[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
Hatten speaks out.
The smoking-den at Isis Downs was originally the dining-room; in fact, the only reception room of the old slab station-house. Now the worn-out shingle-roof was covered with iron and the earthen floor boarded, yet about its low, white-washed calico ceiling, deep, high fireplace, and broad cobweb-hung veranda, an aroma of early squatting life still clung. The calico-lined walls of the room itself were covered with various sporting prints culled by Ted Johnson from English illustrated papers. Spurs, a stock whip or so, and an old navy cutlass, all played a part in its adornment, while in the spaces left Dick Hatten had sketched in charcoal various prominent racing and political characters, including Billy the Kid and Sir Peter McLoskie. To-night, when the men had filled their pipes, Cameron suggested the veranda; so, dragging out their canvas-backed chairs, the four settled down to that most soul-soothing of all smokes, an after-dinner pipe.
‘What’s that you were saying about fortifications at Musgrave’s?’ asked Cameron, glancing at his nephew, a young Scotchman about a year out, but who, like most of his long-headed race, was already able to do a lot of station work over and above his nominal billet of store and book keeper. ‘I thought the report about that tomfoolery was conceived in Billy’s brain.’
‘Far from it. Musgrave has one of those “Bees,” as they call them, working hard at cutting trenches, putting up both earthen and wooden breastworks, and generally making the place a fort in reality as well as name.’
‘Poor old chap, he’s mad, sure enough! What do the others think of it? Do they expect the shearers to besiege them?’
‘From the way they’re drilling and pushing on the work, they appear to fear something a lot more serious than union troubles,’ replied Ewan Cameron earnestly.
‘And they’re right,’ exclaimed Dick, rising to his feet and knocking the ashes out of his pipe. ‘Pardon me for saying it, sir, but you are all asleep; you are sitting on a mine with the slow-match already burning, and so far as I can see, the Mallarraway people are the only ones up North who realize the fact.’
‘Bless my soul, Dick! have you gone daft too?’ laughed Cameron; ‘what are you talking about, man?’
‘Listen to me, sir,’ said Dick calmly; ‘since I have been away, five thousand of our best-drilled men and most of our capable officers have sailed for India.’
‘Jingo humbug, I admit,’ interposed Cameron. ‘Still, it will give the lads a big picnic and a better training than fifty camps.’
‘Do you think that England would incur all this expense — for, say what people will, her share of the cost will be enormous — unless she really wanted them? I say, no. Believe me, the probabilities of a Russian advance on India have got beyond the stage of rumour this time.’
‘A big war does look likely,’ admitted Cameron.
‘To my mind it is inevitable. The death of the Emperor has split the Austrian Empire into fragments; Italy is bankrupt through her effort to remain in the Triple Alliance. Disaffection is rife in India, and Germany is beggared with her enormous military expenditure. All this we know. What better chance for France to wipe out Sedan while her ally Russia opens the gates of Constantinople by way of an attack on India and Australia.’
‘I don’t quite follow you,’ said Cameron, still sceptical, but with a growing interest.
‘Don’t you see that Russia’s object must be to extend, and consequently weaken, the English line of defence; in point of fact, to draw every man she can from Turkey, her central point of attack? We know that she has been prepared to rush down on India for years; and now that France has given her a naval station off Siam, and that New Caledonia is open to her as a base for operations against Australia, what is to prevent her either singly or in conjunction with France from making a swoop on us? There is no disguising the fact that both their fleets in these waters are now formidable.’
‘You’re not far wrong, Dick,’ admitted Cameron after a pause. ‘But still, what have we to fear personally? All this would at most mean an attack on our capitals.’
‘Don’t be too sure of that, sir,’ said Dick quietly. ‘What is to prevent a squadron, who once got through or slipped the English fleet, from throwing a few thousand men into Point Parker? And, further, for the sake of argument, supposing Spero, Aloysius and Co. and Count Zenski were in collusion, what is there to stop the invading column being landed in the centre of Queensland before the authorities at Brisbane know anything about it?’
‘Good God, man! what are you thinking about?’ gasped Cameron.
‘Possibilities,’ retorted Dick, ‘which may become realities; and if they do, heaven help us all! For, thanks to McLoskie, the whole of the country they would march over is in the hands either of absentees or of men who, if my suspicions prove correct, are already in Russian pay. As to the population, who would under other conditions form the backbone of our defending force, nothing need be said — they are all either coolies, Kanakas, or Japanese.’
‘I hate this infernal slave policy as much as any man; still, I can’t go the length you do,’ said Cameron; ‘such an invasion appears to me outside practical possibilities. Naturally you are sore with Spero, and I don’t blame you; but still ——’
‘Don’t misunderstand me,’ interrupted Dick. ‘I have a little score to settle with him, I admit; but what I am now saying has nothing to do with that. When last at the Point, I bowled out Mr. Simpkins-Thompson; the fellow is a Russian Jew, for all his posing as a Tory John Bull. This may appear trivial to others; to me, taken in conjunction with other matters that have lately come under my eyes, it has a big significance.’
Further startled by this new development, Cameron snatched like a drowning man at a straw.
‘But, Dick, the Government are fortifying Point Parker, and have given Zenski the contract for the earthwork. Surely they are not so blind?’
‘So far as Zenski is concerned, as bats!’ sneered Dick. ‘They are the high-priests of capital, and Count Zenski has laid too big offerings on its shrine in connection with the Queensland railway contracts for them to dream of doubting so good a customer.’
‘Dick, you are unjust! McLoskie has his faults, but you go too far.’
‘Hold your own opinion, sir, and I will do the same,’ retorted Dick; ‘all I ask is that you say nothing of this conversation, for, even if it all comes out as I say, Count Zenski and others may have time to make it unpleasantly warm for me in the law courts before the dénouement. Afterwards, none of us need hope for much quarter, if, as I suspect, they will use Asiatics for the invasion.’
During the discussion Ted and Ewan had smoked on in silence. On Johnson, Dick’s remarks had little effect; he had heard some of them before, and rather looked on Hatten as slightly ‘cracked’ on the subject. On the Scotchman, however, they made a deep impression; for, apart from Hatten’s evident convictions, they were in great part a reflex of what he had just heard at the Fort, and now, summing up the matter, he came to the conclusion that much more lay behind them than his uncle would admit.
‘What do you think about it, Ewan?’ said Cameron as he put his pipe away and turned to go into the house.
‘It reminds me a wee bit about Pompeii,’ drawled the Scotchman. ‘I think we might do worse than move out of reach of the eruption, uncle.’
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 168-173