Book 3, chapter 7 [The Yellow Wave, by Kenneth Mackay, 1895]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]

Chapter VII.

Fort Mallarraway.

Fort Mallarraway was an organization of recent growth. In reality it was a product of the conflicts between capital and labour, and it would not be incorrect to describe the basis of this institution as ‘co-operative settlement.’ At the same time, the aspects of the organization were manifold, and to call Fort Mallarraway a co-operative station would be as incorrect as to describe the Knights Templars as a benefit society. The association combined originally the functions of a club, a joint-stock company, and a co-operative body. The times were fast turning it also into a social and military power. Disgusted with existing social conditions, a hundred men belonging to that class who stand midway between capital and labour, and who set more store by brains than either money or muscle, had put £100 apiece into a common fund. With part of this sum they purchased Afton Downs, an immense pastoral property which had fallen into the hands of a financial company. Thanks to general mismanagement and the depression of 1893, the syndicate was glad, after getting rid of everything salable, to dispose of the bare country for a nominal sum to close the account.

Once in possession, the new owners drew up a constitution. The settlement was governed by a committee of three, controlled by a President, and elected by ballot to hold office for twelve months. Besides the executive, sub-committees to deal with the various duties of the settlement were appointed. These had to submit their reports to the central authority. To further expedite work, a combination named the ‘Bee’ was instituted. Whatever a man’s special work was, as soon as a Bee was announced, he dropped his stockwhip or his hammer or his pencil, and hurried to the spot where the general muster was proclaimed. These Bees were determined upon by the executive committee, but never except upon sufficient grounds. No member, however, was exempted from attending except for obviously necessary reasons, so that after such reductions from their strength, the executive could always throw a body of sixty or seventy men on any spot where the emergency existed. These Bees told in keeping up wholesome good-fellowship and club feeling, for when the President was often seen driving a plough, and his confrères of the executive yoking a team of rowdy steers or handspiking a log, the rest of the members had practical illustration of the fact that in both work and profit the principle was share and share alike.

Official salaries and fees were rigidly tabooed, so that as each man held a full equal share as a proprietor, his pride and interest reconciled him to any work he had to take in hand. The question of unequal brain-power was easily met. It was laid down that if a man did contribute to the common fund the work of his brains as well as of his hands, he gained immensely more than he contributed by the voluntary work of the ninety-nine other brains concerned. The conditions of original membership were simple in the extreme, the subscription being £100 cash down, and the time of service five years. The shares were non-transferable at the end of that period, except to the association.

When the pioneers took possession of Afton Downs, they turned the old station-house into a species of club, and this became the central camp of the association. Soon after the commencement of operations, a limestone grit was discovered in the bed of a creek, and from it a splendid artificial stone was cast in moulds. Now, after a lapse of nine years, the new club-house, and most of the members’ cottages which clustered round it, were all built of this marvellous concrete. At the end of the first five years a reconstruction became necessary at Fort Mallarraway. The shares of the original proprietors who had completed their term of service remained their unincumbered property, to be devised by will, or at their death to be inherited by their next-of-kin. In order to carry on the work they had begun, the club as a body decided to adopt one hundred apprentices, to be balloted for by the shareholders. These apprentices, distinguished as ‘No. 2,’ were bound under articles to serve for five years, and at the end of that time all who were qualified by a certificate of good service were to be incorporated, and to receive a subsidy in the form of live stock, working plant, and necessaries to enable them in their turn to form a new ‘co-operative settlement.’ This new arrangement was agreed upon on January 1, 1950, and so far as the work was concerned, there was every prospect of things going on well, but how to meet household wants puzzled the executive. The ladies of the club ended the matter. With their girls and boys, they professed themselves ready to take over all domestic arrangements, the only stipulation they made being that ‘No. 2’ should live barrack fashion and attend to their own quarters themselves, of course taking their places at the common tables, which were free to them as they were to their predecessors.

Fort Mallarraway got little goodwill either from capital or labour. The representatives of finance invariably pourtrayed the members as a mob of paupers trying to make a living in a manner adverse to the interests of capital, and they had expected for years to see the ‘concern’ forced into the market and sold for a song. Nevertheless, the club went on without their property appearing in any list of mortgages. The stony Downs on the Afton, forty miles across, kept sheep and bred horses in a manner not equalled by any of the pastoral syndicates in the North, while the open flats and valleys of the main river, besides carrying a herd of model Devons, showed a seemingly boundless extent of irrigated cultivation. With no mortgagee to satisfy and no wages to pay, the owners of Afton Downs were equally independent of the Government, the banks, and the labour unions.

