He went away from the islet, in spite of her mute reproach. And he wandered about the continent, vainly seeking a place where he could stay. He was out of key; he did not fit in the world any more.
There came a letter from Flora — her name was Flora — to say she was afraid she was going to have a child. He sat down as if he were shot, and he remained sitting. But he replied to her: “Why be afraid? If it is so, it is so, and we should rather be pleased than afraid.”
At this very moment, it happened there was an auction of islands. He got the maps, and studied them. And at the auction he bought, for very little money, another island. It was just a few acres of rock away in the north, on the outer fringe of the isles. It was low, it rose out of the great ocean. There was not a building, not even a tree on it. Only northern sea-turf, a pool of rain-water, a bit of sedge, rock, and sea-birds. Nothing else. Under the weeping wet western sky.
He made a trip to visit his new possession. For several days, owing to the seas, he could not approach it. Then, in a light sea-mist, he landed, and saw it hazy, low, stretching apparently a long way. But it was illusion. He walked over the wet, springy turf, and dark-grey sheep tossed away from him, spectral, bleating hoarsely. And he came to the dark pool, with the sedge. Then on in the dampness, to the grey sea sucking angrily among the rocks.
This was indeed an island.
So he went home to Flora. She looked at him with guilty fear, but also with a triumphant brightness in her uncanny eyes. And again he was gentle, he reassured her, even he wanted her again, with that curious desire that was almost like toothache. So he took her to the mainland, and they were married, since she was going to have his child.
They returned to the island. She still brought in his meals, her own along with them. She sat and ate with him. He would have it so. The widowed mother preferred to stay in the kitchen. And Flora slept in the guest-room of his house, mistress of his house.
His desire, whatever it was, died in him with nauseous finality. The child would still be months coming. His island was hateful to him, vulgar, a suburb. He himself had lost all his finer distinction. The weeks passed in a sort of prison, in humiliation. Yet he stuck it out, till the child was born. But he was meditating escape. Flora did not even know.
A nurse appeared, and ate at table with them. The doctor came sometimes, and, if the sea were rough, he too had to stay. He was cheery over his whisky.
They might have been a young couple in Golders Green.
The daughter was born at last. The father looked at the baby, and felt depressed, almost more than he could bear. The millstone was tied round his neck. But he tried not to show what he felt. And Flora did not know. She still smiled with a kind of half-witted triumph in her joy, as she got well again. Then she began again to look at him with those aching, suggestive, somehow impudent eyes. She adored him so.
This he could not stand. He told her that he had to go away for a time. She wept, but she thought she had got him. He told her he had settled the best part of his property on her, and wrote down for her what income it would produce. She hardly listened, only looked at him with those heavy, adoring, impudent eyes. He gave her a cheque-book, with the amount of her credit duly entered. This did arouse her interest. And he told her, if she got tired of the island, she could choose her home wherever she wished.
She followed him with those aching, persistent brown eyes, when he left, and he never even saw her weep.
He went straight north, to prepare his third island.
The Third Island
The third island was soon made habitable. With cement and the big pebbles from the shingle beach, two men built him a hut, and roofed it with corrugated iron. A boat brought over a bed and table, and three chairs, with a good cupboard, and a few books. He laid in a supply of coal and paraffin and food — he wanted so little.
The house stood near the flat shingle bay where he landed, and where he pulled up his light boat. On a sunny day in August the men sailed away and left him. The sea was still and pale blue. On the horizon he saw the small mail-steamer slowly passing northwards, as if she were walking. She served the outer isles twice a week. He could row out to her if need be, in calm weather, and he could signal her from a flagstaff behind his cottage.
Half a dozen sheep still remained on the island, as company; and he had a cat to rub against his legs. While the sweet, sunny days of the northern autumn lasted, he would walk among the rocks, and over the springy turf of his small domain, always coming to the ceaseless, restless sea. He looked at every leaf, that might be different from another, and he watched the endless expansion and contraction of the water-tossed sea-weed. He had never a tree, not even a bit of heather to guard. Only the turf, and tiny turf-plants, and the sedge by the pool, the seaweed in the ocean. He was glad. He didn’t want trees or bushes. They stood up like people, too assertive. His bare, low-pitched island in the pale blue sea was all he wanted.
He no longer worked at his book. The interest had gone. He liked to sit on the low elevation of his island, and see the sea; nothing but the pale, quiet sea. And to feel his mind turn soft and hazy, like the hazy ocean. Sometimes, like a mirage, he would see the shadow of land rise hovering to northwards. It was a big island beyond. But quite without substance.
He was soon almost startled when he perceived the steamer on the near horizon, and his heart contracted with fear, lest it were going to pause and molest him. Anxiously he watched it go, and not till it was out of sight did he feel truly relieved, himself again. The tension of waiting for human approach was cruel. He did not want to be approached. He did not want to hear voices. He was shocked by the sound of his own voice, if he inadvertently spoke to his cat. He rebuked himself for having broken the great silence. And he was irritated when his cat would look up at him and mew faintly, plaintively. He frowned at her. And she knew. She was becoming wild, lurking in the rocks, perhaps fishing.
But what he disliked most was when one of the lumps of sheep opened its mouth and baa-ed its hoarse, raucous baa. He watched it, and it looked to him hideous and gross. He came to dislike the sheep very much.
He wanted only to hear the whispering sound of the sea, and the sharp cries of the gulls, cries that came out of another world to him. And best of all, the great silence.
He decided to get rid of the sheep, when the boat came. They were accustomed to him now, and stood and stared at him with yellow or colourless eyes, in an insolence that was almost cold ridicule. There was a suggestion of cold indecency about them. He disliked them very much. And when they jumped with staccato jumps off the rocks, and their hoofs made the dry, sharp hit, and the fleece flopped on their square backs — he found them repulsive, degrading.
The fine weather passed, and it rained all day. He lay a great deal on his bed, listening to the water trickling from his roof into the zinc water-butt, looking through the open door at the rain, the dark rocks, the hidden sea. Many gulls were on the island now: many sea-birds of all sorts. It was another world of life. Many of the birds he had never seen before. His old impulse came over him, to send for a book, to know their names. In a flicker of the old passion, to know the name of everything he saw, he even decided to row out to the steamer. The names of these birds! he must know their names, otherwise he had not got them, they were not quite alive to him.
