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   Chapter 7 VIIToC

Thirty Years in Australia By Ada Cambridge Characters: 22971

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


On the 1st of January 1872 G. ceased to be a curate. On the 4th-and with thankfulness, I must confess-we left W-- for our own first parish.

It comes back to me, as if it were yesterday, the departure from Como. One of the numerous kind friends who seemed sorry to part with us lent us a roomy buggy, into which we packed many things besides ourselves-the small treasures of the house that we did not like to entrust to the waggons sent on before us with our modest stock of furniture. The last offerings of fruit and flowers being stowed on the top of these, the last good-byes said, we set off at a quiet pace, and took the whole day to the journey. It was all Bush track amongst the hills, and the weather, for midsummer, was kind. Twice we made a camp in a shady spot, sprawled on the grass while the horse grazed and the billy boiled, and ate our picnic meal luxuriously; and for miles we walked beside and around the buggy, fern hunting and curiosity gathering on behalf of the sister-in-law, whose main interest in Australia was centred in these things. It was our intention to make a holiday of the occasion, and we carried the intention out. But, oh, how tired we were when at last we sighted our destination! That is the moment that I remember best, when we crawled down that break-neck "gap" which was the gateway to our valley, and saw across it on the other side, sitting on a soft slope, with a great blue mountain behind it, the little stone church and parsonage-house which were our bourne. In pity for our worn-out horse, we three elders were afoot, hobbling stiffly and uttering involuntary moans of exhaustion; only the dear baby, from whom we had not had a cry, lay fast asleep in the bottom of the buggy, in no way upset by his adventures.

The picture is before me now, bathed in the last lights of the summer day. It is one of the most beautiful that Australia can show. A newly-arrived bishop, being in the same spot as we were, and also for the first time, said he could not understand how we, having been privileged to live in such a place, had voluntarily left it! for we had left it then, because, as we reminded him, man needs more than scenery to satisfy him in this world. The little township nests in its fertile valley, and from the top of the gap you look down upon it and see no prosaic details, only that it is in itself a detail, completing the charm of the natural scene, the scheme of colour of which the lovely mountain blue is the dominant note-that blue which flames celestial pink in parts when the sun goes down. An awful trap to the amateur Jehu was that gap in those days; we realise it now far better than we did then. A metalled road, cut out of the hillsides and fenced, now winds through it, but it still calls for a good driver and a strong brake. We used to blunder down it, as down a wrecked staircase, in the darkest nights, and think nothing of it; no, although we were shown the spot where a coach, whose horses missed their footing, was hurled down the ravine to utter smithereens with all hands. The fact was that in those days and in that part of the country we had to do these foolhardy things all the time, or we should never have got about at all. When confronted with a tight place-a gully almost as steep as a house wall, or a river which was continually changing its soon-washed-out crossing-place, without putting up a guide post-we just "started in" and chanced it. It was the custom of the country, and the custom which made its drivers what they are, skilful and fearless beyond any in the world, unless we except the Americans, who built the vehicles that we used, the only sort capable of such use as we put them to. I do not remember that we worried in the least over the dangers to life and limb that we saw quite plainly before us; we were too well used to them. Now, when we recall our exploits, we tell each other that nothing would induce us to repeat them.

Descending the Gap for the first time G. led the Bush-horse, which was an old stager if we were not, calmly taking things as they came; and the Bush harness, on which life so often depends, was equal to its responsibilities (the owner was to be trusted to see to that). So we arrived safely at the door of what looked like the principal inn-the place and we were as yet strangers to each other-and there we camped for the night. Beds were our crying need. Everything else had to wait until sleep had recruited us. We were fairly dead beat.

But next morning we were all alive and vigorous again, in a fever of impatience to get home-completely home. The vans with our furniture had not arrived; the parsonage was shut and empty; we had designedly kept ourselves and our movements unannounced, so there was no one to show us the way about. Still, we lost not a moment after breakfast in getting the buggy re-packed, getting the keys of the house and church, and driving thither-through the tiny town, over the bridge spanning the willowy creek, and up the hilly road-firmly resolved to sit down by our own hearthstone forthwith, for good and all. But we always did that. In all our movings and re-furnishings, the first proceeding was to go in ourselves; a shakedown and something to eat, and we set to work from the centre and not from the outside. It is far the best way. And if there is one thing I love more than another it is the whole process of shifting camp-odd as I am sure it must appear: I grudge to miss a bit of it.