Starting at daybreak, the Iris Downs people neared the Fort, so called from the strategic nature of its surroundings, at about eight o’clock. Cameron and Mrs. Enson occupied a hooded buggy drawn by a pair of half-breds, who on occasion did duty as wheelers in the light four-wheeled waggon which served as a drag. The two girls, accompanied by Ted and Dick, rode as before arranged, while Billy and a couple of stockmen and a black boy brought up the rear-guard.

As the party moved on over the broken, lightly-grassed Downs, cut here and there with deep, rock-bound ravines, the white buildings of the Fort rose above the plain, glistening in the morning sun. Built on the crest of a strong stony ridge, from a distance they presented all the appearances of a well-appointed and admirably situated fortress.

When about half a mile from the basalt eminence on which the buildings stood, Hatten and his companions caught sight of a swarm of men clustered round some bullock teams, a steam locomotive, and machinery of various kinds. At first Dick was puzzled to comprehend the nature of the work in progress, then, guided by his old military experience in the militia, it flashed on him that the lines of strong fencing with solid block houses at the gates and angles, backed by deep trenches, formed part of those fortifications of which Ewan had spoken. Before him rose a line of iron-bark and box logs, set after the fashion of a Maori pah, and as he rode up under them, he noticed that the outer line stood between two trenches, and that the stakes, while loose at the bottom, were securely bound together by chains along the top. Higher up, the square, loopholed, concrete cottages afforded excellent cover for riflemen. ‘It’s ingenious,’ mused Dick admiringly. ‘This palisade, while letting balls through without injury to itself, should stop any rush if well defended.’

‘Dick Hatten, by Jingo!’ said a voice near him. ‘Why, where the deuce have you sprung from?’ and a man whom he had not noticed walked up, and, raising his hat to the ladies, greeted him warmly.

‘Thank you, Nugent. What’s up? are you going to muster?’ grinned Dick.

‘I believe you. There will be a muster, but we want to keep them out this time.’

‘I think we will ride on, Dick,’ said Heather, who had realized all through the ride how painful the situation was for both of them. ‘I know you have a lot to say to Mr. Nugent.’

As his companions cantered off, Dick dismounted.

‘Wait a minute, old chap, and I’ll go up with you,’ said Nugent, turning to supervise the opening of a new trench.

A little later, as they walked on together, the Mallarraway man again asked what had brought Dick back.

‘I had a row with Spero, Aloysius and Co., and they got an assignment of my mortgage from the Pastoral Finance Company, and have turned me out. I expect some Kalmuck super is in possession now,’ replied Hatten bitterly.

‘They’ll turn every white man out of Queensland, if we don’t look out!’ exclaimed Nugent. ‘But, by G—! we mean to give them a hard nut to crack.’

‘So I see. You must be spending a small fortune over these works.’

‘Fortune! why, we are not spending a penny. Well, I suppose work does cost money. In our case, however, it costs nothing to speak of. All you see going on here has been worked out on paper for some time. I got an official note yesterday appointing me captain of the Bee, and the papers handed me contained complete directions; all that I am carrying out is the mechanical part. Any donkey who has hands and eyes can do that. The only skilled men I want are the bullock-drivers and the engineer. Mere manual labour is thought precious little of by us, Hatten, old man. We learn in our society that the real work is done by brain and skilled science. Physical details are completed by steam-power, bullocks, horses, and boys in the apprentice stage. Stay with us a few weeks, and you will learn how, under co-operation, clubbed thought and knowledge are the real motive forces. Men who can do nothing but work with their hands and use a shovel or a pair of shears we don’t want. One of our apprentices is worth two such ordinary men any day.’

While Nugent was talking they reached the head-quarters, and, after a visit to the bath and bachelors’ quarters, Hatten was taken up a high stair which opened upon a flat roof, whereon were situated the President’s and committee room and other offices. President Musgrave, a tall, sturdy, somewhat stern-looking man of about sixty, received his visitor cordially.

‘I know you by name, Mr. Hatten, and I am particularly glad to see you at this time,’ said he. ‘There is much that I wish to speak to you about; however, come on to breakfast; we will have plenty of time for a chat afterwards.’

The party who sat down to breakfast in the lofty, skilfully-ventilated dining-hall of Fort Mallarraway was a small one. Nearly all the men were down at the Fortification Bee, where all meals were provided for them, while most of the ladies had already breakfasted, and were now either teaching the children or engaged in the multifarious duties of the immense establishment.

