Roy Glashan's Library
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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE RED KING

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First published in
The Sketch. A Journal of Art and Actuality, London, 5 May 1909

Reprinted in
The North Queensland Register, Charters Towers, Australia,
25 January 1915 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-03-30
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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TO acquire suddenly two thousand acres of forest land, and to see it sprawling darkly east and west, is certainly a new experience.

Like most Australian selectors, I had been bitten by the desire to own a patch of the Dorrigo tablelands, where the cedar and white mahogany reserves awaited the pioneer's axe and saw. The New South Wales Lands Department had granted my application, and the title-deeds guaranteeing immunity from free selectors and timber "hawks" were safely stowed away in my bag.

My partner in the venture was an eighteen-stone German named Blitz, a city-bred man who yearned for the open life and a comfortable homestead on the breezy altitudes of the famous Dorrigo reserves. The land had cost us about sixpence per acre, and we were confident that the timber alone would return us more than treble the amount. Our first business was to clear the forest and build a homestead.

At that time my knowledge of forest timbers was superficial and scanty, and as I leaned against the dray and gazed at the regiments of giant gums and woolly butts that reared skyward in sullen grandeur, my heart fell and my brow grew moist at the thought of the Herculean task ahead. We had neglected to bring a tent, and as the sun was already low, my German companion hinted at the possibility of our passing the night in the open forest. I responded by making a big gum wood fire that lit up the darkening jungle, and put courage into the city man's heart.

Unloading our effects from the dray, we hobbled the two horses and cooked our first meal in the quiet hush of the Australian night. To me the situation was delightful. Far up in the velvet night the silver-limbed gum-trees reared their heads; pendulous creepers swung from the interlaced foliage above; the fire-glow illumined myriads of giant ferns around us—ferns so delicate in texture and design that one might have mistaken them for the most exquisite patterns of the embroiderer's art. But my German friend saw none of it. He filled the evening with stories of death-adders and nine-inch centipedes, of the deadly black spider that kills men in the chill dawn. I proved to him that no Australian bush reptile ever attacked man between the months of August and September. I also explained that the bite of the black spider was not so deadly as many of the germ-infected bed-rooms of the Sydney and Melbourne boarding-houses.

There was little fear of blacks on the Dorrigo tablelands; the only sound we heard was the thump, thump of the rock wallabies and the mournful fluting of a dingo pack in the ranges. We slept undisturbed, and awoke in the biting dawn, our clothes steaming with dew, and, in spite of the fire, our hands and feet in a peculiarly numbed state.

"Dis babe-in-der-wood business vas alride for some beople," growled Blitz. "I shall feel brighter and petter ven I haf a roof over mein head."

A billy of tea and some damper cheered us wonderfully, and the Teuton afterwards confessed that a night in the open forest was not so unpleasant as eight hours spent in the wet, windy streets of a city.

But my heart fell again at sight of the Titanic trees around us—monstrous woolly butts and cedars, with the girth measurements of an ordinary schooner. There were no small trees: every red-gum was a giant, every bloodwood a mastodon of its kind, for had not the rich loamy soil nourished them through un broken centuries, until their great limbs blotted out the sun and stars?

Our axes were brand-new and razor-edged, and as I strode towards the first doomed monarch my heart fell like a stone within me. The German regarded his own axe thoughtfully, and then looked at the sky. "We must kill one for a start," I said huskily. "We must blood ourselves to the business, and the rest will be easy."

"As killin' men and women," broke in Blitz, who also loved big trees. But there was no help for it—the trees must come down to make way for the settler. For a moment or two I cast about until my eye fell upon a giant red-gum, that stood apart from its fellows. From hip to crest it dominated the forest; the earth at its foot had been drawn into a high mound where the great roots had sucked and squeezed for moisture in the years of fire and drought.

I began, in true bush fashion, by scarfing the monster's hip—that is to say, stripping it of bark until the axe was allowed clear play at the wood inside. Nothing clogs and blunts an axe like the outer lining of beefy bark.

The art of "throwing" trees has been highly developed among Australian bushmen. Without using wedges or lifts the axeman will fell a forest giant within a foot of a given spot. Of course, everything depends on the way a tree is cut. If it has a slight lean and there is a high wind blowing it is very difficult to fell it in an opposite direction. A professional timber-getter usually stands about two feet from the bole, and allows his axe to fall into the wood with an easy stroke that neither clogs nor jars the muscles of the arms. The amateur woodman slogs and throws his weight with each stroke, and in nine cases out of ten the wood pinches the axe-blade, holding it grimly until it has to be wrenched away again and again. A light down-stroke, followed by a smart under-chop, will fling out a chip as big as your hand.

Hitherto my experience as a woodman has been confined to trees of small girth. I had never encountered the true forest king with the bulging waist and the girth of a battle-ship. However, I had chopped a gaunt cavern into the giant's heart before the sun showed on the rim of the forest. Sweat streamed from my face and throat; the axe-handle grew moist and slippery where my blistered hands gripped. The gap in the monarch's side grew wider; blood oozed down the bole until it ran in a throbbing stream around my feet.

"It—it was horrible !" choked Blitz. "Let us leaf der red-gums alone. Let us try der turpentine-trees or der belars; dey haf no blood in dem."

But the Red King had to come down; he stood on the site chosen for our future homestead. By way of respite, however, I walked round to the eastern side of the monarch's hip and started to back-cut towards the centre.

Hitherto there had been no sound of protest from the Red King; its wet leaves flashed in the brindling sunlight, the faint morning breeze stole over its many-bosomed crests, and its huge, inanimate bulk seemed to sigh tenderly in response. But as the axe bit and cleaved into the heart-line I began to detect a faint pulsing throb that seemed to come from its very roots. At each stroke of the axe the throbbing grew louder, as though an artery had been severed. I paused, white-lipped, panting near the bole, and listened. Surely no human voice ever uttered a more despairing note of protest. To me it sounded like the stammering of a wounded child.

Far away, almost on the edge of the plateau, I saw my German friend—he had run away! Still, we had to build our home, I argued mentally. The trees must go.

I returned to my work, and the first few strokes produced the desired result. A deadly hiccup, followed by a sharp belching sound, leaped from its roots. A terrible fear seized me as I glanced up at the slanting, toppling crest; a desire to run overcame me until I recalled the words of an old Queensland bushman:

"When a tree's falling, sonny, don't run, for it'll ketch you, sure as eggs—it'll ketch you if you run like an express. Stick to yer bole."

I stuck to the bole as the forest leviathan roared past my shoulder and fell thundering to the earth. Sand and stones were hurled in a blinding shower about me.

"Murderer!" said a voice at my elbow.

I felt like one as I gazed at the red hip of the severed king.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.