These Things Endure
These Things Endure
The Verities of Nature.
[Written for The Register by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.]
Before ever I reached Australia there was one man whom I had made up my mind to see. This was Mr. Bellchambers. I had read an account of him in some English magazine, and I knew him to be one of those men who were very close to Nature, who loved her as their mother, and who found in her communion a treasure which no worldly success could equal. Now I have not only met him, but I have seen his little domain out in the Humbug Scrub (is it too late to alter the name of that unlucky tract of country!) I will not easily forget my day.
Bellchambers is a mixture of the New Forest Brusher, a famous character whom I knew in my youth, who lived and died in a bark hut in the forest, and Thoreau, the American philosopher. He is half-way between those points — more refined than the first, less literary than the second. He is a kind-eyed, -unkempt man in the fifties, with no thought of appearances, but with the look and the voice which bespeak the gentle soul within. There is the real gentleman — that much-abused word; the man too gentle to be harsh to living creature, or to take pleasure in slaughter.
"Yes, I am mostly vegetarian, except fish," said he; "you see, I know the beasts so well that I can't bring myself to pick their bones."
I have come back from a long day with mixed impressions. There are vivid colour impressions — deep green of the Australian spring; late grey of eucalyptus trunks with untidy moulting bark; light yellow of budding wattle; purple pink of the carpet of knot grass; and everywhere the familiar home flowers, but all a little altered in their new home — the dandelion, the buttercup, the mustard plant, each imprinting its tiny yellow dot upon the variegated ground work of Nature.
Of my conversations, too. I had the same mixed impression. It was nature-talk. We spoke or those things which may seem slight to the world, and yet are more permanent than thrones and dynasties. I learned of the strange storks — the "native companions" who meet 500 at a time for their stately balls; of the bower birds who decorate their homes with glass and pebbles; of the little Ted beetles who fertilize the insectivorous plants without being eaten like other insects; of all manner of nature secrets. Some deep things were drawn from Mr. Bellchambers's store of knowledge.
"Birds have more sense than animals. They understand yon, like. They know what you mean. Snakes have least of any. They don't get friendlylike the same way."
Then I have the same mixed memory of the things I have seen. A blue-headed wren; an eagle soaring in the distance; a hideous lizard with a huge open mouth; a laughing jackass which refused to laugh; many more or leas tame wallabies and kangaroos; a dear little 'possum which, got raider the back of my coat, and would not come out; noisy mina birds which fly ahead and warn the game against the hunter. Good little noisy mina! All my sympathies are with you! I would do the same if I could. This senseless lust for kitting is a disgrace to the race. We of England cannot preach, for a pheasant battue is about the worst example of it. But do let the creatures alone unless they are surely noxious! When Mr. Bellchambers told us how he had trained two ibises — the old religious variety — and how both had been picked off by some unknown local "sportsman," it made one sad.
We had a touch of comedy, however, when Mr. Bellchambers attempted to expose the egg of the malice fowl. He scraped into the mound with his hands. The cock watched him with an expression which clearly said — "Confound the fellow! What is he up to now?" He then got on the mound, and as quick as Mr. Bellchambers shovelled the earth in he kicked it back again, Mr. Bellchambers, in his good-humoured way, crying — "Get along with you, do!" A good husband is the mallee cock, and looks after the family interests. But m hat .we humans would think if we were born deep underground, and had to begin our career by digging our way to the surface, is beyond imagination.
Might I, a visitor, take the liberty of giving a word of advice to the Government of this beautiful State? In Mr. Bellchambers you have a very rare and valuable man. Yon are wasting him. I have travelled far, and I know that both in Canada and the United States, by the time that Nature reservations have occurred to the powers that be, they have become economically impossible, save as spots so far from centres of population that they are useless to the average man. Here you have the very thine within, a drive of Adelaide. My advice is this. Let the State acquire several blocks round Bellchambers's area, and let the whole be enclosed. Let him be ranger with adequate remuneration. Let the roads connecting up be improved. All this would cost very little; but see what you would have in return! You would have a show place which folk would come from far to see. You would have a wonderful pleasure resort for the people of Adelaide. Finally, you would leave in the very best and most loving hands those numerous birds and other creatures which are seriously threatened with extinction. Do this, and your grand children will extol your wisdom. Don't do it, and in 10 years it will be too late.
No account of my day could be complete which did not acknowledge the company and teaching of Mr. E. R. Waite, Director of the Museum, who placed his stores of knowledge at my disposal. I admire learning, but I admire still more a man who Is a man; and when I learned that this gentle naturalist had gone down 60 ft. in Sydney Harbour to steal the egg of a shark, I took off my hat to him. That's a form of bird-nesting that's worth doing.
— Art Gallery Praised. —
Commenting upon the National Art Gallery on Thursday, Sir Conan remarked that he had seen many provincial art collections in his travels, and he had found few to outrival the one in Adelaide. The European section, he thought, was particularly well chosen, and he was greatly impressed by the picture, "The Breakaway," by Tom Roberts, and the fine oil study by the backwaters of the River Murray by Johnston, who, he understood, had died in comparative poverty in London.