Australia And The Islands Of The Sea, Part Two
Author: Larkin, Dunton
Chapter IV. The Bush.
Within the interior of Australia is a great, uncleared, natural forest
known as "The Bush." On most sides it begins at the coast and extends for
many, many miles inland. If we should sail around Australia, the view from
the sea would be dull and monotonous. There are trees, trees, and nothing but
trees, as far as the eye can see in any direction. All the land seems to be
covered with trees. No green hills or pieces of open country break the
sameness. Everywhere is seen the gloomy, somber shade of the Australian
In the interior, the bush does not prevail. Here the country is more
like a wild, natural park. Great sand ridges, lying parallel with one
another, reach across the plains, and these are covered, at certain seasons of
the year, with a great variety of grasses and flowers, interspersed here and
there with shrubs and clusters of trees.
The bush is for the most part a carpeted forest. There is no damp, miry
soil and decaying vegetation here. Instead, natural grasses cover the ground,
and their hardy roots strike deep into the stony earth; while overhead
stretches a canopy of never-fading green, - for, with few exceptions, the
trees do not lose their leaves in the winter time.
Here is a gigantic tree rising to the height of one hundred and fifty or
two hundred feet. Its leaves have a leathery appearance, and contain a large
quantity of aromatic oil. Instead of growing horizontal, with one of the
surfaces toward the sky, and the other toward the earth, these leaves are
vertical, so that each side is equally exposed to the light. This is the red
gum tree, or iron bark tree. If a hole is cut in the bark, a red juice flows
freely and hardens in the air into an inodorous, transparent mass, almost
black when large, but of a beautiful ruby red in small or thin fragments.
The stringy-bark tree is also striking in appearance. It attains a lofty
height and yields a beautiful red gum, which is found filling the cavities in
the stem, between the concentric circles of wood. The timber of the gum trees
cannot be used for cabinet-making purposes. But farther inland there are many
trees which are very good for this purpose, such as the cedar, satinwood,
pine, and rosewood.
The myall is a small tree with close-grained wood, strongly scented, and
is highly prized for making spears and handles for whipstocks. Cattle are
fond of eating the leaves, and, as a result "myall country" is very much
prized. The apple tree has no apples upon it. It is so named because its
leaves bear a strong resemblance to those of the ordinary apple tree. The
cherry tree, so called, is only a large shrub of the pine species with small
red berries upon it. There are other trees whose names are misleading. The
oak resembles a pine tree, and is never found except beside a creek or river.
The honeysuckle tree doubtless received its name on account of its bright and
Here is a very peculiar-looking tree with a curious name; it is the
"black boy." The stem runs up tall and straight, and is topped with a shaggy
green head. The trunk is the peculiar part. A slender pith stick runs
through it, and around this stick is set a sort of ring, five or six inches
wide, of resinous flakes. These are black outside, while inside they look
like varnished splinters, and are full of a resinous, aromatic tar or pitch.
The tree is much valued by travelers, as it will burn slowly all night, and
thus provide them with both light and heat.
"Scrub" is found in many places in Australia. It differs from "bush" in
that it is almost impenetrable on account of the low bushes and shrubs which
grow among the larger trees. The scrub on the east coast is especially dense
and dark. It contains countless varieties of bushes and trees, many of which
grow to a gigantic size. In these forests parasitical and creeping plants are
to be found everywhere. Wild vines hang down in festoons, so closely
interwoven with the branches of the trees, as to make entrance in most places
simply impossible without the use of a hatchet. The scrub, even more than the
bush, abounds in vast numbers and kinds of snakes. They vary in length from
the eighteen-inch deaf adder, whose bite is fatal, to a rare kind which
attains a length of fourteen feet. Some species are considered a great table
luxury by the aborigines.
But what is that loud, uproarious noise coming from the very top of that
high gum tree? That is the peculiar cry of the "laughing jackass," so called
from the resemblance of its cry to the braying of that animal. This bird
belongs to the kingfisher family; but, instead of preying upon fish, it eats
beetles, reptiles, and small animals.