But the desire left him, and he merely watched the birds as they wheeled or walked around him, watched them vaguely, without discrimination. All interest had left him. Only there was one gull, a big handsome fellow, who would walk back and forth, back and forth in front of the open door of the cabin, as if he had some mission there. He was big, and pearl-grey, and his roundnesses were as smooth and lovely as a pearl. Only the folded wings had shut black pinions, and on the closed black feathers were three very distinct white dots, making a pattern. The islander wondered very much, why this bit of trimming on the bird out of the far, cold seas. And as the gull walked back and forth, back and forth in front of the cabin, strutting on pale-dusky gold feet, holding up his pale yellow beak, that was curved at the tip, with curious alien importance, the man wondered over him. He was portentous, he had a meaning.
Then the bird came no more. The island, which had been full of sea-birds, the flash of wings, the sound and cut of wings and sharp eerie cries in the air, began to be deserted again. No longer they sat like living eggs on the rocks and turf, moving their heads, but scarcely rising into flight round his feet. No longer they ran across the turf among the sheep, and lifted themselves upon low wings. The host had gone. But some remained, always.
The days shortened, and the world grew eerie. One day the boat came: as if suddenly, swooping down. The islander found it a violation. It was torture to talk to those two men, in their homely clumsy clothes. The air of familiarity around them was very repugnant to him. Himself, he was neatly dressed, his cabin was neat and tidy. He resented any intrusion, the clumsy homeliness, the heavy-footedness of the two fishermen was really repulsive to him.
The letters they had brought, he left lying unopened in a little box. In one of them was his money. But he could not bear to open even that one. Any kind of contact was repulsive to him. Even to read his name on an envelope. He hid the letters away.
And the hustle and horror of getting the sheep caught and tied and put in the ship made him loathe with profound repulsion the whole of the animal creation. What repulsive god invented animals, and evil-smelling men? To his nostrils, the fishermen and the sheep alike smelled foul; an uncleanness on the fresh earth.
He was still nerve-wracked and tortured when the ship at last lifted sail and was drawing away, over the still sea. And sometimes days after, he would start with repulsion, thinking he heard the munching of sheep.
The dark days of winter drew on. Sometimes there was no real day at all. He felt ill, as if he were dissolving, as if dissolution had already set in inside him. Everything was twilight, outside, and in his mind and soul. Once, when he went to the door, he saw black heads of men swimming in his bay. For some moments he swooned unconscious. It was the shock, the horror of unexpected human approach. The horror in the twilight! And not till the shock had undermined him and left him disembodied, did he realize that the black heads were the heads of seals swimming in. A sick relief came over him. But he was barely conscious, after the shock. Later on, he sat and wept with gratitude, because they were not men. But he never realized that he wept. He was too dim. Like some strange, ethereal animal, he no longer realized what he was doing.
Only he still derived his single satisfaction from being alone, absolutely alone, with the space soaking into him. The grey sea alone, and the footing of his sea-washed island. No other contact. Nothing human to bring its horror into contact with him. Only space, damp, twilit, sea-washed space! This was the bread of his soul.
For this reason, he was most glad when there was a storm, or when the sea was high. Then nothing could get at him. Nothing could come through to him from the outer world. True, the terrific violence of the wind made him suffer badly. At the same time, it swept the world utterly out of existence for him. He always liked the sea to be heavily rolling and tearing. Then no boat could get at him. It was like eternal ramparts round his island.
He kept no track of time, and no longer thought of opening a book. The print, the printed letters, so like the depravity of speech, looked obscene. He tore the brass label from his paraffin stove. He obliterated any bit of lettering in his cabin.
His cat had disappeared. He was rather glad. He shivered at her thin, obtrusive call. She had lived in the coal shed. And each morning he had put her a dish of porridge, the same as he ate. He washed her saucer with repulsion. He did not like her writhing about. But he fed her scrupulously. Then one day she did not come for her porridge: she always mewed for it. She did not come again.
He prowled about his island in the rain, in a big oil-skin coat, not knowing what he was looking at, nor what he went out to see. Time had ceased to pass. He stood for long spaces, gazing from a white, sharp face, with those keen, far-off blue eyes of his, gazing fiercely and almost cruelly at the dark sea under the dark sky. And if he saw the labouring sail of a fishing boat away on the cold waters, a strange malevolent anger passed over his features.
Sometimes he was ill. He knew he was ill, because he staggered as he walked, and easily fell down. Then he paused to think what it was. And he went to his stores and took out dried milk and malt, and ate that. Then he forgot again. He ceased to register his own feelings.
The days were beginning to lengthen. All winter the weather had been comparatively mild, but with much rain, much rain. He had forgotten the sun. Suddenly, however, the air was very cold, and he began to shiver. A fear came over him. The sky was level and grey, and never a star appeared at night. It was very cold. More birds began to arrive. The island was freezing. With trembling hands he made a fire in his grate. The cold frightened him.
And now it continued, day after day, a dull, deathly cold. Occasional crumblings of snow were in the air. The days were greyly longer, but no change in the cold. Frozen grey daylight. The birds passed away, flying away. Some he saw lying frozen. It was as if all life were drawing away, contracting away from the north, contracting southwards. “Soon”, he said to himself, “it will all be gone, and in all these regions nothing will be alive.” He felt a cruel satisfaction in the thought.
Then one night there seemed to be a relief: he slept better, did not tremble half awake, and writhe so much, half-conscious. He had become so used to the quaking and writhing of his body, he hardly noticed it. But when for once it slept deep, he noticed that.
He awoke in the morning to a curious whiteness. His window was muffled. It had snowed. He got up and opened his door, and shuddered. Ugh! how cold! All white, with a dark leaden sea, and black rocks curiously speckled with white. The foam was no longer pure. It seemed dirty. And the sea ate at the whiteness of the corpse-like land. Crumbles of snow were silting down the dead air.
On the ground the snow was a foot deep, white and smooth and soft, windless. He took a shovel to clear round his house and shed. The pallor of morning darkened. There was a strange rumbling of far-off thunder, in the frozen air, and through the newly-falling snow, a dim flash of lightning. Snow now fell steadily down, in the motionless obscurity.
