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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 10
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    It is your human environment that makes climate.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    Sept. 15--Night. Close to Australia now. Sydney 50 miles distant.

    That note recalls an experience. The passengers were sent for, to come
    up in the bow and see a fine sight. It was very dark. One could not
    follow with the eye the surface of the sea more than fifty yards in any
    direction it dimmed away and became lost to sight at about that distance
    from us. But if you patiently gazed into the darkness a little while,
    there was a sure reward for you. Presently, a quarter of a mile away you
    would see a blinding splash or explosion of light on the water--a flash
    so sudden and so astonishingly brilliant that it would make you catch
    your breath; then that blotch of light would instantly extend itself and
    take the corkscrew shape and imposing length of the fabled sea-serpent,
    with every curve of its body and the "break" spreading away from its
    head, and the wake following behind its tail clothed in a fierce splendor
    of living fire. And my, but it was coming at a lightning gait! Almost
    before you could think, this monster of light, fifty feet long, would go
    flaming and storming by, and suddenly disappear. And out in the distance
    whence he came you would see another flash; and another and another and
    another, and see them turn into sea-serpents on the instant; and once
    sixteen flashed up at the same time and came tearing towards us, a swarm
    of wiggling curves, a moving conflagration, a vision of bewildering
    beauty, a spectacle of fire and energy whose equal the most of those
    people will not see again until after they are dead.

    It was porpoises--porpoises aglow with phosphorescent light. They
    presently collected in a wild and magnificent jumble under the bows, and
    there they played for an hour, leaping and frollicking and carrying on,
    turning summersaults in front of the stem or across it and never getting
    hit, never making a miscalculation, though the stem missed them only
    about an inch, as a rule. They were porpoises of the ordinary length
    --eight or ten feet--but every twist of their bodies sent a long
    procession of united and glowing curves astern. That fiery jumble was
    an enchanting thing to look at, and we stayed out the performance; one
    cannot have such a show as that twice in a lifetime. The porpoise is the
    kitten of the sea; he never has a serious thought, he cares for nothing
    but fun and play. But I think I never saw him at his winsomest until
    that night. It was near a center of civilization, and he could have been

    By and by, when we had approached to somewhere within thirty miles of
    Sydney Heads the great electric light that is posted on one of those
    lofty ramparts began to show, and in time the little spark grew to a
    great sun and pierced the firmament of darkness with a far-reaching sword
    of light.

    Sydney Harbor is shut in behind a precipice that extends some miles like
    a wall, and exhibits no break to the ignorant stranger. It has a break
    in the middle, but it makes so little show that even Captain Cook sailed
    by it without seeing it. Near by that break is a false break which
    resembles it, and which used to make trouble for the mariner at night, in
    the early days before the place was lighted. It caused the memorable
    disaster to the Duncan Dunbar, one of the most pathetic tragedies in the
    history of that pitiless ruffian, the sea. The ship was a sailing
    vessel; a fine and favorite passenger packet, commanded by a popular
    captain of high reputation. She was due from England, and Sydney was
    waiting, and counting the hours; counting the hours, and making ready to
    give her a heart-stirring welcome; for she was bringing back a great
    company of mothers and daughters, the long-missed light and bloom of life
    of Sydney homes; daughters that had been years absent at school, and
    mothers that had been with them all that time watching over them. Of all
    the world only India and Australasia have by custom freighted ships and
    fleets with their hearts, and know the tremendous meaning of that phrase;
    only they know what the waiting is like when this freightage is entrusted
    to the fickle winds, not steam, and what the joy is like when the ship
    that is returning this treasure comes safe to port and the long dread is

    On board the Duncan Dunbar, flying toward Sydney Heads in the waning
    afternoon, the happy home-comers made busy preparation, for it was not
    doubted that they would be in the arms of their friends before the day
    was done; they put away their sea-going clothes and put on clothes meeter
    for the meeting, their richest and their loveliest, these poor brides of
    the grave. But the wind lost force, or there was a miscalculation, and
    before the Heads were sighted the darkness came on. It was said that
    ordinarily the captain would have made a safe offing and waited for the
    morning; but this was no ordinary occasion; all about him were appealing
    faces, faces pathetic with disappointment. So his sympathy moved him to
    try the dangerous passage in the dark. He had entered the Heads
    seventeen times, and believed he knew the ground. So he steered straight
    for the false opening, mistaking it for the true one. He did not find
    out that he was wrong until it was too late. There was no saving the
    ship. The great seas swept her in and crushed her to splinters and
    rubbish upon the rock tushes at the base of the precipice. Not one of
    all that fair and gracious company was ever seen again alive. The tale
    is told to every stranger that passes the spot, and it will continue to
    be told to all that come, for generations; but it will never grow old,
    custom cannot stale it, the heart-break that is in it can never perish
    out of it.