Here may be found the robin, the wren, the crow, the plover, and the
snipe, and also those harbingers of spring, the swallow and the cuckoo. There
are plenty of bats, owls, and hawks. The mountain pheasant is rare. The eagle
hawk is large and is very destructive to lambs. But by far the most common
birds are the parrots. There are all kinds and sizes, from the macaw, which
sometimes attains a length of three feet, to the little love birds, no larger
than a sparrow. Their voices are harsh, and many of them have the power of
imitating human speech. They are characterized by a monkeylike restlessness
and love of tricks, and, though docile and affectionate, have naturally a very
bad temper. The tongue is thick, fleshy, and round; the hooked bill is
strong, and is used to help them in climbing. They use their feet as hands,
holding their food and carrying it up to the mouth. One of the most
beautiful, a cockatoo of a rare species, is of a creamy white color, with
orange and red crest, a delicate red lining to the wings, and brilliant
crimson among the tail feathers.
There are emus, native turkeys, and many kinds of water fowls, such as
pelicans, cranes, black swans, wild ducks, and geese. The native has a
curious way of catching ducks. Covering his head with a green sod, he swims
quietly out and drops in among a flock. Then seizing a bird by the feet he
pulls it down under the water and kills it. Thus he carries on the work,
until nothing remains but a lot of dead bodies floating on the surface of the
There are wood ducks, which roost in the trees at night; and musk ducks,
which smell of musk; also the widely celebrated water moles, which form the
connecting link between birds and beasts.
Among animals, the kangaroo and opossum have the precedence, since they
supply the natives with food. The former are found in unfrequented parts of
the country feeding together like a herd of deer. When frightened, the
females put their young ones into their pouch by means of their small front
feet, or, if the young are large enough, allow them to jump in themselves; and
then away they hasten, leaping long distances over rocks and fallen trees.
They are harmless, but if closely pressed, some of the males, called "old
men," prove themselves dangerous antagonists. It is said that a gentleman, the
owner of sixty thousand sheep, barely escaped being drowned by an "old man"
once. He enjoyed calling "hilloo" to his kangaroo dogs, but "all the
amusement ceased when an 'old man' came leaping toward him, clutched him round
the waist with his fore feet, and commenced hopping away with him to a large
water hole to drown him, - a well-known and dangerous practice which the
kangaroos have of fighting their enemies. He cried out lustily, as he might
under the circumstances be very well excused for doing, and the faithful dogs
came to his rescue."
The wallaby is a smaller sort of kangaroo. It lives among the rocks, and
is much prized as food by the natives. The opossum is also a marsupial much
valued both for its flesh and its fur. "Possum shooting" is a favorite sport
in Australia. The proper time for it is at night, when the moon is at the
full. The dog will track him, and where he stands and barks one may be sure
there is a "possum up the gum tree."
There is a large number of creatures of which little is known. They are
all of small size except the harmless wombat, or native hare. The native cat
is a beautiful speckled creature that does a great deal of mischief. The
native dog, or dingo, is a handsome beast with a bushy tail. He howls, but
does not bark, and is the sheep's worst enemy.
Australia is full of insects, but the only one deserving especial mention
is the native bee. It has no sting, is slender in body, dark in color, and
not much larger than a common house fly. The natives prize the honey, and
have a very ingenious way of discovering the hive, which is always in a
standing tree. They catch one of the bees, and then, with a piece of gum from
a tree, fix a bit of white down on its back. Then they release it. Away goes
the bee, and away go the natives. They keep their eyes fixed upon it until it
alights at its hive. Then one native takes his tomahawk, cuts notches for his
toes to rest in, and climbs to the place where the bee was seen to enter. He
speedily cuts out the honeycomb, which he and his companions devour at a meal.
Chapter V. Mining And Shepherding.
