Derek Cabell glared round at the ramshackle buildings of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement. His gesture of impatience, failing even to startle the dog, which slept on with its nose to its tail, or the ...
Derek Cabell glared round at the ramshackle buildings of the
Moreton Bay Penal Settlement. His gesture of impatience, failing
even to startle the dog, which slept on with its nose to its tail,
or the drowsy horse he had tethered to his boot, only confirmed his
deep sense of personal futility.
Red earth and blue sky met in the jagged line of a near horizon.
In the middle of this vault stood the settlement--a prison within a
prison. Shanties built of black bark twisted by the fierce sun,
with crazy-shaped doors and glassless windows. Jail and barracks
of stone. A yellow stone windmill. A long, dusty, empty street.
Sheep, a few cows, pigs, wide patches of yellow Indian corn. At
one side of the valley a river shimmered in the sunlight; at each
end of the valley the bush. Into illimitable blue distance it
faded, across unexplored mountains and plains, grey, motionless and
His eyes screwed up against the harsh light, his boyish features
matted in lines of discontent, Cabell sat on the side of the road
and bitterly compared this crude scene with an image of his native
Dorset village. The violence with which he beat at the flies
buzzing in a black cloud round his face and neck revealed the
intensity of his feelings.
A detachment of soldiers and yellow-clad convicts approached from
the other end of the street as though upon air. Only the rattle of
a chain here and there was to be heard, for the dust was inches
thick and soft as powder. It rose in clouds from their feet and
cast a smoky shadow on the ground.
With undisguised contempt Cabell watched the detachment go by.
There were men of all sizes, in every stage of decrepitude.
Shuffling feet, round shoulders, faces prematurely aged by sun,
hard work and under-nourishment. The soldiers' uniforms were
unbuttoned and dirty. Dust and sweat mixed in the lines of their
withered faces. Of the convicts few were unmarked by disease or
mishap. The scarlet rash of poisoned blood covered their arms like
long gloves. Black stumps of teeth showed through their lax
mouths. Legs dragged heavily that had been broken and badly set.
Hands lacked fingers. And bitten deeply into all, convicts and
soldiers alike, was the pockmark of spirits desolated by ennui and
The detachment having halted in the shadow of a stone arch farther
up the street, Cabell turned his attention gloomily to an old man,
with a face like a dried-up orange in colour and texture, who was
lying stretched out under a bullock-dray that had halted in the
middle of the road. Flies were crawling over the old man's face
and exploring his open mouth. But Deaf Mickey Moran, Mickey the
Shellback, who had seen twenty years of life in her Majesty's great
jailyard, Australia, who had been starved, ironed, flogged, frozen
and sunstruck while his skin had become a nerveless, calloused
hide, was not likely to lose any sleep for a few flies. (Had there
not been a time when he had eaten flies and been glad of them?) He
slept with his face in the dust and snored like a pig.
Cabell called the old man: "Mickey! Wake up, confound you." He
spoke in a petulant way, and when the old man did not move, his
full, red lower lip thrust out like a spoiled child's. "I'll wake
you up," he muttered, and, seizing a stick from the ground, threw
it with all his strength at the old man's head. It ricocheted off
the bony skull and hit the dog sleeping behind him. The dog
Mickey opened his eyes and looked at the dog. "What's wrong with
ye?" he grumbled at it. "Lie down."
"Mickey Moran," Cabell said, venting his bottled-up feelings on the
old man, "why don't you answer when I call you?"
Mickey turned the lobe of an enormous ear with the tips of fingers
that seemed to be wearing away with labour. "Master?"
"How many?" Cabell shouted, pointing up the street. "How many have
they got to do?"