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Chapter 14

We can secure other people's approval, if we do right and try hard; but
our own is worth a hundred of it, and no way has been found out of
securing that.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

My health had broken down in New York in May; it had remained in a
doubtful but fairish condition during a succeeding period of 82 days; it
broke again on the Pacific. It broke again in Sydney, but not until
after I had had a good outing, and had also filled my lecture
engagements. This latest break lost me the chance of seeing Queensland.
In the circumstances, to go north toward hotter weather was not
advisable.

So we moved south with a westward slant, 17 hours by rail to the capital
of the colony of Victoria, Melbourne--that juvenile city of sixty years,
and half a million inhabitants. On the map the distance looked small;
but that is a trouble with all divisions of distance in such a vast
country as Australia. The colony of Victoria itself looks small on the
map--looks like a county, in fact--yet it is about as large as England,
Scotland, and Wales combined. Or, to get another focus upon it, it is
just 80 times as large as the state of Rhode Island, and one-third as
large as the State of Texas.

Outside of Melbourne, Victoria seems to be owned by a handful of
squatters, each with a Rhode Island for a sheep farm. That is the
impression which one gathers from common talk, yet the wool industry of
Victoria is by no means so great as that of New South Wales. The climate
of Victoria is favorable to other great industries--among others,
wheat-growing and the making of wine.

We took the train at Sydney at about four in the afternoon. It was
American in one way, for we had a most rational sleeping car; also the
car was clean and fine and new--nothing about it to suggest the rolling
stock of the continent of Europe. But our baggage was weighed, and extra
weight charged for. That was continental. Continental and troublesome.
Any detail of railroading that is not troublesome cannot honorably be
described as continental.

The tickets were round-trip ones--to Melbourne, and clear to Adelaide in
South Australia, and then all the way back to Sydney. Twelve hundred
more miles than we really expected to make; but then as the round trip
wouldn't cost much more than the single trip, it seemed well enough to
buy as many miles as one could afford, even if one was not likely to need
them. A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing
than he needs.

Now comes a singular thing: the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the
most baffling and unaccountable marvel that Australasia can show. At the
frontier between New South Wales and Victoria our multitude of passengers
were routed out of their snug beds by lantern-light in the morning in the
biting-cold of a high altitude to change cars on a road that has no break
in it from Sydney to Melbourne! Think of the paralysis of intellect that
gave that idea birth; imagine the boulder it emerged from on some
petrified legislator's shoulders.

It is a narrow-gage road to the frontier, and a broader gauge thence to
Melbourne. The two governments were the builders of the road and are the
owners of it. One or two reasons are given for this curious state of
things. One is, that it represents the jealousy existing between the
colonies--the two most important colonies of Australasia. What the other
one is, I have forgotten. But it is of no consequence. It could be but
another effort to explain the inexplicable.

All passengers fret at the double-gauge; all shippers of freight must of
course fret at it; unnecessary expense, delay, and annoyance are imposed
upon everybody concerned, and no one is benefitted.

Each Australian colony fences itself off from its neighbor with a
custom-house. Personally, I have no objection, but it must be a good
deal of inconvenience to the people. We have something resembling it
here and there in America, but it goes by another name. The large empire
of the Pacific coast requires a world of iron machinery, and could
manufacture it economically on the spot if the imposts on foreign iron
were removed. But they are not. Protection to Pennsylvania and Alabama
forbids it. The result to the Pacific coast is the same as if there were
several rows of custom-fences between the coast and the East. Iron
carted across the American continent at luxurious railway rates would be
valuable enough to be coined when it arrived.

We changed cars. This was at Albury. And it was there, I think, that
the growing day and the early sun exposed the distant range called the
Blue Mountains. Accurately named. "My word!" as the Australians say,
but it was a stunning color, that blue. Deep, strong, rich, exquisite;
towering and majestic masses of blue--a softly luminous blue, a
smouldering blue, as if vaguely lit by fires within. It extinguished the
blue of the sky--made it pallid and unwholesome, whitey and washed-out.
A wonderful color--just divine.

A resident told me that those were not mountains; he said they were
rabbit-piles. And explained that long exposure and the over-ripe
condition of the rabbits was what made them look so blue. This man may
have been right, but much reading of books of travel has made me
distrustful of gratis information furnished by unofficial residents of a
country. The facts which such people give to travelers are usually
erroneous, and often intemperately so. The rabbit-plague has indeed been
very bad in Australia, and it could account for one mountain, but not for
a mountain range, it seems to me. It is too large an order.

We breakfasted at the station. A good breakfast, except the coffee; and
cheap. The Government establishes the prices and placards them. The
waiters were men, I think; but that is not usual in Australasia. The
usual thing is to have girls. No, not girls, young ladies--generally
duchesses. Dress? They would attract attention at any royal levee in
Europe. Even empresses and queens do not dress as they do. Not that
they could not afford it, perhaps, but they would not know how.

All the pleasant morning we slid smoothly along over the plains, through
thin--not thick--forests of great melancholy gum trees, with trunks
rugged with curled sheets of flaking bark--erysipelas convalescents, so
to speak, shedding their dead skins. And all along were tiny cabins,
built sometimes of wood, sometimes of gray-blue corrugated iron; and
the doorsteps and fences were clogged with children--rugged little
simply-clad chaps that looked as if they had been imported from the
banks of the Mississippi without breaking bulk.

And there were little villages, with neat stations well placarded with
showy advertisements--mainly of almost too self-righteous brands of
"sheepdip." If that is the name--and I think it is. It is a stuff like
tar, and is dabbed on to places where the shearer clips a piece out of
the sheep. It bars out the flies, and has healing properties, and a nip
to it which makes the sheep skip like the cattle on a thousand hills. It
is not good to eat. That is, it is not good to eat except when mixed
with railroad coffee. It improves railroad coffee. Without it railroad
coffee is too vague. But with it, it is quite assertive and
enthusiastic. By itself, railroad coffee is too passive; but sheep-dip
makes it wake up and get down to business. I wonder where they get
railroad coffee?

We saw birds, but not a kangaroo, not an emu, not an ornithorhynchus, not
a lecturer, not a native. Indeed, the land seemed quite destitute of
game. But I have misused the word native. In Australia it is applied to
Australian-born whites only. I should have said that we saw no
Aboriginals--no "blackfellows." And to this day I have never seen one.
In the great museums you will find all the other curiosities, but in the
curio of chiefest interest to the stranger all of them are lacking. We
have at home an abundance of museums, and not an American Indian in them.
It is clearly an absurdity, but it never struck me before.

Mark Twain