    There were two hundred persons in the ship, and but one survived the
    disaster. He was a sailor. A huge sea flung him up the face of the
    precipice and stretched him on a narrow shelf of rock midway between the
    top and the bottom, and there he lay all night. At any other time he
    would have lain there for the rest of his life, without chance of
    discovery; but the next morning the ghastly news swept through Sydney
    that the Duncan Dunbar had gone down in sight of home, and straightway
    the walls of the Heads were black with mourners; and one of these,
    stretching himself out over the precipice to spy out what might be seen
    below, discovered this miraculously preserved relic of the wreck. Ropes
    were brought and the nearly impossible feat of rescuing the man was
    accomplished. He was a person with a practical turn of mind, and he
    hired a hall in Sydney and exhibited himself at sixpence a head till he
    exhausted the output of the gold fields for that year.

    We entered and cast anchor, and in the morning went oh-ing and ah-ing in
    admiration up through the crooks and turns of the spacious and beautiful
    harbor--a harbor which is the darling of Sydney and the wonder of the
    world. It is not surprising that the people are proud of it, nor that
    they put their enthusiasm into eloquent words. A returning citizen asked
    me what I thought of it, and I testified with a cordiality which I judged
    would be up to the market rate. I said it was beautiful--superbly
    beautiful. Then by a natural impulse I gave God the praise. The citizen
    did not seem altogether satisfied. He said:

    "It is beautiful, of course it's beautiful--the Harbor; but that isn't
    all of it, it's only half of it; Sydney's the other half, and it takes
    both of them together to ring the supremacy-bell. God made the Harbor,
    and that's all right; but Satan made Sydney."

    Of course I made an apology; and asked him to convey it to his friend.
    He was right about Sydney being half of it. It would be beautiful
    without Sydney, but not above half as beautiful as it is now, with Sydney
    added. It is shaped somewhat like an oak-leaf-a roomy sheet of lovely
    blue water, with narrow off-shoots of water running up into the country
    on both sides between long fingers of land, high wooden ridges with sides
    sloped like graves. Handsome villas are perched here and there on these
    ridges, snuggling amongst the foliage, and one catches alluring glimpses
    of them as the ship swims by toward the city. The city clothes a cluster
    of hills and a ruffle of neighboring ridges with its undulating masses of
    masonry, and out of these masses spring towers and spires and other
    architectural dignities and grandeurs that break the flowing lines and
    give picturesqueness to the general effect.

    The narrow inlets which I have mentioned go wandering out into the land
    everywhere and hiding themselves in it, and pleasure-launches are always
    exploring them with picnic parties on board. It is said by trustworthy
    people that if you explore them all you will find that you have covered
    700 miles of water passage. But there are liars everywhere this year,
    and they will double that when their works are in good going order.
    October was close at hand, spring was come. It was really spring
    --everybody said so; but you could have sold it for summer in Canada, and
    nobody would have suspected. It was the very weather that makes our home
    summers the perfection of climatic luxury; I mean, when you are out in
    the wood or by the sea. But these people said it was cool, now--a person
    ought to see Sydney in the summer time if he wanted to know what warm
    weather is; and he ought to go north ten or fifteen hundred miles if he
    wanted to know what hot weather is. They said that away up there toward
    the equator the hens laid fried eggs. Sydney is the place to go to get
    information about other people's climates. It seems to me that the
    occupation of Unbiased Traveler Seeking Information is the pleasantest
    and most irresponsible trade there is. The traveler can always find out
    anything he wants to, merely by asking. He can get at all the facts, and
    more. Everybody helps him, nobody hinders him. Anybody who has an old
    fact in stock that is no longer negotiable in the domestic market will
    let him have it at his own price. An accumulation of such goods is
    easily and quickly made. They cost almost nothing and they bring par in
    the foreign market. Travelers who come to America always freight up with
    the same old nursery tales that their predecessors selected, and they
    carry them back and always work them off without any trouble in the home

    If the climates of the world were determined by parallels of latitude,
    then we could know a place's climate by its position on the map; and so
    we should know that the climate of Sydney was the counterpart of the
    climate of Columbia, S. C., and of Little Rock, Arkansas, since Sydney is
    about the same distance south of the equator that those other towns are
    north of-it-thirty-four degrees. But no, climate disregards the
    parallels of latitude. In Arkansas they have a winter; in Sydney they
    have the name of it, but not the thing itself. I have seen the ice in
    the Mississippi floating past the mouth of the Arkansas river; and at
    Memphis, but a little way above, the Mississippi has been frozen over,
    from bank to bank. But they have never had a cold spell in Sydney which
    brought the mercury down to freezing point. Once in a mid-winter day
    there, in the month of July, the mercury went down to 36 deg., and that
    remains the memorable "cold day" in the history of the town. No doubt
    Little Rock has seen it below zero. Once, in Sydney, in mid-summer,
    about New Year's Day, the mercury went up to 106 deg. in the shade, and
    that is Sydney's memorable hot day. That would about tally with Little
    Rock's hottest day also, I imagine. My Sydney figures are taken from a
    government report, and are trustworthy. In the matter of summer weather
    Arkansas has no advantage over Sydney, perhaps, but when it comes to
    winter weather, that is another affair. You could cut up an Arkansas
    winter into a hundred Sydney winters and have enough left for Arkansas
    and the poor.

