It was September, warm and sunny. The myriads of water birds greeted them inside the bar and Jane was delighted. 'Old Billy' the steamer was coming into view around a bend in the river, bringing wool and temporarily dispelling the calm. Jane waved to people on deck and Magdalen, watching her was relieved to see the look of excitement.
She felt an awe at the sight of this place which was now home, so completely different from the crowded tenements of Plymouth which seemed part of another world. It surprised her how emotional she felt about coming home to a bark hut.
It was afternoon as they passed Phillips' shipyard. By the time they tied up at the wharf, William had been sent by Mr Phillips to meet his wife and daughters, whom he had seen on deck.
"Papa can we call the baby Eliza?" asked Jane before they had really greeted each other.
"I expect so," said William with his usual reserve. "It's a girl then? She looks a fine baby."
Everyone greeted Magdalen and welcomed her and Jane. There was warmth in the exuberance of their greetings. Sarah Cooper hurried along and took the baby.
"Oh what a beautiful baby! And this is Jane? I'm so pleased to see you. You must let me make you a cup of tea while you put your feet up and 'ave a talk to your 'usband. Is it a boy or girl?" she asked Jane.
"A girl, and her name is Eliza," replied Jane with pride.
"Well are we ready to go?" asked William. "Captain Freeburn will you have Mrs Yabsley's luggage sent to my place? Call and see us when you are free."
He picked up Magdalen's hand luggage, Magdalen carried her basket, Sarah the baby, Jane followed.
"Let you and me look after the tea and let Mama 'ave a rest eh?" said Sarah to Jane as they entered the hut.
"I can't make tea. Aunt Ann wouldn't let me around the fire. She said I was too young to be under her feet."
"It's different 'ere my dear. Your Mama needs a 'elper like you. I'll show you 'ow to blow up the fire first."
"Mama has bought some tea in Sydney Town. She said the tea here was no good."
"A lot of tea in Sydney was not too good either," put in Magdalen taking a bag of tea from her basket.
"How have you managed while I was away?" she asked William.
"There have been a few changes. A chap from Port Stephens arrived with a mob of cattle and a team of bullocks and a dray. I bought the bullocks and dray and have begun hauling logs to the river bank for the cutters. All the timber close to the creeks has been cut and so a team was urgently needed. I'll try not to be away for too long at a time."
Sarah found the pannikins and sugar. "There 'ave been some problems with Mr Price's store. Poor Mr Price. It 'as been taken possession of by the Curator or something."
"The Curator of Intestate Estates, Mr Manning," said William.
"Well Mr Bawden is trying to run it but the contracts was not finished and 'is position is shaky, and 'e isn't used to shopkeepin' and not very fond of it. Another man 'as opened a small stock of store goods in a sawyer's 'ut."
"I've brought a good supply of most things with me. I have some Indian cloth to make clothes for all of us. We'll be Dungaree settlers then."
"Tea?" asked Sarah pouring it into the pannikins. "And a piece of Mr Yabsley's damper. I dare say you'll be glad to 'ave your wife bake you some bread again? The women make some difference to life in the Outback eh?"
William agreed. "But I'll have to make a new camp oven first. The other one was damaged in the flood. I patched it up for a while, but we could never really get the smell out. It hasn't been used for over three months now. I'd have started on that next. I thought you would have been away a bit longer."
"Baby was born on the tenth of August and I left three weeks later. She was thriving and I was homesick."
"Fancy that!" said Sarah. "Is she a good baby?"
Magdalen sat on a block of wood by the fire to feed the baby. "Yes, she feeds well and sleeps well and seems strong. Aunt Ann says she is quite healthy and energetic. I wonder William, if you could make me a wash trough for her clothes?"
"I've already got you a tree trunk and hollowed it out and put it on small legs. Would you rather have it near the house or near the waterhole?"
"Near the waterhole I think to save carrying water."
"I thought so. I've put it there already."
"And I see the cradle is finished. It's really beautiful. She can sleep in it as soon as she's fed. And what is that?"
William walked over to a hessian cupboard and opened the hessian door. "It's a safe for food. The tins of water under the legs keep away the ants. The hessian allows the air to keep it cool and keeps out the flies."
Sarah was so impressed that William promised to make her one in appreciation of her help.
"You'll be that busy Mr Yabsley! You've been workin' nilly twenty-four hours a day as it is. And now you've got three more to provide for."
"Jane is going to help me with the baby and the animals aren't you dear?"
"Will Papa make me something?"
"Of course 'e will," said Sarah. "Before 'e makes my safe. You know your mama 'as to keep up 'er strength to feed the baby. She must eat well and not overdo things. I'll send Joey around later to 'elp you with the animals until you get used to it."
