Some children assert that there are no fairies in Australia. Wait until you read this story, and then you shall judge for yourself. It was summer; there had been no rain for many months; hardly a blade of grass was to be seen; the little left was of the colour of stubble. The once full-flowing creek was a chain of water-holes, very muddy, and harrowed with hoof-prints. The cattle and horses made tracks through the puddles night and morning. These thirsty half-starved animals came long, weary marches over the plains to drink, plodding through the water to the other bank in their weary search for grass or anything to feed upon. The only water for miles around was the turbid and scanty supply in the creek-already fast drying up. Settlers brought their tanks on drays, sometimes a distance of ten or twelve miles, taking a whole day to travel thither and back. By day the sun was blazing, and sank to rest in the evening a fiery-red veiled in a smoky shroud. Even the moon when it shone at night seemed sultry. As for the winds they appeared to have gone over the sea on their summer holiday. Only came occasionally the fierce, hot gust, whirling the dead, brown leaves in with Ounces round and round raising whirlwinds of swirling dust that could be seen far away over the brown, bare plain.
"No fairy could ever live in such a place," sighed Katie Burton. She had been sitting on the bank of the creek with her chin on her hand, for an hour. Her father and brother were filling the tank at the muddy holes below. Katie had been waiting for them, and occupied her little fancy in thinking about fairies all the time. She was just eight years old, and some friend had given her a book of fairy tales for a birthday gift but those lovely English fairies! 'Their abodes were amongst green grass and beautiful flowers, where tinkling streams ran softly by. It was enough to make one's mouth water only to read of it.
" So," she said in a very decided tone, "I'll never see a fairy in Australia. It's much too hot and dry here. They'd frizzle up, poor little things !" Just then she was aroused by the rattling of the harness as the horses began to drag the now-filled tank up a gently sloping part of the bank from the bed of the creek. The horses toiled wearily up the track; the men walking by their side. Then Katie called out, "Ready, father?' " No, I and Ned’ll have a smoke first; you can sit still where you are. I'll call out when I'm going."
So Katie sat very still and watched all sorts of wild things come to the creek to take their evening drink now that the dray had gone. The sun had dipped suddenly below the horizon, a gentle breeze had sprung up as if by accident. First came some lovely bronze winged pigeons. Their home was in the mallee, three miles away. Katie liked to listen to the startled whirr of their wings when they rose to fly away. Soon came an army of rabbits, very thin and gaunt. They had lived mainly on the bark of small mallee trees for many weeks past. Poor things! They went about heavily now, without any of their usual lively scuttling. Then, when it grew dusk, a sneaking-looking dingo came ever so softly down the opposite bank, took a hurried drink, and ran off with his tail between his legs, looking from aide to side as if he scented danger around. Katie was next delighted to see two grey shadows hopping steadily across the plain, which she knew were kangaroos. Katie made a little movement to get nearer to them when they had begun to drink, and one of them stood up quickly, holding out its fore-paws and looking so startled and so funny that she laughed. That child's laugh finished the poor kangaroos! With a frightened scuffle they hopped off, never stopping once until they were out of sight in the shadowy distance. Katie wished she could stay longer, till the moon was up, for she knew there were opossums to come down from the gum trees, and it was SO very pleasant to watch the stealthy little animals climb about the branches, and listen to their hissing chatter. But just then she heard her father calling her from a little distance on the road. He had finished his smoke and was heading for home. So Katie ran to him and he helped her into the dray, and away they rumbled. The tank could have been heard far creaking in the distance. Sometimes an extra deep rut in the road would send the water spinning over the top. After a while the shaking and rumbling grew monotonous. Father and Ned were not very talkative. They were inwardly wondering what would happen to everybody if the rain did not come soon, and their wondering did not tend to enliven them. Perhaps Katie went to sleep and tumbled off the dray.
At any rate, after they had apparently gone about three miles, she found herself on the road alone, without any idea how she had got there. The creaking she could still hear, but it seemed a very long way off, and although she ran and called to her father to stop, the dray only went the faster. Soon she lost sight of it, and she was now left really alone. Strange to say, she did not feel at all frightened but only wondered what mother would say when she found her daughter was not of the party. She looked around her and saw a belt of timber a few hundred yards away. She ran to it, thinking that under the trees she might find a nice cosy place to couch for the night. Sitting under a she-oak, she was startled to hear a dear little voice call out, " Hallo!" She looked up and there sure enough, hanging by one hand to a rush-like branch, was a tiny human figure! Now it this figure had been at all like one of the fairies Katie had read about in the book, I suppose she would have greeted it almost as an old acquaintance, and would not have been at all started. But the little stranger was a very different description of fairy of the woods. He was of the colour of the dead grass, yet bright and shining: His yellow face was sparkling with mischief. On his head was a tiny, slouch, cabbage-tree hat. His feet and Iegs were encased in yellow boots. His upper garments were simply a shirt and trousers; and instead of the orthodox fairy wand he carried a tiny stock-whip. He hung firmly to the branch, eyeing Katie quite impudently. She fairly started back some steps.
