The bigness of Larry Logan [short story by Jack Moses]

[Editor: This is a short story from Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse (1923) by Jack Moses.]

The bigness of Larry Logan

How Larry Logan came to be dubbed “Lucky Larry” is not known to many, but, maybe, there are some, in scattered spots, who know the story.

When I met him first he was in charge of a mob, overlanding from the Gulf to Vic. and frequently did Larry ruefully refer to the fact that many small sheep-holders were to-day passing away as a result of the increase of the cattle-rearing industry, and the falling-off of sheep-raising. However, I am getting somewhat away from Larry. He was a man who knew his Australia from the backblock billabongs to the beaches; and he was a bit of a geologist in his way; a habit of his was to always carry a pocketful of pebbles.

Larry continually prophesied that, some day, he would strike the precious metal; and, as a matter of fact, he did.

There was a time when Larry was lifting a mob of cattle out West, with his mate Jack Wilson, passing through the mallee country. He started early on this journey in order to give himself full time to fossick among likely-looking country.

Luck was with the fossickers and they hit it thick and heavy.

That find meant a golden future for Lucky Larry, and the only thing that troubled him was the losing of his mate, Jack Wilson. One night Jack disappeared and was heard of no more; just one of the silent tragedies of the big empty spaces. The memory of a good clean-living pal never left Larry, and when fortune smiled his way he saw to it that the widow of a faithful cobber was kept in comfort until the end of her days.

The striking of the Blur Reef meant a big turn in the fortunes of Larry, and he never looked back until at the end of a couple of years the drover-cum-miner was spoken of as being worth something in the vicinity of £250,000; but Larry was never addicted to a big head.

The old miner always had a soft spot in his heart for other men who followed the game and gave many a miner a start, realising that the fossicker was the man who blazed the trail in Australia; the man who let into the wilderness the light that guided the sheep man, the wheat man, and every other man who helped to create the primary wealth of the country. And there was another side to Larry — that big heart of his beat in sympathy for Johanna Wilson, the baby girl of a dead mate.

One evening Larry sat in the big morris-chair by the window in the smoking room of the Hotel Australia, and Larry’s thoughts drifted backward.

“This country owes a lot to the push and daring of the men with the dish, dolly, and cradle. They were in truth the chaps who opened up the way to our nationhood.”

Larry was in conversation with Herbert Swanson, a representative of the Advertiser, who had been assigned the task of interviewing the millionaire from the West, and who just now was conjuring up visions of a big scoop for his journal.

“What roaring days they were!” continued Larry. “Think of those great alluvial camps. Recall the big gold-rushes; the men who came from all points of the compass, men of all creeds, colours, shapes and sizes, in search of the precious metal, the discovery of which was heralded world-wide, after Hargraves of the Ophir had located gold.”

“Go on,” requested the newspaper man, as Larry stopped a while.

“I say the beginning of our country’s prosperity was the discovery of the Ophir mine. We have never looked back since.”

Larry was on a congenial subject.

“Look at these old mining-fields to-day; though the throb of the mining-plants may have ceased, though the miner may have laid aside his pick and shovel, yet the surface is turning out the greatest of all wealth, the golden grain and the golden fleece, no finer in the world; and out of these sun-kissed plains there will, some day, spring cities, created by those strong brown men who turned over the clod, and grew the substance of the land. Provided,” added Larry, with a quiet smile, “they lock the rivers, such as the Lachlan. And I tell you, my friend, the Lachlan is one of the greatest rivers in the world to-day, and when her waters are systematically locked, her power will astound creation.”

“Just what do you mean,” asked the reporter, “when you say lock the Lachlan? It’s a good headline, anyhow.”

“It’s a good headline for Australia,” reminded the old chap, as he flung a cushion that was irritating him across the room, and after gazing with interest upon a gay quartette, apparently off to the theatre, but now discussing cigarettes and black coffee, continued, “the locking of the Lachlan means the salvation of the country, for a scheme, known as the Wyangalla Basin, is capable of backing up and storing water to a capacity of that contained in your beautiful harbour — not as a ferry boat track, but for the fertilisation of five hundred miles of country. And what country! No better land in the world!”

Larry was worked-up now and sang with enthusiasm the virtues of the Lachlan.

“No better country on God’s earth! There is soil there to grow anything from the humble potato-patch to the rich and luscious vintage.”

“Mr. Logan,” interrupted the reporter, rolling a cigarette, “there is a report current in the city that you have some gigantic scheme in view. I want to say if I can get an outline of that scheme for to-morrow’s Advertiser it will mean a big lift for me.”

“That is to say,” answered Logan, “you would beat your opposition. Well,” he laughed, “opposition is the life of trade and if it was not for that opposition you wouldn’t be here harrying an old bush cove to-night, would you?”

He took his old briar from his lips, brushed back his iron-grey hair from his big broad forehead, rolled his blue eyes and smiled, “If you want the plain facts from a man who has travelled this country from end to end, then I’ll tell you what I will do with the Lachlan.”