He went out for a few minutes. But it was difficult. He stumbled and fell in the snow, which burned his face. Weak, faint, he toiled home. And when he recovered, he took the trouble to make hot milk.
It snowed all the time. In the afternoon again there was a muffled rumbling of thunder, and flashes of lightning blinking reddish through the falling snow. Uneasy, he went to bed and lay staring fixedly at nothing.
Morning seemed never to come. An eternity long he lay and waited for one alleviating pallor on the night. And at last it seemed the air was paler. His house was a cell faintly illuminated with white light. He realized the snow was walled outside his window. He got up, in the dead cold. When he opened his door, the motionless snow stopped him in a wall as high as his breast. Looking over the top of it, he felt the dead wind slowly driving, saw the snow-powder lift and travel like a funeral train. The blackish sea churned and champed, seeming to bite at the snow, impotent. The sky was grey, but luminous.
He began to work in a frenzy, to get at his boat. If he was to be shut in, it must be by his own choice, not by the mechanical power of the elements. He must get to the sea. He must be able to get at his boat.
But he was weak, and at times the snow overcame him. It fell on him, and he lay buried and lifeless. Yet every time, he struggled alive before it was too late, and fell upon the snow with the energy of fever. Exhausted, he would not give in. He crept indoors and made coffee and bacon. Long since he had cooked so much. Then he went at the snow once more. He must conquer the snow, this new, white brute force which had accumulated against him.
He worked in the awful, dead wind, pushing the snow aside, pressing it with his shovel. It was cold, freezing hard in the wind, even when the sun came out for a while, and showed him his white, lifeless surroundings, the black sea rolling sullen, flecked with dull spume, away to the horizons. Yet the sun had power on his face. It was March.
He reached the boat. He pushed the snow away, then sat down under the lee of the boat, looking at the sea, which nearly swirled to his feet, in the high tide. Curiously natural the pebbles looked, in a world gone all uncanny. The sun shone no more. Snow was falling in hard crumbs, that vanished as if by miracle as they touched the hard blackness of the sea. Hoarse waves rang in the shingle, rushing up at the snow. The wet rocks were brutally black. And all the time the myriad swooping crumbs of snow, demonish, touched the dark sea and disappeared.
During the night there was a great storm. It seemed to him he could hear the vast mass of the snow striking all the world with a ceaseless thud; and over it all, the wind roared in strange hollow volleys, in between which came a jump of blindfold lightning, then the low roll of thunder heavier than the wind. When at last the dawn faintly discoloured the dark, the storm had more or less subsided, but a steady wind drove on. The snow was up to the top of his door.
Sullenly, he worked to dig himself out. And he managed, through sheer persistency, to get out. He was in the tail of a great drift, many feet high. When he got through, the frozen snow was not more than two feet deep. But his island was gone. Its shape was all changed, great heaping white hills rose where no hills had been, inaccessible, and they fumed like volcanoes, but with snow powder. He was sickened and overcome.
His boat was in another, smaller drift. But he had not the strength to clear it. He looked at it helplessly. The shovel slipped from his hands, and he sank in the snow, to forget. In the snow itself, the sea resounded.
Something brought him to. He crept to his house. He was almost without feeling. Yet he managed to warm himself, just that part of him which leaned in snow-sleep over the coal fire. Then again, he made hot milk. After which, carefully, he built up the fire.
The wind dropped. Was it night again? In the silence, it seemed he could hear the panther-like dropping of infinite snow. Thunder rumbled nearer, crackled quick after the bleared reddened lightning. He lay in bed in a kind of stupor. The elements! The elements! His mind repeated the word dumbly. You can’t win against the elements.
How long it went on, he never knew. Once, like a wraith, he got out, and climbed to the top of a white hill on his unrecognizable island. The sun was hot. “It is summer”, he said to himself, “and the time of leaves.” He looked stupidly over the whiteness of his foreign island, over the waste of the lifeless sea. He pretended to imagine he saw the wink of a sail. Because he knew too well there would never again be a sail on that stark sea.
As he looked, the sky mysteriously darkened and chilled. From far off came the mutter of the unsatisfied thunder, and he knew it was the signal of the snow rolling over the sea. He turned, and felt its breath on him.
Saturday, December 7, 2019
When Charles Carruthers accepts an invitation for a yachting and duck-shooting trip to the Frisian Islands from Arthur Davies, an old chum from his Oxford days, he has no idea their holiday will become a daredevil investigation into a German plot to invade Britain.
Out of context, the story of Erskine Childers's The Riddle of the Sands sounds like a bog standard thriller, but that's because so many books are pale echoes of this exceptional novel.
Published in 1903, it predicted the threat of war with Germany and was so prescient in its identification of the British coast's defensive weaknesses that it influenced the siting of new naval bases.
It is also credited as an inspiration to everyone from John Buchan to Ken Follett. The writing is gripping and it's a marvel that Childers manages to make the minutiae of sailing and navigation so engrossing.
Although Riddle was an instant bestseller, Childers never wrote another novel, concentrating instead on military strategy manuals before entering politics and eventually becoming a fervent Irish nationalist.
Carruthers and Davies are wonderful characters, the former a fop from the Foreign Office, the latter an eccentric sailing fanatic.
Davies is based on the author and reading about his courageous struggles for king and country is particularly poignant when you know that Childers was considered a traitor by the British government at the time of his death. He was executed by a firing squad in 1922, by order of the Irish Free State.
A gripping book in its own right; even more fascinating in the context of the life and times of its author. Click here to read the book online.
It was also made into a movie - both a German and an English version, each with a different ending - which appears full-length on YouTube once in while, so keep looking here.
(The completely remade German version has the literally translated title "Das Rätsel der Sandbank" whereas the original English version dubbed in German was released under the totally unrelated title "Under Nacht und Nebel" and is available here.)
As author Matt Vance points out "If you are now aboard and quickly reading through these pages to find out how to tack your boat, you are in trouble." Rather than teach the reader how to literally sail a boat, Vance has created a fundamental guide to the body and soul of sailing.
