Part 2 out of 11
cold; the stars, those sentinels of the sky, appeared intensely
bright. To the explorer they must ever be objects of admiration and
love, as to them he is indebted for his guidance through the untrodden
wilderness he is traversing. "And sweet it is to watch them in the
evening skies weeping dew from their gentle eyes." Several hundred
pelicans, those antediluvian birds, made their appearance upon the
water early this morning, but seeing us they flew away before a shot
could be fired. These birds came from the north-west; indeed, all the
aquatic birds that I have seen upon the wing, come and go in that
direction. I am in hopes of getting through this glen to-day, for
however wild and picturesque the scenery, it is very difficult and bad
travelling for the unshod horses; consequently it is difficult to get
them along. There was no other road to follow than the windings of the
river bed through this mountain-bound glen, in the same manner as
yesterday. Soon after starting, I observed several natives ahead of
us; immediately upon their discovering us they raised a great outcry,
which to our ears did not exactly resemble the agreeable vibration of
the melodious sound, it being quite the opposite. Then of course
signal fires were made which raised great volumes of smoke, the
natives thinking perhaps to intimidate and prevent us from farther
advance. Neither of these effects was produced, so their next idea was
to depart themselves, and they ran ahead of us up the glen. I also saw
another lot of some twenty or thirty scudding away over the rocks and
stony hills--these were probably the women and children. Passing their
last night's encampment, we saw that they had left all their valuables
behind them--these we left untouched. One old gentleman sought the
security of a shield of rock, where this villain upon earth and fiend
in upper air most vehemently apostrophised us, and probably ordered us
away out of his territory. To the command in itself we paid little
heed, but as it fell in with our own ideas, we endeavoured to carry it
out as fast as possible. This, I trust, was satisfactory, as I always
like to do what pleases others, especially when it coincides with my
"It's a very fine thing, and delightful to see
Inclination and duty both join and agree."
Some of the natives near him threatened us with their spears, and
waved knobbed sticks at us, but we departed without any harm being
done on either side.
(ILLUSTRATION: THE PALM-TREE FOUND IN THE GLEN OF PALMS.)
Soon after leaving the natives, we had the gratification of
discovering a magnificent specimen of the Fan palm, a species of
Livistona, allied to one in the south of Arnhem's Land, and now
distinguished as the Maria Palm (Baron von Mueller), growing in the
channel of the watercourse with flood drifts against its stem. Its
dark-hued, dome-shaped frondage contrasted strangely with the paler
green foliage of the eucalyptus trees that surrounded it. It was a
perfectly new botanical feature to me, nor did I expect to meet it in
this latitude. "But there's a wonderful power in latitude, it alters a
man's moral relations and attitude." I had noticed some strange
vegetation in the dry flood drifts lower down, and was on the qui vive
for something new, but I did not know that. This fine tree was sixty
feet long, or high, in the barrel. Passing the palms, we continued
amongst the defiles of this mountain glen, which appears to have no
termination, for no signs of a break or anything but a continuation of
the range could be observed from any of the hills I ascended.
It was late in the afternoon when we left the palm-groves, and though
we travelled over twenty miles in distance could only make twelve good
from last camp. Although this glen was rough and rocky, yet the
purling of the water over its stony bed was always a delightful sound
to me; and when the winds of evening fanned us to repose, it seemed as
though some kindly spirit whispered that it would guard us while we
slept and when the sun declined the swift stream echoed on.
The following day being Sunday, the 1st September, I made it a day of
rest, for the horses at least, whose feet were getting sore from
continued travel over rocks and boulders of stone. I made an excursion
into the hills, to endeavour to discover when and where this
apparently interminable glen ceased, for with all its grandeur,
picturesqueness, and variety, it was such a difficult road for the
horses, that I was getting heartily tired of it; besides this, I
feared this range might be its actual source, and that I should find
myself eventually blocked and stopped by impassable water-choked
gorges, and that I should finally have to retreat to where I first
entered it. I walked and climbed over several hills, cliffs, and
precipices, of red sandstone, to the west of the camp, and at length
reached the summit of a pine-clad mountain considerably higher than
any other near it. Its elevation was over 1000 feet above the level of
the surrounding country. From it I obtained a view to all points of
the compass except the west, and could descry mountains, from the
north-east round by north to the north-north west, at which point a
very high and pointed mount showed its top above the others in its
neighbourhood, over fifty miles away. To the north and east of north a
massive chain, with many dome-shaped summits, was visible. Below,
towards the camp, I could see the channel of the river where it forced
its way under the perpendicular sides of the hills, and at a spot not
far above the camp it seemed split in two, or rather was joined by
another watercourse from the northwards. From the junction the course
of the main stream was more directly from the west. Along the course
of the tributary at about ten miles I could see an apparently open
piece of country, and with the glasses there appeared a sheet of water
upon it. I was glad to find a break in the chain, though it was not on
the line I should travel. Returning to my companions, I imparted to
them the result of my observations.
On Monday, the 2nd, there was a heaviness in the atmosphere that felt
like approaching rain. The thermometer during the night had not fallen
below 60 degrees; over 4 degrees higher than at our first night's camp
from the pillar. To-day, again following the mazy windings of the
glen, we passed the northern tributary noticed yesterday, and
continued on over rocks, under precipices, crossing and re-crossing
the channel, and turning to all points of the compass, so that nearly
three miles had to be travelled to make good one. Clumps of the
beautiful palms were occasionally passed, growing mostly in the river
bed, and where they appear, they considerably enliven the scenery.
During my sojourn in this glen, and indeed from first starting, I
collected a great number of most beautiful flowers, which grow in
profusion in this otherwise desolate glen. I was literally surrounded
by fair flowers of every changing hue. Why Nature should scatter such
floral gems upon such a stony sterile region it is difficult to
understand, but such a variety of lovely flowers of every kind and
colour I had never met with previously. Nature at times, indeed,
delights in contrasts, for here exists a land "where bright flowers
are all scentless, and songless bright birds." The flowers alone would
have induced me to name this Glen Flora; but having found in it also
so many of the stately palm trees, I have called it the Glen of Palms.
Peculiar indeed, and romantic too, is this new-found watery glen,
enclosed by rocky walls, "Where dial-like, to portion time, the
palm-tree's shadow falls."
While we were travelling to-day, a few slight showers fell, giving us
warning in their way that heavier falls might come. We were most
anxious to reach the northern mouth of the glen if possible before
night, so heartily tired were we of so continuously serpentine a
track; we therefore kept pushing on. We saw several natives to-day,
but they invariably fled to the fastnesses of their mountain homes,
they raised great volumes of smoke, and their strident vociferations
caused a dull and buzzing sound even when out of ear-shot. The
pattering of the rain-drops became heavier, yet we kept on, hoping at
every turn to see an opening which would free us from our
prison-house; but night and heavier rain together came, and we were
compelled to remain another night in the palmy glen. I found a small
sloping, sandy, firm piece of ground, probably the only one in the
glen, a little off from the creek, having some blood-wood or red
gum-trees growing upon it, and above the reach of any flood-mark--for
it is necessary to be careful in selecting a site on a watercourse,
as, otherwise, in a single instant everything might be swept to
destruction. We were fortunate indeed to find such a refuge, as it was
large enough for the horses to graze on, and there was some good feed
upon it. By the time we had our tarpaulins fixed, and everything under
cover, the rain fell in earnest. The tributary passed this morning was
named Ellery's Creek. The actual distance we travelled to-day was
eighteen miles; to accomplish this we travelled from morn till night.
Although the rain continued at intervals all night, no great quantity
fell. In the morning the heavens were clear towards the south, but to
the north dense nimbus clouds covered the hills and darkened the sky.
Not removing the camp, I took another ramble into the hills to the
east of the camp, and from the first rise I saw what I was most
anxious to see, that is to say, the end, or rather the beginning of
the glen, which occurred at about two miles beyond our camp. Beyond
that the Finke came winding from the north-west, but clouds obscured a
distant view. It appeared that rain must still be falling north of us,
and we had to seek the shelter of our canvas home. At midday the whole
sky became overclouded, rain came slowly down, and when the night
again descended heavier still was then the fall. At an hour after
daylight on the morrow the greatest volume fell, and continued for
several hours. At midday it held up sufficiently to enable me to plant
some seeds of various trees, plants, vegetables, etc., given me
specially by Baron von Mueller. Among these were blue gum (tree),
cucumbers, melons, culinary vegetables, white maize, prairie grass,
sorghum, rye, and wattle-tree seeds, which I soaked before planting.
Although the rain lasted thirty-six hours in all, only about an inch
fell. It was with great pleasure that at last, on the 5th, we left the
glen behind us, and in a couple of miles debouched upon a plain, which
ran up to the foot of this line of ranges. The horses seemed to be
especially pleased to be on soft ground again. The length of this glen
is considerable, as it occupies 31 minutes of latitude. The main
bearing of it is nearly north 25 degrees west; it is the longest
feature of the kind I ever traversed, being over forty miles straight,
and over a hundred miles of actual travelling, and it appeared the
only pass through the range, which I named the Krichauff. To the north
a higher and more imposing chain existed, apparently about twenty
miles away. This northern chain must be the western portion of the
McDonnell Range. The river now is broader than in the glen; its bed,
however, is stony, and not boggy, the country level, sandy, and thinly
timbered, mostly all the vegetation being burnt by grass fires set
alight by the natives.