Australia is rich in precious and useful minerals. Victoria has gold;
South Australia, copper; Queensland, copper, tin, gold, iron, and coal;
Western Australia, lead, silver, and copper; and New South Wales, gold,
copper, iron, coal, silver, lead, and tin. The first discovery of gold was in
When it is reported that gold has been found, there is always a great
rush to the place, which at once becomes the scene of much bustle and
confusion. In the line of the march, there are immense drays drawn by
bullocks, whose drivers do not hesitate to attempt any kind of road, so long
as their bullocks can stand on their feet. These drays are loaded with
provisions, which are to be sold at an enormous price; and, if four yokes of
bullocks cannot ascend the mountain over which they must pass, a dozen can and
must. There are many people who carry their own loads by means of horses and
carts. Some travel on horseback with blankets strapped to their saddles; but
by far the largest number go on foot, and carry their loads on their backs.
Some take shovels and picks, but others trust to being able to buy them after
they reach the fields.
Very soon long lines of white tents overtop the heaps of pipe clay, that
grow higher from day to day. If the men are accompanied by their families,
they generally fence in a small inclosure, which in the spring is used as a
garden. Many of them keep cows, and sell milk and butter. As timber is
abundant, houses of every sort soon take the places of many of the tents.
There are several processes of mining. In that of surfacing, the earth
is dug two or three feet deep, thrown into a trough, and the water kept
running continuously through it. Two men with shovels and forks stir the
gravel constantly. The gold, usually in very small pieces, falls to the
bottom of the trough, and escapes with the small stones through a sheet of
perforated iron at the further extremity.
Another process is called "shallow sinking," and here the pits are simply
sunk deeper, the process of washing being the same. But the most common
process is called "deep sinking," and the preliminary labor is the same as
that performed in sinking a well. This digging is continued until "bed rock"
is reached, when the shaft is said to be bottomed. The sand and gravel on the
bed rock are then scraped off, and the collection thus made is put into a
bucket and drawn to the surface by means of a windlass. Sometimes large
quantities of gold have been found in one bucketful. The process of tunneling
is carried on upon the surface of the bed rock underneath, equaling in extent
the area of the claim above.
These shafts are of various depths, some sinking six hundred feet. Many
lives have been lost from want of proper attention to the use of props to
prevent the falling of the earth above, from accidents caused by blasting at
great depths, and from the filling of the mine with water.
When mined, the pieces of gold differ very much as to size and shape. The
three most common forms are the "fine" or "gold dust," the "scaly," and the
"rough." The first is found in places abounding in granite; the second, where
quartz and slate are intermixed; the last, where quartz predominates. When
mixed with quartz, steam power has to be resorted to for crushing the quartz.
The diggers all have a correct knowledge of the value of the precious
metal, and keep scales for weighing it. After a digger has amassed a
quantity, or a "pile," he does not usually keep it by him. In common with all
others, he intrusts it, for conveyance to the capital city, to the Government
gold escort. This is a four-wheeled wagon drawn by four horses and protected
by armed policemen. The gold commissioner at the gold fields receives the
packages, which are incased in chamois-skin bags, and gives the miner an
acknowledgment of the same. These bags, duly sealed and registered, are then
forwarded to their destination.
The life of the digger is a very undesirable one. It is attended with
great temptation, and a man may easily degenerate. It is impossible to take
proper care of the body. The food is likely to be coarse and poorly prepared.
The life is one of uncertainty, irregularity, and excitement, and utterly
devoid of all opportunity of self-improvement. It is almost necessarily one
of wandering; and, notwithstanding the most solid qualities of head and heart,
those who follow it soon become unfit for any steady occupation.
The other great industry of Australia is stock raising. Cattle probably
impose less labor than sheep, but the men who own three or four thousand
cattle apiece usually have their hands full. These men are called "squatters"
or "graziers." Their "runs" usually amount to twenty thousand acres or more;
and, though some of them are owned, the most of them are leased for a number
of years from the Government.
Their houses are usually furnished comfortably, and if the run be near a
town, even luxuriantly. They live well, the food on the table being abundant;
but the meals are monotonous. The breakfast, luncheon, and dinner are equally
substantial, and tea is the universal beverage, both of masters and men.