Divided into sections ranging from 'I see the sea', 'A most dangerous book', and 'Solo', the thirteenth edition to Awa Press's Ginger Series does not disappoint. Vance uses stories of his own sailing experiences to take you deep in to his sailing mind and manages to create vivid images of the ocean, even when on land. "My favourite time to think about boats is during meetings. When I'm asked to contribute I have to be careful not to blurt out 'Lee-oh' or 'She's dragging' in case I get taken the wrong way." He takes you below deck in 'The Rat Effect' to share in the less than pleasant experiences aboard Siward, where the theory that too many sailors aboard a boat "the rat effect takes over: past a certain critical density, rats in a cage go berserk."
"Just occasionally you may find a boat that is the love of your life. It will have many things, but most of all it will have indefinable beauty." Vance's relationship with Siward could be compared to the courting of a fine woman from a very strict father, however, in this case the father still actually owned the yacht and Vance made constant attempts to buy her off him. Slowly he wore the owner down, being allowed privileges over the years, and his persistence eventually finally paid off with while the owner selling some of his soul to allow Vance to buy some of his back.
The section 'Sailors' was a particular favourite, giving an insight in to Vance's views of the different types of sailors. There are, he explains, two types of mariners: tinkerers who enjoy working on their boats and engines but don't enjoy sailing, and the small minority who have been "over the horizon", which Vance clearly falls in to. On top of this, he notes that 90% of boats are rarely sailed, merely given maintenance every year or so, and the true sailors equate to about half of the remaining 10%. The section ends with the tale of a lovely couple (husband in white pants and wife in a sailor's felt cap) declaring over chardonnay "Of course we wouldn't keep our boat here. The cruising in Marlborough Sounds is far superior". Deafening silence follows.
The book closes with a list of 'Dangerous Books' every budding sailor should read, and a very detailed glossary for all those readers who, like me, had no clue of the definition of some of Vance's stunning words. There is no need to have an in-depth knowledge or sailing or boats to enjoy. This simple sentence sums up Vance's life as a keen sailor and loving member of many families both related and not, and in itself is a succinct summary of this book: "'Where's your family?' chirped the smallest. I pointed to the yacht. Heraclitus was right: some things had changed. I smiled. I wept."
Friday, November 29, 2019
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
We all know about the railroads and the way they reshaped industrial Britain. But canals? Last night I watched an amazing documentary on SBS, "BUILDING BRITAIN’S CANALS", about an era when shipping was king. The landscapes those canals went their way through reminded me irresistibly of Wind in the Willows.
While the canals have long lost their industrial use, they are now home to countless narrowboats. The first full-length book to describe a journey by converted narrowboat is "Two Girls in a Barge" by V. Cecil Cotes (which was the pseudonym of Sara Jeannette Duncan, a Canadian Newspaper journalist and author of several other books). It was published in 1891 and describes a journey up the Grand Junction, Oxford & Coventry canals by a couple of female Cambridge graduates, an artist and the author.
To travel on one of those narrowboats - with or within two girls - has been on my bucket-list for many, many years. Being little more than an armchair-traveller these days, I am lucky to have found an online copy of this book here.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
My not-so-old Chinese friend wants to "Escape from the City". He's looked at "Riverbend" and he's looked at Mays Wharf. Before he goes completely cold on the idea, I'd better share with him some of the history of Mays Wharf which I discovered in Stuart Magee's little book "The Clyde River and Batemans Bay":
... just downstream from where the Buckenboura joins is a most interesting old homestead and the remains of a wharf. The wharf is called Mays Wharf and before that it was Wrays Wharf.
Timothy Wray was a Donnegal man. In 1891 he married a girl in Sydney where he worked as a diver. By a diver, I mean one of those blokes in an overall canvas suit, lead weighted boots, and a steel helmet with a window at the front. As a matter of fact, Timothy's diving suit is now in the Hiskisson Maritime Museum.
He came to Batemans Bay in about 1900 and set up as an oyster man, using his skills and his suit as a diver. You might well wonder how he went about oystering in a diving suit, and I'll tell you shortly, but for now I want to talk about that fine house.
Timothy bought 80 acres at the junction of the rivers, leased another 1000, but did little with the land. It is, I believe I may say without offence to anyone, difficult land to do much with.
Shortly after he arrived he set about building the house, and bricklayers were brought down from Sydney. The bricks were made on site from local clay. It's a full brick house and very strongly constructed. Rather than wire ties between the inner and outer walls, at every few courses they laid the bricks transversely to bind the two walls together. There are three bedrooms, lounge and living-room, each with a fireplace joined to one of the four chimneys. There was a verandah all round and a bathroom at one end of the verandah. The toilet, which was way down the back, was not lacking in character and was a two-holer. Have you ever seen one of those? They are what you might call a pally institution. Well, Timothy had nine children, so I imagine there was an impatient queue at times.
The heart and soul of the house was the kitchen. It was big, and you didn't just cook there. You served the meal at a table which coped readily with twelve.
One of Timothy's nine was Eric. He married a girl by the name of Middleton who taught at a school which had been built behind the house, and whose father was the teacher at the school at Nelligen. The Eric Wrays, in turn, had two children.
The Eric Wrays died intestate. That left a problem which could only be solved by the sale of the property. I think there may have been an intermediate owner for a while but it was bought in about 1965 by William May, more commonly known as Pat.
On his assessment of the land Pat May called the place Poverty Farm - which name still appears on the government map and on the gate. His sons, Alan and Dennis, who run the property today say that on the basis of their experience they have no good reason to change the name of the farm.
Meantime, the name Wray has continued unabated. One of Eric's children was Timothy too. He continued in the line of oyster men though using techniques a little more updated than his grandfather. His widow, Mrs Gwen Wray, lives today in Wray Street, Batemans Bay, She's not sorry her family is no longer oystering. It's a wet, cold, hard life she says.
I don't know enough about it to argue, but I do know this. If there is a finer oyster than a Clyde River oyster I have yet to find it, and I have been looking hard for a long time.
So much for Stuart Magee's potted history of Wrays or Mays Wharf. The Mays no longer own Mays Wharf although a quick search of the local telephone directory reveals dozens of Mays as well as Wrays still living in Batemans Bay and up and down the Far South Coast.
I do believe the Innes family who operate the Innes Boatshed and the Clyde River tourist boat bought the property in 2003 for $940,000. It has been for sale for some time now for $1,980,000.
A mere bagatelle for my not-so-old Chinese friend if he ever decides to "Escape from the City".
