This section is from the book "Robbery Under Arms; A Story Of Life And Adventure In The Bush And In The Australian Goldfields", by Rolf Boldrewood. Also available from Amazon: Robbery under Arms; a story of life and adventure in the bush and in the Australian goldfields.
We got to Melbourne all right, and though it's a different sort of a place from Sydney, it's a jolly enough town for a couple of young chaps with money in their pockets. Most towns are, for the matter of that. We took it easy, and didn't go on the spree or do anything foolish. No, we weren't altogether so green as that. We looked out for a quiet place to lodge, near the sea -- St. Kilda they call it, in front of the beach -- and we went about and saw all the sights, and for a time managed to keep down the thought that perhaps sooner or later we'd be caught, and have to stand our trial for this last affair of ours, and maybe one or two others. It wasn't a nice thing to think of; and now and then it used to make both of us take an extra drop of grog by way of driving the thoughts of it out of our heads. That's the worst of not being straight and square. A man's almost driven to drink when he can't keep from thinking of all sorts of miserable things day and night. We used to go to the horse-yards now and then, and the cattle-yards too. It was like old times to see the fat cattle and sheep penned up at Flemington, and the butchers riding out on their spicy nags or driving trotters. But their cattle-yards was twice as good as ours, and me and Jim used often to wonder why the Sydney people hadn't managed to have something like them all these years, instead of the miserable cockatoo things at Homebush that we'd often heard the drovers and squatters grumble about.
However, one day, as we was sitting on the rails, talking away quite comfortable, we heard one butcher say to another, 'My word, this is a smart bit of cattle-duffing -- a thousand head too!' 'What's that?' says the other man. 'Why, haven't you heard of it?' says the first one, and he pulls a paper out of his pocket, with this in big letters: 'Great Cattle Robbery. -- A thousand head of Mr. Hood's cattle were driven off and sold in Adelaide. Warrants are out for the suspected parties, who are supposed to have left the colony.' Here was a bit of news! We felt as if we could hardly help falling off the rails; but we didn't show it, of course, and sat there for half-an-hour, talking to the buyers and sellers and cracking jokes like the others. But we got away home as soon as we could, and then we began to settle what we should do.
Warrants were out, of course, for Starlight, and us too. He was known, and so were we. Our descriptions were sure to be ready to send out all over the country. Warrigal they mightn't have noticed. It was common enough to have a black boy or a half-caste with a lot of travelling cattle. Father had not shown up much. He had an old pea-jacket on, and they mightn't have dropped down to him or the three other chaps that were in it with us; they were just like any other road hands. But about there being warrants out, with descriptions, in all the colonies, for a man to be identified, but generally known as Starlight, and for Richard and James Marston, we were as certain as that we were in St. Kilda, in a nice quiet little inn, overlooking the beach; and what a murder it was to have to leave it at all.
Leave the place we had to do at once. It wouldn't do to be strollin' about Melbourne with the chance of every policeman we met taking a look at us to see if we tallied with a full description they had at the office: 'Richard and James Marston are twenty-five and twenty-two, respectively; both tall and strongly built; having the appearance of bushmen. Richard Marston has a scar on left temple. James Marston has lost a front tooth,' and so on. When we came to think of it, they couldn't be off knowing us, if they took it into their heads to bail us up any day. They had our height and make. We couldn't help looking like bushmen -- like men that had been in the open air all their lives, and that had a look as if saddle and bridle rein were more in our way than the spade and plough-handle. We couldn't wash the tan off our skins; faces, necks, arms, all showed pretty well that we'd come from where the sun was hot, and that we'd had our share of it. They had my scar, got in a row, and Jim's front tooth, knocked out by a fall from a horse when he was a boy; there was nothing for it but to cut and run.
'It was time for us to go, my boys,' as the song the Yankee sailor sung us one night runs, and then, which way to go? Every ship was watched that close a strange rat couldn't get a passage, and, besides, we had that feeling we didn't like to clear away altogether out of the old country; there was mother and Aileen still in it, and every man, woman, and child that we'd known ever since we were born. A chap feels that, even if he ain't much good other ways. We couldn't stand the thought of clearin' out for America, as Starlight advised us. It was like death to us, so we thought we'd chance it somewhere in Australia for a bit longer.
Now where we put up a good many drovers from Gippsland used to stay, as they brought in cattle from there. The cattle had to be brought over Swanston Street Bridge and right through the town after twelve o'clock at night. We'd once or twice, when we'd been out late, stopped to look at them, and watched the big heavy bullocks and fat cows staring and starting and slipping all among the lamps and pavements, with the street all so strange and quiet, and laughed at the notion of some of the shopkeepers waking up and seeing a couple of hundred wild cattle, with three or four men behind 'em, shouldering and horning one another, then rushing past their doors at a hard trot, or breaking into a gallop for a bit.
Some of these chaps, seeing we was cattle-men and knew most things in that line, used to open out about where they'd come from, and what a grand place Gippsland was -- splendid grass country, rivers that run all the year round, great fattening country; and snowy mountains at the back, keeping everything cool in the summer. Some of the mountain country, like Omeo, that they talked a lot of, seemed about one of the most out-of-the-way places in the world. More than that, you could get back to old New South Wales by way of the Snowy River, and then on to Monaro. After that we knew where we were.