Travelling now upon the right bank of this stream, we cut off most of
the bends, which, however, were by no means so extensive or so
serpentine as in the glen or on the south side of it. Keeping near the
river bank, we met but little porcupine grass for the most part of the
day's stage, but there was abundance of it further off. The river took
us to the foot of the big mountains, and we camped about a mile below
a gorge through which it issues. As we neared the new hills, we became
aware that the late rains were raising the waters of the river. At six
miles before camping we crossed a tributary joining the Finke at right
angles from the west, where there are some ranges in that direction; a
slight stream was running down the bed. My next anxiety is to discover
where this river comes from, or whether its sources are to be found in
this chain. The day was delightfully fine and cool, the breezes seemed
to vibrate the echo of an air which Music, sleeping at her instrument,
had ceased to play. The ground is soft after the late rains. I said we
camped a mile below a gorge; at night I found my position to be in
latitude 23 degrees 40', and longitude 132 degrees 31', the variation
3 degrees east. We shot a few ducks, which were very fat and good.
This morning I took a walk into the hills to discover the best route
to take next. The high ranges north seem to be formed of three
separate lines, all running east and west; the most northerly being
the highest, rising over 2000 feet above the level of the surrounding
country, and, according to my barometrical and boiling-point
measurements, I found that at the Charlotte Waters I was 900 feet
above the sea. From that point up to the foot of these mountains the
country had steadily risen, as we traced the Finke, over 1000 feet, so
that the highest points of that range are over 4000 feet above sea
level; the most southerly of the three lines is composed of sandstone,
the middle and highest tiers I think change to granite. I climbed for
several hours over masses of hills, but always found one just a little
farther on to shut out the view. At length I reached the summit of a
high round mountain in the middle tier, and a most varied and splendid
panorama was spread before me, or I was spread before it.
To the north was the main chain, composed for the most part of
individual high mounts, there being a valley between them and the hill
I was on, and meandering along through this valley from the west I
could trace the course of the Finke by its timber for some miles. To
the east a mass of high and jumbled hills appeared, and one
bluff-faced mount was more conspicuous than the rest. Nearer to me,
and almost under my feet, was the gorge through which the river
passes, and it appears to be the only pass through this chain. I
approached the precipice overlooking the gorge, and found the channel
so flooded by the late rains, that it was impossible to get the horses
up through it. The hills which enclosed it were equally impracticable,
and it was utterly useless to try to get horses over them. The view to
the west was gratifying, for the ranges appeared to run on in
undiminished height in that direction, or a little north of it. From
the face of several of the hills climbed to-day, I saw streams of pure
water running, probably caused by the late rains. One hill I passed
over I found to be composed of puddingstone, that is to say, a
conglomeration of many kinds of stone mostly rounded and mixed up in a
mass, and formed by the smothered bubblings of some ancient and
ocean-quenched volcano. The surface of the place now more particularly
mentioned had been worn smooth by the action of the passage of water,
so that it presented the appearance of an enormous tessellated
pavement, before which the celebrated Roman one at Bognor, in Sussex,
which I remember, when I was a boy, on a visit to Goodwood, though
more artistically but not more fantastically arranged, would be
compelled to hide its diminished head. In the course of my rambles I
noticed a great quantity of beautiful flowers upon the hills, of
similar kinds to those collected in the Glen of Palms, and these
interested me so greatly, that the day passed before I was aware, and
I was made to remember the line, "How noiseless falls the foot of Time
that only treads on flowers." I saw two kangaroos and one rock
wallaby, but they were too wild to allow me to approach near enough to
get a shot at them. When I said I walked to-day, I really started on
an old favourite horse called Cocky, that had carried me for years,
and many a day have I had to thank him for getting me out of
difficulties through his splendid powers of endurance. I soon found
the hills too rough for a horse, so fixing up his bridle, I said, "Now
you stop there till I come back." I believe he knew everything I said,
for I used frequently to talk to him. When I came back at night, not
thinking he would stay, as the other horses were all feeding within
half a mile of him, there he was just as I had left him. I was quite
inclined to rest after my scrambles in the hills. During the night
nothing occurred to disturb our slumbers, which indeed were aided by
the sounds of the rippling stream, which sang to us a soothing song.
CHAPTER 1.3. FROM 6TH TO 17TH SEPTEMBER, 1872.
Fall back on a tributary.
A new range.
Reach the range.
Wild beauty of scene.
Scarcity of water.
A pea-like vetch.
Name the range.
A barren spot.
Water seen from it.
Follow a creek channel.
Other creeks join it.
A confined glen.
Scrubby and stony hills.
Strike a gum creek.
A pretty tree.
An orange tree.
Tropic of Capricorn.
Mountains to the north.
Ponds of water.
A green plain.
Kangaroos and emus numerous.
A new tree.
Start to ascend it.
Surrounded by scrubs.
A bare slope.
A yawning chasm.
Appearance of the peak.
The tropic clime of youth.
Native method of procuring water.
A pine-clad hill.
A watercourse to the south.
A poor supply of water.
Skywards the only view.
Horses all gone.
Attempt ascending high bluff.
Depart from it.
I had come to the decision, as it was impossible to follow the Finke
through the gorge in consequence of the flood, and as the hills were
equally impracticable, to fall back upon the tributary I had noticed
the day before yesterday as joining the river from the west, thinking
I might in twenty or thirty miles find a gap in the northern range
that would enable me to reach the Finke again. The night was very
cold, the thermometer at daylight stood at 28 degrees. The river had
risen still higher in the night, and it was impossible to pass through
the gorge. We now turned west-south-west, in order to strike the
tributary. Passing first over rough stony ridges, covered with
porcupine grass, we entered a sandy, thickly-bushed country, and
struck the creek in ten miles. A new range lying west I expected to be
the source of it, but it now seemed to turn too much to the south.
There was very poor grass, it being old and dry, but as the new range
to the west was too distant, we encamped, as there was water. This
watercourse was called Rudall's Creek. A cold and very dewy night made
all our packs, blankets, etc., wet and clammy; the mercury fell below
freezing point, but instantly upon the sun's appearance it went up
enormously. The horses rambled, and it was late when we reached the
western range, as our road was beset by some miles of dense scrubs.
The range was isolated, and of some elevation. As we passed along the
creek, the slight flood became slighter still; it had now nearly
ceased running. The day was one of the warmest we had yet experienced.
The creek now seemed not to come from the range, but, thinking water
might be got there so soon after rains, we travelled up to its foot.
The country was sandy, and bedecked with triodia, but near the range I
saw for the first time on this expedition a quantity of the Australian
grass-tree (Xanthorrhoea) dotting the landscape. They were of all
heights, from two to twenty feet. The country round the base of this
range is not devoid of a certain kind of wild beauty. A few blood-wood
or red gum-trees, with their brilliant green foliage, enlivened the
A small creek, lined with gum-trees, issued from an opening or glen,
up which I rode in search of water, but was perfectly unsuccessful, as
not a drop of the life-sustaining fluid was to be found. Upon
returning to impart this discouraging intelligence to my companions, I
stumbled upon a small quantity in a depression, on a broad, almost
square boulder of rock that lay in the bed of the creek. There was not
more than two quarts. As the horses had watered in the afternoon, and
as there was a quantity of a herb, much like a green vetch or small
pea, we encamped. I ascended a small eminence to the north, and with
the glasses could distinguish the creek last left, now running east
and west. I saw water gleaming in its channel, and at the junction of
the little creek we were now on; there was also water nearly east. As
the horses were feeding down the creek that way, I felt sure they
would go there and drink in the night. It is, however, very strange
whenever one wants horses to do a certain thing or feed a certain way,
they are almost sure to do just the opposite, and so it was in the
present case. On returning to camp by a circuitous route, I found in a
small rocky crevice an additional supply of water, sufficient for our
own requirements--there was nearly a bucketful--and felicity reigned
in the camp. A few cypress pines are rooted in the rocky shelving
sides of the range, which is not of such elevation as it appeared from
a distance. The highest points are not more than from 700 to 800 feet.
I collected some specimens of plants, which, however, are not peculiar
to this range. I named it Gosse's range, after Mr. Harry Gosse. The
late rains had not visited this isolated mass. It is barren and
covered with spinifex from turret to basement, wherever sufficient
soil can be found among the stones to admit of its growth.
The night of the 9th of September, like the preceding, was cold and
dewy. The horses wandered quite in the wrong direction, and it was
eleven o'clock before we got away from the camp and went north to the
sheet of water seen yesterday, where we watered the horses and
followed up the creek, as its course here appeared to be from the
west. The country was level, open, and sandy, but covered with the
widely pervading triodia (irritans). Some more Xanthorrhoea were seen,
and several small creeks joined this from the ranges to the north.