"Well, you’re the little girl that thought fairies couldn't live in Australia. You thought it too hot for them."
"Well, you know," said Katie, timidly, for the fairy had spoken rather sharply, "it was rather hot."
"Rather hot'!" returned the fairy-man, getting yellower than ever in the face with excitement. “By jingo! if you call this hot, you must be very young indeed. If you'd been here forty years ago you might have ventured to call it hot. One of our fairies was actually known to perspire out in the moonlight. But this! Only a baby would call this hot. __ I say little girl, does your mother know you're out?"
Katie could hardly believe her ears. A fairy talking in this slangy manner! The polite little people of fairy lore! She had often been advised to be like them when her own manners were not quite what her mother thought they should be.
"You're rather rude," she ventured to remark. The fairy took no notice.
"I say, little girl," he said again, "I'll tell you what; I'll show you an Australian fairy dance. After that you'll not doubt, our existence fancy. Why we live here under the branches of the she-oak trees. That rustling sound you always hear when you are near these trees is our fairy music, which you could plainly distinguish if your ears were tiny enough."
"Oh! I'm glad you have music," said Katie. " All the fairies in books have lovely bell music all around them. Does your music sound wee and tinkling like bells?'
" Does it sound like a fiddlestick?" replied the rude fairy, and he hopped down on her shoulder and cracked his long whip in her ear. Immediately the music of the tree became audible to her; but, instead of the sweet tinkling of bells, she heard a sound just like the laughter of the jackass birds, with the boom of the bittern for a drum. She drew back, rather bewildered at the noise.
" I don't think it's such nice music as the bells," she said timidly.
" That's because you don't know anything about it. But just wait a minute; I'll show you something that will astonish you more than that." And he blew the whistle at the end of his whip, and then gave a loud “Co-o-ee." Immediately there darted out from all parts of the tree hundreds of yellow fairies; but these were not so bright as the
newcomer, who was evidently their king. Instead of the slouch hat-which was the badge of royalty they each wore a little yellow cap, and instead of a whip they carried a boomerang.
"Come on, you fellows," shouted the fairy king. " Show this young woman a fairies' dance."
" Right you are," answered the subjects in chorus; and they all got down from the tree, each one bounding as lightly as a piece of cork. Katie remarked at once that Australian fairies have no wings. They ran alone a little track till they came to a very dusty place.
"Now, then, boys!" said the king, jumping down from Katie's shoulder. They all formed a ring around him, and the dance began. Whirling round and round went the fairies, while the music played faster and faster, and the dust rose higher and higher until it reached an enormous height. Katie found out that she was looking at a real whirlwind. The higher the dust went the more the fairies shouted and danced, while the king stood in the centre and administered sundry cracks and flips with his whip to any he thought were lagging.
When at last they stopped the king asked Katie what she thought of it.
"It was very nice," she answered, "but don't you get rather dusty?"
" Do we look dusty?'' asked the king in a slightly aggrieved tone. Katie looked closely, but they were all trim and neat and yellow, without a sign of dust or distress on their funny yellow faces.
"Well, no," she replied, "you don't; but I thought it was impossible to dance in dust like that and not get dusty."
"Well, it just shows your ignorance of the whole thing," retorted the fairy. " And an other thing I forgot to to say is, that you mustn't think we are only moonlight fairies, although we do come out in the moonlight when it is very bright. We look upon moonlight as very wishy-washy light, and much prefer the hottest sun. You may often see our fairy dances on hot summer days; or rather the dust raised by them."
"Oh, what are they going to do now?" asked Katie.
The fairies were shouting and scampering about, at last setting off running to a tree at some distance.
"Oh, they're just going to have a drink," said the king. " Hanged if don't have one too ! Come along !" And he led Katie to a gum-tree, behind the projecting roots of which were standing some fairies. Arranged on the roots were hundreds of little cups made of the dried calyx of the gum blossom.
" The spirit of the bush," said the king to her grimly, *' Have some?"
He handed a tiny cup to Katie. Instead of a drop of honey-dew, such as fairies have always been supposed to drink she found herself half choked with a drop of the strongest extract of eucalyptus imaginable.
" Do you drink eucalyptus instead of water, or honey? Or have you all got colds?" she asked the minute she could speak.
" Now, is there any water, or any of your sticky honey-dew to be had!" answered the king.
" Well there's nothing here but I thought you went to the creek as we do, and had a drink. You could bring some back with you," answered Katie.
" An Australian fairy drink water! Why we'd all die if we were to touch it. Now, did you ever hear of a real native-born Australian man who would drink water neat? If so, I'd like to see him. Oh, no ! We preside over all the cradles in the country, and we take care our men have better heads than all that comes to!"
" And does eucalyptus make you tipsy? asked Katie.
" If you're soft-headed enough, of course it does. Look at that fairy over there. I'm afraid he's about half-seas-over already. And we call it euca for short," he added. " Hence ' euchred’.. See the joke! Ha, ha!"
