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Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 19

Following the Equator - Chapter 19

1. Contents

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45

47. Chapter 46

48. Chapter 47

49. Chapter 48

50. Chapter 49

51. Chapter 50

52. Chapter 51

53. Chapter 52

54. Chapter 53

55. Chapter 54

56. Chapter 55

57. Chapter 56

58. Chapter 57

59. Chapter 58

60. Chapter 59

61. Chapter 60

62. Chapter 61

63. Chapter 62

64. Chapter 63

65. Chapter 64

66. Chapter 65

67. Chapter 66

68. Chapter 67

69. Chapter 68

70. Chapter 69

71. Conclusion


Pity is for the living, Envy is for the dead.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

The successor of the sheet-iron hamlet of the mangrove marshes has that
other Australian specialty, the Botanical Gardens. We cannot have these
paradises. The best we could do would be to cover a vast acreage under
glass and apply steam heat. But it would be inadequate, the lacks would
still be so great: the confined sense, the sense of suffocation, the
atmospheric dimness, the sweaty heat--these would all be there, in place
of the Australian openness to the sky, the sunshine and the breeze.
Whatever will grow under glass with us will flourish rampantly out of
doors in Australia.--[The greatest heat in Victoria, that there is an
authoritative record of, was at Sandhurst, in January, 1862. The
thermometer then registered 117 degrees in the shade. In January, 1880,
the heat at Adelaide, South Australia, was 172 degrees in the sun.]

When the white man came the continent was nearly as poor, in variety of
vegetation, as the desert of Sahara; now it has everything that grows on
the earth. In fact, not Australia only, but all Australasia has levied
tribute upon the flora of the rest of the world; and wherever one goes
the results appear, in gardens private and public, in the woodsy walls of
the highways, and in even the forests. If you see a curious or beautiful
tree or bush or flower, and ask about it, the people, answering, usually
name a foreign country as the place of its origin--India, Africa, Japan,
China, England, America, Java, Sumatra, New Guinea, Polynesia, and so on.

In the Zoological Gardens of Adelaide I saw the only laughing jackass
that ever showed any disposition to be courteous to me. This one opened
his head wide and laughed like a demon; or like a maniac who was consumed
with humorous scorn over a cheap and degraded pun. It was a very human
laugh. If he had been out of sight I could have believed that the
laughter came from a man. It is an odd-looking bird, with a head and
beak that are much too large for its body. In time man will exterminate
the rest of the wild creatures of Australia, but this one will probably
survive, for man is his friend and lets him alone. Man always has a good
reason for his charities towards wild things, human or animal when he has
any. In this case the bird is spared because he kills snakes. If L. J.
he will not kill all of them.

In that garden I also saw the wild Australian dog--the dingo. He was a
beautiful creature--shapely, graceful, a little wolfish in some of his
aspects, but with a most friendly eye and sociable disposition. The
dingo is not an importation; he was present in great force when the
whites first came to the continent. It may be that he is the oldest dog
in the universe; his origin, his descent, the place where his ancestors
first appeared, are as unknown and as untraceable as are the camel's.
He is the most precious dog in the world, for he does not bark. But in
an evil hour he got to raiding the sheep-runs to appease his hunger, and
that sealed his doom. He is hunted, now, just as if he were a wolf.
He has been sentenced to extermination, and the sentence will be carried
out. This is all right, and not objectionable. The world was made for
man--the white man.

South Australia is confusingly named. All of the colonies have a
southern exposure except one--Queensland. Properly speaking, South
Australia is middle Australia. It extends straight up through the center
of the continent like the middle board in a center-table. It is 2,000
miles high, from south to north, and about a third as wide. A wee little
spot down in its southeastern corner contains eight or nine-tenths of its
population; the other one or two-tenths are elsewhere--as elsewhere as
they could be in the United States with all the country between Denver
and Chicago, and Canada and the Gulf of Mexico to scatter over. There is
plenty of room.

A telegraph line stretches straight up north through that 2,000 miles of
wilderness and desert from Adelaide to Port Darwin on the edge of the
upper ocean. South Australia built the line; and did it in 1871-2 when
her population numbered only 185,000. It was a great work; for there
were no roads, no paths; 1,300 miles of the route had been traversed but
once before by white men; provisions, wire, and poles had to be carried
over immense stretches of desert; wells had to be dug along the route to
supply the men and cattle with water.

A cable had been previously laid from Port Darwin to Java and thence to
India, and there was telegraphic communication with England from India.
And so, if Adelaide could make connection with Port Darwin it meant
connection with the whole world. The enterprise succeeded. One could
watch the London markets daily, now; the profit to the wool-growers of
Australia was instant and enormous.

A telegram from Melbourne to San Francisco covers approximately 20,000
miles--the equivalent of five-sixths of the way around the globe. It has
to halt along the way a good many times and be repeated; still, but
little time is lost. These halts, and the distances between them, are
here tabulated.--[From "Round the Empire." (George R. Parkin), all but
the last two.]