Small sheets of water were seen in the creek as we passed along, but
whether they existed before the late rains is very problematical. The
weather is evidently getting warmer. We had been following this creek
for two days; it now turned up into a confined glen in a more
northerly direction. At last its northern course was so pronounced we
had to leave it, as it evidently took its rise amongst the low hills
in that direction, which shut out any view of the higher ranges behind
them. Our road was now about west-north-west, over wretched, stony,
barren, mallee (Eucalyptus) covered low hills or stony rises; the
mallee scrub being so thick, it was difficult to drive the horses
through it. Farther on we crested the highest ground the horses had
yet passed over. From here with the glasses I fancied I saw the timber
of a creek in a valley to the north-west, in which direction we now
went, and struck the channel of a small dry watercourse, whose banks
were lined with gum-trees. When there is any water in its channel, its
flow is to the west. The creek joined another, in which, after
following it for a mile or two, I found a small pool of water, which
had evidently lain there for many months, as it was half slime, and
drying up fast. It was evident the late rains had not fallen here.
In consequence of the windings of the creeks, we travelled upon all
points of the compass, but our main course was a little west of
north-west. The day was warm enough, and when we camped we felt the
benefit of what shade the creek timber could afford. Some of the small
vetch, or pea-like plant, of which the horses are so fond, existed
here. To-day we saw a single quandong tree (Fusanus; one of the sandal
woods, but not of commerce) in full bearing, but the fruit not yet
ripe. I also saw a pretty drooping acacia, whose leaves hung in small
bunches together, giving it an elegant and pendulous appearance. This
tree grows to a height of fifty feet; and some were over a foot
through in the barrel.
The flies to-day were exceedingly troublesome: a sure sign of
increasing temperature. We saw some emus, but being continually hunted
by the natives, they were too shy to allow us to get within shot of
them. Some emu steaks would come in very handy now. Near our pool of
slime a so-called native orange tree (Capparis), of a very poor and
stunted habit, grew; and we allowed it to keep on growing.
The stars informed me, in the night, that I was almost under the
tropic line, my latitude being 23 degrees 29'. The horses fed well on
the purple vetch, their bells melodiously tinkling in the air the
whole night long. The sound of the animals' bells, in the night, is
really musical to the explorer's ear. I called the creek after Mr.
Carmichael; and hoping it would contain good water lower down, decided
to follow it, as it trended to the west. We found, however, in a few
miles, it went considerably to the south of west, when it eventually
turned up again to the north-west.
We still had the main line of mountains on our right, or north of us:
and now, to the south, another line of low hills trended up towards
them; and there is evidently a kind of gap between the two lines of
ranges, about twenty-five miles off. The country along the banks of
Carmichael's Creek was open and sandy, with plenty of old dry grass,
and not much triodia; but to the south, the latter and mallee scrub
approached somewhat near. We saw several small ponds of water as we
passed along, but none of any size. In seven or eight miles it split
into several channels, and eventually exhausted itself upon an open
grassy swamp or plain. The little plain looked bright and green. I
found some rain water, in clay pans, upon it. A clay pan is a small
area of ground, whose top soil has been washed or blown away, leaving
the hard clay exposed; and upon this surface, one, two, three, or
(scarcely) more inches of rain water may remain for some days after
rain: the longer it remains the thicker it gets, until at last it
dries in cakes which shine like tiles; these at length crumble away,
and the clay pan is swept by winds clean and ready for the next
shower. In the course of time it becomes enlarged and deepened. They
are very seldom deep enough for ducks.
The grass and herbage here were excellent. There were numerous
kangaroos and emus on the plain, but they preferred to leave us in
undisturbed possession of it. There were many evidences of native
camping places about here; and no doubt the natives look upon this
little circle as one of their happy hunting grounds. To-day I noticed
a tree in the mallee very like a Currajong tree. This being the most
agreeable and fertile little spot I had seen, we did not shift the
camp, as the horses were in clover. Our little plain is bounded on the
north by peculiar mountains; it is also fringed with scrub nearly all
round. The appearance of the northern mountains is singular,
grotesque, and very difficult to describe. There appear to be still
three distinct lines. One ends in a bluff, to the east-north-east of
the camp; another line ends in a bluff to the north-north-east; while
the third continues along the northern horizon. One point, higher than
the rest in that line, bears north 26 degrees west from camp. The
middle tier of hills is the most strange-looking; it recedes in the
distance eastwards, in almost regular steps or notches, each of them
being itself a bluff, and all overlooking a valley. The bluffs have a
circular curve, are of a red colour, and in perspective appear like a
gigantic flat stairway, only that they have an oblique tendency to the
southward, caused, I presume, by the wash of ocean currents that, at
perhaps no greatly distant geological period, must have swept over
them from the north. My eyes, however, were mostly bent upon the high
peak in the northern line; and Mr. Carmichael and I decided to walk
over to, and ascend it. It was apparently no more than seven or eight
As my reader is aware, I left the Finke issuing through an
impracticable gorge in these same ranges, now some seventy-five miles
behind us, and in that distance not a break had occurred in the line
whereby I could either get over or through it, to meet the Finke
again; indeed, at this distance it was doubtful whether it were worth
while to endeavour to do so, as one can never tell what change may
take place, in even the largest of Australian streams, in such a
distance. When last seen, it was trending along a valley under the
foot of the highest of three tiers of hills, and coming from the west;
but whether its sources are in those hills, or that it still runs on
somewhere to the north of us, is the question which I now hope to
solve. I am the more anxious to rediscover the Finke, if it still
exists, because water has been by no means plentiful on the route
along which I have lately been travelling; and I believe a better
country exists upon the other side of the mountains.
At starting, Carmichael and I at first walked across the plain, we
being encamped upon its southern end. It was beautifully grassed, and
had good soil, and it would make an excellent racecourse, or ground
for a kangaroo hunt. We saw numbers of kangaroos, and emus too, but
could get no shots at them. In three miles the plain ended in thick,
indeed very dense, scrub, which continued to the foot of the hills; in
it the grass was long, dry, and tangled with dead and dry burnt sticks
and timber, making it exceedingly difficult to walk through. Reaching
the foot of the hills, I found the natives had recently burnt all the
vegetation from their sides, leaving the stones, of which it was
composed, perfectly bare. It was a long distance to the top of the
first ridge, but the incline was easy, and I was in great hopes, if it
continued so, to be able to get the horses over the mountains at this
spot. Upon arriving at the top of the slope, I was, however,
undeceived upon that score, for we found the high mount, for which we
were steering, completely separated from us by a yawning chasm, which
lay, under an almost sheer precipice, at our feet. The high mountain
beyond, near the crown, was girt around by a solid wall of rock, fifty
or sixty feet in height, from the edge of which the summit rose. It
was quite unapproachable, except, perhaps, in one place, round to the
The solid rock of which it had formerly been composed had, by some
mighty force of nature, been split into innumerable fissures and
fragments, both perpendicularly and horizontally, and was almost
mathematically divided into pieces or squares, or unequal cubes,
simply placed upon one another, like masons' work without mortar. The
lower strata of these divisions were large, the upper tapered to
pieces not much larger than a brick, at least they seemed so from a
distance. The whole appearance of this singular mount was grand and
awful, and I could not but reflect upon the time when these colossal
ridges were all at once rocking in the convulsive tremblings of some
mighty volcanic shock, which shivered them into the fragments I then
beheld. I said the hill we had ascended ended abruptly in a precipice;
by going farther round we found a spot, which, though practicable, was
difficult enough to descend. At the bottom of some of the ravines
below I could see several small pools of water gleaming in little
The afternoon had been warm, if not actually hot, and our walking and
climbing had made us thirsty; the sight of water made us all the more
so. It was now nearly sundown, and it would be useless to attempt the
ascent of the mountain, as by the time we could reach its summit, the
sun would be far below the horizon, and we should obtain no view at
It was, however, evident that no gap or pass existed by which I could
get my horses up, even if the country beyond were ever so promising. A
few of the cypress or Australian pines (Callitris) dotted the summits
of the hills, they also grew on the sides of some of the ravines below
us. We had, at least I had, considerable difficulty in descending the
almost perpendicular face to the water below. Carmichael got there
before I did, and had time to sit, laving his feet and legs in a fine
little rock hole full of pure water, filled, I suppose, by the late
rains. The water, indeed, had not yet ceased to run, for it was
trickling from hole to hole. Upon Mr. Carmichael inquiring what
delayed me so long, I replied: "Ah, it is all very easy for you; you
have two circumstances in your favour. You are young, and therefore
able to climb, and besides, you are in the tropic." To which he very
naturally replies, "If I am in the tropic you must be also." I
benignly answer, "No, you are in the tropic clime of youth." While on
the high ground no view of any kind, except along the mountains for a
mile or two east and west, could be obtained. I was greatly
disappointed at having such a toilsome walk for so little purpose. We
returned by a more circuitous route, eventually reaching the camp very
late at night, thoroughly tired out with our walk. I named this
mountain Mount Musgrave. It is nearly 1700 feet above the level of the
surrounding country, and over 3000 feet above the sea. The next day
Mr. Carmichael went out to shoot game; there were kangaroos, and in
the way of birds there were emus, crows, hawks, quail, and
bronze-winged pigeons; but all we got from his expedition was nil. The
horses now being somewhat refreshed by our stay here, we proceeded
across the little plain towards another high bluff hill, which loomed
over the surrounding country to the west-north-west. Flies were
troublesome, and very busy at our eyes; soon after daylight, and
immediately after sunrise, it became quite hot.
