Australian Access Federation

You are here: Home Corpora Corpus of Oz Early English 2-259 (Original)

2-259 (Original)

Item metadata
addressee author,female,Meredith, Louisa Anne,30
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
Plaint Text :
Public Written
Webby, 1989
Document metadata

2-259.txt — 14 KB

File contents

The market in Sydney is well supplied, and is held in a large commodious building, superior to most provincial market-houses at home. The display of fruit in the grape season is very beautiful. Peaches also are most abundant, and very cheap; apples very dear, being chiefly imported from Van Diemen's Land, and frequently selling at sixpence each. The smaller English fruits, such as strawberries, etc. only succeed in a few situations in the colony, and are far from plentiful. Cucumbers and all descriptions of melon abound. The large green water-melon, rose-coloured within, is a very favourite fruit, but I thought it insipid. One approved method of eating it is, after cutting a sufficiently large hole, to pour in a bottle of Madeira or sherry, and mix it with the cold watery pulp. These melons grow to an enormous size (an ordinary one is from twelve to eighteen inches in diameter), and may be seen piled up like huge cannonballs at all the fruit-shop doors, being universally admired in this hot, thirsty climate.
There are some excellent fish to be procured here, but I know them only by the common Colonial names, which are frequently misnomers. The snapper, or schnapper, is the largest with which I am acquainted, and is very nice, though not esteemed a proper dish for a dinner-party - why, I am at a loss to guess; but I never saw any native fish at a Sydney dinner-table - the preserved or cured cod and Salmon from England being served instead, at a considerable expense, and, to my taste, it is not comparable with the cheap fresh fish, but being expensive, it has become "fashionable", and that circumstance reconciles all things. [222] The guardfish is long and narrow, about the size of a herring, with a very singular head, the mouth opening at the top, as it were, and the lower jaw, or nose, projecting two-thirds of an inch beyond it. I imagine it must live chiefly at the bottom, and this formation enables it more readily to seize the food above it. They are most delicate little fish. The bream, a handsome fish, not unlike a perch in shape (but much larger, often weighing four or five pounds), and the mullet, but especially the latter, are excellent. The whiting, much larger than its English namesake, is perhaps the best of all; but I pretend to no great judgment as a gastronome. I thought the rock-oysters particularly nice, and they are plentiful and cheap; so are the crayfish, which are very similar to lobsters, when small, but the large ones rather coarse. I must not end my list of fish that we eat without mentioning one that is always ready to return the compliment when an opportunity offers, namely, the shark, many of whom are habitants of the bright tempting waters of Port Jackson. Provisions vary much in price from many circumstances. Everything was very dear when we landed in New South Wales, and at the present time prices are much too low to pay the producers.
The dust is one main source of annoyance in Sydney. Unless after very heavy rain, it is always dusty; and sometimes, when the wind is in one particular point, the whirlwinds of thick fine powder that fill every street and house are positive miseries. These dust-winds are locally named "brickfielders", from the direction in which they come; and no sooner is the approach of one perceived than the streets are instantly deserted, windows and doors closely shut, and everyone who can remains within till the plague has passed over, when you ring for the servant with a duster, and collect enough fine earth for a small garden off your chairs and tables.
Flies are another nuisance; they swarm in every room in tens of thousands, and blacken the breakfast or dinner table as soon as the viands appear, tumbling into the cream, tea, wine, and gravy with the most disgusting familiarity. But worse than these are the mosquitoes, nearly as numerous, and infinitely more detestable to those for whose luckless bodies they form an attachment, as they do to most newcomers; a kind of initiatory compliment which I would gladly dispense with, for most intolerable is the torment they cause in the violent irritation of their mountainous bites. All houses are furnished with a due attention to these indefatigable gentry, and the beds have consequently a curious aspect to an English eye accustomed to solid four-posters, with voluminous hangings of chintz or damask, and a pile of feather-beds which would annihilate a sleeper in this climate. Here you have usually a neat thin skeleton-looking frame of brass or iron, over which is thrown a gauze garment, consisting of curtains, head, and tester, all sewn together; the former full, and resting on the floor when let down, but