At this stage Larry suddenly glanced at his watch, as if reminding himself of an appointment.

“Excuse me,” remarked the newspaper man, noticing a nugget of coarse gold dangling from a solid albert, hanging from the vest of Larry, “is that a relic of the roaring days?”

Larry grinned. “Yes. That bit of gold was portion of a parcel that nearly cost me my life.”

The Advertiser man scented a story within a story, but merely remarked, “You don’t say so!”

“Yes, it was a bail-up of the escort. I’ve my hat with the bullet-hole in it still.”

“A pretty close shave,” commented Swanson.

“It was,” replied the old miner, “but some of the gold was afterwards recovered, and this is a small portion of it made up into a chain and nugget.”

Larry was lost in reverie a moment, then continued, “Ah, those were the strenuous roaring days! — when men met as men, and crooks got a shorter shift than they do to-day.”

Larry looked again at his watch, and said, “It’s time we had another drink. Just tinkle that bell.”

Swanson hit the bell, and the affable white-coated gent glided in with alacrity.

“What’s yours?” asked Lary, and then to the waiter remarked, “I’m expecting a young lady to call in a few minutes. When Joanna enquires, please send her up.”

“Did you say Joanna, sir?” queried the white-coated gentleman.

“Why, yes,” laughed Larry “little Joanna Wilson. I thought everybody knew Jo.”

Miss Wilson followed a few minutes after the icy nips, and proved a most attractive young lady, about seventeen, of medium build with dancing blue eyes, and possessing a smile that was as bright as the land of her birth, and that won right out.

“Hullo, Unkey dear! Aren’t you ready yet?” she laughed, as she went across to Larry and offered enticing lips.

Unkey kissed his ward affectionately, and then presented her with pride to the young journalist, who was obviously much impressed with the attractiveness and cheeriness of this little vital spark of Australian womanhood, and became an easy victim to her smile.

“Have you got the theatre-tickets?” questioned Joanna.

“Of course I have,” cheerily intimated her guardian, “but I’m not looking forward to one of these new-fangled plays.”

“Oh I know all about that, Unkey,” laughed Joanna. “You’re like all the old codgers — there’s nothing so good now as there was in ‘our days’ — they’re always strong on the ‘our days’.”

“Well,” remarked Larry, give me the good old barnstormers, who used to come through in my days — the roaring days! I tell you, my child, I’ve seen the miners shower nuggets of gold on the stage.”

“Well! what do you think of that, Mr. Swanson ?”

The reporter just grinned and Joanna continued.

“I think you’re a big fibber, Unkey.”

“Ah, yes,” continued the old miner, still dreaming of the past, “and the great dances we had at the shanties on the rise; as Lawson wrote, ‘with something in disguise.’”

“I’ll bet the last thing was bosker to you, Unkey,” laughed the girl.

“Ah, well, girlie,” said Larry in serious mood, “the world moves on, and I’m glad you’re in it to move with it. But,” he reminded her, “you had better get a move on to meet your friend.”

Joanna rose, as Larry advised her, “Wait for me in the vestibule of the theatre.”

Jo extended her hand to the reporter, who blushed somewhat irregularly for a newspaper man, kissed Larry, and caught the lift downwards.

With Joanna’s departure Swanson grew busy with pencil and copy-paper and remarked:

“What about this gigantic scheme of yours?”

“It ain’t a gigantic scheme. It’s just a plain horse-sense idea that any man might strike who has seen our rivers year in and year out — the life’s blood of the country — bowling into the sea. My object in visiting Sydney just now is to move in the matter of inaugurating a kind of trust.”

“Ah,” laughed the journalist, “something of a Yankee plan, eh?”

“Not on your life !” quickly interposed Larry; “a plan purely on good old colonial lines. I am interesting the financial institutions of the city and intend to form a company with a capital of £50,000,000. Already the landowners along the Lachlan are ready and willing, at the given signal, to pool in this scheme their properties and last penny.”

“Pretty big joint!” whistled the reporter.

“Well,” said Larry with enthusiasm, “they got that amount for the war, and I think I can get it too.”

“Good-oh !” said the reporter, smiling at the enthusiastic old gentleman.

“I will harness the stream,” explained Larry, “buy the land along the banks of the Lachlan, where lucerne, mark you, grows to-day, and where Pattingby of Goolong, with a small irrigation plant on lucerne paddocks, kept to the acre no less than seventy-five sheep in fair nick, and then had stacks of lucerne for his neighbours if needed.”

Larry paused for a moment, as the newspaper-man made pothooks and curves on his copy-paper.

“Pattingby showed them in that year what could be done by irrigation. When we get people settled in thousands along the Lachlan, with markets abroad, then truly shall we have a nation-builder in that stream of wealth.”

“Pretty good scheme that!” opined the reporter.

“I should say it was! It is my intention to raise money by a medium which I shall call The Lachlan Loan, buy those waters, instal machinery, irrigate on advanced lines, provide power and light along the hats, and thus lay a solid foundation for thousands of thriving homes, which will create towns and then cities.”

