Travel: Natural And Social Peculiarities

Having “got our land-legs” again, we see people walking as erect on this side of the world as on what we are wont to regard the upper side. They are dressed in the advanced modes of modern fashions. What then are the incongruities which we have already admitted do exist ? These are not so marked or essential as people are apt to suppose. I well remember the first thing that struck my eye as peculiar, and that was the prevalence of two-wheeled vehicles instead of the quadra-cycles that are usually employed for conveyances in America.

In Australia the evening reveals that we are in a strange land, for as we look for the familiar north star, we realize that it disappeared about the time when we crossed the equator, the “big dipper” too has gone, and we for the first time realize how strongly people become attached in their minds to the stars above them, for it actually seemed as though we had lost some very dear objects. In their places our friends of the Southern world pointed out to us the beautiful Southern Cross which, like the dipper, revolves or rather swings around a center, which in this case however is not marked by the north star or any other. The Southern Cross consists of five stars so set as to suggest very naturally the name that has been given them, though one member of the constellation is rather redundant, and quite out of line. Besides the “cross ” we see small fleecy bodies of light which are called the Magellan Clouds. Altogether, the heavens present an unusual appearance to the Northerner. Nor is the strangeness dispelled by the return of daylight, for notwithstanding the sun rising in the east, where it should rise, the visitor beholds that luminary moving toward the north, with a swing around to the left, instead of toward the right. At noon his shadow is projected southward, and he finds the south side of buildings and trees the shady side. Not only is the diurnal period thus demoralized for him, but the seasons also are as badly mixed up. If he lands in the latter part of December, instead of taking a sleighride in fur robes on Christmas-day, his friends take him to an outdoor picnic, a steamer excursion, or what is more delightful still, to camp in some cool mountain retreat among the fern trees. Looking for the Fourth of July, he finds it in the depth of winter, which is not very terrific, to be sure, though the day has lost much of its character by the transfer from Uncle Sam’s dominions to those of the King, and from the midst of the heat of summer to the midst of winter.

Other points of diversity will be noticed at first, but they are of such inconsequential significance that they soon pass out of the mind, and cease to be noticed. They consist mostly of idioms of speech and modes of work, that are strange to those only who are unacquainted with the customs of England, whence they have mostly been brought.

We shall suppose that the visitor is an uninitiated American who wishes to begin housekeeping, and sets out to find the necessaries. He asks for a dry-goods store, but finds none, there being a draper’s shop instead. Wanting a bolt of sheeting, he must inquire for calico in order to get it. If he wants calico, he must ask for prints. He thinks he needs a pair of rubbers, but he will not find any one who understands his wants unless he asks for galoshes, and even then he may not get them, for they are not much worn. If his wife wants a spool of thread, he must ask for a reel of cotton. When. he goes to the grocery and asks for crackers, he is laughed at, and told that he is from America, that if he really wants crackers, he will find them in a toy shop, but if he wants biscuits, they have them. If he asks for saleratus, they will declare they never saw any, and want to know what ” they ” are like, he wants soda. Looking for a hardware store, he at last learns that he really wants an iron-monger’s shop. He finds no heating stoves, the open grate being used for what warming is required. Perhaps he has brought one with him, but he finds the task of getting it fitted with pipe and elbows to be no small consideration in a country where tinsmiths do not have any practice in that line of work. Cooking is done over open fires, in the poorer houses, and on ranges built in brick work. He concludes to purchase a tin pail and cup, and pays for a billy-can and a pannikin. Being thirsty, he thinks a glass of lemonade will be acceptable, so stopping at a place where beverages are sold, he asks for what he wants, but receives a bottle of aerated water instead. On making himself understood, he learns that what he requires is lemon-squash. Willing to take his change in candy for the children, he again betrays his ignorance, for he should ask for lollies.

But, as before remarked, these peculiarities are not essentials, and are soon forgotten in the many pleasant circumstances that develop in the colonial life. With but few exceptions, the people in these colonies migrated from the United Kingdom or are the children of those who have come from there. And like others who have voluntarily undertaken to meet the emergencies of life in a new world, they have quite generally developed the strong qualities of manhood and womanhood. We rapid Americans are wont to look with a little feeling of disdain upon the slow-going conservatism of the Old World. But Australians have, to a great extent, broken away from this, and yet retain their native stability of character. In the free air of a new country they readily take on the independence of thought and action that characterizes new settlements. Thus we at once recognize the fact that Australia is the most American country outside of America. Australians form a very acceptable medium between the conservative Englishman or Scotchman, and the ardent, pushing American.

Like other dwellers in warm climates, they have no strong affinity for really hard work, particularly not beyond the limit of eight hours a day. But they can endure a very large amount of pleasure without grumbling at all. The eight-hour system of labor is firmly established by custom and law, and the only thing that will ever shake it upon its foundation will be a movement for six hours a day. Forty-eight hours constitutes a weeks work. This amount is generally performed in five and a half days, so that the last half-day of each week may be given to recreation. Besides the weekly half-holiday, annual holidays come in very plentifully, and it does not take much of a pretext to create a new one.

The national games are foot-ball in winter and cricket in summer, and the association matches attract great crowds of spectators. Horse-racing, another great attraction, is attended by all the degrading complements usually associated with the vocation. Military drill also receives much attention, as well as athletics of various sorts. Intemperance has a stronghold in the colonies, some of them occupying the unenviable position of being the leading countries in the world in the consumption of intoxicating liquors. One sad fact that the stranger witnesses with pain is the prevalence of the drinking habit among women. Attractive young women are almost universally employed as bar-maids, for =while they draw customers of the opposite sex, they at the game time make it much easier for those of their own sex to gratify their appetites, as doubtless many women who purchase liquor of women would not feel free to buy from men. Then, too, it is quite common for grocers to supply the families of their customers with liquors and wines, thus fostering the demand in the family circle, where, most of all, purity should have a place. The smoking of tobacco is an all-prevailing habit. The more filthy custom of chewing is, however, not nearly so prevalent here as elsewhere. Tea-drinking and meat-eating tire prominent features of the ordinary diet, and both these habits bear baneful fruits that are apparent in the state of the general health. But there is no other country on earth where there is less reason for indulging in hurtful practices in the matter of diet, since nature has bountifully provided for the supply of every legitimate want in the large variety of wholesome fruits, grains, and vegetables of the finest quality, which all the year are delivered fresh at the doors of those who will buy.

