|Site Map > Electronic Library > Mark Twain > Following The Equator > CHAPTER XVIII: Gum Trees - Unsociable Trees - Gorse and Broom - A universal Defect - An Adventurer - Wanted L200, got L20,000,000 - A Vast Land Scheme - The Smashup - The Corpse Got Up and Danced - A Unique Business by One Man-Buying the Kangaroo Skin - The Approach to Adelaide - Everything Comes to Him who Waits - A Healthy Religious sphere - What is the Matter with the Specter?|
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CHAPTER XVIII: Gum Trees - Unsociable Trees - Gorse and Broom - A universal Defect - An Adventurer - Wanted L200, got L20,000,000 - A Vast Land Scheme - The Smashup - The Corpse Got Up and Danced - A Unique Business by One Man-Buying the Kangaroo Skin - The Approach to Adelaide - Everything Comes to Him who Waits - A Healthy Religious sphere - What is the Matter with the Specter?
It is easier to stay out than get out.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The train was now exploring a beautiful hill country, and went twisting in and out through lovely little green valleys. There were several varieties of gum trees; among them many giants. Some of them were bodied and barked like the sycamore; some were of fantastic aspect, and reminded one of the quaint apple trees in Japanese pictures. And there was one peculiarly beautiful tree whose name and breed I did not know. The foliage seemed to consist of big bunches of pine-spines, the lower half of each bunch a rich brown or old-gold color, the upper half a most vivid and strenuous and shouting green. The effect was altogether bewitching. The tree was apparently rare. I should say that the first and last samples of it seen by us were not more than half an hour apart. There was another tree of striking aspect, a kind of pine, we were told. Its foliage was as fine as hair, apparently, and its mass sphered itself above the naked straight stem like an explosion of misty smoke. It was not a sociable sort; it did not gather in groups or couples, but each individual stood far away from its nearest neighbor. It scattered itself in this spacious and exclusive fashion about the slopes of swelling grassy great knolls, and stood in the full flood of the wonderful sunshine; and as far as you could see the tree itself you could also see the ink-black blot of its shadow on the shining green carpet at its feet.
On some part of this railway journey we saw gorse and broom - importations from England - and a gentleman who came into our compartment on a visit tried to tell me which - was which; but as he didn't know, he had difficulty. He said he was ashamed of his ignorance, but that he had never been confronted with the question before during the fifty years and more that he had spent in Australia, and so he had never happened to get interested in the matter. But there was no need to be ashamed. The most of us have his defect. We take a natural interest in novelties, but it is against nature to take an interest in familiar things. The gorse and the broom were a fine accent in the landscape. Here and there they burst out in sudden conflagrations of vivid yellow against a background of sober or sombre color, with a so startling effect as to make a body catch his breath with the happy surprise of it. And then there was the wattle, a native bush or tree, an inspiring cloud of sumptuous yellow bloom. It is a favorite with the Australians, and has a fine fragrance, a quality usually wanting in Australian blossoms.
The gentleman who enriched me with the poverty of his formation about the gorse and the broom told me that he came out from England a youth of twenty and entered the Province of South Australia with thirty-six shillings in his pocket - an adventurer without trade, profession, or friends, but with a clearly-defined purpose in his head: he would stay until he was worth L200, then go back home. He would allow himself five years for the accumulation of this fortune.
"That was more than fifty years ago," said he. "And here I am, yet."
As he went out at the door he met a friend, and turned and introduced him to me, and the friend and I had a talk and a smoke. I spoke of the previous conversation and said there something very pathetic about this half century of exile, and that I wished the L200 scheme had succeeded.
