Australia and New Zealand
She was a good-looking, strong woman, of excellent temper, who could do anything she put her hand to, from hairdressing and confectionery up to making butter and brewing beer. I saw her six months afterwards, 'quite the lady,' but ready for any kind of work that might come in her way. When I think of her, I feel that no woman of that kind ought as regards herself, to stay in England if she can take herself or get herself taken to the colonies. I mention our cook because her assistance certainly tended very greatly to our increased comfort. The viands provided were mutton, bread, vegetables, and tea. Potatoes were purchased as an ordinary part of the station stores, and the opossums had left us lettuce, tomatoes, and a few cabbages. Dinner was always dignified with soup and salad, which must not, however, be regarded as being within the ordinary bush dietary. In other respects the meals are all alike. There was mutton in every shape, and there was always tea.
Tea at a squatter's table—at the table of a squatter who has not yet advanced himself to a man-cook or butler and a two-storied house—is absolutely indispensable. At this squatter's table there was colonial wine and there was brandy, produced chiefly to supply my wants; but there was always tea. The young men when they came in, hot and fagged with their day's work, would take a glass of brandy and water standing, as a working man with us takes his glass of beer at a bar. But when they sat down with their dinner before them, the tea-cup did for them what the wine-glass does for us. The practice is so invariable that any shepherd whose hut you may visit will show his courtesy by asking you to take a pannikin of tea. In supplying stores to men, tea and sugar, four and meat, are the four things which are included as matters of course. The tea is always bought by the chest, and was sold by the merchant at the rate of ls. 6d. a pound. There was but one class of tea at the station, which I found to be preferable to very much that I am called upon to drink in England.
The recreations of the evening consisted chiefly of tobacco on the verandah. I did endeavour to institute a whist table, but I found that my friends, who were wonderfully good in regard to the age and points of a sheep, and who could tell to the fraction of a penny what the wool of each was worth by the pound, never could be got to remember the highest card of the suit. I should not have minded that had they not so manifestly despised me for regarding such knowledge as important. They were right, no doubt, as the points of a sheep are of more importance than the pips of a card, and the human mind will hardly admit of the two together. Whist is a jealous mistress; and so is a sheep-station.
I have been at very many bush houses-at over thirty different stations in the different colonies—but at not one, as I think, in which I have not found a fair provision of books. It is universally recognized among squatters that a man who settles down in the bush without books is preparing for himself a miserable future life. That the books are always used when they are there I will not say. That they are used less frequently than they should be used I do not doubt. When men come in from physical work, hungry, tired—with the feeling that they have earned an hour or two of ease by many hours of labour—they are apt to claim the right to allow their minds to rest as well as their limbs. Who does not know how very much this is the case at home, even among young men and women in our towns, who cannot plead the same excuse of real bodily fatigue? That it should be so is a pity of pities—not on the score chiefly of information lost or of ignorance perpetuated, but because the power of doing that which should be the one recreation and great solace of our declining years perishes from desuetude, and cannot be renewed when age has come upon us. But I think that this folly is hardly more general in the Australian bush than in English cities, There are books to be read, and the young squatter, when the evening comes upon him, has no other recreation to entice him. He has no club, no billiard tables, no public-house which he can frequent. Balls and festivities are very rare. He probably marries early, and lives the life of a young patriarch, lord of everything around him, and master of every man he meets on his day's ride. Of course there are many who have risen to this from lower things, who have become squatters without any early education, who have been butchers, drovers, or perhaps shepherds themselves. That they should not be acquainted with books is a matter of course. They have lacked the practice in youth of which I have just spoken. But among those who have had the advantage of early nurture, and have been taught to handle books familiarly when young, I think that reading is at least as customary as it is with young men in London. The authors I found most popular were certainly Shakespeare, Dickens, and Macaulay. I would back the chance of finding Macaulay's Essays at a station against that of any book in the language except Shakespeare. To have a Shakespeare is a point of honour with every man who owns a book at all—whether he reads it or leaves it unread.