© Max O'Rell
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The EucalyptusAUSTRALIA is a vast eucalyptus forest, with a superficial area about equal to that of Europe. Setting aside Queensland, where the vegetation is tropical, the eucalyptus is really the only tree that grows in these regions. In certain parts it attains a prodigious height. I have seen some four hundred feet high, and I measured several that had a circumference equal to that of the famous giants of California. The eucalyptus leaves possess therapeutic properties which science is engaged in utilising, and which make Australia one of the most healthy countries of the world. To cure a cold or to keep off mosquitoes, it is invaluable. As a disinfectant it is without rival; and every one knows how the marshy parts of South Italy have been made healthy by the introduction of this beneficent tree. There are three kinds of eucalyptus, or gum tree, found in Australia, commonly called the red, the blue, and the white gum. The red gum is very hard, and is. used for house building and furniture, and for railway sleepers. The white gum is soft, and serves for little except firewood and fences.
The ClimateFrom the beginning of April to the end of October, Australia enjoys a magnificent climate; but in January, February, and March the heat is suffocating. The thermometer varies between ninety and one hundred and twenty in the shade; and, when the north-west wind blows, the atmosphere becomes so frightfully hot, that if you were to pass out of it into the infernal regions, you would need to take your overcoat with you.
Description of the Bush and its Inhabitants
But what a weird, sad-looking landscape! No bright colours. All is dull and sombre, everything seems to be drooping and mourning. The verdure of the soil and of the trees is more grey than green, without any intensity of colour, and it never changes in appearance. The eucalyptus is not a handsome tree. The leaves, which are long and drooping, half close during the day, and give no shade; the trunk peels every year, and the bark hangs down its sides in strips. The numer-ous branches writhe in despair in all directions. You feel a sentiment of sadness penetrate you at the sight of this vegetation, to which nature has been so niggardly.
Here and there, about the far-stretching landscape, the gum trees have been burned, or killed by means of an incision around the base of the trunk, and the skeletons are there as in a cemetery, where, on each tomb, you might behold a phantom stretching out a hundred gnarled arms. It is the most lugubrious scene possible. Further on, you come to a clearing where a thousand gum trees, grey and dead, appear to be writhing on the ground, and suggest the most fantastic shapes to the mind-twisted serpents, crocodiles lying in wait, gigantic spiders, all sorts of obnoxious creatures on an antediluvian scale.
A little further on, the bush is on fire. Civilised man is preparing to clear his piece of land. In a few years a prosperous town may have arisen there. For the present, it is a scene from the Inferno.
With what pleasure you come to a valley, at the bottom of which runs a little rivulet, and where the graceful fronds of the tree-ferns surmount warm, brown, scaly trunks of from seven to twelve feet high. The great fronds of two years back hang down round the trunk in golden-brown beauty, while last year's growth forms a dark-green umbrella above them. At the summit, rising straight in fresh new green, are the fronds of the year. Australia, so poor in trees, is rich in flowering shrubs, and in the spring the grand crimson blooms of the waratah, and the graceful golden branches of the wattle, do their best to light up and put a little gaiety into this scene of terrible solitude.
And how describe that profound, that solemn silence? I have been told that the Bushman almost loses the faculty of speech in many instances, and it was not at all unusual to hear of shepherds having gone out of their minds. When one thinks of the life these men led (there are fewer employed now), it is not wonderful to hear that their brains gave way occasionally. Miles from any town, unvisited by any human creature, save the man who brought him rations from month to month, and whom he missed seeing if he happened not to be in his hut when they were brought, the shepherd was alone in the solemnity of the Bush, his only living companions the thousands of meek sheep and the faithful dog. The cracked scream of the cockatoo and the heartrending note of the crow, the only sounds he heard by day; the creepy cry of the morepork and the hoarse croak of the frog, the only good-night that ever greeted his ears as he went to rest.
The pall-like silence of the Bush seems to have fallen on even the animals. One never hears the cattle low; and a handful of English sheep being driven to a fresh pasture will make more noise than thousands of Australian ones. You meet them in droves of several thousands; you drive your buggy through the crowd, but you seldom hear a bleat.