Monday, September 9, 2019
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The PIGEON HOUSE - Its conical point, sometimes swathed in mist, sometimes clad in snow, can be seen for 50 miles and more. Cook named it in 1770. Alexander Berry and Hamilton Hume climbed it in 1822. The peak is 2358 feet above sea-level, about the same height as the tableland from which it has been separated by the Clyde River.
"I am reminded sympathetically," said the Explorer, as we toiled up a two-in-one gradient in a temperature of a hundred and one, "of the man who said recently: 'When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away.'"
"I have very little feeling left to go away," I sighed, and leant against a forest giant.
"WHAT'S THIS? WHAT'S THIS? DID YOU EVER SEE ANYTHING LIKE IT? CAN'T YOU CITY COVES DO BETTER THAN THAT?" Arthur's voice came out of the mighty chasm of his throat, it reverberated down the gullies; it boomed across the hills. The air hung still after the echo of it had fluttered away in the foothills of the Braidwood Mountains. There is no voice such as Arthur's in the Southern Hemisphere, or the Northern Hemisphere for the matter of that. The deep notes of it clap up against the sandstone crags and din along the iron stone ridges. It sounds like the gongs of God banging through the mountains. Legend has it that Arthur once stood on a certain bridge and raised that celebrated voice. The startled citizens of Milton, seven miles away, came to their doorways in alarm.
We were bent on a canoe expedition down the Clyde River from the Pigeon House to Bateman's Bay. Nobody had done it before. There is little merit in our successful accomplishment of this feat. Nobody had ever tried. Two folding canoes comprised the fleet. The Explorer and I formed the complement of the larger 17-foot vessel. The Explorer, thus dubbed because he has wandered the Dark Continent and some others, has had much experience of sitting gingerly in dug-outs. The Bosun, an ancient salt in charge of the commissariat, followed in the ship Supply, loaded to the gunwales with comforts and necessities.
The Clyde River rises in the hills which shoulder the temperamental Shoalhaven River into gloomy gorges above its junction with the Kangaroo. By the time the Clyde has made its way to Yadboro Creek at the foot of the mighty Pigeon House Mountain it has attained the dignity of a slow-flowing river of long, deep pools linked by little rapids. The junction of the Clyde with Yadboro Creek was our proposed point of embarkation. Thus if happened that the Explorer, the Bosun, and I were toiling the tortuous 14 miles of path which climbed with giddy gyrations the tumbled gullies of the Clyde. The two canoes and all the gear were packed into Arthur's small sulky by some magic of the Bosun's. Arthur, who has a property in the district, was our guide, philosopher, and friend. Last but not least was Rambler, who worked between the shafts, twenty years of horse-sense shining from the brown depths of his philosophic eyes. For years Rambler had served in the hard school of a horse team, and he knew the ways of men and the wicked ways of this world. He had everything except the power of speech, and this was denied him by a wise Creator Who knows that silence is golden.
But if Rambler was silent his master had the gift of tongues. Arthur was a lord of language. Words, beautifully unprintable words, came rolling off his tongue in a rich, round symphony of sound. This ability to swear richly, roundly, and flowingly without jarring the ear or the sensibilities is an art, and more than an art. It is a gift. Later we were to hear him addressing his bullocks — for he draws logs from the forest in addition to his farming. His addresses had all the cadences, rhythm, and swing of Twentieth Century Blues.
The roads which lead to old Yadboro homestead, as I have told you, are rough and their wanderings are many. The one we followed was rather less than a bush track and kept along the river, crossing it three times. In the spanking old days when women were women and men were pioneers an eight-horse waggon would thunder and clump the tortuous 14 miles, carrying the products of the soil and returning with provisions. The other path to Yadboro leads past the foothills and down the spurs of the Pigeon House Mountain, finally to disappear over The Gap at an angle approximating 90 degrees and come out on the river-flats at the old homestead. Yet despite its rough nature Arthur and his males can ride the nine miles between Yadboro and his own home in two hours and do so in the pitch dark.
The bush was lonely and deserted as we toiled along in the noonday sun. We saw an occasional flock of gang-gangs flapping their way from tree-top to top, uttering every now and then their harsh cries of indignant alarm. Sometimes a little colony of green keets would dive between the forest trees with shrill screams. They flashed like emerald shrapnel bullets through patches of sunlight and shadow so swiftly that the eye could hardly follow them. 'Nothing could catch them amongst those trees,' I said to the Explorer. 'Oh, yes, something could,' replied the Explorer, drawing upon the deep resources of his bird-knowledge. 'The Little Falcon is even swifter. He is the quickest thing on wings in the hawk family, and is the only member of the family who will pursue 'his quarry into and amongst the branches of trees. You remember the beautiful bird, the Black Cheeked Falcon, we saw in the Beloka Gorge on the Snowy River? The Little falcon is very like him, only swifter; a little black demon of incredible speed and inn edible courage, a sudden streaking deatli-in-miniature flashing through the branches. I have heard of him decapitating a black duck with a single stroke of his wing.'
During the short rests we took to spell old Rambler, Arthur told us moving stories of the wild dogs and wild bulls which lurked 'in them thar hills.' Cattle had escaped from Yadboro to run wild in the mountains. The ancient monarchs of the herds seem to be the only ones to survive. Occasionally they were rounded up but those who proved untamable were shot. They are tough old customers, these bulls. A skull is preserved at Yadboro with a .303 bullet flattened against the forehead. They are not safe to approach on foot, Arthur assured us, being kittenish, playful old fellows and fond of playing hide-and-seek.
As we came down into the lovely valley at Yadboro the surrounding mountains were drawing dark curtains across the green velvet of the fields. We rounded a bend and the colossal mountain mass of The Castle rose before us like some fortress of Vulcan's. Two thousand feet it rises, and it rises sheer. The walls are unholy precipices, and no man has set his foot on the flat plateau which forms its top. Locally
(Continued on Page 17.)
it is known as Table Top, a trite and commonplace name. A castle it is in all its rugged grandeur and impressive beauty; a castle too vast to be the war machine of men, for it has been wrought by Time from the crooked backbone of the mountains, a stronghold from which and at which the gods might hurl thunderbolts and forked tongues of lightning and huge boulders and typhoons of wind — playing at war. When the sun goes down behind the Braidwood Mountains, swathes of mist sweep up over the Castle like silken scarves half hung on whispers of wind, and the song of the currawong dies away into the hills, notes from two-toned bells chanting through the gullies. Darkness comes, and all is quiet save for the Clyde licking its way between its banks and mumbling vague confidences to the she-oaks.