“Struth!” said the reporter, “you’ve got a get-rich-quick scheme, but how are you going to get your money back?”

“Why,” laughed Larry, “it will be like shelling peas; the mighty wealth of those wonderful Lachlan lands when developed would return money in quicksticks.”

“It’s certainly some scheme,” remarked Swanson, “but how are you going to get the money?”

“Well,” said Larry, “as I remarked before, we raised a tidy sum for the war, which meant destruction, surely we can raise a similar amount for construction, when we can provide an asset, the products of which have already brought record prices in the markets of the world.”

“No doubt,” continued Larry, as if addressing a body of free and independent electors, “when the scheme is placed before the financial institutions of this country, the Lachlan will be locked.”

The big clock in the lounge room struck the quarter-to.

“Touch that bell again,” said Larry.

“I will,” said the reporter, “but you’re going to have one with me this time. You’ve provided me with an opportunity to make good with a big scoop.”

Larry smiled, and said. “I hope so, son.” Then he laid his hands on the young chap’s shoulders. “I want to make good, too. You saw that little lady who just went downstairs? She is the only child of my old mate, and after he went, and I made good, I made a vow that the girl should be my care, and there’s only two things that matter in my life.”

“Yes?” remarked the reporter, inwardly admiring the bigness of this man.

“Yes,” replied Larry, “one is the future of little Joanna, and the other is the locking of the Lachlan. With the accomplishment of that, the future of the girl will be doubly assured; but I want to see her hand clasped by a mate for life, a mate who is a big Australian, and who will help to further my aim in regard to the development of this great country which has proved so good to me.”

“She’s a great girl!” laughed Swanson, “and you’re a big man.”

Larry looked keenly at the reporter. He saw in him a clean man, a young Australian with determination. He saw on the lapel of his coat the insignia of his patriotism. And Larry built a castle in the air.

He parted with Swanson at the steps of the big hotel, and went off to keep his appointment with the trust of a dead mate.

At the interval, in the vestibule, he saw Swanson.

“Hullo, son! we meet again.”

“Yes,” said the reporter. “I’ve finished up for the night, and thought an hour round here wouldn’t hurt.”

So it was that after the performance Larry entertained a party of two in the coffee room of the Australia.

At midnight Larry grew anxious.

“Girlie, you are late. I must ring the College. Wait a moment.”

Larry went downstairs for a few minutes and returned.

“I have arranged for a taxi.” And then turning to Swanson, he said, “Young man, I am going to impose upon you a sacred trust. I wouldn’t do it, but I think I can read you.”

Swanson looked up surprised.

“I am going to ask you to accompany Jo in the taxi, and see that she gets right through the door of Rose Bay College.”

“Righto!” said Swanson, “if the young lady is agreeable.”

The young lady smiled and said, “Good-oh!” and thus began the romance which aided Larry to make for the future happiness of Joanna Wilson.



Source:
Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 119-127

Editor’s notes:
billabong = a dead-end water channel which forms a lagoon or pool; a backwater channel formed by water left behind after a river has flooded and then receded, or after a river has changed course; a creek bed which only contains water during the rainy season; a dried-up creek bed

bosker = (Australian slang) excellent, very good

cobber = friend, mate

cove = man, chap, fellow

escort = gold escort; the policemen or troopers who guarded the transportation of gold shipments

fair nick = fair condition, fair shape (items may be referred to as being “in fair nick” or “in good nick”; fair would generally refer to adequate, average or moderate, although it may also refer to good)

Hargraves = Edward Hargraves (1816-1891), widely regarded as the first discoverer of a payable goldfield, when he publicly claimed the discovery of the Ophir goldfields in 1851

Lawson = Henry Lawson (1867-1922), Australian author and poet

mallee country = Australian backblocks; country areas typically populated with mallee trees (various low-growing shrubby Australian trees, of the genus Eucalyptus)

mob = generally “mob” refers to a large group of animals, commonly used when referring to cattle, horses, kangaroos, or sheep; also used to refer to a group of people, sometimes – although definitely not always – used in a negative or derogatory sense (possibly as an allusion to a group of dumb or wild animals), but also used in a positive sense (e.g. “they’re my mob”) especially amongst Aborigines

nip = a small mouthful, or a sip, of a drink, especially an alcoholic drink

Ophir = the Ophir goldfields (near Bathurst, New South Wales)

overlanding = working on an overland stock route (of which there were several), used for the droving of cattle or sheep overland, especially through remote areas

shanties = plural of “shanty” (a pub, especially an unlicensed pub; may also refer to a small roughly-built cabin or hut)

Struth = an oath, a contraction of “God’s truth”, also rendered as “Gawstruth” or “Gorstruth”

Vic. = Victoria, Australia (colony from 1851, state from 1901)

vintage = in the context of growing plants, a reference to wine

Yankee = American

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
ain’t (isn’t)
Unkey (Uncle)

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