But having said all that we know of the wrong side of Australians, very much more remains to be said on the other side. For hospitality and general kindness, for stability of character and love of improvement, they are justly celebrated in the minds of all who know them. Their public charities and sympathies for the suffering are not excelled in any part of the world. Their splendid hospital establishments and systems leave no one without the means of proper care and attention in sickness. Indeed, in no other country is money expended more willingly for unselfish purposes than here. The people generally have respect for the Bible, though religion is with many but a very formal matter, and with others a mere sham. Its principles are nevertheless recognized by the great mass of the people, who entertain a regard for the Bible as the Word of God, even though they do not heed it.

Australia is a great deal larger in reality than it seems on the maps many of us have studied. In size and contour it does not differ very much from what Americans are wont to believe is the greatest country on earth. The United States contains, exclusive of Alaska, 2,970,000 square miles, Australia contains just about the same, or three million in round numbers. The country lies between latitudes ten degrees forty-seven minutes and thirty-nine degrees eleven minutes south. From north to south it measures 1950 miles, and from east to west 2500. The Pacific Ocean washes its eastern shores, the Southern Ocean its southeastern and southern shores, and the Indian Ocean borders on the west and north. The meaning of the word “austral” is “pertaining to the south.” It was an idea entertained by the ancients that there was a Terra Australis which would one day be revealed. The geographer Ptolemy in the second century conceived the Indian Ocean to be an inland sea, bounded on the south by an unknown land. In the year 1606, Torres, commander of a Spanish vessel, sailed through the straits which bear his name, and separate the Australian continent from New Guinea on the north. Subsequently the Dutch sailed along the shores of Australia, and in the middle of that century the celebrated discoverer Tasman visited these regions. The English made their first appearance on the Australian coast in 1688. A century later the great voyager, Captain Cook, opened the country to European settlement. Exploration proceeded slowly, and but little was known, until late years, of the interior of the country. The scarcity of water, combined with the prevalence of scorching winds, makes the investigation of the inland regions an exceedingly difficult and dangerous task.

The country has been divided into five colonies. Queensland, located on the northeast, contains 668,000 square miles, to the south lies New South Wales, with 310,000 square miles, still farther southwest lies Victoria, the smallest and most populous of the colonies, with about 88,000 square miles. West of the two first-named lies South Australia, in a wide band that extends across the whole country from north to south, and has 903,000 square miles, while still farther to the west lies West Australia, having an area of over a million square miles. A few hundred miles inland from the coast the country is uninhabited, and apparently uninhabitable, though this interior boundary is undefined, and is continually carried nearer to the center of the continent. The legislature of South Australia having offered a reward of ten thousand pounds sterling to the first man who should traverse the continent from north to south, the task was undertaken in 1860 by a Mr. Stuart, who accomplished his purpose in 1862, on the third attempt. Others attempting it failed. It was in this attempt that Burke and Wills, the noted explorers, lost their lives. Since that time, however, a line of telegraph has been established upon the path opened by the determined Stuart.

Beyond the influence of the coast atmosphere, the rain-fall is very light and uncertain, and becomes more so the farther one recedes. Much of the interior is thought to be practicable for colonization, because it is reported to have a fertile soil, and requires only a reliable and frequent supply of moisture to render it productive and pleasant. The river system of Australia is very inconsiderable. There are a few inconsequential streams that may be said to pertain to the interior regions, but the most of these are periodical, and their water disappears through absorption and evaporation. Still, quite a number of streams flow through the coast region into the sea. The principal one is the Murray, which rises within a hundred miles of the coast in Victoria and New South Wales, forming, for most of its course, the boundary between these colonies, and emptying into the Southern Ocean, after having flowed a distance of over two thousand miles, and receding at no point farther than two hundred and fifty miles from the sea. Although this river is not navigable by vessels from the ocean, it has an inland system of navigation for nearly its whole length. This river receives three or four tributaries of considerable size. The general topography of Australia is very tame and monotonous to the traveler. It has no remarkable mountains. The principal ones are in the Southeast, and do not reach the altitude of perpetual snow, nor do they contain any volcanoes. In the winter season snow falls upon their summits, but disappears at the approach of spring. For the most part the country is a level plain, generally covered with a light growth of stunted eucalyptus trees. Of course there are notable exceptions to this in the case of extensive prairies and dense forests. The vast interior is said to be a basin whose surface is below that of the ocean, but broken in different places by ranges of hills and isolated peaks. The climate of Australia furnishes a variety of temperature from the torrid northern and central regions to the mildly temperate climate of Melbourne in the South. The average annual temperature of the latter place is about sixty degrees, with a variation between summer and winter of less than fifteen degrees each way from the annual mean. Snow never falls in Australia except upon the elevated parts in the Southeast, though in Melbourne a few slight frosts occur in the course of the winter.

There are in Australia but little over three million people. In 1891 the census showed 3,180,000, or about one to the square mile. Of this number New South Wales contained 1,134,20! and Victoria about six thousand more, while Western Australia, with a territory that exceeds the area of New England and the Middle States, with Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota., Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas all taken together, has a population of about fifty thousand, or one person to twenty square miles.