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   Chapter 6 No.6

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 11134

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The charming little town of Bowen, on the shores of the beautiful harbour named Port Denison, was in the zenith of its glory and prosperity. There were certainly other towns in the north of Queensland-Mackay for instance-which enjoyed the advantage of being nearer the capital, and so obtaining more consideration from the Treasury; but Bowen, although six hundred miles from Brisbane, was the most thriving town in the north, and affected a haughty indifference to her rivals for supremacy, such as the "sugar" growing towns of Bundaberg and Mackay to the south, and the vulgar, upstart, and newly-founded Townsville to the north.

"With our matchless harbour, surpassed only on this island continent by that of Sydney," said the Port Denison Clarion, in one of its inspired and lofty-languaged leaders, "we can regard with a serene, yet not discourteous or contemptuous indifference, the statements of our esteemed, though hasty contemporary, the Mackay Planters' Friend, that Bowen may yet find that the newly-founded hamlet of Townsville on the shores of Cleveland Bay will ere long usurp the claim of beautiful Bowen to be the natural entrep?t for all that vast extent of territory to the northward and the westward of Port Denison, and which, ere many decades have passed, will, through its marvellous agricultural, pastoral, and auriferous resources, add not a jewel but a confiscation of blazing and lustrous gems of the most priceless value to the already glorious crown of that noble lady upon whose Empire the sun never sets. Townsville is simply a collection of humpies and shanties built upon an ill-smelling mud bank. We have personally satisfied ourselves that unless some enterprising British capitalist can convert the only available possession of Townsville (which is mud, and bad mud at that) into bricks, which, perhaps, may be used for the minor classes of buildings which must of necessity soon be built for the accommodation of the poorer classes of working men who, in their thousands, will soon be established in Bowen, Townsville will no more prove a factor towards the development of this great country of North Queensland than the numerous alligators in the Burdekin River will be employed by the municipality of Bowen as paid scavengers, and be provided brass badges, dust shovels, and other such implements to denote their vocation. As for the other assertions of the editor of the Planters Friend, we, with all kindliness, should like to point out that the Friend is the organ of the Sugar Planters; it sees nothing beyond Sugar; Sugar is its God, its Mokanna, and (incidentally) we may remark that Rum is a product resulting from the manufacture of the saccharine plant, and we fear that many samples of this aromatic liquid may have found their way into the editorial sanctum of our esteemed and valued contemporary in Mackay. At least, we judge so when a dirty, ill-smelling mud bank is compared with one of the most noble evidences of God's handiwork-Port Denison!"

To such a courteous reproof as this, the Planters' Friend would invariably make the same reply in the form of a leaderette of ten or twenty lines, enclosed in a square of black to denote mourning:

"Our esteemed Bowen contemporary has 'got 'em' again. We are sorry we cannot #do any more than again, in the most kindly spirit, urge him to try the Dr Jordan cure, an advertisement of which will be found on page 3. We have personal knowledge of a case of the rescue from utter wreck and degradation of one of the brightest intellects of the present century by the use of the Jordan system; and as the price is but trifling, it should be within easy access of our squatter-adoring contemporary."

To these vaguely-worded, funereal-encompassed remarks, the Clarion would retort:

"No one who believes in the trite but, nevertheless, all-powerfully true assertion that the Press is the Archimidean lever which moves the world, cannot but regret the unblushing statement of the editor of our esteemed contemporary, the Planters' Friend, that he has been the victim of a soul-destroying, home-wrecking, and accursed habit, which that gifted American, Colonel Robert Ingersoll, has, in words of fiery eloquence, called 'the treacherous, insidious murderer of home and happiness; the Will-o'-the-Wisp that draws honour, genius, and all that is good into its fatal, deadly quagmire.' To the assertion that our valued contemporary is 'the possessor of one of the brightest intellects of the present century' (as he so modestly informs us) we do not cavil at for one moment. But even the patients under the Jordan (American quack) system may have relapses; and, when the Planters' Friend can calmly publish two columns of leaded matter insinuating that a mud bank on the shores of Cleveland Bay is to become the leading port of North Queensland, we can but regretfully infer that the Jordan cure is not entirely satisfactory, and that even the 'brightest intellects' suffer terrible and deplorable relapses."