What a morning we had! Although the vans had not come, there was plenty to do in examining the premises, planning out rooms, and utilising the contents of the buggy, now put up, with the horse, in our own good brick stables. We were charmed with our house, which was nearly new and very complete in its appointments. Its walls of dressed granite made it very sound and cool; it was papered and painted as well as it could be, and the garden and young orchard were laid out with the same care to have all of the best; while its situation was almost unmatchable. The outlook from the French windows and the verandah outside them down the valley of the town to the Gap beyond, and backwards to the blue range behind, was one of ever-changing but constant beauty; none of our eight Australian homes had a lovelier setting. The brilliance and purity of the mountain air enhanced the complexion of it all, as well as the healthful capacity of the seeing eye. Down that grassy slope to the front gate big bushes of spir?a billowed in the spring; their overlapping wreaths were enormous; their masses of white gleamed right across the valley, visible from the Gap road. Everything one planted seemed to flourish there, and particularly the vineyards on some of the hillsides. Fine wines went out from that little town, to win medals and honourable mentions at the industrial exhibitions of the world. The manufacturer combined the professions of vigneron and doctor-in our time the only doctor for many miles around. He was a German gentleman who had left his country to escape some difficulty connected with military service, and was debarred from returning thither by the knowledge that he would thereby land himself in a fortress. Not that he had any hankerings for the Fatherland; he might have been born where we found him, so attached was he to his little town and the interests he had gathered about him; he lived there for over forty years, I believe, and is buried there, in the hill cemetery above our old home. Cut off as he seemed to be from the intellectual world, he yet kept touch with it; with all the work of his practice and his wine-making, he found time for scientific studies, not reading only, but writing for magazines and newspapers; and his active mind was absolutely free and fearless. Of course he never came to church-his English wife did-but that made no difference in the relations between us. No one was more welcome to the house than he, and his company was the salt that gave savour to the social life of the out-of-the-way little place. In his old age he became an ardent spiritualist, much to my surprise and puzzlement, and he died in that faith. His death was described to me by the doctor who attended him, a mutual friend. The good old man was seized with something which his medical knowledge told him must prove fatal within a given number of hours. He made no fuss or bother about it, and allowed no one else to do so, but chatted cheerfully with his colleague until speech failed him, with no more emotion than if he was preparing to go to bed and to sleep as usual.

His vineyards-doubled and quadrupled as time went on-were carved out of virgin Bush, and that Bush was a paradise for wild flowers and ferns. From creek gullies close by I used to gather armfuls of maiden-hair for church decoration, some fronds of which, measured on the dining-room table, spanned the whole width from side to side. One Christmas Eve I made the church a bower of it; every window was veiled in the green lace. Unfortunately, it was withered by morning-the usual condition of church decorations, on the actual day of festival, in this country.

The church, which we also rummaged over without loss of time, was of a piece with the house. Here we found the same careful arrangements and completeness of equipment, the lack of which in other colonial churches had so much surprised us, coming to them with our English eyes and notions; the stamp of the mind and quality of the first incumbent was plain in every direction (he was an Oxford man, expatriated for his health). A year or two ago I was there again; it and the house had faded and been neglected, and I was struck by the unexpected smallness of them both; but even then they were a pleasant contrast to those at W--, as they were in '72. And regarding the beauty of their situation, I found that memory had played no tricks with the records.

In the middle of our rummagings we realised that we were starving. That air was the hungriest we had ever breathed, and we had no food with us except the baby's. G. was despatched on a foraging expedition to the town, and presently returned with bread, butter, cheese, beer, meat, and a frying pan, together with smaller trifles, all in his own arms and pockets-for he never minds what he carries or where he carries it-the sister-in-law and I having prepared a fire in his absence. Shortly afterwards we enjoyed the meal which stands out amid the records of the past as the meal of my life-my only excuse for mentioning it. Soon the parish woke up to the fact of our presence in its midst, and invitations and offers of assistance poured in upon us; but I am always pleased to think that we got that wonderful scratch lunch first. It is a delicious memory.

