According to statistical reports, that once familiar and picturesque figure, the Chinese market-gardener, is rapidly vanishing from the Australian scene.
Day in, day out, bending o'er the cabbages, Bending o'er the low rows of lettuces and beans, Stolidly, in endless toil, stooping to the fruitful soil Of many a pleasant river flat, by many a sylvan scene; Toiling in the blazing sun, bleak wind or rainstorm, Week in, week out, the work went on; Never toiled more tirelessly humble men by land or sea -- "Muchee diggum, plenty glow," said Vegetable John. From the crazy shanty there, squalid and mysterious -- Harboring, tradition said, a hoarded golden store -- Built awry of old tins, bush boughs and timber ends, Rusty iron, straw-thatch, with sacking for a door -- Came six blue-clad, blank-faced yellow men, There to toil from dawn-light till day be gone: Watering and barrowing, weeding, hoeing, harrowing - "Allee sam' my cousin, him," smiled Vegetable John. Vegetable John, himself, bland and meek and "civilized," Plied his trade from door to door about the country town. His honesty a by-word, his soft simplicity absurd. Folk said, "Him muchee dear, John"; and tried to beat him down. But John "no savee that one." On that broad countenance -- Hued like ancient ivory -- a wide smile shone. Patient and wise as old cathay, he knew the price that each would pay. "Little callot welly ni," beamed Vegetable John. We were boys in those days, wild but wise in devilry; Terror hung about that hut of old tin and thatch; Yet a challenge, too, was there to young spirits who would dare That threat of heathen wizardry, and raid their melon patch. Sunday, when the scene was still, climb the fence and gorge your fill -- Blue forms emereging at the hut, and we were gone. "The Chinks! Run, you fellers! Run! he's got a knife! he's got a gun!" "Ee-e-e! Tlampum mellum! Wh'a foah?" wailed Vegetable John.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003-06|