"With him? Oh, it did. It's not so sad a case. He is modest, and he left out some of the particulars. The lad reached South Australia just in time to help discover the Burra-Burra copper mines. They turned out L700,000 in the first three years. Up to now they have yielded L120,000,000. He has had his share. Before that boy had been in the country two years he could have gone home and bought a village; he could go now and buy a city, I think. No, there is nothing very pathetic about his case. He and his copper arrived at just a handy time to save South Australia. It had got mashed pretty flat under the collapse of a land boom a while before." There it is again; picturesque history-Australia's specialty. In 1829 South Australia hadn't a white man in it. In 1836 the British Parliament erected it - still a solitude - into a Province, and gave it a governor and other governmental machinery. Speculators took hold, now, and inaugurated a vast land scheme, and invited immigration, encouraging it with lurid promises of sudden wealth. It was well worked in London; and bishops, statesmen, and all ports of people made a rush for the land company's shares. Immigrants soon began to pour into the region of Adelaide and select town lots and farms in the sand and the mangrove swamps by the sea. The crowds continued to come, prices of land rose high, then higher and still higher, everybody was prosperous and happy, the boom swelled into gigantic proportions. A village of sheet iron huts and clapboard sheds sprang up in the sand, and in these wigwams fashion made display; richly-dressed ladies played on costly pianos, London swells in evening dress and patent-leather boots were abundant, and this fine society drank champagne, and in other ways conducted itself in this capital of humble sheds as it had been accustomed to do in the aristocratic quarters of the metropolis of the world. The provincial government put up expensive buildings for its own use, and a palace with gardens for the use of its governor. The governor had a guard, and maintained a court. Roads, wharves, and hospitals were built. All this on credit, on paper, on wind, on inflated and fictitious values - on the boom's moonshine, in fact. This went on handsomely during four or five years. Then of a sudden came a smash. Bills for a huge amount drawn the governor upon the Treasury were dishonored, the land company's credit went up in smoke, a panic followed, values fell with a rush, the frightened immigrants seized their grips and fled to other lands, leaving behind them a good imitation of a solitude, where lately had been a buzzing and populous hive of men.
Adelaide was indeed almost empty; its population had fallen to 3,000. During two years or more the death-trance continued. Prospect of revival there was none; hope of it ceased. Then, as suddenly as the paralysis had come, came the resurrection from it. Those astonishingly rich copper mines were discovered, and the corpse got up and danced.
The wool production began to grow; grain-raising followed -followed so vigorously, too, that four or five years after the copper discovery, this little colony, which had had to import its breadstuffs formerly, and pay hard prices for them - once $50 a barrel for flour - had become an exporter of grain.
The prosperities continued. After many years Providence, desiring to show especial regard for New South Wales and exhibit loving interest in its welfare which should certify to all nations the recognition of that colony's conspicuous righteousness and distinguished well-deserving, conferred upon it that treasury of inconceivable riches, Broken Hill; and South Australia went over the border and took it, giving thanks.
Among our passengers was an American with a unique vocation. Unique is a strong word, but I use it justifiably if I did not misconceive what the American told me; for I understood him to say that in the world there was not another man engaged in the business which he was following. He was buying the kangaroo-skin crop; buying all of it, both the Australian crop and the Tasmanian; and buying it for an American house in New York. The prices were not high, as there was no competition, but the year's aggregate of skins would cost him L30,000. I had had the idea that the kangaroo was about extinct in Tasmania and well thinned out on the continent. In America the skins are tanned and made into shoes. After the tanning, the leather takes a new name - which I have forgotten - I only remember that the new name does not indicate that the kangaroo furnishes the leather. There was a German competition for a while, some years ago, but that has ceased. The Germans failed to arrive at the secret of tanning the skins successfully, and they withdrew from the business. Now then, I suppose that I have seen a man whose occupation is really entitled to bear that high epithet - unique. And I suppose that there is not another occupation in the world that is restricted to the hands of a sole person. I can think of no instance of it. There is more than one Pope, there is more than one Emperor, there is even more than one living god, walking upon the earth and worshiped in all sincerity by large populations of men. I have seen and talked with two of these Beings myself in India, and I have the autograph of one of them. It can come good, by and by, I reckon, if I attach it to a "permit."
