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Thirsty Island
by [?]

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 book:

“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 became an inferno of drink and sweat and tobacco smoke. Perfect strangers were talking to each other at the top of their voices.

“Young MacTavish, who is in a crack English regiment, asked the captain of a pearling lugger whether he didn’t know Talbot de Cholmondeley in the Blues.

“The pearler said very likely he had met ’em, and no doubt he’d remember their faces if he saw them, but he never could remember names.

“Another passenger — a Jew — was trying to buy some pearls cheap from the captains, but the more the captains drank the less anxious they became to talk about pearls.

“The night wore on, and still the drinks circulated. Young MacTavish slept profoundly.

“One passenger gave his steward a sovereign as he was leaving the ship, and in half an hour the steward was carried to his berth in a fit — alcoholic in its origin. Another steward was observed openly drinking the passengers’ whisky. When accused, he didn’t even attempt to defend himself; the great Thursday Island thirst seemed to have communicated itself to everyone on board, and he simply HAD to drink.