"The Bush Folk OF THE NEVER-NEVER"
We - are just some of the bush-folk of the Never-Never.
Distinct in the foreground stand:
The Maluka, The Little Missus, The Sanguine Scot, The Head Stockman, The
Dandy, The Quiet Stockman, The Fizzer, Mine Host, The Wag, Some of our
Guests, A few black "boys" and lubras, A dog or two, Tam-o'-Shanter,
Happy Dick, Sam Lee, and last, but by no means least, Cheon - the
ever-mirthful, ever-helpful, irrepressible Cheon, who was crudely
recorded on the station books as cook and gardener.
The background is filled in with an ever-moving company - a strange
medley of Whites, Blacks, and Chinese; of travellers, overlanders, and
billabongers, who passed in and out of our lives, leaving behind them
sometimes bright memories, sometimes sad, and sometimes little memory at
And All of Us, and many of this company, shared each other's lives for
one bright, sunny year, away Behind the Back of Beyond, in the Land of
the Never-Never; in that elusive land with an elusive name - a land of
dangers and hardships and privations yet loved as few lands are loved - a
land that bewitches her people with strange spells and mysteries, until
they call sweet bitter, and bitter sweet. Called the Never-Never, the
Maluka loved to say, because they, who have lived in it and loved it
Never-Never voluntarily leave it. Sadly enough, there are too many who
Never-Never do leave it. Others - the unfitted - will tell you that it is
so called because they who succeed in getting out of it swear they will
Never-Never return to it. But we who have lived in it, and loved it, and
left it, know that our hearts can Never-Never rest away from it.
WE OF THE NEVER-NEVER
To begin somewhere near the beginning, the Maluka - better known at that
time as the new Boss for the Elsey - and I, his "missus," were at Darwin,
in the Northern Territory, waiting for the train that was to take us just
as far as it could - one hundred and fifty miles - on our way to the
Never-Never. It was out of town just then, up-country somewhere,
billabonging in true bush-whacker style, but was expected to return in a
day or two, when it would be at our service.
Jack, the Quiet Stockman, was out at the homestead, "seeing to things"
there. The Sanguine Scot, the Head Stockman, and the Dandy, were in at
the Katherine, marking time, as it were, awaiting instructions by wire
from the Maluka, while some of the Company "put finishing touches" to
their New Year celebrations. And every one, with, of course, the
exception of those in Darwin, was blissfully unconscious of even the
existence of the Maluka's missus. Knowing the Maluka by repute, however,
every one was agreed that the "Elsey had struck it lucky," until the
telegraph wire, whispering the gossip of Darwin to the Katherine,
whispered that the "new Boss for the Elsey had been and gone and married
a missus just before leaving the South, and was bringing her along with
him." Then the Sanguine Scot was filled with wrath, the Company with
compassion, while the Dandy's consternation found relief in a dismayed
"Heavens above!" (The Dandy, by the way, was only a dandy in his love of
sweet, clean clothes and orderly surroundings. The heart of the man had
not a touch of dandyism in it.) The Head Stockman was absent in his
camp. Had he been present, much might have been said on the "advantages
of having a woman about the place." The Wag, however, retained his usual
flow of speech and spirits.
"Buck up, chaps!" he chuckled encouraging! "They're not all snorters, you
know. You might have the luck to strike one of the "ministering angel
But the Sanguine Scot had been thinking rapidly, and with characteristic
hopefulness, felt he had the bull by the horns. "We'll just have to
block her, chaps; that's all," he said. "A wire or two should do it";
and, inviting the Dandy "to come and lend a hand," led the way to the
telegraph office; and presently there quivered into Darwin the first hint
that a missus was not wanted at the Elsey.
"Would advise leaving wife behind till homestead can be repaired," it
said; and, still confident of success, Mac felt that "ought to do the
trick." "If it doesn't," he added, "we'll give her something stronger."
We in Darwin, having exhausted the sight-seeing resources of the little
town, were wishing "something interesting would happen," when the message
was handed to the Maluka.
"This may do as a stopgap," he said, opening it, adding as he read it,
"It looks brimful of possibilities for interested onlookers, seeing it
advises leaving the wife behind." The Maluka spoke from experience,
having been himself an interested onlooker "down south," when it had been
suggested there that the wife should be left behind while he spied out
the land; for although the Maluka knew most of the Territory, he had not
yet been to the Elsey Cattle Station.
Preferring to be "the interested onlooker" myself this time, when we went
to the telegraph office it was the Maluka who wired: "Wife coming, secure
buggy", and in an incredibly short space of time the answer was back:
"No buggy obtainable."
Darwin looked interested. "Mac hasn't wasted much time in making
inquiries," it said.
"Or in apologies or explanations," the Maluka added shortly, and sent in
reply: "Wife can ride, secure suitable mount."
But the Sanguine Scot's fighting blood was up, and almost immediately the
wire rapped out: "No side-saddle obtainable. Stock horses all flash"; and
the onlookers stared in astonishment.
"Mac's in deadly earnest this time," they said, and the Maluka, with a
quiet "So am I," went back to the telegraph.