There is always a carriage; and as horses are cheap, they are found in
profusion, both for riding and driving. The squatter is a busy man. He is
often on horseback before breakfast, and never seems to slacken his labors
till after the evening dews have fallen. If he keeps sheep, the shearing,
selling, buying, breeding, and feeding, together with the management of a
large force of hired workmen, tax his energies to the utmost. But many
squatters really manage their properties by deputy. Serviceable men have
grown up in their employment, and, after a while, the real work of the run
falls into their hands, and they are called overseers.
As to the underworkers, any man who has sufficient eyesight to see the
sheep before him, and strength enough to walk a few miles a day, may be a
shepherd in Australia. Many persons who in other lands are totally unable to
support themselves can manage to live here by shepherding, and even to lay up
a little money. The business is an extremely indolent one; and it is a
pitiable sight to see a large strong man sitting on a fallen tree, and
dragging himself along over the ground, doing the work which might easily be
done by a boy.
"Hut keeping" is still lazier work. The man has nothing to do but sit in
his hut, cook his victuals, and, when necessary, shift the hurdles in which
the sheep are folded. At night he reports to the overseer in regard to
missing sheep. To guard against attacks on his sheep, he sleeps in a covered
box near them, and, if native dogs come around, the howling and barking of his
own wake him. When he has a wife, she receives extra wages and takes care of
the hut. If she is thrifty, the place soon loses its woe-begone look and
assumes the appearance of a comfortable home. Cows are kept, a garden is made,
and articles of furniture, before unthought of, find their way into the humble
The system of employing families is a great improvement upon the old one
of hut keeping. If there are boys in the family, they tend the sheep while
the father spends his time in cultivating a plot of ground, or in making shoes
if he knows the trade, while, at the same time, he may see that the sheep are
In the early history of the country, convicts, exiles, Chinese coolies,
and even savages from the Fiji Islands, were employed, cheap labor being what
was wanted. But the discovery of gold brought about a radical change. Nearly
every one rushed off to the mines. Wages rose at once from twelve pounds to
forty and sixty pounds a year, besides rations; the allowance for a man being
ten pounds of meat, ten of flour, two of sugar, and one fourth pound of tea a
week. At present the wages vary in different parts of the country, being
governed largely by the law of demand and supply.
Great interest attaches to this industry, since it has proved a
stepping-stone to comfort and even affluence for a great many people. Those
who take to the occupation are saved all risk of loss. They are taken from
the ship in which they arrive, and are at once housed, fed, and provided for.
Their work is easy to learn, and in a little while they acquire the manners
and customs of the country. This life is a lonesome one, however, and it is
not surprising that, when a few hundred pounds have been saved, the family
generally seek some other occupation.
Chapter VI. The Great Barrier Coral Reef Of Australia.
The Great Barrier Coral Reef of Australia is one of the wonders of the
world, and its curious structure and vast extent were first made known by that
intrepid explorer, Captain Cook. Its total length is twelve hundred miles.
Its northern origin is in Torres Strait, in close proximity to New Guinea, and
from this point it extends in a southeasterly direction along the coast of
Queensland as far as Lady Eliot Island in latitude 24 Degrees south, almost
directly opposite the mainland promontory known as Bustard Head.
The width of the reef or series of reefs varies in different districts.
In some places the distance from the mainland to the outer edge measures two
hundred and forty geographical miles. In other places it narrows down to
thirty miles, and at one or two isolated points it measures but ten or twelve
The area inclosed between the mainland and the outer edge of the reef is
about eighty thousand square geographical miles. This extensive surface
consists of an archipelago of detached reefs and coral islands. The majority
of the former are completely submerged, and at low water are but partially
exposed to view. The outer wall is generally represented as being one
continuous reef, but it is more correct to describe it as a chain of detached
reefs broken by many openings, only a few of which are navigable for
large-sized vessels. The Admiralty Charts specify twenty-two such channels,
but of these only nine are in common use.
