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station life 10

hard back book extract


The New Chum in the Country

The kitchen, as a rule, in all well-ordered stations is erected entirely separate from the rest of the house, though sometimes connected by a covered gangway. The arrangements is a good one, as the smell of cooking is banished to its own proper realms, the danger of fire to the house itself is lessened, and the servants have thereby their own quarters where they may feel at ease.

Our meals on a sheep-station are of a substantial character, not necessitating any great proficiency in the cuisine. Mutton is of course omnipresent on a sheep-station, – at breakfast in the shape of chops, at lunch in the form of cold joints, and at dinner at the end of the day as a hot leg, shoulder or the like. One colonial friend used to have his six mutton-chops as regularly as clockwork for breakfast, and then be off for the whole day, riding till sundown, when he would again line the inner man with deep intakings of shoulder or leg.

On the next station to us is pretty well the same all the year round, but on this the presence of a lady and a Chinaman have created greater variety. In the train of the squatter’s wife come such luxuries and delusions as pastry, puddings, and preserves, and the beneficent Chinaman employed as a gardener brings in fresh ‘wegetables’ every day from his continuously irrigated plot of garden-ground.

You would think that here, at any rate, where climate and occupation are so wholesome, dyspepsia should not raise its horrid head; but the universal bolting of his meals causes many a bushman to feel that ‘tightness across the chest’ and many of its consequent results which assail Alderman Jones after his luxurious indigestible dinner at the club. Colonials boast of fast feeding, and say that a slow feeder is a slow worker, and that the converse holds true. There is no doubt, too, that a fast feeder should be a fast worker, for if he be consistent he must feel the necessity of cramming as much as possible into a life inevitably curtailed by his mode of eating. There is no doubt, too, that most colonials eat too much meat, considering the hot climate that they mostly enjoy. Were meat dearer than 2d. or 3d. a pound, fever and dysentery, nature’s modes of throwing off the excess of fibrin, would be less known. But as long as you can get a joint for a shilling or so, and a good piece of beef near a cattle neighbourhood for a few pence a pound, so long will this concentrated and heating form of nutriment be favoured.

Where so many kangaroos are about, ’tis passing strange that the famous kangaroo-tail soup is not more often seen on the table. How the city gourmet would smack his lips over the thick, glutinous, opalescent liquid that this caudal appendage produces; but prejudice runs high amongst many folk out here against eating any part of such vermin, not because the beasts are bad feeders, for they feed as daintily as sheep, but in that they are ‘vermin’.

Game and ducks abound in some places, but in common with pigeons and wild turkeys, which are considered delicacies, are not often obtainable; for, unless on a Sunday, or during the slack season after the wool crop has been gathered, no one has time to go ‘fooling around wit a gun’ after birds.

I fancy that the best way to give you an insight into the station-life as it appears to an outsider (and in this it makes but little pretence to deception) is to sketch out for you a week’s occupations. If you begin with a Monday you will be bale to appreciate the rest of the Sabbath at the end as much as one does in reality in the bush. ‘Tis a fine clear winter morning, perhaps a slight frost on the ground, just enough to make you feel that the cold bath is more a matter of duty than a pleasure, if so that the water supply extends to such a luxury.

Breakfast over, and an unlimited number of muttonchops consumed, we wander out to the stables, a motley group, ready for the day’s joys and trials. A fine set of horses stand fishing their breakfasts in the stalls. Aye, but you ought to have been here before breakfast, and seen them being raced-in from the horse-paddock, overshooting the mark, breaking back, and playing such pranks as made their respective owners, who formed a posse comitatus in their rear, ejaculate adjectives ad adverbs.

If you are a visitor, the groom will clean down your horse and see to your saddle-girths and so on, but if you are going to stop any time you will have to take to the currycomb and brush as you did to a brush and comb in your schoolboy days, from a sense of necessity; and should the groom be a ‘black boy’, you had best see to your saddle and girths yourself, for here a loose strap may mean serious mischief should it chance to slip at a critical moment.

It is a cheering sight to see; the squatter himself, with his cheery face and Bedford cords bestriding his steed, the pick of the lot – for what is the good of being ‘boss’ without the perquisites? – the overseer and one or two boundary riders are receiving their final instructions for the day, surrounded by a regular mob of kangaroo-hounds and sheep or cattle-dogs, all testifying in a somewhat noisy though sincere manner their joy at the opening of another day’s work.

