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1-205 (Text)

Item metadata
Speaker:
author,male,Field, Barron,36 addressee
ns1:discourse_type
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
2164
Plaint Text :
ns1:register
Public Written
ns1:texttype
Memoirs
ns1:localityName
http://dbpedia.org/resource/New_South_Wales
Created:
1822
Identifier
1-205
Source
Kramer, 1985
pages
12-16
Document metadata
Extent:
12293
Identifier
1-205-plain.txt
Title
1-205#Text
Type
Text

1-205-plain.txt — 12 KB

File contents



Monday, 7th October, 1822.
This spring month is the fittest to make this excursion in. The winter nights are too cold, and the summer days too hot. In the autumn the flowers are not in bloom.
The difficulties of the travel commence at Emu Ford over the river Nepean, a branch of the Hawkesbury. Crossing this stream is always a work of such time and trouble, and sometimes of such difficulty and danger that the traveller should send forward his cart or baggage-horses, to overcome it, half a day before he rides or rows through it himself. The ferry is the property of government, who have hitherto delayed either to provide a punt themselves or to suffer the stock-holders of the colony to build one by subscription. The consequences are frequent losses of cattle in swimming, and injury of sheep in boating, over.  Although the river was not unusually high, we were obliged to unload our cart before it could be drawn through the ford; and thus lost several hours in transporting the baggage by one small boat, and in reloading the cart.
On the banks of the Nepean, I saw almost the only deciduous native tree in the territory, namely, the white cedar (melia azedarach), the common bead-tree of India, beautiful in itself, and congenial to me from that singularity. All the other indigenous trees and shrubs, that I have seen, are evergreens; the eternal eucalyptus, with its white bark and its scanty tin-like foliage, or the dark casuarina tall, and exocarpus funeral; all as unpicturesque as the shrubs and flowers are beautiful: - the various, justly called proteaceous, banksia, and the hesperidean mimosa, the exquisite epacris, the curious grevillea, xanthorrhoea, the sceptre of Flora, telopea the magnificent, and thysanotus the lovely. New South Wales is a perpetual flower garden, but there is not a single scene in it of which a painter could make a landscape, without greatly disguising the true character of the trees. They have no lateral boughs, and cast no masses of shade; but, in return, it is to this circumstance, which causes so little vegetable putrefaction, that the healthiness of the climate is mainly to be attributed. "A part of their economy (says Mr Brown the botanist), which contributes somewhat to the peculiar character of the Australian forests, is, that the leaves both of the eucalyptus and acacia, by far the most common genera in Terra Australis, and, if taken together, and considered with respect to the mass of vegetable matter they contain (calculated from the size, as well as the number of individuals), nearly equal to all the other plants of that country, are vertical, or present their margin and not either surface towards the stem, both surfaces having consequently the same relation to light." Can this circumstance be partly the cause of their unpicturesqueness - of the monotony of their leaf? Or is it merely their evergreenness? "In the Indies (says Linnaeus) almost all the trees are evergreen, and have broad leaves; but in our cold regions, most trees cast their foliage every year, and such as do not, bear acerose, that is, narrow and acute, leaves. If they were broader, the snow which falls during the winter would collect among them, and break the branches by its weight. Their great slenderness prevents any such effect, and allows the snow to pass between them." But snow is not unknown to the eucalypti and acaciae of New Holland; and may not the verticalness of the broad leaves of some of them answer the same snow-diverting purpose as the acerose-leavedness of European evergreens? Yet the foliage of the eucalypti is always scanty; that of the acaciae acerose; and the snow of Australia is apt to melt. Be this as it may, no tree, to my taste, can be beautiful that is not deciduous. What can a painter do with one cold olive-green? There is a dry harshness about the perennial leaf, that does not savour of humanity in my eyes. There is no flesh and blood in it: it is not of us, and is nothing to us. Dryden says of the laurel: 
From winter winds it suffers no decay;
For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May.  
Now it may be the fault of the cold climate in which I was bred, but this is just what I complain of in an evergreen. "For ever fresh," is a contradiction in terms; what is "for ever fair" is never fair; and without January, in my mind, there can be no May. All the dearest allegories of human life are bound up in the infant and slender green of spring, the dark redundance of summer, and the sere and yellow leaf of autumn. These are as essential to the poet as emblems, as they are to the painter as picturesque objects; and the common consent and immemorial custom of European poetry have made the change of seasons, and its effect upon vegetation, a part, as it were, of our very nature. I can therefore hold no fellowship with Australian foliage, but will cleave to the British oak through all the bareness of winter. It is a dear sight to an European to see his young compatriot trees in an Indian climate, telling of their native country by the fall of their leaf, and, in due time, becoming a spring unto themselves, although no winter has passed over them, just as their fellowcountrymen keep Christmas though in the hottest weather, and, with fresh fruits about them, affect the fare and sometimes the fireside of old England. "New Holland (says Sir James Smith) seems no very beautiful or picturesque country, such as is likely to form, or to inspire, a poet. Indeed the dregs of the community, which we have poured upon its shores, must probably subside and purge themselves, before any thing like a poet, or a disinterested lover of nature, can arise from so foul a source. There seems, however, to be no transition of seasons in the climate itself, to excite hope, or to expand the heart and fancy."
