Following the Equator

by Mark Twain

Chapter XIX.

Pity is for the living, Envy is for the dead. --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

The successor of the sheet- iron hamlet of the mangrove marshes has that other Australian specialty, the Botanical Gardens. We cannot have these paradises. The best we could do would be to cover a vast acreage under glass and apply steam heat. But it would be inadequate, the lacks would still be so great: the confined sense, the sense of suffocation, the atmospheric dimness, the sweaty heat- these would all be there, in place of the Australian openness to the sky, the sunshine and the breeze. Whatever will grow under glass with us will flourish rampantly out of doors in Australia.--[The greatest heat in Victoria, that there is an authoritative record of, was at Sandhurst, in January, 1862. The thermometer then registered 117 degrees in the shade. In January, 1880, the heat at Adelaide, South Australia, was 172 degrees in the sun.]

When the white man came the continent was nearly as poor, in variety of vegetation, as the desert of Sahara; now it has everything that grows on the earth. In fact, not Australia only, but all Australasia has levied tribute upon the flora of the rest of the world; and wherever one goes the results appear, in gardens private and public, in the woodsy walls of the highways, and in even the forests. If you see a curious or beautiful tree or bush or flower, and ask about it, the people, answering, usually name a foreign country as the place of its origin- India, Africa, Japan, China, England, America, Java, Sumatra, New Guinea, Polynesia, and so on.

In the Zoological Gardens of Adelaide I saw the only laughing jackass that ever showed any disposition to be courteous to me. This one opened his head wide and laughed like a demon; or like a maniac who was consumed with humorous scorn over a cheap and degraded pun. It was a very human laugh. If he had been out of sight I could have believed that the laughter came from a man. It is an odd- looking bird, with a head and beak that are much too large for its body. In time man will exterminate the rest of the wild creatures of Australia, but this one will probably survive, for man is his friend and lets him alone. Man always has a good reason for his charities towards wild things, human or animal when he has any. In this case the bird is spared because he kills snakes. If L. J. he will not kill all of them.

In that garden I also saw the wild Australian dog- the dingo. He was a beautiful creature- shapely, graceful, a little wolfish in some of his aspects, but with a most friendly eye and sociable disposition. The dingo is not an importation; he was present in great force when the whites first came to the continent. It may be that he is the oldest dog in the universe; his origin, his descent, the place where his ancestors first appeared, are as unknown and as untraceable as are the camel's. He is the most precious dog in the world, for he does not bark. But in an evil hour he got to raiding the sheep- runs to appease his hunger, and that sealed his doom. He is hunted, now, just as if he were a wolf. He has been sentenced to extermination, and the sentence will be carried out. This is all right, and not objectionable. The world was made for man- the white man.

South Australia is confusingly named. All of the colonies have a southern exposure except one- Queensland. Properly speaking, South Australia is middle Australia. It extends straight up through the center of the continent like the middle board in a center- table. It is 2,000 miles high, from south to north, and about a third as wide. A wee little spot down in its southeastern corner contains eight or nine- tenths of its population; the other one or two- tenths are elsewhere- as elsewhere as they could be in the United States with all the country between Denver and Chicago, and Canada and the Gulf of Mexico to scatter over. There is plenty of room.

A telegraph line stretches straight up north through that 2,000 miles of wilderness and desert from Adelaide to Port Darwin on the edge of the upper ocean. South Australia built the line; and did it in 1871-2 when her population numbered only 185,000. It was a great work; for there were no roads, no paths; 1,300 miles of the route had been traversed but once before by white men; provisions, wire, and poles had to be carried over immense stretches of desert; wells had to be dug along the route to supply the men and cattle with water.

A cable had been previously laid from Port Darwin to Java and thence to India, and there was telegraphic communication with England from India. And so, if Adelaide could make connection with Port Darwin it meant connection with the whole world. The enterprise succeeded. One could watch the London markets daily, now; the profit to the wool- growers of Australia was instant and enormous.

A telegram from Melbourne to San Francisco covers approximately 20,000 miles- the equivalent of five- sixths of the way around the globe. It has to halt along the way a good many times and be repeated; still, but little time is lost. These halts, and the distances between them, are here tabulated.--[From "Round the Empire." (George R. Parkin), all but the last two.]


Melbourne- Mount Gambier,.......300 Mount Gambier- Adelaide,........270 Adelaide- Port Augusta,.........200 Port Augusta- Alice Springs...1,036 Alice Springs- Port Darwin,.....898 Port Darwin- Banjoewangie,... 1,150 Banjoewangie- Batavia,..........480 Batavia- Singapore,.............553 Singapore- Penang,..............399 Penang- Madras,...............1,280 Madras- Bombay,.................650 Bombay- Aden,.................1,662 Aden- Suez,...................1,346 Suez- Alexandria,...............224 Alexandria- Malta,..............828 Malta- Gibraltar,.............1,008 Gibraltar- Falmouth,..........1,061 Falmouth- London,...............350 London- New York,.............2,500 New York- San Francisco,......3,500

