[Editor: This short story, by T. J. Cunningham, was published in Recreation (New York, NY, USA), May 1904.]
T. J. Cunningham.
Six of the niggers had been to the camp that afternoon, headed by their chief, Paddy, and with many grimaces and gestures had made known the fact that “plenty fellah turkey set down long a’ libber” near their camp. Hugh Smith was not surprised, therefore, when about 4 o’clock his mate, Charlie Field, tossed his pick on the bank and remarked that he would try to pick up a few turkeys, as their supply of meat was low. The camp was pitched a short stone’s throw from their claim, and securing his gun and a few cartridges, Field was soon picking his way through the dense bush toward the river.
Hugh continued working about an hour; then, filling the billy can with water, he put it over the fire to boil for tea.
Hugh had given Field’s absence scarcely a thought, but when supper was ready his mate had not returned and he became anxious. The sun had gone down, and this, in Australia, is of great moment to the traveler, for with the setting of the sun complete darkness reigns. There is no twilight in this most peculiar of countries. Placing his hands to his mouth to form a megaphone, Hugh sent the Australian coo-ee ringing through the bush. Several times he repeated it, but received no answering call. He therefore ate his lonely meal, and when bedtime arrived, receiving no answer to his repeated calls, went to sleep.
The sun had already filtered through the thick bush the next morning when Hugh started in search of his partner, climbing the track which led up from the creek over steep and dangerous pinches to the main diggings 7 miles away.
After leaving camp, Field had followed the track which led to the river. Numerous cockatoos and parrots clattered along the way, but always remained out of gunshot. In about an hour he thought he must be near the river, and was preparing to descend an unusually steep slope, when, right below him, he saw a turkey dart across the track. Another, and several more followed and disappeared in a thick growth of stinging tree. To get down the slope quietly required care, but Field accomplished it, although several times he narrowly escaped dislodging loose stones which only needed the slightest touch to send them rolling among the game below.
The turkeys, ignorant of danger, were feeding on lawyer berries, which were plentiful at that season. A plump hen had just hopped on the trunk of a fallen tree and offered a tempting target. The first shot brought her to the ground, and as the other turkeys rose with a great fluttering of wings to the trees overhead, Field shot an immense gobbler, slightly wounding him. Disregarding the other turkeys, he lined the gobbler until he saw him alight in a large gum tree some distance in the bush. Quickly reloading both barrels, Field followed on the trail of the wounded bird, taking the dead hen with him.
The bush was particularly dense in that locality, and while it completely screened him from the game, he had great difficulty in getting through it. He finally reached a point favorable for a shot, and cautiously raised his gun to take aim, but his foot caught in a creeping vine, throwing him to the ground and discharging his gun. He regained his feet in time to see the turkey fluttering into another tree several hundred feet away. The remaining shell in his gun was his last, and not wishing to lose the bird, which he knew he had already wounded, he continued the chase.
When he next got within range he was at a disadvantage, as the tree grew on the side of a steep spur and the turkey had perched in the topmost branches. Taking careful aim, Field fired, bringing the bird to the ground badly wounded but still able to hop away into the bush. Had the undergrowth been only moderately dense, the chase would have quickly ended, but favored by the tangled mass of vines, the turkey led Field a long chase before it finally became exhausted and allowed him to catch and kill it.
Field then started to retrace his steps. So engrossed had he been in the chase that he had not heeded the lateness of the hour, and night was rapidly coming on. Before he had gone far it had become so dark that he could not discern objects a few feet away. Realizing that he could not return to camp until daylight, he set about hunting a spot where he could lie down for the night. At the moment he was standing in a thick patch of swordbush, prickly lawyer and stinging tree, which precluded lying down. Advancing cautiously in search of a clearing, he had gone but a few steps, when the ground crumbled away suddenly and Field plunged headlong into space.
When Hugh arrived at the main diggings, he had no difficulty in getting a party of the miners to join him in a search for his lost mate. Taking with them a native, known as a “black-tracker,” they started back over the trail to Hugh’s camp. There, “Sunday,” the native, was given the lead. Taking the trail where Field left the camp, he was off like a bloodhound on the scent. Up to the point where Field had first sighted the turkey, the aborigine followed the regular track unhesitatingly, only once or twice stopping a second where Field had wandered from the track. As the party reached the summit of the slope which Field had descended the previous evening, the native dropped on his hands and knees and carefully examined the ground. Suddenly he straightened up, and holding out the palm of his hand, displayed a little roll of partly burned tobacco.
“One fellah Charlie no finish smok’. Empty pipe clos’ up here, quick fellah.”
That was the native’s way of telling the others that Field had, on first sight of the game, stopped smoking and possibly shaken out the contents of his pipe.
The tracker descended the slope, carefully watching the ground and the bush on either hand. Coming to the point whence Field had first fired, he plunged directly into the bush. It was then plain sailing for the native. One can not pass through the thick bush of tropical Queensland without bending or breaking numerous vines or bushes that impede his progress. To the native this disturbed undergrowth was as plain as so many tracks in the snow.