Traversing first the racecourse plain, we then entered some mulga
scrub; the mulga is an acacia, the wood extremely hard. It grows to a
height of twenty to thirty feet, but is by no means a shady or even a
pretty tree; it ranges over an enormous extent of Australia. The scrub
we now entered had been recently burnt near the edge of the plain; but
the further we got into it, the worse it became. At seven miles we
came to stones, triodia, and mallee, a low eucalyptus of the gumtree
family, growing generally in thick clumps from one root: its being
rooted close together makes it difficult travelling to force one's way
through. It grows about twenty feet high. The higher grade of
eucalypts or gum-trees delight in water and a good soil, and nearly
always line the banks of watercourses. The eucalypts of the mallee
species thrive in deserts and droughts, but contain water in their
roots which only the native inhabitants of the country can discover. A
white man would die of thirst while digging and fooling around trying
to get the water he might know was preserved by the tree, but not for
him; while an aboriginal, upon the other hand, coming to a
mallee-tree, after perhaps travelling miles through them without
noticing one, will suddenly make an exclamation, look at a tree, go
perhaps ten or twelve feet away, and begin to dig. In a foot or so he
comes upon a root, which he shakes upwards, gradually getting more and
more of it out of the ground, till he comes to the foot of the tree;
he then breaks it off, and has a root perhaps fifteen feet long--this,
by the way, is an extreme length. He breaks the root into sections
about a foot long, ties them into bundles, and stands them up on end
in a receptacle, when they drain out a quantity of beautifully sweet,
pure water. A very long root such as I have mentioned might give
nearly a bucketful of water; but woe to the white man who fancies he
can get water out of mallee. There are a few other trees of different
kinds that water is also got from, as I have known it obtained from
the mulga, acacia trees, and from some casuarina trees; it depends
upon the region they are in, as to what trees give the most if any
water, but it is an aboriginal art at any time or place to find it.
The mallee we found so dense that not a third of the horses could be
seen together, and with great difficulty we managed to reach the foot
of a small pine-clad hill lying under the foot of the high bluff
before mentioned--there a small creek lined with eucalypts ran under
its foot. Though our journey to-day was only twelve miles, that
distance through such horrible scrubs took us many hours. From the top
of the piny hill I could see a watercourse to the south two or three
miles away; it is probably Carmichael's Creek, reformed, after
splitting on the plain behind; Carmichael found a little water-hole up
this channel, with barely sufficient water for our use. The day had
been disagreeably warm. I rode over to the creek to the south, and
found two small puddles in its bed; but there was evidently plenty of
water to be got by digging, as by scratching with my hands I soon
obtained some. The camp which Carmichael and Robinson had selected,
while I rode over to the other creek, was a most wretched place, in
the midst of dense mallee and amidst thick plots of triodia, which we
had to cut away before we could sit down.
The only direction in which we could see a yard ahead of us was up
towards the sky; and as we were not going that way, it gave us no idea
of our next line of route. The big bluff we had been steering for all
day was, I may say, included in our skyward view, for it towered above
us almost overhead. Being away when the camp was selected, I was sorry
to hear that the horses had all been let go without hobbles; as they
had been in such fine quarters for three nights at the last camp on
the plain, it was more than probable they would work back through the
scrub to it in the night. The following morning not a horse was to be
found! Robinson and I went in search of them, and found they had split
into several mobs. I only got three, and at night Robinson returned
with only six, the remainder had been missed in the dense scrubs. The
thermometer stood at 95 degrees in the shade, and there was a warm
wind blowing. Robinson had a fine day's work, as he had to walk back
to the camp on the plain for the horses he got. In the afternoon I
attempted the high bluff immediately overlooking the camp. I had a bit
of cliff-climbing, and reached the summit of one hill of some
elevation, 1300 feet, and then found that a vast chasm, or ravine,
separated me from the main mountain chain. It would be dark before I
could--if I could--reach the summit, and then I should get no view, so
I returned to the camp. The height was considerable, as mountains in
this part of the world go, as it towered above the hill I was upon,
and was 500 or 600 feet higher. These mountains appear to be composed
of a kind of conglomerate granite; very little timber existed upon
them, but they were splendidly supplied with high, strong, coarse
spinifex. I slipped down a gully, fell into a hideous bunch of this
horrid stuff, and got pricked from head to foot; the spiny points
breaking off in my clothes and flesh caused me great annoyance and
pain for many days after. Many beautiful flowers grew on the
hillsides, in gullies and ravines; of these I collected several. We
secured what horses we had, for the night, which was warm and sultry.
In the morning Robinson and I rode after the still missing ones; at
the plain camp we found all except one, and by the time we returned it
Not hobbling the horses in general, we had some difficulty in finding
a pair of hobbles for each, and not being able to do so, I left one in
the mob without. This base reptile surreptitiously crawled away in the
night by himself. As our camp was the most wretched dog-hole it was
possible for a man to get into, in the midst of dense mallee, triodia,
and large stones, I determined to escape from it, before looking for
the now two missing animals. The water was completely exhausted. We
moved away south-westerly for about three miles, to the creek I had
scratched in some days ago; now we had to dig a big hole with a
shovel, and with a good deal of labour we obtained a sufficient supply
for a few days.
CHAPTER 1.4. FROM 17TH SEPTEMBER TO 1ST OCTOBER, 1872.
Search for the missing horses.
Hot wind and flying sand.
Last horse recovered.
Annoyed by flies.
Mountains to the west.
Follow the creek.
Dig a tank.
Character of the country.
A desolate region.
A bare granite hill.
Search for water.
Find a rock reservoir.
Gloomy and desolate view.
The old chain.
Hills surrounded by scrubs.
More hills to the west.
View from a hill.
Renewed search for water.
Find a small supply.
Effects of the spinifex on the horses.
Pack-horses in scrubs.
The Mus conditor.
Glistening micaceous hills.
Waterless hill nine hundred feet high.
Oceans of scrub.
Retreat to last reservoir.
Night without water.
Two horses lost.
Take a wrong turn.
Difficulty in watering the horses.
An uncomfortable camp.
Mark a tree.
Flies again troublesome.
Start for the western ranges.
Reach the range.
Retreat to Mount Udor.
Determine to abandon this region.
Native poplar trees.
A mare foals.
Depart for the south.
Remarks on the country.
Having fixed our camp at a new place, in the afternoon of the 17th
September, Robinson and I again went to look after the horses. At
three miles above the camp we found some water; soon after we got the
tracks of one horse and saw that he had been about there for a day or
two, as the tracks were that age. We made a sweep out round some
hills, found the tracks again, much fresher, and came upon the horse
about seven miles from the camp. The other horse was left for
to-morrow. Thermometer 96 degrees, sky overcast, rain imminent.
During the night of the 18th of September a few heat-drops of rain
fell. I sent Robinson away to the plain camp, feeling sure he would
find the rover there. A hot wind blew all day, the sand was flying
about in all directions. Robinson got the horse at last at the plain,
and I took special care to find a pair of hobbles for him for this
night at all events. The flies were an intolerable nuisance, not that
they were extraordinarily numerous, but so insufferably pertinacious.
I think the tropic fly of Australia the most abominable insect of its
kind. From the summit of the hill I ascended on Sunday, I found the
line of mountains still ran on to the west, the furthest hills
appeared fifty miles away. As they extend so far, and are the
principal features in sight, I shall follow them, in hopes of meeting
some creek, or river, that may carry me on to the west. It is a
remarkable fact that such high hills as I have been following should
send out no creek whose course extends farther than ten or twelve
miles. I could trace the creek I am now on by its timber for only a
few miles, its course appearing south of west. The country in its
immediate neighbourhood is open, and timbered with fine casuarina
trees; the grass is dry and long, and the triodia approaches to within
a quarter of a mile of it. The line of hills I previously mentioned as
running along to the south of us, we had now run out. I named them
Gardiner's Range, after a friend of Mr. Carmichael's. There is,
however, one small isolated hill, the furthest outpost of that line,
some three miles away to the south-west; the creek may probably take a
bend down towards it. I called it Mount Solitary. This creek is rather
well timbered, the gum-trees look fresh and young, and there is some
green herbage in places, though the surface water has all disappeared.
There was so little water at the camp tank, we had to send the horses
up the creek three miles to water, and on their return I was not sorry
to be moving again, for our stay at these two last camps had been
compulsory, and the anxiety, trouble, and annoyance we had, left no
very agreeable reminiscences of the locality in our minds.
