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Some years ago I was employed as stock keeper on an extensive cattle-run, situated near the junction of the Lachlan and Murrumbigee rivers in the colony of New South Wales. The gold fever was then at its height, and working men were very scarce in the interior, although squatters would give almost any amount of wages to bush servants who would engage for twelve months certain. In consequence of the great difficulty of procuring properly qualified stockmen, I was obliged to be constantly in the saddle, and had to take charge of herds of cattle which were usually looked after by three or four men. However, I had to manage as well as I could, and every evening, as 1 rode into the home-station I looked out anxiously for the sight of some strange faces about the men’s kitchen, in the hope that some one in search of employment might have arrived during the day. At last, as I dismounted one evening, a man who was a stranger, and evidently a stockman, came out to meet me, and I thought I had got a mate at last. But the hope was extinguished when the stranger spoke, for he announced himself “ one of Rankin’s men returning from Port Philip,” and he added, “ There is a mob of cattle belonging to this station dow r n at M'Cannon’s on the Murray, and they want them to be sent for at ©nee, for they can’t spare a man to tail them. ” This was by no means pleasant, for M'Cannon’s was sixty miles away, and on the farther side of the Murray, which is the largest of the Australian rivers. My employer had gone down into Victoria with a drove of fat cattle, and there was no one on the station whom I could send. Still it was my duty if possible to get the cattle back on to their run, and if by neglecting it the cattle should be lost, I knew that, in Colonial phrase, 1 should have “ to stand the racket.”.

Accordingly, immediately after supper, I went over to the kitchen and commanded the attendance of Reuben. This Reuben was a tall, powerful black, about twenty-five years of age, a capital bushman and a fearless rider. He had been occasionally working on the station for the last five or six years, but, like all the aborigines, he could not be depended on, for you could never tell how soon he might take into his head to return to his tribe and desert “ beef and damper” for “ fish and ’possum.” I at once explained to him the position in which I was placed, and that I wished him to accompany me ; and added that I would give him plenty of tobacco and a new red blanket. The last temptation was irreristible ; he consented to go with me, so I told him to have the horses up to the station by sunrise.

Next day we started for the the Murray, and travelled over wide plains covered with salt bush, across occasional sand-hills planted with pine or fir trees, and through wide and almost impassable swamps; and after proceeding about thirty-Sve miles, we camped for two or three hours during the hottest part of the day. In the afternoon we pushed on again, and finding that the river was

greatly swollen, and our horses after their long journey not in good condition for swimming, we determined to camp for the night. We accordingly rode down into the bend for a short distance, and dismounted, hobbled and turned loose our horses, lit a fire, and made some tea. I had brought plenty of bread and corned beef with us, so we made a hearty supper, and then lit our pipes and made ourselves comfortable. Before it got dark, we went to have a look at our horses, in order that we might see how they were heading before we lay down for the night. They had wandered some little way, and having found them, we were turning to retrace our steps, when we saw to our astonishment and consternation reflected on the water the red glare of the camp fires of a tribe of aborigines. I at once proposed that we should saddle our horses immediately, and at all hazards try to swim them across the river ; but Reuben would not agree ; he said “ best fellow plan to go up direc’ly ’long a camp belonging to black fellow.” I tried to pursuade him to follow my advice, but in vain. Reuben had made up his mind, and no people in the world are more obstinate than the Australian aborigines. I did not fear for my own safety, for none of the blacks in the neighborhood w r ould dare to injure me; but I was just as confident that no one of the Murray tribes would hesitate one moment about murdering Reuben (who belonged to the Lachlan) and taking his “gore-ei.” Gore-ei is the fat surrounding the kidney ; and if a black imagines that another wild black has by enchantment taken away his gore-ei, he will assuredly pine away and die. The only way to cure him is to send and spear the man from whose spells he thinks he is suffering ; and then, when he is anointed with the enchanter’s gore-ei, he will at once recover his health and spirits. Should he, however, die, the doctor, after various ceremonies, sends a party to murder. They must go in a particular direction, and then kill the first strange black they meet, as a sort of sacrifice to the manes of the dead. It is a singular superstition, but common in Australia.

I could do nothing more under the circumstances ; so we determined to make a virtue of necessity, and at once claim the hospitality of the tribe. We therefore took up our “ ’possum-rugs ” and saddles, extinguished our fire, and directed our steps towards the place at which we had seen the gleam of the fire. When we came pretty close to it I “ coo eed,” and, after hearing the answering cry, we advanced, and, going up to one of the largest of the fires, we laid down our burdens and looked about us. The camp was a tolerably extensive one, numbering over a hundred. Of this number about one third were warriors or hunters. As Reuben and I stood by the camp fire, the party assembled round it, viewed us with some curiosity, and presently one of the men said “ Good ev’ning my boy. Which way you been come up 1 ” I named the station from which I came, and then another black called out my name, and said that he knew me for a long time, that I was a good fellow to blacks, and always gave them plenty “tuck-out” (food). Several others of the tribe also came up, and I was recognised by many of them, who made me welcome to their camp. The result of their good offices was soon shown, for four or five of them took up our “ swags,” and calling on us to follow them, they conducted us to the further side of the camp, where they kindled a good fire for us. They also brought us some opossums and several large fish, and I began to think that my apprehensions on Reuben’s account were groundless. (to be continued.)

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Bibliographic details

THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 86, 13 April 1880

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THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 86, 13 April 1880

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