The Pigeon House, too, is a noble mountain whose conical top is buried often in mist and sometimes in snow. It is an austere peak, and its austerity is increased because Captain Cook himself played godfather at its christening. At 7 a.m. on April 21, 1770, an entry in his log reads: 'Saw a remarkable peak, called Pigeon House Hill.' In the official history of his voyages he describes it as 'a remarkable peaked hill which resembled a square dove-house with a dome at the top, and which, for that reason, I called the Pigeon House.'
For fifty-two years after the Endeavour beat up the coast against contrary winds Pigeon House remained alone and solitary, with its nose held contemptuously amongst the clouds.
Then Alexander Berry, Hamilton Hume, and Thomas Davison set forth in 1822, ascended the Clyde as far as possible, travelled across-country, and climbed Pigeon House. Alexander Berry was the founder of the well-known Berry Estate. Hamilton Hume, as we all know, quarrelled his way across to Port Phillip with Hovell. The exploration of the Pigeon House district was in competent hands.
Berry estimated that the top of Pigeon House was level with the inland tableland. It was a very shrewd guess. The height of Pigeon House is 2358 feet above sea-level, the Goulburn Plains range from 2100 to 2300 feet. Alexander Berry was only 58 feet out. The aborigines, if not the Greeks, had a name for it. Various surveyors made attempts to translate the name in terms of the alphabet. Florance in 1827 called it Dithol. Surveyor Hoddle first entered it as Tytdel and afterwards as Diddel.
One hundred and fourteen years after Alexander Berry had descended from the cone of the great mountain known as Diddel I climbed it in the company of a hardy New Zealander. The ascent was difficult enough for a plainsman, and in the process I lost the film pack from my camera. Then the rain came. During the descent I found myself swaying gracefully above a 300ft drop, with one foot in mid-air and no reassuring place to put it. Fortunately the New Zealander, a man of the mountains, supplied that urgent need. The climax came when on our return to Milton we were relating our experiences to various citizens. 'But surely you found the ladder?' they asked.
When the Rev. Thomas Kendall, grandfather of the poet, settled on his grant near Ulladulla in 1828, there were about 600 blacks in the district. They were divided into two tribes, the Pigeon House and the coastal blacks, the former extending inland as far as Braidwood. As you stand on the top of Pigeon House you can see a long spur leading upwards towards Braidwood. Along it the tribe would travel when seeking the plateau country in search of food. Down it came frightened blackfellows when the bushranging Clarks shot Billy Bulang and frightened the wits out of his tribesmen. Yet to-day the track — or rather the line, for the blacks had no tracks — is still known as the Darkies' Track.
(To be Continued.)
Mr. Cambage of Milton knew the town when it was a little village struggling to grow up. He remembers the coastal blacks and the tribe of the Pigeon House. He remembers, too, old Charlie Pickering, king of the Pigeon House blacks. The 'king' even condescended to work for him somewhat fitfully, and Mr. Cambage recalls the agility with which Charlie Pickering could climb a tree. He was so fond of climbing that when asked to cut some wood Charlie used to spring nimbly up a large dead tree and hack off the topmost branches. He always insisted upon this procedure despite the fact that there was dead wood in plenty lying on the ground. To-day Charlie Pickering's badge of office as king of the Pigeon House tribes glints metallically in a showcase in the Sydney Museum. It was found under a log in the far ranges of his kingdom.
Mr. Cambage's father came to Milton and took up the same site which the family occupies to-day. In addition to farming he was a blacksmith by trade. The portrait of his father hangs over the fireplace. It shows a firm, strong face with wide-set eyes and dogged jaw. It shows him as Goldsmith's "mighty man" incarnate, a worker in iron, a hewer of wood, a carver of new worlds out of old continents, a man who could labour prodigiously with his bullock team, who could ride all day with a handful of flour inside him and a half-broken horse beneath him, a man to toil amongst mountains and to struggle manfully amongst forests, a man cast in the same mould as a Cromwellian warrior and sprung from the same stock, one who knows no fear save that of God and no shame because his life is an open book telling a plain tale in a plain way. Such is the story the portrait tells; the story of a pioneer and a good one — a rugged oak in rich new soil.
If the early days were hard, the days of reaping were profitable. Mr. Cambage can remember an old German named Hession, whose farm of 20 acres lay across the creek. At one period each crop from that farm was worth £500. Big crops were not the only things he grew. He grew big sons. His three sons, Big Johnny, Big Tommy, and. Big Stevie, together weighed over 60 stone.
The blacks of the Pigeon House and the coast are no more. Their spirits flit with the bats along the ranges when the sun goes down, and their bodies rest in the graves white men have dug for them. No longer can Mr. Cambage step out on to his verandah to inquire the reason of the furious row going on in the blacks' camp down by the creek. There would be no one to reply, as in the old days, 'Yes. boss, that is Paddy beating his mother.'
My story Ls wandering, with as many twists and turns as the Clyde. It is time, indeed, that we gathered again at the river. A minor catastrophe occurred the night prior to our proposed departure. We dined healthily on smoked mutton. In the middle of the night the ghost of that sheep rose up and commenced to haunt the Explorer. Like a horrid spectre it appeared unto him and waved its legs. It caused him to double up in anguish and roll unhappily about, and to make sad little expeditions out into the darkness where the rain fell. The next day the rain continued, and the Explorer lay like a ghost between his blankets. After holding a short conference with Arthur and the Bosun it was decided that Arthur should take the Explorer and his memories of smoked mutton on to Tumblebar Creek, where we would pick him up.
Next morning the sun swiftly cleared away the mists from the heights of the Castle and the currawongs sang their songs more joyously, and the Bosun whistled a nautical ditty to the tune of 'John Brown's Body' as he packed the large canoe. 'Well, you may get down or you may not,' boomed Arthur from the bank, whilst the Explorer stood with one hand on a tree-stump and the other over the area where the smoked mutton had hit him.
