For those who desire a pleasant day’s outing in Melbourne there are several trips which hold out pleasurable inducements. One is an excursion by one of the many pleasure-boats of Port Philip to Queenscliff or Sorrento. Going to the latter place, a steam tram takes us across a narrow neck of land to the Back Beach,- where old ocean in his quiet mood laves the rocks and sands, or in his fury dashes his thundering breakers upon them. Bathing in the harbor is a favorite pastime, but on account of the presence of sharks it must be done within an inclosure. During my stay in the city a circumstance happened that illustrates the necessity of this protection, for in this case a ravenous monster broke through the slender fence and attacked some children who were bathing. The water was too shallow for the shark to operate to advantage, and the mother, being near, snatched her child from its jaws. The outcry brought a crowd of men, who in a short time stretched this hyena of the deep upon the shore.
If one does not care to go to the ocean, he may take one of the two lines of steamers that run to the neighboring. city of Geelong, which contains over twenty thousand inhabitants, and is situated upon Corio Bay, a branch of Port Philip. Our fancy takes us to the Dandenong Mountains. The train leaves us near the mouth of Fern-tree Gully, which we proceed to ascend and explore. We see some fine specimens of the eucalyptus timber, of which there are many species, and which under favorable circumstances grows tall and straight. Upon these mountains there are trees that almost rival the celebrated trees of California. There are stumps twelve feet in diameter, and fallen trees whose length measures fully three hundred feet. This is a, government reservation, under official protection, so after passing through the gate we are under ban not to pick flowers or injure plants or trees. Down the narrow gully pours a stream of clear water, pure and cool. The ascent becomes more steep as we proceed, and the sides of the canon contract as the altitude increases. Majestic fern trees intercept the sunshine and almost exclude the daylight. These trees are unique in the vegetable world. The only life they possess is centered at the crown, or top, of the trunk.
Every season a new circle of fern fronds is sent out from this point. Their long arms extend from three to ten feet, forming an umbrella top. In autumn they die, and from their dry roots the new crop is sent out in spring, thus season after season the height and size of the trunk is increased, but it contains no life below the point where the branches are sent out. Accordingly, in order to transplant the trees it is but necessary to cut off the trunk at the desired height and set it in the ground like a post. Some of these trees grow to a height of fifty or sixty feet. Their shade is dense and very cool in combination with the damp atmosphere in which they grow.
Rocks, boulders, and fallen trees either impede the progress or serve as bridges and walks. Thus we climb, listening to and watching the beautiful cascades over which the noisy brook tumbles down the steep decline, until our strength, overstimulated by the excitement, begins to show signs of giving out. But it seems impossible to give up, for each step appears to reveal more striking loveliness and grandeur. Therefore, with repeated resting-spells, we climb on-by this time progress means climbing, for we are now ascending the mountain-side. At last we are compelled to leave the course of the brook, if we proceed, and striking directly up the steep, we soon emerge into a scene of singular beauty. We are three thousand feet above the bay, before us lies the city, over twenty miles away is Port Philip with its shipping, and in the dim distance lies old ocean in peaceful repose, dotted here and there with a vessel. Many miles of country stretch out iii all directions, and every thought of weariness is dispelled, while we hear from all lips, ” 0, I wouldn’t have missed this for anything!”
After satisfying our eyes, we return, and are glad to find that our weight is in our favor in the descent. The remains of a lunch are quickly disposed of, and we wonder why we did not bring more. After a few games by the youngsters on the green banks of the stream, we are more than ready for the train which is to take us home.
Those wishing more than one day’s reveling with nature, generally take an outfit and go farther into the mountains, where scenes of weird beauty and grandeur await them. Not many miles inland the kangaroo may be found in his native wildness. Leaving my tent early one morning, I had the pleasure of starting out a very large ” old man,” as the males are called. To witness his flight was indeed a pleasure greater than to have shot the innocent creature. These animals are of a light gray color. Their forelegs and claws are little more than rudimental, and are used principally in digging roots, and for prehensile purposes in obtaining food What these members lack in size has been added to the hind legs and tail. Upon these they sit nearly erect, and when they wish to change their locality, they do it by leaping without touching the ground with their forelegs. The leaps they make are something surprising. The one of which I speak cleared the underbrush at every bound, leaping ten feet into the air, and covering, I should judge, twenty-five feet at a bound, though it is possible that my excited imagination slightly warped my faculty of measuring. A fence presented no obstacle. But he was too soon out of sight.