Katie saw two fairies endeavouring to lead away a eusa-besotted fairy, who was heard to mutter something aloud getting even with some one as he was dragged off.
" Poor fellow !" said Katie, pityingly. " Is he married?"
" Married? Yea. We're all married, but our wives stay at home and mend the clothes. No new women and woman's franchise for us."
" Woman's franchise? What's that? inquired Katie.
" It's a blow at the rights of man-that's what it is-and I'll take jolly good care there's none of that nonsense in my dominions," answered the king, stoutly, with an assurance that many a husband would have
Katie did not quite understand him, so she changed the conversation.
“Please would you tell me what you have to eat, and how you amuse yourselves! Do you knead the pollen of flowers to make bread and do you use butterflies eggs to make cakes?
The fairy laughed long and loud. “My dear child,” he said in a patronising tone, “Why don’t you disabuse yourself of the pure fiction that we are anything like book fairies. Because we are not! We are real up-to-date, fin-de siècle fairies, and very proud we are of it. Why, fancy eating such rubbish as butterflies' eggs and all that stuff! Ha, ha! I'll tell you what we eat. We eat gold-solid, yellow gold."
Katie fairly started. These were wonderful fairies, indeed!
" Is that what makes you so yellow?" she ventured to ask.
" If yon have any complaint to make as to our complexions," said the king stiffly, " I wish you would make it to some one else."
" I beg your pardon," said Katie, humbly, “ I only wanted to know."
" I think we had better change the subject," said the king severely.
"You wanted to know how we amused ourselves. Follow me."
He led the way to the she-oak again.
On the lowest branches were to be seen about twenty or thirty horse-fies, each tied by a halter, and in charge of several fairy grooms.
"There's our amusement," said the king, waving his hand towards the horse-fies. "Some time, it you visit us in our racing season, you may see a great race, by jingo !
It quite excites me even to think of it. ' Four to one I lay the odds. Three to one bar one.' He shouted at the top of his voice. The good old cries.'
"I thought fairies always ride grasshoppers," said Katie when she could be heard.
The king turned on her quite sharply.
"Did you ever ride a kangaroo “ he asked. "No," said Katie, meekly.
"Then why in Heaven's name, can you expect us to ride jumping jacks of animals when no one else would. If the English fairies can stand such a style of travelling, There’s no reason why we can?”
"Well, no," Katie was obliged to answer, “but," she went on, " do you every go about in the world helping people and taking care of flowers!"
"Well, no. I can't say that we do," said the fairy king, thoughtfully. "But," he added, after a pause, " we have a jolly good time."
"And don't you grant requests that people make?"
"There is one rule in our fairy-land," he replied, "that is like one of the fairies of book-lore, but I had almost forgotten it so seldom do we require to practise it. It is that anyone asking for a gift from an Australian fairy for the first time may ask for whatever she thinks she would like best, and the fairy must grant her request. So if you're thinking of asking any favour out with it. Mind you don't want to change your mind."So Katie thought about all the very nicest things a little girl could possibly have books, dolls, toys, dresses and then suddenly she thought of her father's anxious face when he was thinking of the drought.
" Please, what I would like best of all would be some rain, enough to fill the creeks and waterholes again?"
The fairy shivered.
" You horrid child! Do you want to make us wretched, and the racing season just coming on too!"
He looked so genuinely distressed that Katie wished she had asked for anything else.
"Oh, I am sorry," she cried. "Oh, couldn't I change my wish
"Kit," answered the king sadly, " you can't; but to punish you for your thoughtlessness we will now disappear and you will never see us again."And he blew his whistle. Immediately the fairies came running, and climbed or jumped to their homes in the tree. The fairy music stopped and the fairy king retired to his home at the top of the tree. Katie was not quite sure whether he was not making an ugly face at her as he disappeared, however.
" He's gone now. I do hope he won't get wet, poor little fellow," she said to herself; " and now I must, try to find the way home."
She ran on a little way, when, to her astonishment, she saw the dray just a little way ahead, with its splashing water tank shining in the moonlight. So she ran on and easily climbed into her old place. Her father and brother had evidently not noticed her absence, so she said nothing till she got home", and then she told them all about her wonderful adventure. Of coarse they laughed at her and said she had been asleep. But all I know is that next morning, when the household awoke, the sky was overcast, and a strong wind was beginning to blow. Soon it got darker and darker, and the thunder began to roll. At last down came the rain-steadily, soaking rain. It rained with hardly a pause for twenty-four hours, and by that time the tanks and dams were full once more.
Katie knows she will never see an Australian fairy again, but she does not regret it very much when she thinks of the dry creeks and bare ground, and how nearly her lather was ruined by the terrible drought. But sometimes, when she sees a whirlwind, she rushes up to it and look for the fairies through the wall of dust. She never sees them; but once she was sure she heard the jolly laugh of that little larrikin king of the Australian fairies.
By Carneil (1896) The Australasian, August 1, p. 27. from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139728971