Mrs. Musgrave, a delightful old lady, who combined the progressive spirit of the present with the gentle courtliness of a past decade, presided over the tea arrangements, while her two daughters waited on their guests.

‘I can’t allow this,’ protested Cameron; ‘it is our duty to serve.’

‘If you were one of us, Cameron,’ laughed Musgrave, ‘you would understand that we all serve each other.’

‘I suppose your servants have struck, Mr. Musgrave,’ said Hatten, who had but a confused idea of their internal arrangements. ‘I hear the same story wherever I go. Do allow me to be Ganymede.’

‘No, no, Mr. Hatten! it is the girls’ allotted work, I can assure you. We have had no servants such as you speak of for years. Apart from the difficulty of keeping them, our women realized that paid servants could hardly be expected to take much pride in work in which they held no real interest. So now we do it all ourselves, and feel healthier and better for it. Don’t you see, we now have an important mission to fill, for if the men provide the raw material, our skill turns it into wholesome food for them.’

After breakfast, while the ladies all took a share in straightening up, Musgrave and the three men returned to the roof of the club-house.

‘Light your pipes,’ said the President, as they sat down under an awning. ‘I mean to take a holiday in honour of your visit.’

Before them stretched a magnificent and far-reaching view of undulating downs, broken here and there by deep ravines sunk below the general level of the country.

An occasional bottle-tree with a bole like a water-jug, and crowned with a tuft of kurragong-like leaves, and here and there clumps of gorgeous corals, relieved the flatness of the landscape, while belts of coolibahs marked the winding course of every creek. Between the club-house and the western outworks stretched a deep ravine, heavily grassed, and watered by a natural spring.

‘What the deuce are you up to?’ asked Cameron, pointing with his pipe in the direction of the works. ‘Is it for protection against the shearers’ union, or do you mean to revive the old border days?’

‘I know you think I’m mad, Cameron,’ replied Musgrave quietly; ‘most people, unfortunately for themselves, share your opinion.’

‘I for one do not, sir,’ interrupted Hatten.

‘No; Dick is with you heart and soul,’ laughed Cameron.

‘I am glad of it!’ exclaimed the President, looking keenly at Hatten. He knew well by hearsay of Dick’s universal popularity with all the younger bushmen, and, judging from appearance, he saw in him the beau-ideal of a guerilla leader.

During the talk that followed, both Cameron and Johnson began to realize that perhaps they had been mistaken.

Musgrave held proofs of which they could hardly doubt the authenticity, and which, placed side by side with some of Zenski’s late actions, gave a most unpleasant colour of suspicion to the whole business.

‘Have you communicated with McLoskie about this matter?’ asked Cameron.

‘Repeatedly; but as you know he and I don’t row in the same boat, and as the men I doubt are all friends of his, he has either ignored or pooh-poohed my warnings. The best I have been able to do was to get a supply of small arms and rifles and four light guns a few months back, on the plea that the unions meant to burn us out.’

‘Poor devils! cheap labour has cooked their goose up here,’ remarked Cameron.

‘Practically, yes. Still, there are enough of them left to make the excuse hold water. These arms I still have, and above the ammunition supplied, we are laying in a good stock on our own account.’

‘Have you any idea of when we may expect these infernal Russians?’ asked Johnson, now quite won over to Musgrave’s view.

‘No; but they may come at any moment. Russia, as you know, has occupied Herat, and though no formal declaration of war has been made, it can only be a question of weeks, perhaps days.’

‘I doubt if Russia will be polite enough to observe the rules of the ring if she can gain a first advantage by breaking them,’ muttered Hatten.

‘You are right; therefore we may expect trouble at any moment. Could you collect a body of irregular horse if required?’

‘I fancy so,’ replied Hatten. ‘There are still a lot of fellows about Hughenden and scattered through the district who can both ride and fight, but how about arms?’

‘I will do all I can in that way,’ said Musgrave. ‘If you can guarantee a couple of hundred good men, we will see that they have something to handle. If the Government won’t help us, we must help ourselves, eh, Cameron?’

‘I am with you,’ replied the squatter. ‘It may mean nothing — God send it does — but on the off chance be prepared, and I will stand in with you in the cost.’

‘Spoken like a man. Now suppose we go down and have a look at the work,’ said Musgrave heartily, rising and leading the way to the staircase.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 189-199

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