Over the Sliprails
The Darling River
The Darling -- which is either a muddy gutter or a second Mississippi -- is about six times
as long as the distance, in a straight line, from its head to its mouth. The state of the river
is vaguely but generally understood to depend on some distant and foreign phenomena to
which bushmen refer in an off-hand tone of voice as "the Queenslan' rains", which seem
to be held responsible, in a general way, for most of the out-back trouble.
It takes less than a year to go up stream by boat to Walgett or Bourke in a dry season; but
after the first three months the passengers generally go ashore and walk. They get sick of
being stuck in the same sort of place, in the same old way; they grow weary of seeing the
same old "whaler" drop his swag on the bank opposite whenever the boat ties up for
wood; they get tired of lending him tobacco, and listening to his ideas, which are limited
in number and narrow in conception.
It shortens the journey to get out and walk; but then you will have to wait so long for
your luggage -- unless you hump it with you.
We heard of a man who determined to stick to a Darling boat and travel the whole length
of the river. He was a newspaper man. He started on his voyage of discovery one Easter
in flood-time, and a month later the captain got bushed between the Darling and South
Australian border. The waters went away before he could find the river again, and left his
boat in a scrub. They had a cargo of rations, and the crew stuck to the craft while the
tucker lasted; when it gave out they rolled up their swags and went to look for a station,
but didn't find one. The captain would study his watch and the sun, rig up dials and make
out courses, and follow them without success. They ran short of water, and didn't smell
any for weeks; they suffered terrible privations, and lost three of their number, NOT
including the newspaper liar. There are even dark hints considering the drawing of lots in
connection with something too terrible to mention. They crossed a thirty-mile plain at
last, and sighted a black gin. She led them to a boundary rider's hut, where they were
taken in and provided with rations and rum.
Later on a syndicate was formed to explore the country and recover the boat; but they
found her thirty miles from the river and about eighteen from the nearest waterhole deep
enough to float her, so they left her there. She's there still, or else the man that told us
about it is the greatest liar Out Back.
. . . . .
Imagine the hull of a North Shore ferry boat, blunted a little at the ends and cut off about
a foot below the water-line, and parallel to it, then you will have something shaped
somewhat like the hull of a Darling mud-rooter. But the river boat is much stronger. The
boat we were on was built and repaired above deck after the different ideas of many bush
carpenters, of whom the last seemed by his work to have regarded the original plan with a
contempt only equalled by his disgust at the work of the last carpenter but one. The wheel