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.
The big houses in the bush, too. Nothing's easier than to stick up one of them -- lots of valuable things, besides money, often kept there, and it's ten to one against any one being on the look-out when the boys come. A man hears they're in the neighbourhood, and keeps a watch for a week or two. But he can't be always waiting at home all day long with double-barrelled guns, and all his young fellows and the overseer that ought to be at their work among their cattle or sheep on the run idling their time away. No, he soon gets sick of that, and either sends his family away to town till the danger's past, or he 'chances it', as people do about a good many things in the country. Then some fine day, about eleven or twelve o'clock, or just before tea, or before they've gone to bed, the dogs bark, and three or four chaps seem to have got into the place without anybody noticing 'em, the master of the house finds all the revolvers looking his way, and the thing's done. The house is cleared out of everything valuable, though nobody's harmed or frightened -- in a general way, that is -- a couple of the best horses are taken out of the stable, and the next morning there's another flaring article in the local paper. A good many men tried all they knew to be prepared and have a show for it; but there was only one that ever managed to come out right.
We didn't mean to turn out all in a minute. We'd had a rough time of it lately, and we wanted to wait and take it easy in the Hollow and close about for a month or so before we began business.
Starlight and I wanted to let our beards grow. People without any hair on their faces are hardly ever seen in the country now, except they've been in gaol lately, and of course we should have been marked men.
We saw no reason why we shouldn't take it easy. Starlight was none too strong, though he wouldn't own it; he wouldn't have fainted as he did if he had. He wanted good keep and rest for a month, and so did I. Now that it was all over I felt different from what I used to do, only half the man I once was. If we stayed in the Hollow for a month the police might think we'd gone straight out of the country and slack off a bit. Anyhow, as long as they didn't hit the trail off to the entrance, we couldn't be in a safer place, and though there didn't seem much to do we thought we'd manage to hang it out somehow. One day we were riding all together in the afternoon, when we happened to come near the gully where Jim and I had gone up and seen the Hermit's Hut, as we had christened it. Often we had talked about it since; wondered about the man who had lived in it, and what his life had been.
This time we'd had all the horses in and were doing a bit of colt-breaking. Warrigal and Jim were both on young horses that had only been ridden once before, and we had come out to give them a hand.
'Do you know anything about that hut in the gully?' I asked Starlight.
'Oh yes, all there is to know about it; and that's not much. Warrigal told me that, while the first gang that discovered this desirable country residence were in possession, a stranger accidentally found out the way in. At first they were for putting him to death, but on his explaining that he only wanted a solitary home, and should neither trouble nor betray them, they agreed to let him stay. He was "a big one gentleman", Warrigal said; but he built the hut himself, with occasional help from the men. He was liberal with his gold, of which he had a small store, while it lasted. He lived here many years, and was buried under a big peach tree that he had planted himself.'
'A queer start, to come and live and die here; and about the strangest place to pick for a home I ever saw.'
'There's a good many strange people in the colony, Dick, my boy,' says Starlight, 'and the longer you live the more you'll find of them. Some day, when we've got quiet horses, we'll come up and have a regular overhauling of the spot. It's years since I've been there.'
'Suppose he turned out some big swell from the old country? Dad says there used to be a few in the old days, in the colony. He might have left papers and things behind him that might turn to good account.'
'Whatever he did leave was hidden away. Warrigal says he was a little chap when he died, but he says he remembers men making a great coroboree over him when he died, and they could find nothing. They always thought he had money, and he showed them one or two small lumps of gold, and what he said was gold-dust washed out from the creek bed.'
As we had no call to work now, we went in for a bit of sport every day. Lord! how long it seemed since Jim and I had put the guns on our shoulders and walked out in the beautiful fresh part of the morning to have a day's shooting. It made us feel like boys again. When I said so the tears came into Jim's eyes and he turned his head away. Father came one day; he and old Crib were a stunning pair for pot shooting, and he was a dead game shot, though we could be at him with the rifle and revolver.
There was a pretty fair show of game too. The lowan (Mallee hen, they're mostly called) and talegalla (brush turkey) were thick enough in some of the scrubby corners. Warrigal used to get the lowan eggs -- beautiful pink thin-shelled ones they are, first-rate to eat, and one of 'em a man's breakfast. Then there were pigeons, wild ducks, quail, snipe now and then, besides wallaby and other kangaroos. There was no fear of starving, even if we hadn't a tidy herd of cattle to come upon.
The fishing wasn't bad either. The creeks ran towards the north-west watershed and were full of codfish, bream, and perch. Even the jewfish wasn't bad with their skins off. They all tasted pretty good, I tell you, after a quick broil, let alone the fun of catching them. Warrigal used to make nets out of cooramin bark, and put little weirs across the shallow places, so as we could go in and drive the fish in. Many a fine cod we took that way. He knew all the blacks' ways as well as a good many of ours. The worst of him was that except in hunting, fishing, and riding he'd picked up the wrong end of the habits of both sides. Father used to set snares for the brush kangaroo and the bandicoots, like he'd been used to do for the hares in the old country. We could always manage to have some kind of game hanging up. It kept us amused too.