Three Elephant Power and Other Stories
The typical Australian bullock -- long-horned, sullen-eyed, stupid, and vindictive -- is
bred away out in Queensland, on remote stations in the Never Never land, where men
live on damper and beef, and occasionally eat a whole bottle of hot pickles at a sitting,
simply to satisfy their craving for vegetable food. Here, under the blazing tropic sun,
among flies and dust and loneliness, they struggle with the bullock from year's end to
year's end. It is not to be supposed that they take up this kind of thing for fun. The man
who worked cattle for sport would wheel bricks for amusement.
At periodical intervals a boom in cattle-country arises in the cities, and syndicates are
formed to take up country and stock it. It looks so beautifully simple -- ON PAPER.
You get your country, thousands of miles of it, for next to nothing. You buy your
breeding herd for a ridiculously small sum, on long-dated bills. Your staff consists of a
manager, who toils for a share of the profits, a couple of half-civilized white stockmen at
low wages, and a handful of blacks, who work harder for a little opium ash than they
would for much money. Plant costs nothing, improvements nothing -- no woolshed is
needed, there are no shearers to pay, and no carriage to market, for the bullock walks
himself down to his doom. Granted that prices are low, still it is obvious that there must
be huge profits in the business. So the cattle start away out to "the country", where they
are supposed to increase and multiply, and enrich their owners. Alas! for such hopes.
There is a curse on cattle.
No one has ever been able to explain exactly how the deficit arises. Put the figures before
the oldest and most experienced cattleman, and he will fail to show why they don't work
out right. And yet they never do. It is not the fault of the cattle themselves. Sheep would
rather die than live -- and when one comes to think of the life they lead, one can easily
understand their preference for death; but cattle, if given half a chance, will do their best
to prolong their existence.
If they are running on low-lying country and are driven off when a flood comes, they will
probably walk back into the flood-water and get drowned as soon as their owner turns his
back. But, as a rule, cattle are not suicidal. They sort themselves into mobs, they pick out
the best bits of country, they find their way to the water, they breed habitually; but it
always ends in the same way. The hand of Fate is against them.
If a drought comes, they eat off the grass near the water and have to travel far out for a
feed. Then they fall away and get weak, and when they come down to drink they get
bogged in the muddy waterholes and die there.
Or Providence sends the pleuro, and big strong beasts slink away by themselves, and
stand under trees glaring savagely till death comes. Or else the tick attacks them, and
soon a fine, strong beast becomes a miserable, shrunken, tottering wreck. Once cattle get
really low in condition they are done for. Sheep can be shifted when their pasture fails,