William asked for news of prices in Sydney. "Prices are falling. A lot of people are worried. Wool prices in England have dropped, the wool boom is over. And cattle prices are falling and squatters are having trouble selling their excess stock. Uncle William is worried because he has a lot of debts."
"Sounds bad," said Sarah. "I'm glad me and Joe 'ave no debts except to poor Mr Price. Mr Bawden I should say. We'll probably stay 'ere for the time being instead of goin' to Port Macquarie."
When Magdalen had finished feeding the baby, she put her to sleep in the cedar cradle.
"You know there are seven banks for a population of 150,000. The banks have been accepting less and less security just to be able to compete with their rivals. They were lending money to merchants mostly, who supplied the squatters with supplies and stock on credit."
"When the squatters can't sell their stock, they can't pay their interest, and the merchants can't pay the banks."
"We're better off living day by day. If only somethin' could be done about poor Mr Price's store. You was wise to bring some supplies from Sydney."
"And another problem is the labour shortage since the end of Transportation."
"We don't 'ave that problem either on the Big River."
The next morning Magdalen and Jane went with William to the waterhole near which the bullocks grazed over-night. "Wellington, Nelson!" he called, and presently the sound of their bells came closer and the leaders came through the scrub to the spot where William had left the yokes bows and chains, laid out ready. While the leaders were being yoked, the next two bullocks, Strawberry and Buttercup appeared, followed by Star and Goldie, and took up their familiar positions.
"When they're pulling, the polers have most of the weight of the load on their necks. They're the biggest and strongest in the team," explained William.
Magdalen and Jane stood nearby while William put the yokes on the pairs of bullocks, adjusted the bows and attached the chain to the start ring.
"It's quicker than harnessing horses," observed Magdalen. "Horses have individual harnesses, bullocks are yoked in pairs and there are not as many pieces."
"There are a lot of advantages of bullocks especially in rough country. They're stronger, easier to look after, and cheaper to buy."
Jane asked "How do they know which way to go Papa?"
"The leaders have to be the most experienced and intelligent. They have to know a lot. 'C'm 'ere' means to the left, 'Gee over' means turn to the right. 'Whoa' means stop."
Jane was not yet certain of her own right and left hand and she thought the animals must indeed be very clever.
"When we go around a bend, I have to tell each animal what to do. If we're turning left, the bullocks on this side have to go slower and the others have to pull more, at the right time. The leaders have to go beyond the curve before turning or else the load will cut the corner instead of holding the curve."
"Do they all know their own names?"
"Of course! Well I'll be back before nightfall." He and the team moved off, dragging a large rough timber sledge which would protect the soft timber from damage, as it was hauled from the sawpits to the creek.
* * *
William tried to organise his schedule so that he was not away from the Settlement for more than a day or two at the most. He would go no further than half a day's journey away so that the logs could be loaded and he could return by the next night. The bullockies had a reputation of hard-swearing and harsh treatment of their animals, but William found that this was not necessary. Being by nature a patient and mild-mannered man, he very seldom used the whip. He could soon crack his whip expertly with either hand, but mostly saved his energy to help where he could, instead of displaying anger against the bewildered beasts. At first he had been quite disheartened at the number of skills he had to acquire immediately in order to be able to yoke the bullocks, before he could begin work. Then there was the task of teaching them to respond to his voice.
"They don't understand your Devon accent," said the timber-getters. "They can only speak Irish."
To William a difficult task was a challenge which he met with determination. When it seemed impossible to get the team working together, he took time to study the situation until he found a different approach. The team had to find its own tracks, and at times the load did not follow smoothly. The team had to be halted and William had to use every ounce of his strength to lever the timber around an obstruction and at the same time urge the beasts to pull. At other times they had to ease back, while he rolled the logs into a straight line behind. When he got home he sometimes collapsed for hours, too exhausted even to eat. Magdalen would keep his dinner hot while she took the children for a walk if necessary to give him time to recuperate.
He became attached to his team in his own undemonstrative way, and as the first owner of a bullock team on the Clarence, often expounded their virtues. A horse may be stronger, but did not have the steady pull of a bullock. A horse needed much more fodder. A horse team took longer to harness each morning, and needed more attention. A bullock could outlast any horse, and its hide was tougher.
William felt as proud of his strong sinewy bullocks as Dr Dobie did of his expensive brood mares, or James Mylne of his beautiful imported chestnut mare.
"They are really patient and docile animals if they are handled properly," he said. "Too much shouting defeats the purpose and makes them unresponsive. They get bewildered. It takes more out of the driver than the team."
It was not long before most of the timber close to the Settlement had been cut, and William decided to employ a man to do the longer hauls while he put a plan of his own into action. He wanted to build a ship, a sixty ton schooner. He did not mention it to anybody, knowing that everyone else would have considered it a completely unrealistic ambition to a man without capital. And to everyone else it would have been impossible.
