Oliver Spence/Chapter 11

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Upon the map of North America there for many years appeared the words, "Great American Desert," until there arose, in what was then the United States, but as our readers are aware is now a portion of the great American Empire, a man of singular proselytizing power, whose name was Joseph Smith. He asserted that the text of a book which he termed the "Book of Mormon," had been revealed to him by supernatural agency. Many thousands of people believed him and a new sect was formed called "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." The new church increased and multiplied, notwithstanding its uncomfortably long name. but its members, though many, were not popular, and in a few years the assassination of Joseph Smith, and other persecutions, caused these "Saints" to pack up their household gods and journey into the "Great American Desert," which they discovered to be not a desert, but a land of promise, which by their industry they shortly made to flow with milk and honey.

History repeats itself. A scientific theory is propounded, discussed, later on accepted as irrefragable truth; suddenly some savant detects a fallacy in the theory, the theory shrinks, crumbles, and fades away. Years after, the same theory is again propounded, accepted, exploded, rejected. Science, as well as superstition has its exploded dogmas, but although those dogmas may be slain, they are capable of a cursed resurrection. Geography, in particular, has its unsound theories and fetishes. Let us see how a geographical fetish demolished in America re-appeared in Australia.

If the reader will go to the National Australian Museum and take a look at the old maps of Australia, which were current before the Federation of the Australian States, he will observe a large space marked "Great Sandy Desert." The tract of land so named was believed to be an immense wilderness of sand, salt and stone. Lion-hearted men had sallied out to explore the mysterious interior of Australia, and some of them had never more been heard of. It was conjectured that they had met their death among the burning stones and glistening patches of salt of the "Great Sandy Desert."

The Federal Exploring Party determined to explore every rood of this terrible desert. Perchance they would stumble upon some deposit of gold or precious stones, which would add more wealth to the possessions of the Plutocracy. They found wealth, but it was of a different kind. It was a priceless treasure. A community of simple, honest, truthful, unsophisticated white people!

For some distance through the Desert the explorers travelled without meeting with anything but the traditional burning sand and blistering stones, until, almost without warning, they found themselves in hilly country, and green growths began to show between the interstices of the stones. As the explorers ascended, the air grew cooler, and the glare of the sun on the soil less painful to the eyes. Soon the travellers were astonished and delighted to observe what appeared to be human habitations in the far distance. The explorers proceeded, and could hardly believe their eyes when they found themselves walking along a rustic road, with smiling fields, and picturesque houses and cottages, the invitingly open doors of which, seemed to offer lavish hospitality to the hungry and weary travellers. The houses and fields appeared to be deserted, however, and although the travellers called a halt, and cooeed, no answer was received. Exhausted nature could hold out no longer, and the travellers marched into one of the largest of the houses. There was no one within. The first chamber in which they found themselves was apparently a sort of reception-room, although there were none to receive them. It was furnished in a quaint, comfortable style, which, to the travellers, seemed vaguely familiar. They threw themselves into the roomy arm-chairs, and rested and waited. Still no host. There were several open doors leading to other chambers, so at last they determined to explore the house still further. They passed into another chamber and found themselves in a large dining-hall, containing several tables covered with fruit, bread, and what looked like wine; they soon found that it was wine, light, but good. the fruits were luscious, the bread sweet and milk-flavoured. Having made sad havoc with the edibles, and eaten their fill, our burglars passed out into the road again. They had been walking about fifteen minutes when they heard, O joy of joys! the splashing of water and voices speaking in what seemed to be the English language. They rushed hastily in the direction of the sound, and who shall paint their astonishment when they he held a fine blue lake, in which were a number of young men and women bathing, chatting and laughing together, apparently supremely unconscious of any possible impropriety in their conduct.

The strangers soon attracted the attention of the bathers, and at once an old man, who had been sitting smiling at the sportive gambols of the young people, came forward, and with an expression of astonishment, not unmixed with alarm, upon his honest, aged face, inquired of the strangers, in very excellent, courteous English, whence they had come. In a few words the strangers informed their interrogator that they formed a party fitted out by the Australian Government for the purpose of exploring the Great Sandy Desert. The old man listened attentively, but not without some apparent uneasiness.

Meantime the arrival of the intruders had abruptly put an end to the aquatic sports of the swimmers. They left the water and first drying their bodies with, some pieces of a white, soft material, which were strewn about the bank, leisurely proceeded to clothe themselves in loose, scanty garments of the same material. That work completed, they stood around in graceful attitudes, awaiting the attention of the Elder, as he was called.

