Cold Comfort in the Darkest Hour
Bridge over Snowy River, Orbost (Harvey, 1890) SLVic H2009.100/119
After the child has put on his oldest clothes, the horses which are tethered outside the bank, are mounted and the brothers ride off at 6.15pm. The township of Orbost has about 400 people and there are about 200 farms in the area composed of river flats around the place. All beyond is forest. There are two hotels and one bank. The latter is about the size of a large dog kennel and is built of wood. The mare, the child rides, rejoices in the name of Violet and at first he is disappointed with her as she is a slow walker and shys a little but long before our journey’s end she proves that she is the right animal for this country owing to her staunchness and ability to climb like a mountain goat. We ride through a thickly timbered wood until we reach Mt Buck 10 miles from Orbost on a fair track during the departing daylight. As dusk settles black over all, we see a fire near the track and on approaching it we were welcomed by a lonely prospector, who gave us a cup of tea but without sugar or milk. However, it was greatly appreciated.
Mountain Ash, Victoria (Brookes’ Photographic Union, 1891) SLVic b47531
On leaving him, we commenced to circle Mt Buck half way up its height, on a cutting into the cliff. The lightning which had been very vivid for some time heralding the approaching rain now ceases and the rain falls in torrents and continues incessantly for the next 56 hours. We can now see no more than a few yards around us but we know we are travelling along a narrow track hemmed in with large timber in rough, rangy country. Sometimes, we can tell we are ascending to the summit of a range, at other times descending to the foot and then invariably we would hear swishing of water and the clanging of the hoofs on the pebbly bottom of some small watercourse running between the two ranges. We will never forget that night ride nor the next one through the roughest Gippsland forests on a narrow track, in the darkness (which however was much more intense on the second night) whilst continual heavy soaking rain poured down upon us. There is just convenient room for the two of us to ride abreast and often times our stirrup irons clang against one another in quite a musical cadence. And we are also reminded of Patterson’s line of poetry ‘Where the horses’ hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride’, by the ringing of the hoofs on stony tracks. We mostly walk our horse, occasionally trotting but seldom cantering. Now and again, we have to travel in single file where the track gets narrower and the branches of large trees growing lower down the hillside spread over the track. By this time, we had long exhausted all ordinary topics of conversation and devote our energies into peering as far through the gloom as possible. The child unfortunately, breaks a long interval of silence by asking the boy if he knows ‘The song that will live for ever’ and as the latter answers in the negative, the child sings it in order to cheer up their spirits. After struggling through it the boy tells him that he is glad it is finished and also coldly, calmly and contemptuously tells him that he sung it through his nose and out of tune. The child mildly disclaims the proffered dishonor but alas for the follower of Barker. Thenceforth, the concert of one item concludes for the evening and the child comes to the conclusion like Mark Twain did, that he is saddest when he sings.
A bush farm in the Gippsland mountains, Victoria (Caire, 1900) NLA an3105280-s78
At eleven o’clock we arrive at Sardine Creek where an aged couple named Beveridge keep a small stopping house for travellers. It is the only habituation thus far. The child suggests staying here but the boy strongly objects as he says we must reach Jensen’s that night. Jensen’s is the next habituation and is variously estimated as from 30 to 35 miles from Orbost.
***To be Continued****
How many of us could comprehend such a journey by horse back, let alone in the dark! For most us, these times have faded well into obscurity. Somehow, songs & verse do much to distract us from our woes in difficult times. As they venture deeper into the forbidding Gippsland Forest, Samuel mentions they remember the line from A.B. Patterson’s verse ‘ The Man from Snowy River‘, which was first published in ‘The Bulletin’ magazine in April, 1890.“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side, Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough, Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride, The man that holds his own is good enough.”
The Man from Snowy River (C. Hammond, 1890) SLVic H2004.31/5
Trove has a wealth of material on the iconic ‘Man from Snowy River’. There are 71 versions of A.B. Patterson’s book of verses including the 1896 version with a preface by fellow writer, Rolf Boldrewood, while another version from 1917 has the cover and an illustration by Norman Lindsay, a well known Australian artist. There’s also a link given to an e-book version at Open Library or Project Gutenberg. More information on A.B. Patterson can be found at the Australian Dictionary of Biography which has a link in Trove under ‘People & Organizations’ as well as ‘Biographical cuttings on Jack Riley, The Man from Snowy River‘, under ‘Diaries & letters’. In ‘Archived Websites’ there is a link to the National Library of Australia’s, National Treasures Collection which includes an online copy of an 1895 Draft of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ held at the Mitchell Library Sydney, part of the State Library of New South Wales. In ‘Music, Sound & Video’ and ‘Pictures’, there are many photos, videos, recordings and paintings including the watercolour above, from six paintings of the ‘Man from Snowy River’ by Charles Hammond from the State Library of Victoria (SLVic). Lines from the poem are written under the paintings but they are generally too hard to read so I contacted the SLVic’s online ‘Chat with a Librarian’ who was very helpful and will see what they can work out. We are so fortunate with the generosity of our libraries & librarians in Australia. The painting is out of copyright so I can include, and acknowledge it here. Cartoonist, Michael Leunig has a parody of The Man from Snowy River, you might enjoy too. All this from a simple search on Trove.