The reefs which form the outside barrier, together with the secondary
reefs crowded closely to them, constitute a natural breakwater against which
the ocean waves dash in vain. The "Inner Route" thus formed is consequently
converted into a comparatively shallow and tranquil inland sea. It is,
however, so thickly studded with shoals, reefs, and islets as to render its
navigation extremely intricate. For vessels of heavy tonnage, the services of
a pilot are absolutely necessary, and this employment is followed by a large
number of experienced and efficient men.
The danger is in reality reduced to a minimum by the very excellent
system of beaconing established by the Queensland government, which is cited
by navigators, the world over, as among the most efficient of its kind.
But, notwithstanding the utmost precautions, many vessels are wrecked
yearly upon the coral reefs. One of the most noteworthy instances was the
loss of the Quetta at the entrance of Torres Strait in February, 1890. The
Quetta was one of the finest and largest of the British India and Australian
Steam Navigation Company's fleet. Her express mission was to carry the mails
between Queensland ports and London.
Having safely passed through the Barrier Inner Channel, while sailing at
full speed along the charted course between Albany and Adolphus islands, she
struck an unknown rock, and in three minutes had sunk to the bottom of the sea
in a depth of fifteen fathoms of water. Of 282 people, only 162 escaped, and
in some cases the escape seemed almost miraculous.
One young woman, sixteen years old, swam and floated on the surface of
the water for thirty-five hours before being picked up by a rescue boat. In
about the same length of time, another, swimming and drifting with the help of
a plank, reached Adolphus Island. Of the cargo, only a small percentage was
There is another story of shipwreck, similar to this one, but of much
earlier date. "In this instance, all painful associations of loss of life
are, happily, absent, the narrative resolving itself into an almost romantic
record of discovered treasure-trove. The good discovery on this occasion fell
to the lot of Mr. Frank Jardine, the genial owner of the cattle ranch and
fishing station at Somerset, in the Albany Pass, to whose ready and unlimited
hospitality, extended to them in the day of their sore distress, the survivors
from the Quetta accident owe their lifelong gratitude. In the minds of many,
doubtless, there will seem to be an almost providentially directed connection
betwixt these good deeds and this fortunate episode.
"It so happened that one of Mr. Jardine's boats, prospecting in pastures
new for a remunerative fishing ground, was driven, through stress of weather,
to take shelter in one of those naturally protected coves that abound among
the Barrier Reefs. Lying to in the secluded haven, the flukes of a time-worn
anchor were discerned at a short distance from the boat at low ebbtide.
Acting on the idea that the instrument might in some way prove useful, steps
were taken to remove it. The surprise and gratification experienced on a mass
of coin being laid bare on the immediate resting ground of the eroded anchor,
can well be imagined. Further investigation led to the discovery of a larger
mass of coin than could be transported by the fishing lugger in a single
voyage, several trips from Somerset being eventually undertaken before the
little mine was exhausted."
The specie exhumed consisted of Spanish silver dollars, with a fair
sprinkling of gold coins. The money was in a remarkable state of
preservation, and the aggregate value of the treasure amounted to several
The Great Barrier Reef doubtless has many secrets, and hides within its
coral caves many treasures which will never come to light. Among these are
Captain Cook's six guns, thrown overboard from the Endeavor when she was
temporarily aground on a reef. These are of classic interest to all
Australians, and the supposed vicinity of the disaster has been searched with
the aid of divers many times without success. In all probability the guns
have long since been buried beneath a mass of growing coral.
Before we go farther, it may be well to inquire what formed this great
coral reef. The coral insect? Not so. There is no such thing as a coral
insect. A great many people labor under the delusion that held Punch's
railway porter, who, puzzled as to the classification of the old lady's
tortoise, affirmed that being "neither a dawg nor a bird, it must needs be a
An insect in the normal adult condition has several legs, associated with
a distinctly articulated body and a complex nervous and circulatory system.
The coral animal has none of these. "It is individually a single polyp,
comparable in every essential detail with the ordinary simply organized sea
anemone, with the exception that it possesses the property of secreting a
dense, calcareous skeleton out of the lime held abundantly in suspension in
probably every sea."