during the day tied up in festoons. [223] Some of these materials are very pretty, being silk, with satin stripes of white or other delicate tints on the green gauze ground. At night, after the curtains are lowered, a grand hunt takes place to kill or drive out the mosquitoes from within; having effected which somewhat wearisome task, you tuck the net in all round, leaving one small bit which you carefully raise, and nimbly pop through the aperture into bed, closing the curtain after you. This certainly postpones the ingress of the enemy, but no precaution that my often-tasked ingenuity could invent will prevent it effectually. They are terrible pests, and very frequently aided in their nocturnal invasions of one's rest by the still worse and thrice-disgusting creatures familiar to most dwellers in London lodgings or seaport inns, to say nothing of fleas, which seem to pervade this colony in one universal swarm. The thickest part of a town, or the most secluded spot in the wild bush, is alike replete with these small but active annoyances.
One day we drove out to the lighthouse on the South Head, about eight miles from Sydney. Soon after leaving the town the road passes the new courthouse and gaol, and its handsome front, in the Doric or Ionic style (I forget which), is the only architectural building the "city" could boast when I was there, though I suppose that ere this the new Government House, a mansion in the Elizabethan-Gothic style, is completed. We began shortly to ascend a hill, the road being all sea-sand apparently, and nothing but sand was visible all around. Great green mat-like plats of the pretty Mesembrianthemum aequilaterale, or fig-marigold, adorned the hot sandy banks by the roadside. It bears a bright purple flower, and a five-sided fruit, called by children "pig-faces". A very prickly species of solanum also grew here, with large green spiky leaves, more difficult to gather even than holly, and pretty bluish potato-like blossoms. The universal ti-tree, and numberless shrubs which I knew not, adorned the sandy wastes in all directions. As we continued to ascend, the road became very rough, huge masses of rock protruding like gigantic steps, over which the wheels scraped and grated and jumped in a way that made me draw rather strong comparisons between the character of roads at home and abroad. As we approached the summit, the hollow formed by the road was suddenly filled by a background (forgive the paradox) of deep blue water; it was the open sea that gradually rose before us, seen over the rocks, and spreading out bright and blue, with small waves sparkling in the fervid sunshine, and the white diamond-crested spray dashing high against the iron-bound coast, here broken into a low craggy amphitheatre into which the rolling Waves came surging on, breaking over the groups of rocks, and forming bright little basins among them. On either side the rocks rose again in large masses, presenting a precipitous face to the sea, being part of the dark formidable cliffs we had seen in approaching the Heads by sea. [224] The road, after descending the hill, turned to the left, through some sandy scrub, crowded with such exquisite flowers that to me it appeared one continued garden, and I walked for some distance, gathering handfuls of them - of the same plants that I had cherished in pots at home, or begged small sprays of in conservatories or greenhouses! I had whole boughs of the splendid metrosideros, a tall handsome shrub, bearing flowers of the richest crimson, like a large bottle-brush; several varieties of the delicate epacris; different species of acacia, ti-tree, and corraea, the brilliant "Botany-Bay lily", and very many yet more lovely denizens of this interesting country, of which I know not even the name. One, most beautiful, was something like a small iris, of a pure ultra-marine blue, with smaller petals in the centre, most delicately pencilled; but ere I had gathered it five minutes, it had withered away, and I never could bring one home to make a drawing from. Surely it must have been some sensitive little fay, who, charmed into the form of a flower, might not bear the touch of a mortal hand!
Numbers of parrots, those
Strange bright birds, that on starry wings 
Bear the rich hues of all glorious things,
were flying from tree to tree, or crossing the road in chattering, screaming parties, all as gay and happy as splendid colours and glad freedom could make them. Often they rose close before us from the road, like living gems and gold, so vividly bright they shone in the sun; and then a party of them would assemble in a tree, with such fluttering, and flying in and out, and under and over; such genteel-looking flirtations going on, as they sidled up and down the branches, with their droll sly-looking faces peering about, and inspecting us first with one eye, then with the other, that they seemed quite the monkeys of the feathered tribes.