Making his way directly to the fallen tree where Field had shot the first turkey, he pointed to where the scattering shots had ripped up the bark; then examining the grass closely a moment, jerked out, “Catch him one fellah turkey here.”
He jumped over the prostrate tree, and led the way deeper into the bush, the miners having difficulty in keeping him in sight, so rapidly did he pass through the tangled brush. For about half an hour they traveled in that manner, the trail, toward the end, twisting and turning in every direction. Suddenly the nigger stopped and held up his hand with the exclamation, “What name!” This is the native English for “What is that?” None of the party had heard any sound to arrest their attention while breaking through the bush, but then all listened intently. A faint cry for help reached their ears, coming from a point immediately to the left. With one accord they rushed in the direction of the sound, in their excitement tearing their hands and clothing, with the sharp sword grass and lawyer vines. A cry from Hugh, who was in the lead, checked them in their headlong rush. He had barely escaped falling over a steep bluff, the brink of which had been hidden from view by the thick bush. Parting the bushes, the searchers peered down on a most unusual sight. The sides of the bluff went straight down to a depth of 30 feet, ending in a fairly level terrace, thickly covered with lawyer and stinging tree. Tightly imprisoned in a giant lawyer bush, its thorn-covered vines wound round and round him, was Hugh’s lost mate.
The tracker was not long in finding a point at which they could descend to the terrace below. Five minutes later, sturdy arms had cut the wirelike vines and extricated Field from his terrible position. He had fainted before they could release him, and little wonder, as it was an hour past noon, and he had lain in that position since the previous evening, with his arm broken by the fall.
The rough miner of Australia has many times had to act the part of surgeon, and when Field opened his eyes it was not so much the effect of the whisky which Hugh had forced down his throat, as the pain caused by 2 of the diggers in roughly setting his broken arm. In a remarkably short time they had the injured member bound with splints. Although weak and still suffering intense pain, Field was able to give the party an account of his accident, while the native started a fire and boiled the billy.
When Field fell over the bluff, his foot had caught in some vines, throwing him head foremost, and he had landed on his left shoulder in the center of the lawyer bush, breaking his arm and frightfully lacerating his face and hands. With his right hand he attempted to free himself, but at every move the octopus-like vines wound tighter and tighter about him, until he was pinioned fast. In this way he passed the night, twice fainting from the pain and horror of his position. When daylight came, he made frantic calls for help, but with little hope of being heard, as the position in which he lay prevented his voice penetrating far, even should anyone be in that locality. Had not his faithful mate been so prompt in making a search, the dangerous vine would surely have held a corpse before the sun had set.
After all hands had eaten their lunch of damper and tea, they rigged a rude stretcher of saplings and carried the injured miner back over the long, tedious trail to the main camp. A week later he was taken on horseback to Geraldton, where, at the hospital, he received proper medical attendance, until he was able to return to the bush.
Recreation (New York, NY, USA), May 1904, pp. 345, 347
Recreation was an American monthly magazine, which was the “official organ of the League of American Sportsmen”.
billy = a metal pot or tin (usually with a wire or steel handle), used for boiling water over a camp fire (also known as a “billy can”)
billy can = [see: billy]
black-tracker = an Aboriginal tracker (especially one working for the police), commonly used for tracking down criminals and missing persons in the bush
coo-ee = a prolonged call used by Australian Aborigines to attract attention; the call of “coo-ee” was adopted by Europeans in Australia (spelt “coo-ee”, “cooee”, and “coo-ey”)
damper = a flat round cake which is made from flour and water (without yeast or any raising agent), which is baked in the coals and ashes of a campfire; the dough for damper cakes
game = any wild animal hunted for food, for animal products, for recreation or sporting, or for trophies (can also refer to the meat of those animals, regarding food)
hand = a labourer, a worker (especially a manual worker, e.g. a farm hand, a factory hand); an employee; an agent; a servant; a member of a crew or a staff, especially one whose work generally comprises of physical labour or hard work carried out with the strength of one’s hands (e.g. a sailor, such as used in the phrase “all hands on deck”); can also refer to: someone who is skilled at a job or task (e.g. an old hand at the business)
lawyer berries = the berries of the Coprosma robusta (also known as “Karamu”), a species of flowering plant (native to New Zealand, but also introduced into Australia)
See: 1) “Coprosma robusta”, New Zealand Plant Conservation Network
2) “Karamu (Coprosma robusta)”, Victorian Resources Online (Agriculture Victoria) [“present in Tasmania and Victoria”]
3) “Can you eat bush lawyer berries?”, Users Questions, 22 August 2021
4) “Coprosma robusta”, Wikipedia
nigger = a black person; someone of black African racial background; in an historical Australian context, “nigger” could refer to 1) an Australian Aborigine, 2) a Pacific Islander, also known as a kanaka, 3) someone of black African racial origin, also known as a negro, or 4) someone of black Central Asian racial origin, such as people from India (“nigger” is usually regarded as a derogatory term, except that it was often used as a neutral term in historical practice, and except when used by or between people of a black racial background)
pinioned = to have secured, tied, bound, or confined a person’s arms (from “pinion”, referring to a bird’s wing)
[Editor: Changed “with water” to “with water,” (added a comma).]