These journalistic amenities were accorded serious attention by the society of Bowen, which, by reason of the many Government officials established there, considered itself very exclusive. The majority of these officials were connected with the law, for Bowen was the proud possessor of not only a resident judge, but also a new courthouse of such ample dimensions that the whole population of the town could have been accommodated therein. How the numerous barristers, solicitors, and the smaller legal fry lived was a mystery. Perhaps, like the mythica

l French town whose population supported themselves by doing each other's washing, the legal gentry of Bowen existed by performing each other's clerical work. Next in numbers-though not in social standing-were the Government officials connected with the Harbour and Lights Department, and "The Jetty." The Jetty was one of Bowen's triumphs; was over a quarter of a mile long, cost twenty thousand pounds to build, and was costing four thousand pounds a year to keep in order, and enable the staff of engineers, inspectors, etc., to dress in a gentlemanly style, and maintain their prestige as officials of higher importance than the Customs officers, of whom Bowen was provided with six, all dressed very becomingly, and all more or less related to members of the Queensland Cabinet-as a matter of fact it would have been a difficult task to find any male person in the Government service in Bowen-from His Honour Judge Coker to Paddy Shea, the letter-carrier, who was not connected with, or did not owe his position to a member of the Ministry. And Bowen revelled in the knowledge that Brisbane and the Legislature dared not refuse Bowen any reasonable request, for already there was a dark rumour concerning Separation-the division of the colony into North and South-and the Clarion had warned the "inert and muddling Government" of the colony "that unless the just and courteous request of the telegraphic staff of the Bowen Repeating Office for a punkah is acceded to without further circumlocution, the growing movement in favour of Separation will be openly advocated by this journal. Already (of this we have private knowledge) has Lord Kimberley expressed himself astonished at the heartless refusal of our benighted Colonial Secretary and Treasurer to grant the insignificant sum of two hundred pounds to the necessitous widow of Samuel Wilson, who was killed by being run over by a trolley on our beautiful jetty. Does the Colonial Secretary know the meaning of the word Nemesis? Let him ponder!"

The appearance of Bowen at this time of latent agitation for Separation and open and undisguised animosity to the "upstart collection of humpies on a mud bank in Cleveland Bay," was pleasing in the extreme. Wide, tree-planted, grassy streets, kept scrupulously clean, handsomely-built bungalows, enclosed in gardens containing tropical and sub-tropical plants (the residences of the officials and their families), a court-house and other public buildings of such size and ornate construction that they surpassed those of any other town in the colony, except the capital; an environment of back country grateful to look upon, and a harbour of surpassing beauty.

The editor of the Clarion despite his inflated leaders, was a thoroughly sensible man, who fully recognised the potentialities of the port, and yet saw that it was doomed to sink into comparative insignificance, and that the "collection of humpies on a mud bank" was to be the future capital of the Far North. But he struggled on gamely. He was a genial, merry-hearted old bachelor, who had once loved his paper as a mother loves her one child, and had spent his capital of two thousand pounds in trying to keep the town alive as long as possible. A refined, highly-educated man, he was obliged-after two years' bitter financial experience-to resort to the type of journalism prevalent amongst Australian country newspapers; otherwise he could not have made a living. But he despised the very people for whom he was apparently fighting so strenuously, and often savagely reproached himself for having turned aside from the straight path.

"Thank Heaven, I'm not married!" he said to himself one evening, as throwing himself down upon a couch in his bedroom at the Queen's Hotel, he began to glance through a bundle of exchanges which he had brought from the office, and in a few minutes a smile spread over his face, as he read the following in the Rockhampton Bulletin:

"The Bowen Clarion is making a game effort to bolster up that little tin-pot township with its coterie of highly-paid, useless officials, who for six years past have battened on the public revenues. It was the misfortune of a representative of this journal to be obliged to spend two weeks in Port Denison not long since, and his terse description of the spot and its inhabitants deserves a place in the guide book of the colony which has yet to be written. Bowen is a delightfully laid-out town on the shores of Port Denison. It is inhabited by some six hundred people-mostly official loafers and spongers of the worst type. The community consists of boozy squatters, snobbish wives of snobbish officials, anaemic old maids, obsequious tradesmen on the verge of insolvency, and two respectable and hard-working persons-the latter are Chinamen. The 'tony' society of Bowen is about as lively and intelligent as that of a decaying Cathedral town in the old country. The atmosphere of matchless snobbery and vulgarity that pervades Bowen can be perceived by the passing voyager many miles out at sea."

"By Jove! he's not far wrong," commented the editor, as putting down the paper he took up another, and had just ripped off the the cover, when the chambermaid tapped at the door, then entered with a card.

"The gentleman wishes to see you particularly, sir."

He took the card from the tray, and read,

THOMAS GERRARD. Ocho Rios.

beneath was written, "Urgently desires to see the editor of the Clarion on business of importance."

"Ask him to come in, Milly," he said as he kicked a chair into position.

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