We travelled along the creek all day, cutting off the bends, but
without seeing any signs of water: towards evening we set to work to
try if we could get any by digging. In about four feet, water began to
drain in, but, the sand being so loose, we had to remove an enormous
quantity to enable a horse to drink. Some of the horses would not go
into it, and had to be watered with a canvas bucket. The supply seemed
good, but it only drained in from the sides. Every time a horse drank
we had to clear out the sand for the next; it therefore took until
late before all were satisfied. The country was still open, and
timbered with fine black oak, or what is so called in Australia. It is
a species of casuarina, of the same family but distinct from the
beautiful desert oak. Triodia reigned supreme within half a mile. At
this camp the old grass had been burnt, and fresh young green shoots
appeared in its place; this was very good for the horses. A few drops
of rain fell; distant rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning
now cooled the air. While we were at breakfast the next morning, a
thunderstorm came up to us from the west, then suddenly turned away,
only just sprinkling us, though we could see the rain falling heavily
a few yards to the south. We packed up and went off, hoping to find a
better watered region at the hills westwards. There was an
extraordinary mount a little to the west of north from us; it looked
something like a church; it was over twenty miles away: I called it
Mount Peculiar. Leaving the creek on our left, to run itself out into
some lonely flat or dismal swamp, known only to the wretched
inhabitants of this desolate region--over which there seems to brood
an unutterable stillness and a dread repose--we struck into sandhill
country, rather open, covered with the triodia or spinifex, and
timbered with the casuarina or black oak trees. We had scarcely gone
two miles when our old thunderstorm came upon us--it had evidently
missed us at first, and had now come to look for us--and it rained
heavily. The country was so sandy and porous that no water remained on
the surface. We travelled on and the storm travelled with us--the
ground sucking up every drop that fell. Continuing our course, which
was north 67 degrees west, we travelled twenty-five miles. At this
distance we came in sight of the mountains I was steering for, but
they were too distant to reach before night, so, turning a little
northward to the foot of a low, bare, white granite hill, I hoped to
find a creek, or at least some ledges in the rocks, where we might get
some water. Not a drop was to be found. Though we had been travelling
in the rain all day and accomplished thirty miles, we were obliged to
camp without water at last. There was good feed for the horses, and,
as it was still raining, they could not be very greatly in want of
water. We fixed up our tent and retired for the night, the wind
blowing furiously, as might reasonably be expected, for it was the eve
of the vernal equinox, and this I supposed was our share of the
equinoctial gales. We were compelled in the morning to remove the
camp, as we had not a drop of water, and unless it descended in sheets
the country could not hold it, being all pure red sand. The hill near
us had no rocky ledges to catch water, so we made off for the higher
mountains for which we were steering yesterday. Their nearest or most
eastern point was not more than four miles away, and we went first to
it. I walked on ahead of the horses with the shovel, to a small gully
I saw with the glasses, having some few eucalypts growing in it. I
walked up it, to and over rocky ledges, down which at times, no doubt,
small leaping torrents roar. Very little of yesterday's rain had
fallen here; but most fortunately I found one small rock reservoir,
with just sufficient water for all the horses. There was none either
above or below in any other basin, and there were many better-looking
places, but all were dry. The water in this one must have stood for
some time, yesterday's rain not having affected it in the least. The
place at which I found the water was the most difficult for horses to
reach; it was almost impracticable. After finding this opportune
though awkwardly situated supply, I climbed to the summit of the
mount. On the top was a native fig-tree in full bearing; the fruit was
ripe and delicious. It is the size of an ordinary marble, yellow when
unripe, and gradually becoming red, then black: it is full of small
seeds. I was disturbed from my repast by seeing the horses, several
hundred feet below me, going away in the wrong direction. And I had to
descend before I had time to look around; but the casual glance I
obtained gave me the most gloomy and desolate view imaginable; one,
almost enough to daunt the explorer from penetrating any farther into
such a dreadful region. To the eastward, I found I had now long outrun
the old main chain of mountains, which had turned up to the north, or
rather north-north-westward; between me and it a mass of jumbled and
broken mounts appeared; each separate one, however, was almost
surrounded by scrubs, which ran up to the foot of the hill I was upon.
Northward the view was similar. To the west the picture was the same,
except that a more defined range loomed above the intervening
scrubs--the hills furthest away in that direction being probably fifty
miles distant. The whole horizon looked dark and gloomy--I could see
no creeks of any kind, the most extensive water channels were mere
gullies, and not existing at all at a mile from the hills they issued
Watering our horses proved a difficult and tedious task; as many of
them would not approach the rocky basin, the water had to be carried
up to them in canvas buckets. By the time they were all watered, and
we had descended from the rocky gully, the day had passed with most
miraculous celerity. The horses did not finish the water, there being
nearly sufficient to give them another drink. The grass was good here,
as a little flat, on which grew some yellow immortelles, had recently
been burnt. I allowed the horses to remain and drink up the balance of
the water, while I went away to inspect some other gorges or gullies
in the hills to the west of us, and see whether any more water could
be found. The day was cool and fine.
I climbed to the summit of a hill about 800 feet from its base. The
view was similar to yesterday's, except that I could now see these
hills ran on west for twelve or fifteen miles, where the country was
entirely covered with scrubs. Little gullies, with an odd, and
stunted, gum-tree here and there, were seen. Few of these gullies were
more than six feet wide, and the trumpery little streams that descend,
in even their most flooded state, would be of but little service to
anybody. I had wandered up and down hills, in and out of gullies, all
the morning, but had met no single drop of water, and was returning
disappointed to the camp when, on trying one more small scrubby,
dreadfully-rocky little gully which I had missed, or rather passed by,
in going out, I was fortunate enough to discover a few small rocky
holes full of the purest fluid. This treasure was small indeed, but my
gratitude was great; for what pleased me most was the rather strange
fact that the water was trickling from one basin to another, but with
the weakest possible flow. Above and below where I found this water
the gully and the rocks were as dry as the desert around. Had the
supply not been kept up by the trickling, half my horses would have
emptied all the holes at a draught.
The approach to this water was worse, rougher, rockier, and more
impracticable than at the camp; I was, however, most delighted to have
found it, otherwise I should have had to retreat to the last creek. I
determined, however, not to touch it now, but to keep it as a reserve
fund, should I be unable to find more out west. Returning to camp, we
gave the horses all the water remaining, and left the spot perfectly
We now had the line of hills on our right, and travelled nearly
west-north-west. Close to the foot of the hills the country is open,
but covered with large stones, between the interstices of which grow
huge bunches of the hideous spinifex, which both we and the horses
dread like a pestilence. We have encountered this scourge for over 200
miles. All around the coronets of most of the horses, in consequence
of their being so continually punctured with the spines of this
terrible grass, it has caused a swelling, or tough enlargement of the
flesh and skin, giving them the appearance of having ring-bones. Many
of them have the flesh quite raw and bleeding; they are also very
tender-footed from traversing so much stony ground, as we have lately
had to pass over. Bordering upon the open stony triodia ground
above-mentioned is a bed of scrubs, composed chiefly of mulga, though
there are various other trees, shrubs, and plants amongst it. It is so
dense and thick that in it we cannot see a third of the horses at
once; they, of course, continually endeavour to make into it to avoid
the stones and triodia; for, generally speaking, the pungent triodia
and the mulga acacia appear to be antagonistic members of the
vegetable kingdom. The ground in the scrubs is generally soft, and on
that account also the horses seek it. Out of kindness, I have
occasionally allowed them to travel in the scrubs, when our direct
course should have been on the open, until some dire mishap forces us
out again; for, the scrubs being so dense, the horses are compelled to
crash through them, tearing the coverings of their loads, and
frequently forcing sticks in between their backs or sides and their
saddles, sometimes staking themselves severely. Then we hear a frantic
crashing through the scrubs, and the sounds of the pounding of
horse-hoofs are the first notice we receive that some calamity has
occurred. So soon as we ourselves can force our way through, and
collect the horses the best way we can, yelling and howling to one
another to say how many each may have got, we discover one or two
missing. Then they have to be tracked; portions of loads are picked up
here and there, and, in the course of an hour or more, the horse or
horses are found, repacked, and on we push again, mostly for the open,
though rough and stony spinifex ground, where at least we can see what
is going on. These scrubs are really dreadful, and one's skin and
clothes get torn and ripped in all directions. One of these mishaps
In these scrubs are met nests of the building rat (Mus conditor). They
form their nests with twigs and sticks to the height of four feet, the
circumference being fifteen to twenty. The sticks are all lengths up
to three feet, and up to an inch in diameter. Inside are chambers and
galleries, while in the ground underneath are tunnels, which are
carried to some distance from their citadel. They occur in many parts
of Australia, and are occasionally met with on plains where few trees
can be found. As a general rule, they frequent the country inhabited
by the black oak (casuarina). They can live without water, but, at
times, build so near a watercourse as to have their structures swept
away by floods. Their flesh is very good eating.
