We had spent one week out-bush, visiting the four points of the compass, half a day at the homestead packing a fresh swag; three days riding into the Katherine, having found incidental entertainment on the road, and on the fourth day were entering into an argument by wire with Chinese slimness. “The monotony would kill me,” declared the townsfolk.
On the road in we had met the Village Settlement homeward bound—the bonnie baby still riding on its mother’s knee, and smiling out of the depths of its sunbonnet; but every one else was longing for the bush. Darwin had proved all unsatisfying bustle and fluster, and the trackless sea, a wonder that inspired strange sickness when travelled over.
For four days the Maluka argued with Chinese slimness before he felt satisfied that his cash was in safe keeping while the Wag and others did as they wished with our spare time. Then, four days later, again Cheon and Tiddle’ums were hailing us in welcome at the homestead.
But their joy was short-lived, for as soon as the homestead affairs had been seen to, and a fresh swag packed, we started out-bush again to look for Dan and his bullocks, and, coming on their tracks at our first night camp, by following them up next morning we rode into the Dandy’s camp at the Yellow Hole well after midday, to find ourselves surrounded by the stir and bustle of a cattle camp.
“Whatever do you do with your time?” ask the townsfolk, sure that life out-bush is stagnation, but forgetting that life is life wherever it may be lived.
Only three weeks before, as we hunted for it through scrub and bush and creek-bed, the Yellow Hole had been one of our Unknown Waters, tucked snugly away in an out-of-the-way elbow of creek country, and now we found it transformed into the life-giving heart of a bustling world of men and cattle and commerce. Beside it stood the simple camp of the stockman—a litter of pack-bags, mosquito-nets, and swags; here and there were scattered the even more simple camps of the black boys; and in the background, the cumbrous camp of the Chinese drovers reared itself up in strong contrast to the camps of the bushfolk—two fully equipped tents for the drovers themselves and a simpler one for their black boys. West of the Yellow Hole boys were tailing a fine mob of bullocks, and to the east other “boys” were “holding” a rumbling mob of mixed cattle, and while Jack and Dan rode here and there shouting orders for the “cutting out” of the cattle, the Dandy busied himself at the fire, making tea as a refresher, before getting going in earnest, the only restful, placid, unoccupied beings in the whole camp being the Chinese drovers. Not made of the stuff that “lends a hand” in other people’s affairs, they sat in the shade of their tents and looked on, well pleased that men should bustle for their advantage. As we rode past the drovers they favoured us with a sweet smile of welcome, while Dan met us with a chuckle of delight at the sweetness of their smile, and as Jack took our horses—amused both at the drovers’ sweetness and Dan’s appreciation of it—the Dandy greeted us with the news that we had “struck it lucky, as usual,” and that a cup of tea would be ready in “half a shake.”