Melbourne-Mount Gambier,.......300
Mount Gambier-Adelaide,........270
Adelaide-Port Augusta,.........200
Port Augusta-Alice Springs...1,036
Alice Springs-Port Darwin,.....898
Port Darwin-Banjoewangie,... 1,150
London-New York,.............2,500
New York-San Francisco,......3,500

I was in Adelaide again, some months later, and saw the multitudes gather
in the neighboring city of Glenelg to commemorate the Reading of the
Proclamation--in 1836--which founded the Province. If I have at any time
called it a Colony, I withdraw the discourtesy. It is not a Colony, it
is a Province; and officially so. Moreover, it is the only one so named
in Australasia. There was great enthusiasm; it was the Province's
national holiday, its Fourth of July, so to speak. It is the pre-eminent
holiday; and that is saying much, in a country where they seem to have a
most un-English mania for holidays. Mainly they are workingmen's
holidays; for in South Australia the workingman is sovereign; his vote is
the desire of the politician--indeed, it is the very breath of the
politician's being; the parliament exists to deliver the will of the
workingman, and the government exists to execute it. The workingman is a
great power everywhere in Australia, but South Australia is his paradise.
He has had a hard time in this world, and has earned a paradise. I am
glad he has found it. The holidays there are frequent enough to be
bewildering to the stranger. I tried to get the hang of the system, but
was not able to do it.

You have seen that the Province is tolerant, religious-wise. It is so
politically, also. One of the speakers at the Commemoration banquet--the
Minister of Public Works-was an American, born and reared in New England.
There is nothing narrow about the Province, politically, or in any other
way that I know of. Sixty-four religions and a Yankee cabinet minister.
No amount of horse-racing can damn this community.

The mean temperature of the Province is 62 deg. The death-rate is 13 in
the 1,000--about half what it is in the city of New York, I should think,
and New York is a healthy city. Thirteen is the death-rate for the
average citizen of the Province, but there seems to be no death-rate for
the old people. There were people at the Commemoration banquet who could
remember Cromwell. There were six of them. These Old Settlers had all
been present at the original Reading of the Proclamation, in 1536. They
showed signs of the blightings and blastings of time, in their outward
aspect, but they were young within; young and cheerful, and ready to
talk; ready to talk, and talk all you wanted; in their turn, and out of
it. They were down for six speeches, and they made 42. The governor and
the cabinet and the mayor were down for 42 speeches, and they made 6.
They have splendid grit, the Old Settlers, splendid staying power. But
they do not hear well, and when they see the mayor going through motions
which they recognize as the introducing of a speaker, they think they are
the one, and they all get up together, and begin to respond, in the most
animated way; and the more the mayor gesticulates, and shouts "Sit down!
Sit down!" the more they take it for applause, and the more excited and
reminiscent and enthusiastic they get; and next, when they see the whole
house laughing and crying, three of them think it is about the bitter
old-time hardships they are describing, and the other three think the
laughter is caused by the jokes they have been uncorking--jokes of the
vintage of 1836--and then the way they do go on! And finally when ushers
come and plead, and beg, and gently and reverently crowd them down into
their seats, they say, "Oh, I'm not tired--I could bang along a week!"
and they sit there looking simple and childlike, and gentle, and proud of
their oratory, and wholly unconscious of what is going on at the other
end of the room. And so one of the great dignitaries gets a chance, and
begins his carefully prepared speech, impressively and with solemnity--

"When we, now great and prosperous and powerful, bow our heads in
reverent wonder in the contemplation of those sublimities of energy,
of wisdom, of forethought, of----"

Up come the immortal six again, in a body, with a joyous "Hey, I've
thought of another one!" and at it they go, with might and main, hearing
not a whisper of the pandemonium that salutes them, but taking all the
visible violences for applause, as before, and hammering joyously away
till the imploring ushers pray them into their seats again. And a pity,
too; for those lovely old boys did so enjoy living their heroic youth
over, in these days of their honored antiquity; and certainly the things
they had to tell were usually worth the telling and the hearing.

It was a stirring spectacle; stirring in more ways than one, for it was
amazingly funny, and at the same time deeply pathetic; for they had seen
so much, these time-worn veterans, end had suffered so much; and had
built so strongly and well, and laid the foundations of their
commonwealth so deep, in liberty and tolerance; and had lived to see the
structure rise to such state and dignity and hear themselves so praised
for honorable work.

One of these old gentlemen told me some things of interest afterward;
things about the aboriginals, mainly. He thought them intelligent
--remarkably so in some directions--and he said that along with their
unpleasant qualities they had some exceedingly good ones; and he
considered it a great pity that the race had died out. He instanced
their invention of the boomerang and the "weet-weet" as evidences of
their brightness; and as another evidence of it he said he had never seen
a white man who had cleverness enough to learn to do the miracles with
those two toys that the aboriginals achieved. He said that even the
smartest whites had been obliged to confess that they could not learn the
trick of the boomerang in perfection; that it had possibilities which
they could not master. The white man could not control its motions,
could not make it obey him; but the aboriginal could. He told me some
wonderful things--some almost incredible things--which he had seen the
blacks do with the boomerang and the weet-weet. They have been confirmed
to me since by other early settlers and by trustworthy books.

It is contended--and may be said to be conceded--that the boomerang was
known to certain savage tribes in Europe in Roman times. In support of
this, Virgil and two other Roman poets are quoted. It is also contended
that it was known to the ancient Egyptians.

One of two things either some one with is then apparent: a boomerang
arrived in Australia in the days of antiquity before European knowledge
of the thing had been lost, or the Australian aboriginal reinvented it.
It will take some time to find out which of these two propositions is the
fact. But there is no hurry.

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