Approaching Adelaide we dismounted from the train, as the French say, and were driven in an open carriage over the hills and along their slopes to the city. It was an excursion of an hour or two, and the charm of it could not be overstated, I think. The road wound around gaps and gorges, and offered all varieties of scenery and prospect - mountains, crags, country homes, gardens, forests - color, color, color everywhere, and the air fine and fresh, the skies blue, and not a shred of cloud to mar the downpour of the brilliant sunshine. And finally the mountain gateway opened, and the immense plain lay spread out below and stretching away into dim distances on every hand, soft and delicate and dainty and beautiful. On its near edge reposed the city.
We descended and entered. There was nothing to remind one of the humble capital, of buts and sheds of the long-vanished day of the land-boom. No, this was a modern city, with wide streets, compactly built; with fine homes everywhere, embowered in foliage and flowers, and with imposing masses of public buildings nobly grouped and architecturally beautiful.
There was prosperity, in the air; for another boom was on. Providence, desiring to show especial regard for the neighboring colony on the west called Western Australia - and exhibit a loving interest in its welfare which should certify to all nations the recognition of that colony's conspicuous righteousness and distinguished well-deserving, had recently conferred upon it that majestic treasury of golden riches, Coolgardie; and now South Australia had gone around the corner and taken it, giving thanks. Everything comes to him who is patient and good, and waits.
But South Australia deserves much, for apparently she is a hospitable home for every alien who chooses to come;, and for his religion, too. She has a population, as per the latest census, of only 320,000-odd, and yet her varieties of religion indicate the presence within her borders of samples of people from pretty nearly every part of the globe you can think of. Tabulated, these varieties of religion make a remarkable show. One would have to go far to find its match. I copy here this cosmopolitan curiosity, and it comes from the published census:
Church of England,........... 89,271 Roman Catholic,.............. 47,179 Wesleyan,.................... 49,159 Lutheran,.................... 23,328 Presbyterian,................ 18,206 Congregationalist,........... 11,882 Bible Christian,............. 15,762 Primitive Methodist,......... 11,654 Baptist,..................... 17,547 Christian Brethren,.......... 465 Methodist New Connexion,..... 39 Unitarian,................... 688 Church of Christ,............ 3,367 Society of Friends,.......... 100 Salvation Army,.............. 4,356 New Jerusalem Church,........ 168 Jews,........................ 840 Protestants (undefined),..... 6,532 Mohammedans,................. 299 Confucians, etc.,............ 3,884 Other religions,............. 1,719 Object,...................... 6,940 Not stated,.................. 8,046
The item in the above list "Other religions" includes the following as returned:
Agnostics, Atheists, Believers in Christ, Buddhists, Calvinists, Christadelphians, Christians, Christ's Chapel, Christian Israelites, Christian Socialists, Church of God, Cosmopolitans, Deists, Evangelists, Exclusive Brethren, Free Church, Free Methodists, Freethinkers, Followers of Christ, Gospel Meetings, Greek Church, Infidels, Maronites, Memnonists, Moravians, Mormons, Naturalists, Orthodox, Others (indefinite), Pagans, Pantheists, Plymouth Brethren, Rationalists, Reformers, Secularists, Seventh-day Adventists, Shaker, Sh1ntOlStS, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Town (City) Mission, Welsh Church, Huguenot, Hussite, Zoroastrians, Zwinglian,
About 64 roads to the other world. You see how healthy the religious atmosphere is. Anything can live in it. Agnostics, Atheists, Freethinkers, Infidels, Mormons, Pagans, Indefinites they are all there. And all the big sects of the world can do more than merely live in it: they can spread, flourish, prosper. All except the Spiritualists and the Theosophists. That is the most curious feature of this curious table. What is the matter with the specter? Why do they puff him away? He is a welcome toy everywhere else in the world.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XIX: The Botanical Gardens - Contributions from all Countries - The Zoological Gardens of Adelaide - The Laughing Jackass - The Dingo - A Misnamed Province - Telegraphing from Melbourne to San Francisco - A Mania for Holidays - The Temperature - The Death Rate - Celebration of the Reading of the Proclamation of 1836 - Some old Settlers at the Commemoration - Their Staying Powers - The Intelligence of the Aboriginal-The Antiquity of the Boomerang