I was in Adelaide again, some months later, and saw the multitudes gather in the neighboring city of Glenelg to commemorate the Reading of the Proclamation- in 1836--which founded the Province. If I have at any time called it a Colony, I withdraw the discourtesy. It is not a Colony, it is a Province; and officially so. Moreover, it is the only one so named in Australasia. There was great enthusiasm; it was the Province's national holiday, its Fourth of July, so to speak. It is the pre- eminent holiday; and that is saying much, in a country where they seem to have a most un- English mania for holidays. Mainly they are workingmen's holidays; for in South Australia the workingman is sovereign; his vote is the desire of the politician- indeed, it is the very breath of the politician's being; the parliament exists to deliver the will of the workingman, and the government exists to execute it. The workingman is a great power everywhere in Australia, but South Australia is his paradise. He has had a hard time in this world, and has earned a paradise. I am glad he has found it. The holidays there are frequent enough to be bewildering to the stranger. I tried to get the hang of the system, but was not able to do it.

You have seen that the Province is tolerant, religious- wise. It is so politically, also. One of the speakers at the Commemoration banquet- the Minister of Public Works- was an American, born and reared in New England. There is nothing narrow about the Province, politically, or in any other way that I know of. Sixty- four religions and a Yankee cabinet minister. No amount of horse- racing can damn this community.

The mean temperature of the Province is 62 deg. The death- rate is 13 in the 1,000--about half what it is in the city of New York, I should think, and New York is a healthy city. Thirteen is the death- rate for the average citizen of the Province, but there seems to be no death- rate for the old people. There were people at the Commemoration banquet who could remember Cromwell. There were six of them. These Old Settlers had all been present at the original Reading of the Proclamation, in 1536. They showed signs of the blightings and blastings of time, in their outward aspect, but they were young within; young and cheerful, and ready to talk; ready to talk, and talk all you wanted; in their turn, and out of it. They were down for six speeches, and they made 42. The governor and the cabinet and the mayor were down for 42 speeches, and they made 6. They have splendid grit, the Old Settlers, splendid staying power. But they do not hear well, and when they see the mayor going through motions which they recognize as the introducing of a speaker, they think they are the one, and they all get up together, and begin to respond, in the most animated way; and the more the mayor gesticulates, and shouts "Sit down! Sit down!" the more they take it for applause, and the more excited and reminiscent and enthusiastic they get; and next, when they see the whole house laughing and crying, three of them think it is about the bitter old- time hardships they are describing, and the other three think the laughter is caused by the jokes they have been uncorking- jokes of the vintage of 1836--and then the way they do go on! And finally when ushers come and plead, and beg, and gently and reverently crowd them down into their seats, they say, "Oh, I'm not tired- I could bang along a week!" and they sit there looking simple and childlike, and gentle, and proud of their oratory, and wholly unconscious of what is going on at the other end of the room. And so one of the great dignitaries gets a chance, and begins his carefully prepared speech, impressively and with solemnity--

"When we, now great and prosperous and powerful, bow our heads in reverent wonder in the contemplation of those sublimities of energy, of wisdom, of forethought, of----"

Up come the immortal six again, in a body, with a joyous "Hey, I've thought of another one!" and at it they go, with might and main, hearing not a whisper of the pandemonium that salutes them, but taking all the visible violences for applause, as before, and hammering joyously away till the imploring ushers pray them into their seats again. And a pity, too; for those lovely old boys did so enjoy living their heroic youth over, in these days of their honored antiquity; and certainly the things they had to tell were usually worth the telling and the hearing.

It was a stirring spectacle; stirring in more ways than one, for it was amazingly funny, and at the same time deeply pathetic; for they had seen so much, these time- worn veterans, end had suffered so much; and had built so strongly and well, and laid the foundations of their commonwealth so deep, in liberty and tolerance; and had lived to see the structure rise to such state and dignity and hear themselves so praised for honorable work.

One of these old gentlemen told me some things of interest afterward; things about the aboriginals, mainly. He thought them intelligent- remarkably so in some directions- and he said that along with their unpleasant qualities they had some exceedingly good ones; and he considered it a great pity that the race had died out. He instanced their invention of the boomerang and the "weet- weet" as evidences of their brightness; and as another evidence of it he said he had never seen a white man who had cleverness enough to learn to do the miracles with those two toys that the aboriginals achieved. He said that even the smartest whites had been obliged to confess that they could not learn the trick of the boomerang in perfection; that it had possibilities which they could not master. The white man could not control its motions, could not make it obey him; but the aboriginal could. He told me some wonderful things- some almost incredible things- which he had seen the blacks do with the boomerang and the weet- weet. They have been confirmed to me since by other early settlers and by trustworthy books.

It is contended- and may be said to be conceded- that the boomerang was known to certain savage tribes in Europe in Roman times. In support of this, Virgil and two other Roman poets are quoted. It is also contended that it was known to the ancient Egyptians.

One of two things either some one with is then apparent: a boomerang arrived in Australia in the days of antiquity before European knowledge of the thing had been lost, or the Australian aboriginal reinvented it. It will take some time to find out which of these two propositions is the fact. But there is no hurry.

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