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The Little World Left Behind
by [?]

I lately revisited a western agricultural district in Australia after many years. The railway had reached it, but otherwise things were drearily, hopelessly, depressingly unchanged. There was the same old grant, comprising several thousands of acres of the richest land in the district, lying idle still, except for a few horses allowed to run there for a shilling a-head per week.

There were the same old selections–about as far off as ever from becoming freeholds–shoved back among the barren ridges; dusty little patches in the scrub, full of stones and stumps, and called farms, deserted every few years, and tackled again by some little dried-up family, or some old hatter, and then given best once more. There was the cluster of farms on the flat, and in the foot of the gully, owned by Australians of Irish or English descent, with the same number of stumps in the wheat-paddock, the same broken fences and tumble-down huts and yards, and the same weak, sleepy attempt made every season to scratch up the ground and raise a crop. And along the creek the German farmers–the only people there worthy of the name–toiling (men, women, and children) from daylight till dark, like slaves, just as they always had done; the elder sons stoop-shouldered old men at thirty.

The row about the boundary fence between the Sweeneys and the Joneses was unfinished still, and the old feud between the Dunderblitzens and the Blitzendunders was more deadly than ever–it started three generations ago over a stray bull. The O’Dunn was still fighting for his great object in life, which was not to be ‘onneighborly’, as he put it. ‘I DON’T want to be onneighborly,’ he said, ‘but I’ll be aven wid some of ’em yit. It’s almost impossible for a dacent man to live in sich a neighborhood and not be onneighborly, thry how he will. But I’ll be aven wid some of ’em yit, marruk my wurrud.’

Jones’s red steer–it couldn’t have been the same red steer–was continually breaking into Rooney’s ‘whate an’ bringin’ ivery head av the other cattle afther him, and ruinin’ him intirely.’ The Rooneys and M’Kenzies were at daggers drawn, even to the youngest child, over the impounding of a horse belonging to Pat Rooney’s brother-in-law, by a distant relation of the M’Kenzies, which had happened nine years ago.

The same sun-burned, masculine women went past to market twice a-week in the same old carts and driving much the same quality of carrion. The string of overloaded spring-carts, buggies, and sweating horses went whirling into town, to ‘service’, through clouds of dust and broiling heat, on Sunday morning, and came driving cruelly out again at noon. The neighbours’ sons rode over in the afternoon, as of old, and hung up their poor, ill-used little horses to bake in the sun, and sat on their heels about the verandah, and drawled drearily concerning crops, fruit, trees, and vines, and horses and cattle; the drought and ‘smut’ and ‘rust’ in wheat, and the ‘ploorer’ (pleuro-pneumonia) in cattle, and other cheerful things; that there colt or filly, or that there cattle-dog (pup or bitch) o’ mine (or ‘Jim’s’). They always talked most of farming there, where no farming worthy of the name was possible–except by Germans and Chinamen. Towards evening the old local relic of the golden days dropped in and announced that he intended to ‘put down a shaft’ next week, in a spot where he’d been going to put it down twenty years ago–and every week since. It was nearly time that somebody sunk a hole and buried him there.

An old local body named Mrs Witherly still went into town twice a-week with her ‘bit av prodjuce’, as O’Dunn called it. She still drove a long, bony, blind horse in a long rickety dray, with a stout sapling for a whip, and about twenty yards of clothes-line reins. The floor of the dray covered part of an acre, and one wheel was always ahead of the other–or behind, according to which shaft was pulled. She wore, to all appearances, the same short frock, faded shawl, men’s ‘lastic sides, and white hood that she had on when the world was made. She still stopped just twenty minutes at old Mrs Leatherly’s on the way in for a yarn and a cup of tea–as she had always done, on the same days and at the same time within the memory of the hoariest local liar. However, she had a new clothes-line bent on to the old horse’s front end–and we fancy that was the reason she didn’t recognise us at first. She had never looked younger than a hard hundred within the memory of man. Her shrivelled face was the colour of leather, and crossed and recrossed with lines till there wasn’t room for any more. But her eyes were bright yet, and twinkled with humour at times.