Baby Eliza was two months old, sleeping through the night in her cedar cradle, smiling at everyone, easy to manage, a delight to her family. Jane had quickly learned how to do a number of helpful things for her mother, and took her duties very seriously. She felt proud to mind the baby while her mother did the washing or went to the store.
Meat from 'Ramornie' station was still available at "Price's Store" but the temporary storekeeper hired by Mr Bawden was letting his stocks of other things run low. Merchants in Sydney were reluctant to let an inexperienced man have credit in the economic climate, and the whole situation was unsettled.
One day when Magdalen went to buy meat, she met Mr and Mrs Bawden, whom she had not seen since her return with the baby. Mr Bawden told her that he was still trying to get the legal matters settled in connection with his partnership in the store with the late Mr Price, and at the same time was trying to carry out his plans to begin a run across the river at 'Penberthy' near the wharf where wool from the Tablelands was shipped to Sydney.
"I have heard you have another dear little daughter, Mrs Yabsley," said Mary Bawden. "How is she?"
"She's blooming. Jane is with her for a while, so I have to hurry back. Would you like to come and have a cup of tea?"
"No thank you Mrs Yabsley. I would like to but I'm on my way to see someone. She's a newcomer to the Colony, and really doesn't know how to cope with life in the Outback. Her husband is away timber-getting and she is left with the children. Her next baby is due and I have promised to be with her. I came down with my husband to make some purchases for her. They probably won't last long away from civilisation, but in the meantime she needs help."
"Let me know if there is anything I can do. How soon do you expect to move to your new run?"
"Soon we hope. We are negotiating to buy stock. We have a hut there already. I hope we'll soon see you more often. It's good grazing land, the first pastoral holding on the north of the river. We're really keen to begin. My husband is going over there when he has taken me on my errand."
Mr Bawden had been talking to the man whom he had employed in the store. When he had completed his business, and collected his mail, he was ready to take his wife to do her good deed. In his pocket he had a letter which he hoped contained some news from Mr John Edye Manning, about the partnership with the late Mr Price. Having taken the medicines and groceries which his wife had selected, he put them in the boat and then opened his letter.
"I can't make it out," he told Mary. "It says nothing straight out. Matters are being investigated." He put it away and began to row strongly up the river.
"I hope this baby comes today. I'll hang up a white cloth if it does."
William Bawden helped her ashore, then rowed across the river to 'Penberthy' to attend to matters on his run. He then called at Bentley's store where a group of men had rolled out a cask and called upon the newcomer to join them. Mary Bawden stayed all day with the woman, fed and washed the children and tidied the house. During the afternoon she delivered a healthy baby boy after a short period of labour. In the evening she prepared a meal for the family, and collected her things to wait for her husband, having hung out a white cloth as a signal that she was ready.
Standing in the doorway of the hut she noticed that a storm was brewing. She could see her husband coming across the river. The water was quite choppy and a stiff breeze was blowing up. At that point the river was a quarter of a mile wide and he seemed to be making very slow headway against the wind. She made her way towards the river as he approached, saying to the eldest child.
"George, come and tell me in the forenoon how your mother is. I'll come again tomorrow if she needs me."
William Bawden seemed to be almost as far from the bank as before. He was a good rower, and she could not understand why he was getting no closer. He seemed to be tiring. The boat began to toss violently in mid-steam. Suddenly an extra strong gust of wind caught it. The boat was overturned and the rower, a poor swimmer struggled desperately for a few minutes and was swept away before her eyes.
In terrible distress Mary Bawden raced the several miles to the Settlement for help. Although she had seen the accident her reaction was disbelief that her husband could not be rescued. Several strong men rowed out in a whaleboat and recovered his body, but still Mary could not accept that she was a widow and young Tommy had no father. It was so unfair. She had already lost four babies. She felt angry that the neighbour had called upon her services, that the partnership with Mr Price had not been settled and had delayed their move across to 'Penberthy', that the men carousing at Bentley's had persuaded him to join them. If ...
Everyone was stunned. Magdalen was sent for to sit up all night with the body and straighten it as it stiffened, helping to sew the shroud of unbleached calico. William helped to make a hasty coffin, using pegs instead of nails, which would rust and allow the coffin to fall apart. These little details were intended to give the distraught woman some comfort. But everyone knew that nothing could really lessen her grief. The vision of her husband's last moments would follow her day and night.
Magdalen had terrifying premonitions about drowning. After the tragedy she avoided going near the water unless it was absolutely necessary. She had to steel herself to get into a boat when this was essential, and for months had nightmares that she or William or one of the girls was drowning.