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.
When the waiter was opening their wine one of the camp officers comes in that they had letters to. So they asked him to join them, and Starlight sends for another bottle of Moselle -- something like that, he called it.
'The last time I drank wine as good as this,' says Starlight, 'was at the Caffy Troy, something or other, in Paris. I wouldn't mind being there again, with the Variety Theatre to follow. Would you, Clifford?'
'Well, I don't know,' says the other swell. 'I find this amazing good fun for a bit. I never was in such grand condition since I left Oxford. This eight-hours' shift business is just the right thing for training. I feel fit to go for a man's life. Just feel this, Despard,' and he holds out his arm to the camp swell. 'There's muscle for you!'
'Plenty of muscle,' said Mr. Despard, looking round. He was a swell that didn't work, and wouldn't work, and thought it fine to treat the diggers like dogs. Most of the commissioners and magistrates were gentlemen and acted as such; but there were a few young fools like this one, and they did the Government a deal of harm with the diggers more than they knew. 'Plenty of muscle,' says he, 'but devilish little society.'
'I don't agree with you,' says the other Honourable. 'It's the most amusing and in a way instructive place for a man who wants to know his fellow-creatures I was ever in. I never pass a day without meeting some fresh variety of the human race, man or woman; and their experiences are well worth knowing, I can tell you. Not that they're in a hurry to impart them; for that there's more natural, unaffected good manners on a digging than in any society I ever mingled in I shall never doubt. But when they see you don't want to patronise, and are content to be a simple man among men, there's nothing they won't do for you or tell you.'
'Oh, d--n one's fellow-creatures; present company excepted,' says Mr. Despard, filling his glass, 'and the man that grew this "tipple". They're useful to me now and then and one has to put up with this crowd; but I never could take much interest in them.'
'All the worse for you, Despard,' says Clifford. 'You're wasting your chances -- golden opportunities in every sense of the word. You'll never see such a spectacle as this, perhaps, again as long as you live. It's a fancy dress ball with real characters.'
'Dashed bad characters, if we only knew,' says Despard, yawning. 'What do you say, Haughton?' looking at Starlight, who was playing with his glass and not listening much by the look of him.
'I say, let's go into the little parlour and have a game of picquet, unless you'll take some more wine. No? Then we'll move. Bad characters, you were saying? Well, you camp fellows ought to be able to give an opinion.'
They sauntered through the big room, which was just then crowded with a curious company, as Clifford said. I suppose there was every kind of man and miner under the sun. Not many women, but what there was not a little out of the way in looks and manners. We kept on working away all the time. It helped to stop us from thinking, and every week we had a bigger deposit-receipt in the bank where we used to sell our gold. People may say what they like, but there's nothing like a nest egg; seeing it grow bigger keeps many a fellow straight, and he gets to like adding to it, and feels the pull of being careful with his money, which a poor man that never has anything worth saving doesn't. Poor men are the most extravagant, I've always found. They spend all they have, which middling kind of people just above them don't. They screw and pinch to bring up their children, and what not; and dress shabby and go without a lot which the working man never thinks of stinting himself in. But there's the parson here to do that kind of thing. I'm not the proper sort of cove to preach. I'd better leave it to him. So we didn't spend our money foolish, like most part of the diggers that had a bit of luck; but we had to do a fair thing. We got through a lot of money every week, I expect. Talking of foolish things, I saw one man that had his horse shod with gold, regular pure gold shoes. The blacksmith made 'em -- good solid ones, and all regular. He rode into the main street one holiday, and no end of people stopped him and lifted up his horse's feet to see. They weighed 7 oz. 4 dwt. each. Rainbow ought to have been shod that way. If ever a horse deserved it he did. But Starlight didn't go in for that kind of thing. Now and then some of the old colonial hands, when they were regularly 'on the burst', would empty a dozen of champagne into a bucket or light their pipes with a ten-pound note. But these were not everyday larks, and were laughed at by the diggers themselves as much as anybody.
But of course some allowance had to be made for men not making much above wages when they came suddenly on a biggish stone, and sticking the pick into it found it to be a gigantic nugget worth a small fortune. Most men would go a bit mad over a stroke of luck like that, and they did happen now and then. There was the Boennair nugget, dug at Louisa Creek by an Irishman, that weighed 364 oz. 11 dwt. It was sold in Sydney for 1156 Pounds. There was the King of Meroo nugget, weighing 157 oz.; and another one that only scaled 71 oz. seemed hardly worth picking up after the others, only 250 Pounds worth or so. But there was a bigger one yet on the grass if we'd only known, and many a digger, and shepherd too, had sat down on it and lit his pipe, thinking it no better than other lumps of blind white quartz that lay piled up all along the crown of the ride.
Mostly after we'd done our day's work and turned out clean and comfortable after supper, smoking our pipes, we walked up the street for an hour or two. Jim and I used to laugh a bit in a queer way over the change it was from our old bush life at Rocky Flat when we were boys, before we had any thoughts beyond doing our regular day's work and milking the cows and chopping wood enough to last mother all day. The little creek, that sounded so clear in the still night when we woke up, rippling and gurgling over the stones, the silent, dark forest all round on every side; and on moonlight nights the moon shining over Nulla Mountain, dark and overhanging all the valley, as if it had been sailing in the clear sky over it ever since the beginning of the world. We didn't smoke then, and we used to sit in the verandah, and Aileen would talk to us till it was time to go to bed.