The coral reef-building polyps are found only in water whose temperature
never falls below 68 degrees F. Therefore, as a rule, they live only in
tropical seas, between the parallels of latitude 23 1/2 degrees north and
south of the equator.
In the Barrier district, the highest elevation at which growing corals
are found is low-water mark, and the lowest is thirty fathoms deep. Their most
luxuriant development is limited by a depth of fifteen fathoms.
As originally classified by Mr. Darwin, there are three distinct
varieties of coral reefs: Lagoon Islands, or Atolls; Barrier, or Encircling,
Reefs; and Fringing, or Shore, Reefs.
The atolls are singular rings of coral land which rise abruptly out of
the unfathomable sea.
Between the atoll and barrier reef there is no essential point of
difference. The former incloses a simple sheet of water; the latter encircles
an expanse with one or more islands rising from it.
"With respect to fringing, or shore, reefs, there is little in their
structure that needs explanation; and their name expresses their comparatively
small extension. They differ from barrier reefs in not lying far from the
shore and in not having within them a broad channel of deep water."
The Capricorn group forms the southern extremity of the Great Barrier
Reef, and of this group Lady Eliot Island lies farthest south. This island
was visited by Professor Jukes in 1843. Then many sea birds inhabited it.
Now it is the site of a first-class lighthouse, which, with another on Sandy
Cape, illumes the entrance to the Inner Route along the coast of Queensland to
Coarse fragments of bleached coral and broken shells form the beach of
Lady Eliot. Back of this is a ridge of the same material, four or five feet
in height and measuring several yards across. This ridge, which is occupied
by a growth of small trees, encircles the island, which is about a quarter of
a mile in diameter. In the center is a sandy plain covered with scrubby
vegetation a foot or two high. On the northwest side of the island, is a
sloping bank of coral, which, at the distance of a fourth of a mile, is about
two fathoms under water. Here it ends suddenly, and the water measures
fifteen fathoms deep.
In Moreton Bay, opposite Brisbane, are found at the present day masses of
dead coral of two species. Beside these are found several species of living
corals, one of which resembles the Red Sea variety.
Proceeding north from Lady Eliot Island, we fall in with a chain of
islands about fifty-five miles long, belonging to the Bunker and Capricorn
groups. They all lie within thirty or forty miles of the mainland. None of
these islands are more than a mile in length, and all closely resemble the
The Torres Strait group practically forms the western boundary of the
Great Barrier area. It comprises twelve islands, and, with the surrounding
reefs and shoals, they stretch northward to the center of the strait. The
largest, Prince of Wales Island, is irregularly circular, and has a diameter
of nearly twelve miles. It reaches its greatest height in a hill which rises
761 feet above the level of the sea.
Banks Island lies twenty miles north of this and has about the same area.
All the rest are much smaller. Thursday Island, although one of the smallest,
takes the precedence commercially. It is the headquarters of the Torres
Strait pearl shell fisheries, and it is also the port of call and coasting
station for ocean steamers passing to and from the ports of India and China.
The population of the island is small, being less than three thousand. But
the number of nationalities represented, twenty-four, is in excess,
comparatively, of what is to be found in any other quarter of the globe.
Some idea of the monetary importance to Queensland of the Great Barrier
Coral Reef may be gained from the fact that raw material to the value of over
100,000 Pound is obtained annually from the reefs and the intervening waters,
and exported from the colony.
When the prolific resources of the region have been fully developed, this
sum will be considerably increased. The pearl, pearl shell, and trepang
fisheries have contributed most largely to bring about this result. These
industries are capable of almost unlimited development, and in addition to
them are other allied industries, which will in time yield a rich increase to
the colony's wealth.
In former years mother-of-pearl was obtained in large quantities at
little expense, and even now it is found in some places in shallow water,
where, at low spring tide, it may be gathered with the hand. But the average
depth of water from which it is now collected is seven fathoms. The greatest
depth at which it may be gathered with profit is twenty fathoms. Even at this
depth there are few divers who can work very long at a time, on account of the
great pressure of the water.
