A Pelican Spree in The Big Scrub

By Jimmie Pannikin*

When Gang No. 7½ of cane-cutters cut-out last season, it was found that they had made the record cheque; and to show their joy and pride, they decided to go on the razzle right away in Fourpubbs*, instead of merely indulging in a preliminary foretaste on the river, and then saving the rest of their ‘beans’ for a spree in Sydney.

There was a great commotion in Fourpubbs when it was voiced abroad that Gang No. 7½ was going ‘to do in’ most of its money at Mick Fadden’s hotel, popularly known as the Cane-cutters’ Curse Hotel.

Two of the gang, ‘Italian’ Charlie and Bobby the Rat got the needle into each other before the cut-out ; and they loudly threatened to do for each other.

When the gang reached Fourpubbs, Italian Charlie declared his intention of having a pelican spree, whereupon Bobby the Rat announced his determination to have two pelican sprees one after the other.

Here is the original recipe for a pelican spree. First engage a disused barn, or old shanty. Then procure the following ingredients: — One dozen Richmond River rum (home-brewed, if it is to be got at all), three dozen red herrings, six dozen onions, six pound of good old galloping cheese. This stock is to be consumed in three days. If, at the end of that time, the breath is of a bluish-red appearance, and strong enough to sustain the weight of one’s swag, one may reasonably conclude that the festival has not been a failure.

Italian Charley selected a shanty just below Mick Donovan’s pub. Bobby the Rat pitched his tent in a clump of lantana further down the river bank. When Italian Charlie had completed his pelican spree, he went on a mad drinking bout for three days. By that time Bobby the Rat had successfully concluded his second pelican spree.

Then a truly brilliant idea struck some of the semi-sober cane-cutters. It wasn’t the only thing that struck some of them. They lugged the limp forms of Italian Charlie and Bobby the Rat into an old disused stable at the rear of the C.C. Hotel. Two professional beer-chewers were also rolled in — after a solemn verbal agreement. Amateur artists daubed blood (bullocks’ blood from Plumley’s slaughterhouse) profusely, yet artistically, over the faces and hands and clothes of the four inebriates. Gore was also lavished on the walls, the mangers, the straw bedding. A cane-knife covered with blood and hair was concealed in a corner. A few heavy nulla nullas were blood-toned; and sundry extra touches gave the whole place a ghastly look.

The deadly enemies lay side by side for some hours. Then, to finish the night’s carouse, they were rudely roused by the conspirators at the enervating hour of “two in the morning”.

The conspirators talked of quarrels in the cane-fields, threats, revenge, murder — pointed to the bloodstains and looked scared. Some of them were on the verge of hysterics with drink and want of sleep. Lights were produced, and they showed two of the bloodiest corpses ever seen in the Big Scrub.

Italian Charlie and Bobby the Rat began to comprehend dimly. They felt an awful paralysing fear. Everything was dead against them. Blood on themselves – blood everywhere. It was just as one cane-cutter had sadly pointed out. The two enemies had quarrelled desperaltely.

The two dead men had interfered for peace sake. The madness of drink, and the madness of hate had led to the awful madness of murder; So the men talked and whispered till the grey dawn. The sport was prime.

Bobby the Rat looked frightened to death. Italian Charlie worked his eyes and twitched his hands and fingers horribly. Just as some of the cane-cutters were about to explain the gruesome joke, Italian Charlie swooped down suddenly, grabbed the bloody cane-knife, and faced the shrinking, shivering Bobby the Rat.

“You dogga! You make me fighta. You maka me killa blooda man. You killa ‘nother man. Me an’ you be hanga for dis. Me killa you !”

He swung the deadly knife round fiercely. It is a dreadful weapon, fit to slice a man’s body when wielded by powerful accustomed hands. The cane-cutters tumbled over each other in their anxiety to get out of the way.

Italian Charlie danced in front of Bobby the Rat, wildly brandishing his cane-knife all the while. He stood near the door, and so effectually blocked exit.

“You tief ! You robba! I chop you to little pieca, my oatha, so, so!” with a swing of the knife round about Bobby the Rat’s head.

“We’ll all be blanky well killed if somone doesn’t down that madman!’ said a cockie, who was one of the party. He picked up one of the nulla nullas, and getting behind the cane-cutter let fly with all his might at Italian Charlie, just as latter was making a desperate chop at Bobby the Rat, who stood as one petrified.

The nulla nulla caught Italian Charlie under the chin.

“Oh, Christa!” he yelled, and cut Bobby the Rat’s head fair in two.

The blood spurted out and over Charlie’s face. He wiped his face with his left hand, gazed in terror at the blood for a moment; then he threw down the cane-knife, rushed madly out of the stable into a ghastly grey light, shrieking and raving like a wild beast. He raced down the road to Twowharves* before anyone thought to follow him.

Three days later his body was found in the river between two of the Colonial Sugar Company’s cane-punts, at the mouth of Emigrant Creek.


A story published in the Sydney Sunday Times, December 17, 1899. * Fourpubbs and Twowharves, I believe, were shanty-towns located somewhere in ‘The Big Scrub’ in northern NSW. The Big Scrub, located between the towns of Byron Bay in the east, and Lismore in the west, at this time was the largest area of subtropical lowland rainforest in eastern Australia. It was intensively cleared for agricultural use in the 19th century by colonists. Can anyone tell me in more detail where Fourpubbs and Twowharves were located?


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