Successfully afloat, I set a compass course, metaphorically speaking, for MacMahon's Crossing, nine miles away. From Yadboro the river flows south for some four miles, then swings abruptly east, the Crossing being about five miles from the town. The Clyde is not a vigorous, tumultuous stream such as one finds tumbling down from the tablelands. It flows very stealthily and steadily down through the valley it has quietly eaten away for itself amongst the foothills of the mountains. It does not pound down over waterfalls and cascades, like the Shoalhaven or the Snowy. Rather does it win its way by peaceful penetration. Occasionally, of course, when a cloud bursts over Pigeon House or the upper valley, the Clyde becomes quite a large, dignified river and swings down to the sea in a broad-bosomed, matronly manner.
On the stretch of river below Yadboro the Clyde is at its best. There are long pools, some of them half a mile in length, more like lagoons than pools, with quiet backwaters and little beaches and thin green grass growing in the shallow water. Occasionally, for no good reason at all, the river flows down through a tunnel of river gums, a tunnel so dense that when you look up the sky has quite disappeared and only an odd flitter of sunshine dances here and there on the water. Sometimes a log or so is to be found strewn across the river, and on these occasions the Bosun and I would disembark and heave the canoe over the obstruction.
We had not proceeded far downstream before the Bosun from his seat aft uttered a shrill cry and grabbed at the fishing line he was trolling. After some ecstatic fumbling a large perch was hauled aboard. Every now and again as we
paddled peacefully down a long pool the quiet of mid-summer's day was disturbed by these wild hunting noises of the Bosun's as he pulled in a fish. This stretch of river has rarely been fished and some magnificent perch lurk in the pools. They went for a spinner during the heat of the day like hungry tigers. What would they be like in the evening when faced with an elaborate and juicy white grub?
By lunch-time the Bosun and I had rounded the bend which swings the course of the river eastwards. The land here had once been cleared and the white fingers of dead trees pointed skywards, though the ugly stubble of bracken, the curse of all cleared land in- this district, has spread across the paddocks.
We camped that night beneath a giant she-oak at MacMahon's Crossing. The Bosun fried ten pounds of fish, which we ate and looked round for more. I was awakened next morning, somewhat rudely, by the voice of the Bosun chanting in accurately the words of Omar Khayyam:
'Awake! for Dawn has thrown a Stone into the Bowl of Night
And put the Stars to flight.'
The next day's run took us down to Tumblebar Creek. The river became more congested with tree-trunks, with the result that we were more out of the boat than in it. Being in the water so much had its compensations, for the temperature stood at 107 degrees and the wind felt as if the gates of Hades were wide open. The shallows and rapids were more frequent and the river wandered through wildernesses of undergrowth. Three miles down from MacMahon's the Boyne Creek crept in on the left bank sluggishly like a still lagoon. At 12.30 we arrived at Bimberamala Creek, having averaged a hectic mile and a half an hour since leaving MacMahon's Crossing.
The upper reaches of Bimberamala Creek have long been the site of gold-mining ventures. Recently the increase in gold values and the improvement of machinery have led to further activities.
Below the junction the pools became longer and obstructions fewer. The Bosun fished fervently from the stern, but we had long since left behind the untroubled haunts of large and hungry perch and only a few snags and a few two-ouncers were caugh'.
Early in the afternoon we found the Explorer waiting for us at Tumblebar Creek. He had spent the night in Billy's house by the riverbank, and had been living on some lightly boiled rice. He was still rather weak and emaciated and his knees kettle-drummed together when he walked. The following day was declared a day of rest and was spent quietly. But the night was filled with incident. Billy had returned from his property down the river and was occupying his room, partitioned off from the living-room in which the Explorer slept. Night spread over the world, and there was a silence broken only by a sonorous intake and outlet of breath. Suddenly ''Crash!' and silence was sundered. 'Crash!' again.
Frightful oaths in Swahili, Matabele, and Zulu from the Explorer. 'Boy! Boy! Bearer! Bearer! My rifle, quick! Lee-Enfield, quick! I can see his eyes in the dark. Big fellow!' A kerosene tin went over with a bang, a bottle smashed in the darkness, and then a noise like I hockey being played inside a galvanised iron tank. Silence again, and a brief Farewell to Arms. Then once more the same appalling noise.
In the morning the Bosun and I buried him with full military honours. We had found him lying on the floor of the hut, his broken body having received most frightful injuries. Agony and the fear of death shone in the glazed eyes of the biggest dead rat in Christendom!
We assembled the other folding canoe and started on our travels again next morning. The river widened into long reaches after leaving Tumblebar, and we thought, quite wrongly, that our difficulties of navigation were over. The Bosun paddled ahead in the ship Supply and the Explorer and I followed steadily behind. As we paddled slowly along water dragons gazed at us unconcernedly from rocks out of which they themselves seemed carved. Occasionally, stirred from their unconcern by the splash of a paddle, they would plunge into the water. Strange creatures, mild-mannered descendants of the dragon which St. George fought, they feed on bees, flies, and insects which settle on the water. Sometimes, though not often, they attain a length of four feet, and when on land they can travel at a great rate. Expert divers, they plunge from a height1 of 30 feet into the water. Such sudden disappearances are necessary, for the Explorer recalled an incident which occurred at a duck-hole in a river on the banks of which oak trees grew. Several water dragons were sunning themselves on the branches overhanging the water. All at once a sparrow-hawk swooped down and caught a young dragon in its talons, flew to an adjacent tree, and still holding it in its claws tore the unfortunate dragon to pieces. '
The coachwhip bird cracked at us out of the bushes as we crept past. The quick crack of the male, followed by the 'tew-tew' of the female. A shy fellow, the whip bird. He keeps himself to himself in the thicker recesses of the undergrowth; only occasionally can you catch a fleeting glimpse of him — a trim little black and white figure with smart crested head.
A few rocky little rapids separated the long reaches. The river was broadening, though the banks were high and rough, with miles of bush, straggly and barren, stretching away to the mountains in the west. The country along the banks of the Clyde is, in a sense, disappointing, because only occasionally do you find rich pastures, and there, when you do, more often than not the heroically cleared land is overgrown by the accursed bracken.
(Continued on Page 41.)
