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Chapter 24

There is no such thing as "the Queen's English." The property has gone
into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the
shares!
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

Frequently, in Australia, one has cloud-effects of an unfamiliar sort.
We had this kind of scenery, finely staged, all the way to Ballarat.
Consequently we saw more sky than country on that journey. At one time a
great stretch of the vault was densely flecked with wee ragged-edged
flakes of painfully white cloud-stuff, all of one shape and size, and
equidistant apart, with narrow cracks of adorable blue showing between.
The whole was suggestive of a hurricane of snow-flakes drifting across
the skies. By and by these flakes fused themselves together in
interminable lines, with shady faint hollows between the lines, the long
satin-surfaced rollers following each other in simulated movement, and
enchantingly counterfeiting the majestic march of a flowing sea. Later,
the sea solidified itself; then gradually broke up its mass into
innumerable lofty white pillars of about one size, and ranged these
across the firmament, in receding and fading perspective, in the
similitude of a stupendous colonnade--a mirage without a doubt flung from
the far Gates of the Hereafter.

The approaches to Ballarat were beautiful. The features, great green
expanses of rolling pasture-land, bisected by eye contenting hedges of
commingled new-gold and old-gold gorse--and a lovely lake. One must put
in the pause, there, to fetch the reader up with a slight jolt, and keep
him from gliding by without noticing the lake. One must notice it; for a
lovely lake is not as common a thing along the railways of Australia as
are the dry places. Ninety-two in the shade again, but balmy and
comfortable, fresh and bracing. A perfect climate.

Forty-five years ago the site now occupied by the City of Ballarat was a
sylvan solitude as quiet as Eden and as lovely. Nobody had ever heard of
it. On the 25th of August, 1851, the first great gold-strike made in
Australia was made here. The wandering prospectors who made it scraped
up two pounds and a half of gold the first day-worth $600. A few days
later the place was a hive--a town. The news of the strike spread
everywhere in a sort of instantaneous way--spread like a flash to the
very ends of the earth. A celebrity so prompt and so universal has
hardly been paralleled in history, perhaps. It was as if the name
BALLARAT had suddenly been written on the sky, where all the world could
read it at once.

The smaller discoveries made in the colony of New South Wales three
months before had already started emigrants toward Australia; they had
been coming as a stream, but they came as a flood, now. A hundred
thousand people poured into Melbourne from England and other countries in
a single month, and flocked away to the mines. The crews of the ships
that brought them flocked with them; the clerks in the government offices
followed; so did the cooks, the maids, the coachmen, the butlers, and the
other domestic servants; so did the carpenters, the smiths, the plumbers,
the painters, the reporters, the editors, the lawyers, the clients, the
barkeepers, the bummers, the blacklegs, the thieves, the loose women, the
grocers, the butchers, the bakers, the doctors, the druggists, the
nurses; so did the police; even officials of high and hitherto envied
place threw up their positions and joined the procession. This roaring
avalanche swept out of Melbourne and left it desolate, Sunday-like,
paralyzed, everything at a stand-still, the ships lying idle at anchor,
all signs of life departed, all sounds stilled save the rasping of the
cloud-shadows as they scraped across the vacant streets.

That grassy and leafy paradise at Ballarat was soon ripped open, and
lacerated and scarified and gutted, in the feverish search for its hidden
riches. There is nothing like surface-mining to snatch the graces and
beauties and benignities out of a paradise, and make an odious and
repulsive spectacle of it.

What fortunes were made! Immigrants got rich while the ship unloaded and
reloaded--and went back home for good in the same cabin they had come out
in! Not all of them. Only some. I saw the others in Ballarat myself,
forty-five years later--what were left of them by time and death and the
disposition to rove. They were young and gay, then; they are patriarchal
and grave, now; and they do not get excited any more. They talk of the
Past. They live in it. Their life is a dream, a retrospection.

Ballarat was a great region for "nuggets." No such nuggets were found in
California as Ballarat produced. In fact, the Ballarat region has
yielded the largest ones known to history. Two of them weighed about 180
pounds each, and together were worth $90,000. They were offered to any
poor person who would shoulder them and carry them away. Gold was so
plentiful that it made people liberal like that.

Ballarat was a swarming city of tents in the early days. Everybody was
happy, for a time, and apparently prosperous. Then came trouble. The
government swooped down with a mining tax. And in its worst form, too;
for it was not a tax upon what the miner had taken out, but upon what he
was going to take out--if he could find it. It was a license-tax license
to work his claim--and it had to be paid before he could begin digging.

Consider the situation. No business is so uncertain as surface-mining.
Your claim may be good, and it may be worthless. It may make you well
off in a month; and then again you may have to dig and slave for half a
year, at heavy expense, only to find out at last that the gold is not
there in cost-paying quantity, and that your time and your hard work have
been thrown away. It might be wise policy to advance the miner a monthly
sum to encourage him to develop the country's riches; but to tax him
monthly in advance instead--why, such a thing was never dreamed of in
America. There, neither the claim itself nor its products, howsoever
rich or poor, were taxed.

The Ballarat miners protested, petitioned, complained--it was of no use;
the government held its ground, and went on collecting the tax. And not
by pleasant methods, but by ways which must have been very galling to
free people. The rumblings of a coming storm began to be audible.

