Three Elephant Power and Other Stories HTML version

Thirsty Island
Travellers approaching a bush township are sure to find some distance from the town a
lonely public-house waiting by the roadside to give them welcome. Thirsty (miscalled
Thursday) Island is the outlying pub of Australia.
When the China and British-India steamers arrive from the North the first place they
come to is Thirsty Island, the sentinel at the gate of Torres Straits. New chums on the
steamers see a fleet of white-sailed pearling luggers, a long pier clustered with a hybrid
crowd of every colour, caste and creed under Heaven, and at the back of it all a little
galvanized-iron town shining in the sun.
For nine months of the year a crisp, cool south-east wind blows, the snow-white beach is
splashed with spray and dotted with the picturesque figures of Japanese divers and South
Sea Island boatmen. Coco-nut palms line the roads by the beach, and back of the town are
the barracks and a fort nestling among the trees on the hillside. Thirsty Island is a nice
place -- to look at.
When a vessel makes fast the Thirsty Islanders come down to greet the new-comers and
give them welcome to Australia. The new-chums are inclined to patronise these simple,
outlying people. Fresh from the iniquities of the China-coast cocktail and the unhallowed
orgies of the Sourabaya Club, new-chums think they have little to learn in the way of
drink; at any rate, they haven't come all the way to Thursday Island to be taught anything.
Poor new-chums! Little do they know the kind of people they are up against.
The following description of a night at Thursday Island is taken from a new-chum's note
"Passed Proudfoot shoal and arrived at Thursday Island. First sight of Australia. Lot of
men came aboard, all called Captain. They are all pearl-fishers or pilots, not a bit like the
bushmen I expected. When they came aboard they divided into parties. Some invaded the
Captain's cabin; others sat in the smoking room; the rest crowded into the saloon. They
talked to the passengers about the Boer War, and told us about pearls worth 1000 pounds
that had been found lately.
"One captain pulled a handful of loose pearls out of a jar and handed them round in a
casual way for us to look at. The stewards opened bottles and we all sat down for a drink
and a smoke. I spoke to one captain -- an oldish man -- and he grinned amiably, but did
not answer. Another captain leaned over to me and said, `Don't take any notice of him,
he's boozed all this week.'
"Conversation and drink became general. The night was very hot and close, and some of
the passengers seemed to be taking more than was good for them. A contagious thirst
spread round the ship, and before long the stewards and firemen were at it. The saloon