The vessels employed in this industry are chiefly strong lugger-rigged
crafts, which average ten tons' burden. The crew of the lugger is made up of
a diver, who acts as sailing master and takes command, a tender, who holds the
life lines and attends to the signals given by the diver when at work, and
four other men, who, in pairs, alternately attend to the pumping apparatus
which supplies air to the diver.
As a rule, the entire crew is composed of colored men of various
nationalities, - aborigines from the mainland, south sea islanders, and
natives from islands in Torres Strait. Some of the best divers, however, are
Chinese, Japanese, Manila men, and Malays. There are but few European divers,
and these are generally the owners of their own vessels.
Of the typical mother-of-pearl taken from Queensland waters there are two
varieties. One has a golden edge, and the other is of a uniform silvery
appearance throughout. The latter is of the greater value, since it cuts up
to better advantage. As may be seen in a recent report of one of the
principal mother-of-pearl mercantile houses of London, the Queensland shell
occupies a leading position in the market. The "fine white, selected bold"
brings no less than $1125 per ton, which is seventy-five dollars in advance of
the best shell procured from any other waters.
In this connection, an interesting study might also be made of the pearls
obtained from these shells. It is only one shell out of many thousands which
produces a pearl weighing as much as thirty or forty grains. Such a pearl, if
perfect, sells for about twelve hundred dollars. Occasionally larger ones are
found, which, if they are unblemished, bring a correspondingly higher price.
Thus a perfectly spherical one weighing eighty-eight grains was sold by the
owner for two thousand dollars. Pearls vary much in shape. A pear-shaped one,
weighing twenty-eight grains, is valued at about five hundred dollars.
Next to the pearl and pearl shell fisheries, those of the trepang, or
beche-de-mer, are of most importance. The term "beche-de-mer" is a French
word signifying a sea slug or sea worm. The term was applied by the older
Portuguese navigators to that product of the sea, which, from remote times,
has constituted such an important article of commerce with China. The terms
"sea slug" and "sea worm" have reference to the general shape of the animals.
They are distinguished from their allies, the starfishes and sea urchins, by
their elongate, somewhat cucumber-shaped bodies, which are capable of great
contraction or expansion. The mouth, which is situated at one end of the
body, is surrounded by a series of tufted tentacles.
The beche-de-mer fisheries are carried on by luggers of five or six tons'
burden. Still larger schooners are fitted up with all the appliances
necessary for curing the fish, and these simply change their anchorage from
time to time, sending out their boats in every direction to collect the fish.
The fish are taken during the low tides in the new and full phases of the
moon, and eight or ten days in each lunar month are thus utilized. The greater
part of the fish are simply picked off the reefs and thrown into sacks. But
the finest red and black fish, and the prickly fish, are obtained at the depth
of two or three fathoms by diving.
Arrived at the curing station, the fish are thrown into boiling water and
boiled for twenty minutes. They are then split lengthwise with a sharp knife,
and cleaned. Then they are laid on the ground to dry, and after this they are
smoked for twenty-four hours, the favorite wood in use being the red mangrove.
By this time they are so shrunken as to measure only about six inches.
They are then ready for bagging and shipping to market. The greatest care now
is to keep them dry, and this is a difficult matter, since they absorb
moisture readily. "Properly cured and maintained in first-class condition,
the dried animals should rattle like walnuts in their bags." In transporting
them to Hong Kong, they are sometimes placed in cases lined with tin.
Third upon the list of Queensland fisheries stands that of the oyster.
The annual export value is much lower than that of pearl shell or
beche-de-mer, but the revenue accruing to the government is far in excess of
that derived from either of these industries. Beside this, about half as many
as are exported are kept for home uses.
The rock oyster is the only variety as yet to receive serious
consideration from a purely commercial standpoint. The coxcomb oyster is the
largest edible oyster found in Queensland waters. It received its name on
account of the regular zigzag undulations of the outer edges of the valves. A
pair of shells of this oyster often weigh as much as five or seven pounds.