Yet let me do justice to the evergreens of New Holland. It is to the scantiness of their foliage that the grazier owes the dry wholesomeness of the native grasses, however thin; and it is to the undecaying and aromatic, myrtaceous, perennial leaf that the colonists attribute the healthiness of their climate. No miasmata come from the marshes or fallen leaves of Australian forests. Intermittent fevers are unknown here. An opinion has obtained in North America that evergreens increase cold. In New South Wales the cold is found to be increased by clearing the land of them, although they certainly retain the night air so long in the valleys, that the hills are warmer than those in the winter. In the summer the hills are cooler from the sea breeze. I should therefore say, build on a hill. The climate of New South Wales is becoming generally cooler, as the colony gets cleared of timber. While I am comparing the trees of America and Australia, it is important to agriculture that I should mention that the stumps of the eucalypti, from the quantity of gum they contain, do not rot in the ground soon after the trees have been cut down, as those of the American and Norfolk Island timbers do.  
They must be grubbed up, or burnt out by piling the surrounding sods over them, like a kiln.
At Emu Plains or Island (for it is sometimes insulated by the washings of the mountains, when the Nepean is flooded) there is a government agricultural establishment of 350 men and a few women, with a good brick house for the superintendent, and wooden huts for the convict labourers. Here are grown for the benefit of the crown, wheat, maize and tobacco; but experience everywhere proves the loss at which government raises its own supplies. These plains are not naturally cleared; but they will soon be free from stumps by the labour of these convicts, and will then leave a rich tract of arable land for favoured grantees.
It is this river, whether we call it Hawkesbury or Nepean, that is the Nile of Botany Bay; for the land on its banks owes its fertility to the floods which come down from the Blue Mountains, and which have been known to swell the waters nearly a hundred feet above their usual level; and as these floods are uncertain and often destructive of the growing crops, I once thought that government (if it is to farm at all) had better have kept the whole of this precarious garden in its own hands; since it is only public foresight that would provide against the loss of a harvest, and only public wealth that could support it. After the flood of 1817, the government ration was reduced from eleven to three pounds of wheat per week; but since that period so much wheat has been grown in the fine districts of Appin and Airds, and in the island of Van Diemen's Land, that the colony is now almost independent of these flood-farmers; and they are yearly going out of fashion, for the benefit of the state. Nothing can be more uncertain than the heavy rains of the climate. Sometimes (but not of late years) the country is worse afflicted with long droughts, in which the woods take fire and consume the grass, and the cattle have perished for want of water. Often do the rains descend, and the floods come, when the Hawkesbury corn is in the ground, and the colony has sometimes suffered from the improvidence of these farmers, in not building their wheat stacks out of the reach of the devouring waters. The extraordinary fertility of these flooded lands, which have borne a crop of wheat and a crop of maize in each year for the last five-and-twenty years, has naturally induced their tenants to rely too much upon this lubberland sort of farming, just as the inhabitants of Vesuvius cannot be induced to abandon that mountain after a lava-flood from its volcano, and see nothing in present ruin but the prospect of future riches. "So the Ohio (says Mr Birkbeck), with its annual overflowing, is unable to wash away the inhabitants of Shawnee Town." But it is surely impolitic to grant away such precarious and hotbed lands. In so indifferent a general soil as that of New South Wales, a better system of agriculture should be taught; and what encouragement is given to the general farmer to bedew his land with the sweat of his brow, when he sees that of his idle neighbour on the banks of the river irrigated by the flood, and producing as good a crop, with no other labour than that of hoeing and strewing?  It is only upon the chance of the flood's devouring, instead of feeding, that the general farmer can calculate for occasional remuneration; and when this calamity happens, the river farmer, whose rapid gains induce him as rapidly to spend, is found entirely unprovided, and his whole district is reduced to subscription and beggary. This, in itself, is not one of the least of the political evils of such a system. It is an encouragement to future improvidence, and fosters a disposition too literally to take no thought of the morrow, but to consider and imitate the gigantic lily (doryanthes excelsa) - a disposition which must be supposed to be already too natural among the small settlers, who have emerged from the conditions of convicts. Another good reason against granting away this land, and suffering it to be cleared, is, that the floods wash the fallen timber into the channel of the river, and obstruct the navigation. The removal of the trees from its banks has not only contributed to choke the river by their falling in, but has occasioned derelictions on one side and alluvions on the other.
But we shall never get our cart up Lapstone Hill at this rate; and it is so steep and long, that we were obliged to shift our baggage twice in ascending it, notwithstanding Governor Macquarie's Government and General Order of the 10th of June, 1815, says, that "the facility of the ascent to Spring Wood excited surprise, and is certainly not well calculated to give the traveller a just idea of the difficulties he has afterwards to encounter." I found Lapstone Hill as difficult as any in the journey, except Mount York; and we did not reach Spring Wood (twelve miles and a half from the river), where alone there is a space enough in the forest to encamp upon, till after 9 o'clock at night. There is little or no grass here, and the timber consists principally of those species of eucalyptus called by the colonists stringy and iron-bark. Here is stationed an acting corporal's party of the 48th regiment, in a small barrack.

http://ns.ausnc.org.au/corpora/cooee/source/1-205#Text