In ten miles we had passed several little gullies, and reached the
foot of other hills, where a few Australian pines were scattered here
and there. These hills have a glistening, sheening, laminated
appearance, caused by the vast quantities of mica which abounds in
them. Their sides are furrowed and corrugated, and their upper
portions almost bare rock. Time was lost here in unsuccessful searches
for water, and we departed to another range, four or five miles
farther on, and apparently higher; therefore perhaps more likely to
supply us with water. Mr. Carmichael and I ascended the range, and
found it to be 900 feet from its base; but in all its gullies water
there was none. The view from the summit was just such as I have
described before--an ocean of scrubs, with isolated hills or ranges
appearing like islands in most directions. Our horses had been already
twenty-four hours without water. I wanted to reach the far range to
the west, but it was useless to push all the pack-horses farther into
such an ocean of scrubs, as our rate of progress in them was so
terribly slow. I decided to return to the small supply I had left as a
reserve, and go myself to the far range, which was yet some thirty
miles away. The country southward seemed to have been more recently
visited by the natives than upon our line of march, which perhaps was
not to be wondered at, as what could they get to live on out of such a
region as we had got into? Probably forty or fifty miles to the south,
over the tops of some low ridges, we saw the ascending smoke of
spinifex fires, still attended to by the natives; and in the
neighbourhood, no doubt, they had some watering places. On our retreat
we travelled round the northern face of the hills, upon whose south
side we had arrived, in hopes of finding some place having water,
where I might form a depot for a few days. By night we could find
none, and had to encamp without, either for ourselves or our horses.
The following day seemed foredoomed to be unlucky; it really appeared
as though everything must go wrong by a natural law. In the first
place, while making a hobble peg, while Carmichael and Robinson were
away after the horses, the little piece of wood slipped out of my
hand, and the sharp blade of the knife went through the top and nail
of my third finger and stuck in the end of my thumb. The cut bled
profusely, and it took me till the horses came to sew my mutilated
digits up. It was late when we left this waterless spot. As there was
a hill with a prepossessing gorge, I left Carmichael and Robinson to
bring the horses on, and rode off to see if I could find water there.
Though I rode and walked in gullies and gorges, no water was to be
found. I then made down to where the horses should have passed along,
and found some of them standing with their packs on, in a small bit of
open ground, surrounded by dense scrubs, which by chance I came to,
and nobody near. I called and waited, and at last Mr. Carmichael came
and told me that when he and Robinson debouched with the horses on
this little open space, they found that two of the animals were
missing, and that Robinson had gone to pick up their tracks. The horse
carrying my papers and instruments was one of the truants. Robinson
soon returned, not having found the track. Neither of them could tell
when they saw the horses last. I sent Mr. Carmichael to another hill
two or three miles away, that we had passed, but not inspected
yesterday, to search for water, while Robinson and I looked for the
missing horses. And lest any more should retreat during our absence,
we tied them up in two mobs. Robinson tied his lot up near a small
rock. We then separately made sweeps round, returning to the horses on
the opposite side, without success. We then went again in company, and
again on opposite sides singly, but neither tracks nor horses could be
found. Five hours had now elapsed since I first heard of their
absence. I determined to make one more circuit beyond any we had
already taken, so as to include the spot we had camped at; this
occupied a couple of hours. When I returned I was surprised to hear
that Robinson had found the horses in a small but extra dense bunch of
scrub not twenty yards from the spot where he had tied his horses up.
While I was away he had gone on top of the little stony eminence close
by, and from its summit had obtained a bird's-eye view of the ground
below, and thus perceived the two animals, which had never been absent
at all. It seemed strange to me that I could not find their tracks,
but the reason was there were no tracks to find. I took it for granted
when Carmichael told me of their absence that they were absent, but he
and Robinson were both mistaken.
It was now nearly evening, and I had been riding my horse at a fast
pace the whole day; I was afraid we could not reach the reserve water
by night. But we pushed on, Mr. Carmichael joining us, not having
found any water. At dusk we reached the small creek or gully, up in
whose rocks I had found the water on Sunday. At a certain point the
creek split in two, or rather two channels joined, and formed one, and
I suppose the same ill fate that had pursued me all day made me
mistake the proper channel, and we drove the unfortunate and limping
horses up a wretched, rocky, vile, scrubby, almost impenetrable gully,
where there was not a sup of water.
On discovering my error, we had to turn them back over the same
horrible places, all rocks, dense scrubs, and triodia, until we got
them into the proper channel. When near the first little hole I had
formerly seen, I dismounted, and walked up to see how it had stood
during my absence, and was grieved to discover that the lowest and
largest hole was nearly dry. I bounded up the rocks to the next, and
there, by the blessing of Providence, was still a sufficient quantity,
as the slow trickling of the water from basin to basin had not yet
entirely ceased, though its current had sadly diminished since my last
visit only some seventy hours since.
By this time it was dark, and totally impossible to get the horses up
the gully. We had to get them over a horrible ridge of broken and
jumbled rocks, having to get levers and roll away huge boulders, to
make something like a track to enable the animals to reach the water.
Time (and labour) accomplishes all things, and in time the last
animal's thirst was quenched, and the last drop of water sucked up
from every basin. I was afraid it would not be replenished by morning.
We had to encamp in the midst of a thicket of a kind of willow acacia
with pink bark all in little curls, with a small and pretty
mimosa-like leaf. This bush is of the most tenacious nature--you may
bend it, but break it won't. We had to cut away sufficient to make an
open square, large enough for our packs, and to enable us to lie down,
also to remove the huge bunches of spinifex that occupied the space;
then, when the stones were cleared away, we had something like a place
for a camp. By this time it was midnight, and we slept, all heartily
tired of our day's work, and the night being cool we could sleep in
comfort. Our first thought in the morning was to see how the basins
looked. Mr. Carmichael went up with a keg to discover, and on his
return reported that they had all been refilled in the night, and that
the trickling continued, but less in volume. This was a great relief
to my mind; I trust the water will remain until I return from those
dismal-looking mountains to the west. I made another search during the
morning for more water, but without success, and I can only conclude
that this water was permitted by Providence to remain here in this
lonely spot for my especial benefit, for no more rain had fallen here
than at any of the other hills in the neighbourhood, nor is this one
any higher or different from the others which I visited, except that
this one had a little water and all the rest none. In gratitude
therefore to this hill I have called it Mount Udor. Mount Udor was the
only spot where water was to be found in this abominable region, and
when I left it the udor had departed also. I got two of my
riding-horses shod to-day, as the country I intended to travel over is
about half stones and half scrub. I have marked a eucalyptus or
gum-tree in this gully close to the foot of the rock where I found the
water [EG/21], as this is my twenty-first camp from Chambers' Pillar.
My position here is in latitude 23 degrees 14', longitude 130 degrees
55', and variation 3 degrees east nearly. I could not start to-day as
the newly shod horses are so tender-footed that they seem to go worse
in their shoes; they may be better to-morrow. The water still holds
out. The camp is in a confined gully, and warm, though it is
comparatively a cool day. The grass here is very poor, and the horses
wander a great deal to look for feed. Four of them could not be found
in the morning. A slight thunderstorm passed over in the night, with a
sprinkling of rain for nearly an hour, but not sufficient fell to damp
a pocket-handkerchief. It was, however, quite sufficient to damp my
hopes of a good fall. The flies are very numerous here and
troublesome. After watering my two horses I started away by myself for
the ranges out west. I went on our old tracks as far as they went,
then I visited some other hills on my line of march. As usual, the
country alternated between open stones at the foot of the hills and
dense scrubs beyond. I thought one of the beds of scrubs I got into
the densest I had ever seen, it was actually impenetrable without
cutting one's way, and I had to turn around and about in all
directions. I had the greatest difficulty to get the horse I was
leading to come on at all; I had no power over him whatever. I could
not use either a whip or a stick, and he dragged so much that he
nearly pulled me out of my saddle, so that I could hardly tell which
way I was going, and it was extremely difficult to keep anything like
a straight course. Night overtook me, and I had to encamp in the
scrubs, having travelled nearly forty miles. A few drops of rain fell;
it may have benefited the horses, but to me it was a nuisance. I was
up, off my sandy couch early enough, but had to wait for daylight
before I could get the horses; they had wandered away for miles back
towards the camp, and I had the same difficulties over again when
getting them back to where the saddles were. In seven or eight miles
after starting I got out of the scrubs. At the foot of the mountain
for which I was steering there was a little creek or gully, with some
eucalypts where I struck it. It was, as all the others had been,
scrubby, rocky, and dry. I left the horses and ascended to the top,
about 900 feet above the scrubs which surrounded it. The horizon was
broken by low ranges nearly all round, but scrubs as usual intervened
between them. I descended and walked into dozens of gullies and rocky
places, and I found some small holes and basins, but all were dry. At
this spot I was eighty miles from a sufficient supply of water; that
at the camp, forty-five miles away, may be gone by the time I return.
Under these circumstances I could not go any farther west. It was now
evening again. I left these desolate hills, the Ehrenberg Ranges of my
map, and travelled upon a different line, hoping to find a better or
less thick route through the scrubs, but it was just the same, and
altogether abominable. Night again overtook me in the direful scrubs,
not very far from the place at which I had slept the previous night;
the most of the day was wasted in an ineffectual search for water.