On nearing the lighthouse, after ascending one or two slight hills, we passed several small houses, and others were building; the views from thence are doubtlessly very grand, but it must be a most exposed situation, with nothing to break the force of the strong sea-breezes, and but little vegetation to moderate the glare of the sun.
The view from the cliffs is indeed grand,
O'er the glad waters of the dark-blue sea;
and looking down over the dizzy height, the eye glances from crag to crag, till it catches the snowy puffs of foam flung up from the breakers that roar and dash in the cavernous chasms below, booming among them like subterranean thunder. As I fearfully gazed down, something leaped between me and the dark water - it was a goat, and there were some half-dozen of the agile creatures far down the slippery precipitous crags, leaping, jumping, and frolicking about, with scarcely an inch of foot-room, and only the boiling surf below. [225]
Opposite to us rose the corresponding cliff, called the North Head, bluff and bare, and wearing on its hoary front the hues with which thousands of storms have dyed it. Myriads of sea-fowl were soaring and screaming around, and several vessels in the offing, and nearer shore, were apparently shaping their course to the port, but too distant for us to wait their entrance through these most grand and stupendous gates. The lighthouse itself is not in any way remarkable; close by is the signal-staff, by means of which the intelligence of vessels arriving is speedily transmitted to Sydney and Paramatta.
We drove back by a different road, nearer to the port, and less hilly, but equally beautiful with that by which we came. It led us through a moister-looking region, with more large trees, greener shrubs, and more luxuriant herbage, and commanding most lovely views, that appeared in succession like pictures seen through a natural framework of high white-stemmed gum-trees and tall acacias. Here and there peeped forth a prettily situated residence, with its shady garden and cool piazza, looking down into one of the small bays I have before mentioned, and beyond that to the estuary.
On one large dead gum-tree a whole council of black cockatoos was assembled in animated debate, sidling up and down the branches, erecting and lowering their handsome gold-tipped top-knots, as if bowing to each other with the politest gestures imaginable; and accompanying the dumb show with such varied intonations of voice as made it impossible to doubt that a most interesting discussion was going on, all conducted in the most courteous manner: perhaps a reform of the grub laws was in agitation, for the business was evidently one of grave importance, and we respectfully remained attentive spectators of the ceremony until "the House" adjourned, and the honourable members flew away. These birds are by no means common in the neighbourhood of Sydney, nor did I see any more during my stay in the colony.
The same deep sandy road continued: it appeared to me that this part of the country must have been gradually elevated from the sea, and a long succession of beaches consequently formed, and left inland by the retreating waters; for the prodigious accumulation of true sea-sand here seems difficult to account for in any other way. In the Domain, too, and many other situations, are raised beaches, consisting wholly of sea-sand and shells (recent ones, so far as I examined them), above which, in a thin stratum of soil, great trees are growing; so that, although these beaches have formed part of the dry land long enough for a body of soil to be deposited upon them, and for aged trees to have grown in that, they are still of modern elevation.
Sydney boasts her "Hyde Park"; but a park utterly destitute of trees seems rather an anomaly. It is merely a large piece of brown ground fenced in, where is a well of good water, from which most of the houses are supplied by means of water-carts. [226] There is also a racecourse between the town and Botany Bay, racing being a favourite amusement among the gentlemen of the colony, and sometimes among the ladies, for I was told of a race somewhere "up the country", in which two "young ladies" were the riders, the prize being a new side-saddle and bridle, which was won in good style by one of the fair damsels; the horse of the other receiving a severe castigation from his gentle mistress, for having swerved and lost the race.
Most of the country gentlemen near Sydney, and for many miles round, are members of the "Cumberland Hunt"; they have a tolerable pack of hounds, and the destructive native dog, or dingo, serves them for a fox. So long as they hunt the really wild ones, the sport is certainly useful; but when, as frequently happens, a bagged dog furnishes the day's amusement, I cannot but think the field of mounted red-coats as something less than children. Dinners and balls of course form a part of the arrangements for the races and hunts, and everything is conducted in as English a manner as can be attained by a young country imitating an old one.