Frequently, along the river, land is to be found which has been cleared at great cost in the early days. But times have changed, markets have changed, difficulties of transport have increased, standards of living have improved, and the bracken and the undergrowth have crept over the paddocks cleared so laboriously and sown so assiduously with lovely green paspalum.
But, as I say, times have changed and men have changed. The pioneer in his red shirt, gabardine trousers, and cabbage-tree hat has gone with the plot of ground which was, in itself, a tiny, self-sufficient State. As I was returning one evening from an expedition to buy milk at a farm-house, I passed an old and broken down seat beneath an elderly pear tree. A little distance away the timbers of a ruined house mouldered away amongst the tussocks. A pathetic sight, that broken seat beneath the moss-clad, ancient tree. It told a hundred human stories of hard work and arduous toil, of high hopes and eager plans, of two young heads very close together in the evening when the sun went down, very close together because they were alone in the world and they loved each other, and this was their farm and they were going to make a success of it because it was all they had.
The ruined house and the crazy seat told only too plainly the sad ending to that story.
On the other hand, to be less soulful, the house might have belonged to two old bachelors who hated each other like the devil, never sat on the seat at all, and who burnt the house down in a drunken brawl.
Nevertheless, the old seat beneath the pear tree seemed symbolic of a lot of honest labour gone to waste.
We sailed confidently past Brooman Sawmill, and promptly ran into a ton of trouble. Forest giants had fallen from their high estate and lay dejectedly from bank to bank. In one place we struggled over and under no fewer than six trees which had fallen across the river in a heap. Tired and wet, but with morale undamaged, we beached the fleet in a paddock four miles below Brooman Mill, and the Bosun with his usual zeal pro vided a three-course dinner.
Next morning we crept slowly round a sharp bend in the river, lifting and heaving the canoes over obstructions. Then the river cleared and broadened, and the rest was donkey work. We passed the concrete bridge at Shallow Crossing and plugged on steadily until the salt water came seeping up into the fresh waters of the River Clyde. Here was the spot 'where the river ceases to be navigable,' as mentioned by Hume in the account of his expedition. It is doubtful whether he and his party could have managed to pull his boat over the rapids and logs which are to be found above this point. Nowadays a steamer passes up the river to pick up timber from a wharf just below Shallow Crossing.
We turned the fleet up into Currowan Creek and pitched the tents in a paddock, which we shared with a herd of hospitable goats — they were always looking in on us.
'What the dickens—— ?' asked the Explorer next morning as he looked over the edge of his sleeping-bag at a solemn bearded face framed in the doorway of the tent.
'Good lord!' I answered hurriedly. 'I thought it was your grandfather. Why don't you ask him inside?'
But the Explorer in his early-morning temper threw a boot.
The sun shone warmly and pleasantly as we breakfasted on the eggs which the Bosun had cooked to a turn. A kookaburra raised his head and laughed towards a blue sky, his mate laughed too, and all the little kookaburras joined in to form a loud chorus of unrestrained mirth.
"I suspect them of laughing at your grandfather, Explorer," I ventured.
"You leave my relatives alone, my boy. As a matter of fact, the kookaburra is in many ways a kindly bird. Did I ever tell you the story of the old lady who had three pet kookaburras?
"Their kind old mistress gave her charges her close personal attention. Liberating them each morning from their cage, she would feed them with sliced meat, which they deftly caught when- she tossed the pieces to them. The birds would then hop to her shoulders, making much ado, and laughing hilariously whenever she bade them do so. Then, after the usual morning chat, she would bear them off to the orchard trees and liberate them for the day. At the approach of night they sought the fence or betook themselves to a low bush to await their mistress, who then bore them back to their cage and covered them up for the night. In time one of the birds died, and the remaining two were treated with perhaps more care and devotion than ever. For eighteen years they were the pride and delight of their kind custodian, who at length fell ill, whereupon the two birds wandered about in most dejected mood, until at last they were taken into the bedroom where lay their beloved friend.
"Next morning one of the birds, entering at the back door, proceeded up the hall with a worm in its beak, and going straight to the invalid's room hopped on to the bed, thence to the pillow, and at once tried to feed the old lady with the worm. Realising the bird's kindly object, she took the worm and made pretence at eating it. The bird then fluttered to the dressing-table and passed out through the window. Punctually next morning another worm was brought, and so on, day after day. After ten days the other bird accompanied his mate, and likewise bore his daily worm-offering, until the kind old lady died. The first bird's term of succouring extended over six weeks; that of the other bird's for a little over a month. That the kookaburras were deeply affected by their old friend's helplessness was beyond question."
"That's a very charming story, Explorer, a very charming story."
"Yes, and it's a true one, too."
THE Clyde below Currowan is a wide river and tidal. A few orchards are scattered along its banks, and we paid one of them a visit as we wanted fresh water for tea-making. We were received with true bush hospitality by a fine old couple, who loaded us with the fruits of the soil. 'Would you post a letter for me at Nelligen?' asked Madam, who is seventy if a day. 'It will save me rowing across the river.' 'And do you row across the river?' asked the Bosun rather tactlessly. 'What!' she snorted. 'Row across the river? Of course I row across the river. And what is more I row four miles down to Nelligen, young man, and in good time, too. Row across the river! Pah!'
Nelligen hove in sight at the end of a long stretch of river. It is a pretty little town situated on the banks of the river. The road from Bateman's Bay to Nowra runs through its straggling main street. In the days of long ago Nelligen was a busier centre than it is to-day. Many little vessels plied up the river, waggons came lumbering and creaking down from the mountain carrying wool and fetching stores, bullock teams making their deliberate way toiled in with the stark trunks of forest giants cut down in their prime.
The glamour of gold stirred a spirit of excited expectancy in that long, straggly street.
The Bosun "threw a stone into the bowl of night" at an early hour next morning, before even the birds had shaken their sleepy heads. Catching the tide, we paddled down the widening river and covered the ten miles in a little over two hours. We swung round Chinaman's Point and the river swept out into a wide sheet of water. In the distance we saw the town of Bateman's Bay with its sentinel pines pointing skywards. We had travelled some 70 miles of river in five and a half days of easy paddling.
'Stand by to pipe the Captain ashore!' 'Aye, aye, sir!'
And a very pleasant voyage was at an end.