By and by there was a result; and I think it may be called the finest
thing in Australasian history. It was a revolution--small in size; but
great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for a
principle, a stand against injustice and oppression. It was the Barons
and John, over again; it was Hampden and Ship-Money; it was Concord and
Lexington; small beginnings, all of them, but all of them great in
political results, all of them epoch-making. It is another instance of a
victory won by a lost battle. It adds an honorable page to history; the
people know it and are proud of it. They keep green the memory of the
men who fell at the Eureka Stockade, and Peter Lalor has his monument.

The surface-soil of Ballarat was full of gold. This soil the miners
ripped and tore and trenched and harried and disembowled, and made it
yield up its immense treasure. Then they went down into the earth with
deep shafts, seeking the gravelly beds of ancient rivers and brooks--and
found them. They followed the courses of these streams, and gutted them,
sending the gravel up in buckets to the upper world, and washing out of
it its enormous deposits of gold. The next biggest of the two monster
nuggets mentioned above came from an old river-channel 180 feet under
ground.

Finally the quartz lodes were attacked. That is not poor-man's mining.
Quartz-mining and milling require capital, and staying-power, and
patience. Big companies were formed, and for several decades, now, the
lodes have been successfully worked, and have yielded great wealth.
Since the gold discovery in 1853 the Ballarat mines--taking the three
kinds of mining together--have contributed to the world's pocket
something over three hundred millions of dollars, which is to say that
this nearly invisible little spot on the earth's surface has yielded
about one-fourth as much gold in forty-four years as all California has
yielded in forty-seven. The Californian aggregate, from 1848 to 1895,
inclusive, as reported by the Statistician of the United States Mint, is
$1,265,215,217.

A citizen told me a curious thing about those mines. With all my
experience of mining I had never heard of anything of the sort before.
The main gold reef runs about north and south--of course for that is the
custom of a rich gold reef. At Ballarat its course is between walls of
slate. Now the citizen told me that throughout a stretch of twelve miles
along the reef, the reef is crossed at intervals by a straight black
streak of a carbonaceous nature--a streak in the slate; a streak no
thicker than a pencil--and that wherever it crosses the reef you will
certainly find gold at the junction. It is called the Indicator. Thirty
feet on each side of the Indicator (and down in the slate, of course) is
a still finer streak--a streak as fine as a pencil mark; and indeed, that
is its name Pencil Mark. Whenever you find the Pencil Mark you know that
thirty feet from it is the Indicator; you measure the distance, excavate,
find the Indicator, trace it straight to the reef, and sink your shaft;
your fortune is made, for certain. If that is true, it is curious. And
it is curious anyway.

Ballarat is a town of only 40,000 population; and yet, since it is in
Australia, it has every essential of an advanced and enlightened big
city. This is pure matter of course. I must stop dwelling upon these
things. It is hard to keep from dwelling upon them, though; for it is
difficult to get away from the surprise of it. I will let the other
details go, this time, but I must allow myself to mention that this
little town has a park of 326 acres; a flower garden of 83 acres, with an
elaborate and expensive fernery in it and some costly and unusually fine
statuary; and an artificial lake covering 600 acres, equipped with a
fleet of 200 shells, small sail boats, and little steam yachts.

At this point I strike out some other praiseful things which I was
tempted to add. I do not strike them out because they were not true or
not well said, but because I find them better said by another man--and a
man more competent to testify, too, because he belongs on the ground, and
knows. I clip them from a chatty speech delivered some years ago by Mr.
William Little, who was at that time mayor of Ballarat:

"The language of our citizens, in this as in other parts of
Australasia, is mostly healthy Anglo-Saxon, free from Americanisms,
vulgarisms, and the conflicting dialects of our Fatherland, and is
pure enough to suit a Trench or a Latham. Our youth, aided by
climatic influence, are in point of physique and comeliness
unsurpassed in the Sunny South. Our young men are well ordered; and
our maidens, 'not stepping over the bounds of modesty,' are as fair
as Psyches, dispensing smiles as charming as November flowers."

The closing clause has the seeming of a rather frosty compliment, but
that is apparent only, not real. November is summer-time there.

His compliment to the local purity of the language is warranted. It is
quite free from impurities; this is acknowledged far and wide. As in the
German Empire all cultivated people claim to speak Hanovarian German, so
in Australasia all cultivated people claim to speak Ballarat English.
Even in England this cult has made considerable progress, and now that it
is favored by the two great Universities, the time is not far away when
Ballarat English will come into general use among the educated classes of
Great Britain at large. Its great merit is, that it is shorter than
ordinary English--that is, it is more compressed. At first you have some
difficulty in understanding it when it is spoken as rapidly as the orator
whom I have quoted speaks it. An illustration will show what I mean.
When he called and I handed him a chair, he bowed and said:

"Q."

Presently, when we were lighting our cigars, he held a match to mine and
I said:

"Thank you," and he said:

"Km."

Then I saw. 'Q' is the end of the phrase "I thank you" 'Km' is the end
of the phrase "You are welcome." Mr. Little puts no emphasis upon either
of them, but delivers them so reduced that they hardly have a sound. All
Ballarat English is like that, and the effect is very soft and pleasant;
it takes all the hardness and harshness out of our tongue and gives to it
a delicate whispery and vanishing cadence which charms the ear like the
faint rustling of the forest leaves.

Mark Twain