On Sunday morning, the 29th September, having hobbled my horses so
short, although the scrubs were so thick, they were actually in sight
at dawn; I might as well have tied them up. Starting at once, I
travelled to one or two hills we had passed by, but had not inspected
before. I could find no water anywhere. It was late when I reached the
camp, and I was gladdened to find the party still there, and that the
water supply had held out so long. On the following morning, Monday,
the 30th of September, it was at a very low ebb; the trickling had
ceased in the upper holes, though it was still oozing into the lower
ones, so that it was absolutely necessary to pack up and be off from
this wretched place. It was an expedition in itself to get water for
the camp, from the rock basins above. The horses dreaded to approach
it on account of their tender feet. It required a lot of labour to get
sufficient firewood to boil a quart pot, for, although we were camped
in a dense thicket, the small wood of which it was composed was all
green, and useless for firewood.
I intended to retreat from here to-day, but just as Robinson was
starting to find the horses a shower of rain came on, and hoping it
might end in a heavier fall, I decided to remain until to-morrow, to
give the rain a chance,--especially as, aided by the slight rain, the
horses could do without a drink, there now being only one drink
remaining, as the trickling had entirely ceased, though we yet had the
little holes full. The rain fell in a slight and gentle shower two or
three hours, but it left no trace of its fall, even upon the rocks, so
that our water supply was not increased by one pint.
To-morrow I am off; it is useless to remain in a region such as this.
But where shall I go next? The creek I had last got water in, might
even now be dry. I determined to try and reach it farther down its
channel. If it existed beyond where I left it, I expected, in
twenty-five to thirty miles, in a southerly direction, to strike it
again: therefore, I decided to travel in that direction. A few
quandongs, or native peach trees, exist amongst these gullies; also a
tree that I only know by the name of the corkwood tree. ("Sesbania
grandiflora," Baron Mueller says, "North-Western Australia; to the
verge of the tropics; Indian Archipelago; called in Australia the
corkwood tree; valuable for various utilitarian purposes. The
red-flowered variety is grandly ornamented. Dr. Roxburgh recommends
the leaves and young pods as an exquisite spinach; the plant is shy of
frost.") The wood is soft, and light in weight and colour. It is by no
means a handsome tree. It grows about twenty feet high. Generally two
or three are huddled together, as though growing from one stem. Those
I saw were nearly all dead. They grow in the little water channels.
The ants here, as in nearly the whole of Tropical Australia, build
nests from four to six feet high--in some other parts I have known
them twenty--to escape, I suppose, from the torrents of rain that at
times fall in these regions: the height also protects their eggs and
stores from the fires the natives continually keep burning. This
burning, perhaps, accounts for the conspicuous absence of insects and
reptiles. One night, however, I certainly saw glowworms. These I have
only seen in one other region in Australia--near Geelong, in Victoria.
A tree called the native poplar (Codonocarpus cotinifolius) is also
found growing in the scrubs and water-channels of this part of the
country. The climate of this region appears very peculiar. Scarcely a
week passes without thunderstorms and rain; but the latter falls in
such small quantities that it is almost useless. It is evidently on
this account that there are no waters or watercourses deserving of the
name. I should like to know how much rain would have to fall here
before any could be discovered lying on the ground. All waters found
in this part of the country must be got out of pure sand, in a water
channel or pure rock. The native orange-tree grows here, but the
specimens I have met are very poor and stunted. The blood-wood-trees,
or red gum-trees, which always enliven any landscape where they are
found, also occur. They are not, however, the magnificent vegetable
structures which are known in Queensland and Western Australia, but
are mostly gnarled and stunted. They also grow near the watercourses.
The 1st October broke bright and clear, and I was only too thankful to
get out of this horrible region and this frightful encampment, into
which the fates had drawn me, alive. When the horses arrived, there
was only just enough water for all to drink; but one mare was away,
and Robinson said she had foaled. The foal was too young to walk or
move; the dam was extremely poor, and had been losing condition for
some time previously; so Robinson went back, killed the foal, and
brought up the mare. Now there was not sufficient water to satisfy her
when she did come. Mr. Carmichael and I packed up the horses, while
Robinson was away upon his unpleasant mission. When he brought her up,
the mare looked the picture of misery. At last I turned my back upon
this wretched camp and region; and we went away to the south. It was
half-past two o'clock when we got clear from our prison.
It is almost a work of supererogation to make many further remarks on
the character of this region--I mean, of course, since we left the
Finke. I might, at a word, condemn it as a useless desert. I will,
however, scarcely use so sweeping a term. I can truly say it is dry,
stony, scrubby, and barren, and this in my former remarks any one who
runs can read. I saw very few living creatures, but it is occasionally
visited by its native owners, to whom I do not grudge the possession
of it. Occasionally the howls of the native dog (Canis familiaris)--or
dingo as he is usually called--were heard, and their footprints in
sandy places seen. A small species of kangaroo, known as the scrub
wallaby, were sometimes seen, and startled from their pursuit of
nibbling at the roots of plants, upon which they exist; but the scrubs
being so dense, and their movements so rapid, it was utterly
impossible to get a shot at them. Their greatest enemy--besides the
wild black man and the dingo--is the large eagle-hawk, which, though
flying at an enormous height, is always on the watch; but it is only
when the wallaby lets itself out, on to the stony open, that the enemy
can swoop down upon it. The eagle trusses it with his talons, smashes
its head with its beak to quiet it, and, finally, if a female, flies
away with the victim to its nest for food for its young, or if a male
bird, to some lonely rock or secluded tarn, to gorge its fill alone. I
have frequently seen these eagles swoop on to one, and, while
struggling with its prey, have galloped up and secured it myself,
before the dazed wallaby could collect its senses. Other birds of
prey, such as sparrow-hawks, owls, and mopokes (a kind of owl),
inhabit this region, but they are not numerous. Dull-coloured, small
birds, that exist entirely without water, are found in the scrubs; and
in the mornings they are sometimes noisy, but not melodious, when
there is a likelihood of rain; and the smallest of Australian
ornithology, the diamond bird (Amadina) of Gould, is met with at
almost every watering place. Reptiles and insects, as I have said, are
scarce, on account of the continual fires the natives use in their
perpetual hunt for food.
CHAPTER 1.5. FROM 1ST TO 15TH OCTOBER, 1872.
A bluff hill.
The mulga tree.
Mare left behind.
Short of water.
Horses suffer from thirst.
Native paintings in caves.
A rock tarn.
A liquid prize.
Caverns and caves.
A pretty oasis.
Recover the mare.
Thunder and lightning.
Hands of glory.
A snake in a hole.
Natives burning the country.
A rocky eminence.
A race of Salamanders.
Circles of fire.
Wallaby and pigeons.
Return to depot.
The tarn of Auber.
Landmarks to it.
Everything in miniature.
A better region.
Kangaroos and emus.
A creek channel.
Water by scratching.
Abundance of water.
Follow the channel.
Vale of Tempe.
A gap or pass.
Dry rock holes.
Return to creek.
And Glen Edith.
Description of it.
On starting from Mount Udor, on the 1st October, our road lay at first
over rocks and stones, then for two or three miles through thick
scrubs. The country afterwards became a trifle less scrubby, and
consisted of sandhills, timbered with casuarina, and covered, as
usual, with triodia. In ten miles we passed a low bluff hill, and
camped near it, without any water. On the road we saw several quandong
trees, and got some of the ripe fruit. The day was warm and sultry;
but the night set in cool, if not cold. Mr. Carmichael went to the top
of the low bluff, and informed me of the existence of low ridges,
bounding the horizon in every direction except to the
south-south-east, and that the intervening country appeared to be
composed of sandhills, with casuarinas, or mulga scrubs.
In Baron von Mueller's extraordinary work on Select Extra-tropical
Plants, with indications of their native countries, and some of their
uses, these remarks occur:--"Acacia aneura, Ferd. v. Mueller. Arid
desert--interior of extra tropic Australia. A tree never more than
twenty-five feet high. The principal 'mulga' tree. Mr. S. Dixon
praises it particularly as valuable for fodder of pasture animals;
hence it might locally serve for ensilage. Mr. W. Johnson found in the
foliage a considerable quantity of starch and gum, rendering it
nutritious. Cattle and sheep browse on the twigs of this, and some
allied species, even in the presence of plentiful grass; and are much
sustained by such acacias in seasons of protracted drought.
Dromedaries in Australia crave for the mulga as food. Wood excessively
hard, dark-brown; used, preferentially, by the natives for boomerangs,
sticks with which to lift edible roots, and shafts of phragmites,
spears, wommerahs, nulla-nullas, and jagged spear ends. Mr. J.H.
Maiden determined the percentage of mimosa tannic acid in the
perfectly dry bark as 8.62." The mulga bears a small woody fruit
called the mulga apple. It somewhat resembles the taste of apples, and
is sweet. If crab apples, as is said, were the originals of all the
present kinds, I imagine an excellent fruit might be obtained from the
mulga by cultivation. As this tree is necessarily so often mentioned
in my travels, the remarks of so eminent a botanist upon it cannot be
otherwise than welcome.