    The whole narrow, hilly belt of the Pacific side of New South Wales has
    the climate of its capital--a mean winter temperature of 54 deg. and a
    mean summer one of 71 deg. It is a climate which cannot be improved upon
    for healthfulness. But the experts say that 90 deg. in New South Wales
    is harder to bear than 112 deg. in the neighboring colony of Victoria,
    because the atmosphere of the former is humid, and of the latter dry.
    The mean temperature of the southernmost point of New South Wales is the
    same as that of Nice--60 deg.--yet Nice is further from the equator by
    460 miles than is the former.

    But Nature is always stingy of perfect climates; stingier in the case of
    Australia than usual. Apparently this vast continent has a really good
    climate nowhere but around the edges.

    If we look at a map of the world we are surprised to see how big
    Australia is. It is about two-thirds as large as the United States was
    before we added Alaska.

    But where as one finds a sufficiently good climate and fertile land
    almost everywhere in the United States, it seems settled that inside of
    the Australian border-belt one finds many deserts and in spots a climate
    which nothing can stand except a few of the hardier kinds of rocks. In
    effect, Australia is as yet unoccupied. If you take a map of the United
    States and leave the Atlantic sea-board States in their places; also the
    fringe of Southern States from Florida west to the Mouth of the
    Mississippi; also a narrow, inhabited streak up the Mississippi half-way
    to its head waters; also a narrow, inhabited border along the Pacific
    coast: then take a brushful of paint and obliterate the whole remaining
    mighty stretch of country that lies between the Atlantic States and the
    Pacific-coast strip, your map will look like the latest map of Australia.

    This stupendous blank is hot, not to say torrid; a part of it is fertile,
    the rest is desert; it is not liberally watered; it has no towns. One
    has only to cross the mountains of New South Wales and descend into the
    westward-lying regions to find that he has left the choice climate behind
    him, and found a new one of a quite different character. In fact, he
    would not know by the thermometer that he was not in the blistering
    Plains of India. Captain Sturt, the great explorer, gives us a sample of
    the heat.

    "The wind, which had been blowing all the morning from the N.E.,
    increased to a heavy gale, and I shall never forget its withering
    effect. I sought shelter behind a large gum-tree, but the blasts of
    heat were so terrific that I wondered the very grass did not take
    fire. This really was nothing ideal: everything both animate and
    inanimate gave way before it; the horses stood with their backs to
    the wind and their noses to the ground, without the muscular
    strength to raise their heads; the birds were mute, and the leaves
    of the trees under which we were sitting fell like a snow shower
    around us. At noon I took a thermometer graded to 127 deg., out of
    my box, and observed that the mercury was up to 125. Thinking that
    it had been unduly influenced, I put it in the fork of a tree close
    to me, sheltered alike from the wind and the sun. I went to examine
    it about an hour afterwards, when I found the mercury had risen to
    the-top of the instrument and had burst the bulb, a circumstance
    that I believe no traveler has ever before had to record. I cannot
    find language to convey to the reader's mind an idea of the intense
    and oppressive nature of the heat that prevailed."

    That hot wind sweeps over Sydney sometimes, and brings with it what is
    called a "dust-storm." It is said that most Australian towns are
    acquainted with the dust-storm. I think I know what it is like, for the
    following description by Mr. Gape tallies very well with the alkali
    duststorm of Nevada, if you leave out the "shovel" part. Still the
    shovel part is a pretty important part, and seems to indicate that my
    Nevada storm is but a poor thing, after all.

    "As we proceeded the altitude became less, and the heat
    proportionately greater until we reached Dubbo, which is only 600
    feet above sea-level. It is a pretty town, built on an extensive
    plain . . . . After the effects of a shower of rain have passed
    away the surface of the ground crumbles into a thick layer of dust,
    and occasionally, when the wind is in a particular quarter, it is
    lifted bodily from the ground in one long opaque cloud. In the
    midst of such a storm nothing can be seen a few yards ahead, and the
    unlucky person who happens to be out at the time is compelled to
    seek the nearest retreat at hand. When the thrifty housewife sees
    in the distance the dark column advancing in a steady whirl towards
    her house, she closes the doors and windows with all expedition. A
    drawing-room, the window of which has been carelessly left open
    during a dust-storm, is indeed an extraordinary sight. A lady who
    has resided in Dubbo for some years says that the dust lies so thick
    on the carpet that it is necessary to use a shovel to remove it."

    And probably a wagon. I was mistaken; I have not seen a proper
    duststorm. To my mind the exterior aspects and character of Australia
    are fascinating things to look at and think about, they are so strange,
    so weird, so new, so uncommonplace, such a startling and interesting
    contrast to the other sections of the planet, the sections that are known
    to us all, familiar to us all. In the matter of particulars--a detail
    here, a detail there--we have had the choice climate of New South Wales'
    seacoast; we have had the Australian heat as furnished by Captain Sturt;
    we have had the wonderful dust-storm; and we have considered the
    phenomenon of an almost empty hot wilderness half as big as the United
    States, with a narrow belt of civilization, population, and good climate
    around it.
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