The emu, a bird resembling the ostrich, but smaller, used to be very common in Australia, but is disappearing from the range of civilization. The Australian bear, an animal a little larger than a raccoon, and partaking somewhat of the characteristics of the bear, though entirely harmless, abounds in the wooded districts, as does the opossum, which is of a larger variety than those of our Southern States. There are a few other small animals, some of them, as the kangaroos, belonging worthy of much trouble to the marsupials, but none of them are notice. The wild dog, or dingo, has given sheep-raisers, but these are fast disappearing.
But the real game of Australia is the rabbit. This animal is not a native of the country, but was brought from England by some gentleman who wished to introduce them for the chase. It has turned out to be more of a chase than was anticipated. Bunny took to the country with all his heart, and soon showed the people what rabbits can do by way of rapid breeding when they have a fair chance.
Though destroyed by every possible device, the rabbits still hold their own. Under the circumstances, no one seems to have any compunctions about killing the innocent creatures. One going a few miles into the Country, to some lonely spot, has no trouble in shooting in a short time all that he cares to take home. They are hawked on the streets of the cities every day in the year, and often sold for sixpence a pair. ” Wild rabbits, wild rabbits ! ” mingled with ” Fish, oh, all alive, oh ! ” shouted and screamed by the strong Voices of men and women, rings in the streets from early morning till noon. To many people, the terror of Australia is its snakes. These are not large nor very numerous, but they are almost, if not quite, all venomous, and their bite is fatal. But no one need keep away from the country on their account, for after a residence of over four years in the country, I came away without having seen one. They are there however, as some of my friends who saw and killed them can testify.
The birds of this region are not so plentiful as in the Northern hemisphere, but they are generally of more marked characteristics. The most numerous class is the magpie, which abounds everywhere. As is quite well known, it belongs to the crow family, and resembles its black cousins in many respects. In color, the magpie is black and white. They may be taught to speak a limited vocabulary, though their forte is in whistling and stealing.
There are several varieties of parrots in Australia. The most common are the little rosella parrots, commonly called Joey birds, because their favorite note seems to sound like, “Pretty Joey.” Beautiful white cockatoos fly in flocks through the country. Not every cockatoo can learn to talk, but some of them become very voluble and exceedingly interesting in the exercise of their conversational talent. But while they are beautiful in plumage and versatile in wit, they have such an outlandish scream that it is almost nerve-rending to people of delicate sensibilities. If they see a dog or anything else that displeases them, or if they wish to attract attention, or often without any apparent provocation, they will utter a series of their unearthly screeches. By this peculiarity all their other virtues and attractions are so far overbalanced that many people decline their company altogether. This is very much the way with people. Many of us have some very fine points,- pretty features, quick wit, nice clothes, attractive talents,– but upon closer acquaintance we betray our natural disposition in some disagreeable squawk. Everything goes well as long as things are pleasant, but the time comes when something reveals the temper, and then we give vent to a blast of bitterness that astonishes our admirers. Good breeding, education, or any accomplishment whatever, is but a mechanical, parrot-like acquirement unless the heart be sweetened by the grace and presence of Jesus Christ.
There is another odd species among the Australian birds. It is known by the suggestive name of the “laughing jackass.” He is not quite so large as the magpie, and is of a plain gray color, with short wing-and-tail feathers, giving him a roughand-ready appearance. His strong, sharp bill is well supported by a stout-looking neck and head crowned with a saucy top-knot. He looks At his human visitors with an independent, vicious look, but says nothing. At liberty, upon a perch in a lofty gum-tree, he soon divulges the secret of his name by setting up a vigorous laughing, that starts with a sort of bray, then runs into a guffaw, and ends with a hearty laugh that brings responsive laughter and applause from his hearers who listen for the first time to his only song. On account of their wholesale destruction of snakes, these birds enjoy special protection from the government, which makes it a crime punishable by a heavy fine to destroy them.