The Elder led the way to a large bath-house, where the strangers refreshed themselves with baths, were conducted back to the dining-hall, and invited to partake of further refreshment, which invitation they sparingly availed themselves of. They informed the Elder that they had already taken the liberty of breakfasting in that house; but he seemed to take it as a matter of course, and spoke laughingly of the surprised exclamations of the young folks on beholding their breakfasts partially demolished.

Refreshments over, the travellers entered into a long discussion with the Elder as to the people and nature of this strange region.

The part of the country in which the travellers found themselves, was, it appeared from the Elder's account, one of the valleys which existed in that district. The travellers were told that the country which was there mountainous, was well watered by the springs and streams which abound there. The origin of his people the Elder could not tell. They appeared to have been there for many generations. He could only tell them that he did not believe they had always been as white as the explorers now saw them. Many generations ago, a party of white explorers, under the leadership of Dr. Leichhardt had come among them in a famishing, fevered, half-delirious condition, and the good people of the valley, had nursed them back to health again. Dr. Leichhardt and his company were so delighted with their kindness, and enchanted by their manners and customs, that he married and settled down among the residents of the valley, at the same time enjoining them never to seek the land from whence Dr. Leichhardt had come, as it was evil, corrupt, and the abode of all forms of cruelty and fraud. They had taken his advice and avoided communication with the coastal settlements, living in consequence, a life of tranquility, harmony and comfort, which was entirely unknown to the human beasts of burden of "civilization."

These dwellers in the valleys formed a number of purely Democratic, self-governing communities. There were no police, no military, no parliaments, no "governments' in the ordinary sense. The inhabitants looked respectfully to the old, and, consequently, experienced men of the community for advice, but when anything had to be done, the people met together in public meetings, discussed the matter, and did it.

There was no enforcement of private property but, generally speaking, private property scarcely existed. Only when an individual manifested, for sentimental, or other valid reason, an attachment for some particular article, was he allowed to retain it as his; and then, chiefly because some similar articles were easily to be obtained by any who wished for them.

In an easy-going fashion, each did what he or she could to supply the needs of the community, yet, although there was no compulsion to labour, there was always plenty produced. "Thrift" was unknown, but so was wanton waste. Nearly all the necessary duties of life, such as working, eating, bathing, and so forth, were performed in companies. Harmonious co-operation pervaded the lives of these unsophisticated people.

Strict monogamy prevailed, yet there were no marriage ceremonies, other than the public kiss, bestowed by the man upon the woman, who had consented to be his wife, and which kiss she also publicly returned.

Bananas, pine-apples, oranges, guavas, grapes, mangoes, bread-fruit, cocoa-nuts and many other tropical and semi-tropical fruits grew and still grow in great profusion there.

Both men and women wore a sort of silken, flimsy drapery, manufactured by a simple process, from the inner bark of a tree. The natives were handsome, and the manner in which they draped their stately forms harmonised well with their classic regularity of features.

Such, our Federal Explorers gathered from the Elder, were the character, resources and customs of this strange, primitive and amiable people. They were charmed, and felt inclined to follow the example of Dr. Leichhardt, and marry and settle down among them. But in a few months ambition gained its victory over them and they returned to civilization, their return being hastened by the discovery in the valley, of immense natural deposits of jasper and other precious stones.

On the return of the explorers a great sensation was created by their report. A syndicate was at once formed for the purchase of the jasper fields, and missionaries were sent under the protection of military for the purpose of converting these benighted heathen.

The natives refused to sell any part of their country, or to have anything to do with the missionaries, upon which the military gave them a lesson in Plutocratic Christianity and brotherly love, by promptly shooting a great number of them. The new-comers then seized the land, annexed the fields of precious stones and settled down to spread "Christianity," loathsome diseases, sweating, prostitution and other "blessings of civilization." A great tide of emigration from the coast to the interior set in and the newly-discovered country became a part of the Federation, under the title of the State of Leichhardt. But when the Revolution came, Leichhardt was among the first to declare in its favor, and to promise military assistance. The Federal Government deciding to chastise Leichhardt for its "insolence," sent its forces there, where they were met by, the Revolutionary army, and in the Great Battle (described in a previous chapter), completely defeated.