How I Began to Write by Rolf Boldrewood (Part 1)

For publication, I mean. Having the pen of a ready writer, by inheritance, I had dashed off occasional onslaughts in the journals of the day, chiefly in defence of the divine right of kings (pastoral ones); I had assailed incoherent democrats, who perversely denied that Australia was created chiefly for the sustenance of sheep and cattle, and the aggrandisement of those heroic individuals who first explored and then exploited the waste lands of the Crown. The school of political belief of which I belonged derided agriculture, and was subsequently committed to a scheme for the formation of the Riverina into a purely pastoral kingdom or colony. A petition embodying a statement to the effect that it was wholly unfitted for the sustenance of a population dependent upon agriculture was forwarded to the Secretary of the Colonies, who very properly disregarded it. The petitioners could not then foresee the stacking of 20,000 bags of wheat, holding four bushels each, awaiting railway transit at one of the farming centres of this barren region in the year 1895. Allied facts caused me to reconsider my very pronounced opinions, and, perhaps, led others to question the accuracy of theirs. My deliverances in the journals of the period occurred in the forties and fifties of the century, and gradually subsided.

I was battling with the season of 1865 on a station lately purchased, at not great distance from the flourishing town of Narrandera, then consisting of two hotels, a small store, and a large graveyard, when an uncertain-tempered young horse kicked me on the ankle with such force and accuracy that I thought the bone was broken. I had ridden at daylight to count a flock of sheep, and could scarcely crawl back to the huts without assistance, such was the agony. I sat down on the frosted ground, and pulled off my boot, knowing how the leg would swell. Curiously the thirst of the wounded soldier immediately atacked me. My room in the slab hut, preceding the brick cottage then in course of erection, was, to use Mr. Swiveller's description, "an airy and well-ventilated apartment." It contained, in addition to joint stools, a solid table, upon which my simple meals of chops, damper and tea were displayed three times a day by a shepherd's wife, an elderly personage of varied and sensational experiences.

I may mention that the great Riverina region was as yet in its unfenced, more or less Arcadian stage, the flocks being "shepherded" (expressive Australian verb, since enlarged as to meaning), and duly folded or camped at night. Something of Mrs. Regan's independent and advanced tone of thought may be gathered from the following dialogue, which I overheard:

Shady township individual - "Your man shot my dorg t'other night. Wot d'yer do that fer?"

Mrs. Regan - "Cause we caught him among the sheep, and we'd a shot you if you'd bin in the same place."

Township individual - "You seem rather hot coffee, missus! I've 'arf a mind to pull your boss next court day for the valley of the dorg."

Mrs. Regan - "You'd better clear out and do it then. The P.M.'s a comin' from Wagga on Friday, and he'll give you three months, like as not. Ask the pleece for yer character."

Township individual - "D---n you and the pleece, too! A pore man gets no show between the traps an squatters in this bloomin' country. Wish I'd never seen it!"

This was by way of interlude, serving to relieve the monotony of the situation. I could eat, drink, smoke, and sleep. But my injured leg -- worse than broken -- I could not put to the ground. Neither had I company of any kind nor description, save that of old Jack and Mrs. Regan, for a whole month. So, casting about for occupation, I bethought myself that I might write something for an English magazine. The subject I pitched upon was a description of a kangaroo drive or battue, such as were then common in Western Victoria, which I had lately quitted. The kangaroo had become so numerous that they were eating the squatters out of house and home. Something had to be done; so they were driven into yards in great numbers and killed. This severe mode of dealing with the too prolific marsupial in whole battalions, I judged correctly, would be among the "things not generally known" to the British public.

I sat down and wrote a twelve-page article describing a grand muster for the purpose at a station about twenty miles from Port Fairy, and seven miles from my own place, Squattlesea Mere.

The first time I went to Melbourne I posted it, with the aid of my good friend, the late Mr. Mullen, to the editor of the "Cornhill Magazine," and thought no more about the matter. A few days afterwards, my neighbour, Adam M'Neill, of North Yanko, hearing of my invalid state, rode over, and carried me off to his hospitable home. I had to be lifted on my horse, but after a month's rest and recreation was well enough to return to my pastoral duties. I was lame, however, for quite a year afterwards, and narrowly escaped injuring the other ankle, which began to show signs of over-work.

Just about the time of my full recovery, I received a new "Cornhill Magazine" and a business-like note from Messrs. Smith and Elder, forwarding a draft, which added to the honor and glory of seeing my article flourishing in a first-class English magazine, afforded me much joy and satisfaction. The English review notices were also cheering. I thereupon dashed off a second sketch, entitled "Shearing in Riverina," which I dispatched to the same address. The striking presentment of seventy shearers, in a big Riverina shed, all going their hardest, was a novelty also to the British public.

The constant clash that the shear-blades make
When the fastest shearers are making play,
as Mr. Barton Paterson ("Banjo") has it, in "The Two Devines," more than twenty years later, challenge attention. This was accepted. I received a cheque in due course. This came at a time when such remittances commenced to have more interest for me than had been the case for many years past.

The station was sold in the adverse pastoral period of '68-69, through drought, debt, financial "dismalness of sorts," but that is another story. Christmas time found me in Sydney, where it straightaway began to rain with unreasonable violence and persistency, (as I thought), now it could do me no good; never left off, in fact, for five years. The which, in plenteousness of pasture, and high prices for wool and stock, were the most fortunate seasons for squatters since the "fifties," with their accompanying goldfields prosperity.

First published in The Town and Country Journal, 1 October 1898
[The second part of this essay will be published next week.]

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 5, 2008 8:55 AM.

Real World was the previous entry in this blog.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #10 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en