The vans came, and we settled ourselves. I find an entry in my journal for February 10th (1873), "G. and I making a dining-table." And, three days later, "G. and I making a sideboard." We must have done these things, or they would not be set down, but how we did them, and with what result, I have no recollection, although the two sofas, also made for this house, are as plain to the mind's eye as they ever were. We could buy furniture at the shops-"stores" we called them-of our little town; bullock drays, that took weeks to do the journey from Melbourne, kept us regularly supplied with all necessary goods; so that the explanation of our various dabblings in the art of cabinet making will at once o

ccur to the reader. We had expended the capital of £50 with which we started housekeeping, and, if I remember rightly, the parson's stipend did not exceed £250 per annum. In a parish of the dimensions of this one, horses (as distinct from a horse) were indispensable, and they had to be fed and shod. A buggy (second hand) and a piano (on time payment) were here added to the establishment; likewise a second baby and a nurse-girl. To make ends meet, and at the same time to have things as one wished-nay, as one was determined-to have them, considerable ingenuity and invention were required. I flatter myself that we did well, considering our youth, and that we were new to the conditions in which we found ourselves; but still we had to learn experience in many directions at an unexpected cost in cash. It is extraordinary how quickly money melts in Australia, compared with what it does at home. The reason is not that living is dearer, but that the ways of this country are so lavish and free-handed.

It was about this year (1873) that I began to write for the Australasian-trifling little papers, at long intervals-not because I found any fascination in such work to dispute the claims of the house and family, but to add something to the family resources when they threatened to give out. I had no time for more, until one day the editor of the Australasian wrote to inquire what had become of me and my contributions, when it occurred to me that it might be worth while to make time.

The Sunday school was at the further end of the township-it was the common school on week-days-and I used to rush thither morning and afternoon on Sundays, and return breathless to attend to my baby and play the (American) organ in church. I trained the choir, visited every parishioner within reach, did all that hard work unfairly demanded of the parson's wife under these democratic systems of church government; besides the multifarious work at home-making and mending, cooking and nursing, and, as it appears, building sideboards and dining-tables. Moreover, the Free and Compulsory Education Act had come into force (January 1873), and as the State had to be satisfied that our little nursemaid, who was within school age, was being educated according to law, I charged myself with this job also, rather than lose her services for the greater part of the day. And I may add that the baby in arms was rarely trusted to this functionary, except for airings in the garden under my eye. All other attentions that it required I gave myself. So there was enough occupation for one not-over-robust woman, without the addition of literary work.

Touching upon this matter, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with Bishop Perry soon after our arrival. It was not the hardships of the clergy that troubled him, he said, but the killing strain upon their wives-literally killing, for he quoted figures to show the disproportionately high rate of sickness and untimely death amongst them. I rather think I have heard Bishop Moorhouse express himself to the same effect. Certainly my own long and intimate acquaintance with the subject leaves me in no doubt as to which of the clerical pair is in the shafts and which in the lead. It is not the parson who, to use the phrase so often in his mouth, bears the burden and heat of the day, but the uncomplaining drudge who backs him at all points, and too often makes him selfish and idle by her readiness to do his work as well as her own. Under colonial and "disestablished" conditions, he is not largely representative of the class from which our home clergy are drawn; as a general rule he comes from that which, while as good as another in many ways, and perhaps better in some, is not bred to the chivalrous view of women and wives-regards them, that is to say, as intended for no other purpose than to wait upon men and husbands. The customs of the profession accord so well with this idea that it is not surprising to find a pious man killing his wife by inches without having the slightest notion that he is doing so.

Amongst my colleagues of those days was a lady of exceptional culture and refinement. Her husband, a Bush clergyman like my own, was poor, of course, and they averaged a baby a year until the baker's dozen was reached, if not passed. The way she "kept" this family was such that I never saw a dirty child or a soiled table-cloth or a slatternly touch of any sort in her house. She taught the children as they grew old enough; I know that she did scrubbing and washing with her own hands. In addition, she did "the parish work."

One day, when she was run down and worn out, her husband told her that the organist, from some cause, was not forthcoming, and there was no time to procure a substitute. "So, my dear, you will have to play for us." He knew that she could do it, for she had often done it before; it was the merest trifle of a task, compared with those she hourly struggled with; but it was the one straw too many that breaks the over-loaded back. She looked at him in silence for a moment, flung out her arms wildly, and, exclaiming "I can do no more!" went mad upon the spot. She had to be put into an asylum, and the parish and the husband and the growing young ones had to do the best they could without her. The husband, I may say, was-apart from being the inadvertent accomplice of the parish in her destruction-one of the very best of husbands and of men.

Only the other day I attended a gathering of the friends of a lady to whose loved memory it was desired to raise some public monument. She, lately dead, had been our bishop's wife, and so the meeting was appropriately presided over by dignitaries of the Church. They stood up, one after another, to air their views. "I propose," said a worthy canon, with the most matter-of-fact air in the world, "that every clergyman's wife be a collector for the fund"-of course. I heard a sigh and a sotto-voce ejaculation behind me-"the poor clergymen's wives!"-and the incident exactly shows how their male belongings treat them.

