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

forest.

 

     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

shining leaves.

 

     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

water.

 

     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

1851.

 

     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

abode.

 

     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

properly tended.

 

     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

miles.

 

     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

ever recovered.

 

     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

thousand pounds.

 

     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

hinsec."

 

     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

Torres Strait.

 

     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

Lady Eliot.

 

     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.

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