“Now come along,” says “the boss”, as the station-hands often call him, “we’ve got to clear a paddock before lunch some five miles square and ten miles off, and so we must be getting along! Jump up!”

“Oh, it’s very well to say ‘jump up’, but the plaguy horse commences to start before ever I’ve got my foot in the stirrup.”

At a later stage of the book he continues………………………

“Out here in the bush we get up early,” says our friend as we go to bed, “and breakfast at six or half-past, so I’ll give you a look in at 5.30.” As he is living alone in this bliss of bachelorhood, next morning sees a motley group at the breakfast table in deshabille. Here we are in the land of beef. This is the piece de resistance; bread, tea or coffee, and molasses afford us all alike a varied bill of fare. “Quantity without variety.” Says the station-owner, “but just you lay in enough of that molasses and you’ll grow as fat as an agricultural show pig.’

Our servant is a veritable specimen of an up-country domestic. Her resources are small, her cooking appliances few in number, her kitchen but a shed of galvanised iron, her range a couple of fire-bars over a wood fire, “but you have yet to see what she can turn out in the culinary way,” says the station-owner. “We draw the line at fricassees, but I know not why, for I do believe the woman could make an ice-pudding out of the material for plum duff and a little cold water, so natty is she.”

One does not know what difficulties bush-servant copes with until, as happened once to me, a servant leaves unexpectedly, before another has time to supply her place.

The camp-oven, a species of baking saucepan on legs, is hardly the most satisfactory utensil wherein to cook one’s first batch of bread or joint. At first one suffers the same vituperation at one’s friend’s hands as King Alfred did for the burnt cakes, or the plaguy thing gets into the obstinate state of being ‘half-cooked’ when it takes a poker to send a lump of the article down one’s throat, and makes one wish rather to eschew than chew amateur cooking. Meat killed in the morning gets tainted or blown before dinnertime, and somehow it does not appear to add to one’s relish to find a jumper or two on one’s plate. Or, again, leavings one article, to run down the paddock to and bring up the horses to water, may cause its being cooked in such an erratic fashion that, like a celebrated dish I still remember with grief, it might require being thrice cooked, and then may not have arrived at that blissful maturity called ‘done’. I wot of certain suet dumplings, which, instead of having a consistency called firm and light, they could have been safely thrown against a wall with the certainty that they would stick there. The boss on that occasion was suffering from dysenterical fever, and was cured effectually by eating one – not of his taste for dumplings, as a jealous friend asserts, but of his complaint. The process of cooking under the outback sun, with a blazing hot fire in front, a blazing hot sun above, and a hot walk of some yards to the homestead, has all the subtracting effect of the Turkish bath with none of its luxuries.

And later……………

A favourite pastime among some colonial bushmen is to have flea races. At evening, when they draw near the fire with pipe in mouth, they resort to the intellectual recreation of sticking up little twigs in front of the fire, one before each man. The little parasite, drawn out by the genial heat, that first mounts the stick of its pristine accommodator, wins for him the pool, whatever it may be. The dizzy height of intellect one must aspire to, and the constant strain of brain-force required for excellence in this pastime, has prevented its attaining the popularity it otherwise should have, for when a lucky player has success he must immediately throw the sick in the fire.”

And later…………..

Another curious subject to notice in the hotel management of the colonies is, that owing to various causes often to be traced to the hosts pocket, you may find the sum of half-a-crown will both supply you with a banquet that does the cook and her patrons credit, with the accompaniments of plate, glass, flowers, etc. around you, and will also be charged for any meal you may have at a ‘bush’ tavern with stockmen, coach-drivers, and shepherds around, all intent on putting themselves outside some tough mutton or salt beef, which not improbably each man has to cut with his own knife, followed mayhap with a pasty (very much so) containing those apple chips whose presence tides over many a difficulty in the bush menu.

I have known meat up-country so tough that the diners found a relief in the occasional mastication of a skewer, and as for bread you may likewise have it of all sorts. There are some loaves which to this day rise up in judgement against me and sit heavy on my conscience whenever I think of the golden opinions and large consumption their lightness and good flavour won for them, and as for sitting heavily they were content to leave one’s conscience alone and locate themselves on a more material portion of the human organization.”