I, however, have not been a victim. Before I was willing myself to lighten the double strain, I was compelled to do so, and the parish-as well as all succeeding parishes-had to put up with it. But very early in the day I evolved opinions of my own as to the right of parishes to exact tributes of service from private individuals in no way bound to give them. And I came to a conclusion, which I have never since seen reason to alter, that the less a clergyman's wife meddles with her husband's business (except between themselves) the better, not only for her but for all parties. After I could plead the claims of a profession of my own, my position in the scheme of things was finally and comfortably defined. Parishes, like clerical husbands, when they tyrannise, do it unconsciously, from want of thought, and not from want of heart. At any rate, my parish, for the time being, never, so far as I can see, bears me any malice for my desertion of the female-curate's post, but quite the contrary. For whereas we should be sure to chafe each other if forced into an unnatural and uncongenial relationship, we are now the best of neighbours and mutually-respecting friends.

Having been a fervid young churchwoman at home, where I district-visited in the most exemplary manner, with tracts and soup-tickets and all the rest of it, for my own pleasure, parish work, when it became my business, was not at all irksome as such. And there was one part of it which was a source of great enjoyment during the three years that we lived in Y--.

It was the training of the choir. At first, with much nervousness and diffidence, I taught hymns and chants for an hour a week, and played them at the Sunday services in the midst of my little band, which had never conceived of higher flights. But ambition was generated in us as we warmed to our work. Recruits arrived from far and near, some of whom could read music, and we spread ourselves in an occasional anthem. There have been, and are, many thousands of choirs as pleased with themselves as we were, but never was there one more harmonious, in every sense of the word. To the best of my recollection we never had a tiff, and such was the attraction of our meetings that no weather-rain, storm, mud, darkness-could keep away the men (some of them quite elderly), who had to tramp miles through the Bush, after a hard day's work, to attend them. Especially in the winter.

For when winter came, and the church was cold, I had the practices in the house, with piano accompaniment. The bright log fire-firewood is the one thing we have always been extravagant in, on principle-and the much-pillowed amateur sofa, and the chairs collected from the general stock and grouped invitingly, made the homely drawing-room a good, thawing sort of place for the storm-buffeted to come to and to sing in. Most carefully were wet wraps and umbrellas left outside, and boots rubbed and scrubbed on door-mats; and never did an evening-party show itself better bred. For that is what the choir practice came to-a "musical evening" once a week. We fell into the habit of clearing off the chants and hymns rather hastily, and devoting the bulk of our ever-extending time to experiments in the higher forms of part-singing. We were not experts, any of us, but we made up in enthusiasm what we lacked in knowledge, and ended by so distinguishing ourselves that the fame of our performances has not died out in the district yet. For although on pleasure bent, we kept an eye to business, and selected music with the secondary view of getting anthems out of it eventually. Our great achievement was Mozart's Twelfth Mass. It took us a long time, but we fumbled through it from beginning to end. And then we astonished the congregation with "Glorious is Thy Name," and "Praise the Lord, for He is Gracious," and other classic gems, as we got them perfectly.

It was my first attempt at choir-leading and-which I am sure is a very good thing for my reputation-the last. Thenceforth the parson wielded the baton. The choir that now is, which could sing the Twelfth Mass straight off as easily as look at it, if it had never seen the thing before, would feel insulted at any comparison between their work and ours; but often, when I am listening to the evening anthem, the notes of those old voices, so fervid and sincere, float back upon the tide of memory from those old days, with a heart-melting power that these finished performances will never possess, for me.

A year or two ago G. was escorting me to my seat in the cathedral through a crowd pressing into the building to some special function-I forget what-and he was accosted by a fine-looking grey-bearded gentleman, with a lady on his arm. "You don't know who that is," said G., turning to me. I looked, and knew-one of those men who used to walk so far o' nights to attend choir practice, after working at his mine all day-seven-or eight-and-twenty years before. We clasped hands with some emotion and looked at each other, and the question that sprang to our eyes was, "Do you remember the Twelfth Mass?" It was as plain as print to both of us. Then we were swept apart before I could learn where he was living, or anything about him, except that the lady on his arm was his daughter.

I hope many more have survived and prospered, and that they will read these words so as to know how I remember them.

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