In the direction of south-south-east Mr. Carmichael said the country
appeared most open. A yellow flower, of the immortelle species, which
I picked at this little bluff, was an old Darling acquaintance; the
vegetation, in many respects, resembles that of the River Darling.
There was no water at this bluff, and the horses wandered all over the
country during the night, in mobs of twos and threes. It was midday
before we got away. For several hours we kept on south-south-east,
over sandhills and through casuarina timber, in unvarying monotony. At
about five o'clock the little mare that had foaled yesterday gave in,
and would travel no farther. We were obliged to leave her amongst the
We continued until we had travelled forty miles from Mount Udor, but
no signs of a creek or any place likely to produce or hold water had
been found. The only difference in the country was that it was now
more open, though the spinifex was as lively as ever.
We passed several quandong trees in full fruit, of which we ate a
great quantity; they were the most palatable, and sweetest I have ever
eaten. We also passed a few Currajong-trees (Brachychiton). At this
point we turned nearly east. It was, however, now past sundown, too
dark to go on any farther, and we had again to encamp without water,
our own small supply being so limited that we could have only a third
of a pint each, and we could not eat anything in consequence. The
horses had to be very short-hobbled to prevent their straying, and we
passed the night under the umbrage of a colossal Currajong-tree. The
unfortunate horses had now been two days and nights without water, and
could not feed; being so short-hobbled, they were almost in sight of
the camp in the morning. From the top of a sandhill I saw that the
eastern horizon was bounded by timbered ridges, and it was not very
probable that the creek I was searching for could lie between us and
them. Indeed, I concluded that the creek had exhausted itself, not far
from where we had left it. The western horizon was now bounded by low
ridges, continuous for many miles. I decided to make for our last camp
on the creek, distant some five-and-twenty miles north-east. At five
miles after starting, we came upon a mass of eucalypts which were not
exactly gum-trees, though of that family, and I thought this might be
the end of the exhausted creek channel, only the timber grew
promiscuously on the tops of the sandhills, as in the lower ground
between them. There was no appearance of any flow of water ever having
passed by these trees, and indeed they looked more like gigantic
mallee-trees than gums, only that they grew separately. They covered a
space of about half a mile wide. From here I saw that some ridges were
right before me, at a short distance, but where our line of march
would intersect them they seemed so scrubby and stony I wished to
avoid them. At one point I discerned a notch or gap. The horses were
now very troublesome to drive, the poor creatures being very bad with
thirst. I turned on the bearing that would take me back to the old
creek, which seemed the only spot in this desolate region where water
could be found, and there we had to dig to get it. At one place on the
ridges before us appeared a few pine-trees (Callitris) which enliven
any region they inhabit, and there is usually water in their
neighbourhood. The rocks from which the pines grew were much broken;
they were yet, however, five or six miles away. We travelled directly
towards them, and upon approaching, I found the rocks upheaved in a
most singular manner, and a few gum-trees were visible at the foot of
the ridge. I directed Carmichael and Robinson to avoid the stones as
much as possible, while I rode over to see whether there was a creek
or any other place where water might be procured. On approaching the
rocks at the foot of the ridge, I found several enormous overhanging
ledges of sandstone, under which the natives had evidently been
encamped long and frequently; and there was the channel of a small
watercourse scarcely more than six feet wide. I rode over to another
overhanging ledge and found it formed a verandah wide enough to make a
large cave; upon the walls of this, the natives had painted strange
devices of snakes, principally in white; the children had scratched
imperfect shapes of hands with bits of charcoal. The whole length of
this cave had frequently been a large encampment. Looking about with
some hopes of finding the place where these children of the wilderness
obtained water, I espied about a hundred yards away, and on the
opposite side of the little glen or valley, a very peculiar looking
crevice between two huge blocks of sandstone, and apparently not more
than a yard wide. I rode over to this spot, and to my great delight
found a most excellent little rock tarn, of nearly an oblong shape,
containing a most welcome and opportune supply of the fluid I was so
anxious to discover. Some green slime rested on a portion of the
surface, but the rest was all clear and pure water. My horse must have
thought me mad, and any one who had seen me might have thought I had
suddenly espied some basilisk, or cockatrice, or mailed saurian; for
just as the horse was preparing to dip his nose in the water he so
greatly wanted, I turned him away and made him gallop off after his
and my companions, who were slowly passing away from this liquid
prize. When I hailed, and overtook them, they could scarcely believe
that our wants were to be so soon and so agreeably relieved. There was
abundance of water for all our requirements here, but the approach was
so narrow that only two horses could drink at one time, and we had
great difficulty in preventing some of the horses from precipitating
themselves, loads and all, into the inviting fluid. No one who has not
experienced it, can imagine the pleasure which the finding of such a
treasure confers on the thirsty, hungry, and weary traveller; all his
troubles for the time are at an end. Thirst, that dire affliction that
besets the wanderer in the Australian wilds, at last is quenched; his
horses, unloaded, are allowed to roam and graze and drink at will,
free from the encumbrance of hobbles, and the traveller's other
appetite of hunger is also at length appeased, for no matter what food
one may carry, it is impossible to eat it without water. This was
truly a mental and bodily relief. After our hunger had been satisfied
I took a more extended survey of our surroundings, and found that we
had dropped into a really very pretty little spot.
Low sandstone hills, broken and split into most extraordinary shapes,
forming huge caves and caverns, that once no doubt had been some of
the cavernous depths of the ocean, were to be seen in every direction;
little runnels, with a few gum-trees upon them, constituted the
creeks. Callitris or cypress pines, ornamented the landscape, and a
few blood-wood or red gum-trees also enlivened the scene. No
porcupine, but real green grass made up a really pretty picture, to
the explorer at least. This little spot is indeed an oasis. I had
climbed high hills, traversed untold miles of scrub, and gone in all
directions to try and pick up the channel of a wretched dry creek,
when all of a sudden I stumbled upon a perfect little paradise. I
found the dimensions of this little tarn are not very large, nor is
the quantity of water in it very great, but untouched and in its
native state it is certainly a permanent water for its native owners.
It has probably not been filled since last January or February, and it
now contains amply sufficient water to enable it to last until those
months return, provided that no such enormous drinkers as horses draw
upon it; in that case it might not last a month. I found the actual
water was fifty feet long, by eight feet wide, and four feet deep; the
rocks in which the water lies are more than twenty feet high. The main
ridges at the back are between 200 and 300 feet high. The native
fig-tree (Ficus orbicularis) grows here most luxuriantly; there are
several of them in full fruit, which is delicious when thoroughly
ripe. I had no thought of deserting this welcome little spot for a few
days. On the following morning Mr. Carmichael and I loaded a
pack-horse with water and started back into the scrub to where we left
the little mare the day before yesterday. With protractor and paper I
found the spot we left her at bore from this place south 70 degrees
west, and that she was now no more than thirteen or fourteen miles
away, though we had travelled double the distance since we left her.
We therefore travelled upon that bearing, and at thirteen and a half
miles we cut our former track at about a quarter of a mile from where
we left the mare. We soon picked up her track and found she had
wandered about a mile, although hobbled, from where we left her. We
saw her standing, with her head down, under an oak tree truly
distressed. The poor little creature was the picture of misery, her
milk was entirely gone--she was alive, and that was all that could be
said of her. She swallowed up the water we brought with the greatest
avidity; and I believe could have drank as much as a couple of camels
could have carried to her. We let her try to feed for a bit with the
other three horses, and then started back for the tarn. On this line
we did not intersect any of the eucalyptus timber we had passed
through yesterday. The mare held up very well until we were close to
the camp, when she gave in again; but we had to somewhat severely
persuade her to keep moving, and at last she had her reward by being
left standing upon the brink of the water, where she was [like Cyrus
when Queen Thomeris had his head cut off into a receptacle filled with
blood] enabled to drink her fill.
In the night heavy storm-clouds gathered o'er us, and vivid lightnings
played around the rocks near the camp: a storm came up and seemed to
part in two, one half going north and the other south; but just before
daybreak we were awakened by a crash of thunder that seemed to split
the hills; and we heard the wrack as though the earth and sky would
mingle; but only a few drops of rain fell, too little to leave any
water, even on the surface of the flat rocks close to the camp. This
is certainly an extraordinary climate. I do not believe a week ever
passes without a shower of rain, but none falls to do any good: one
good fallen in three or even six months, beginning now, would be
infinitely more gratifying, to me at least; but I suppose I must take
it as I find it. The rain that does fall certainly cools the
atmosphere a little, which is a partial benefit.
I found several more caves to-day up in the rocks, and noticed that
the natives here have precisely the same method of ornamenting them as
the natives of the Barrier Range and mountains east of the Darling.
You see the representation of the human hand here, as there, upon the
walls of the caves: it is generally coloured either red or black. The
drawing is done by filling the mouth with charcoal powder if the
device is to be black, if red with red ochre powder, damping the wall
where the mark is to be left, and placing the palm of the hand against
it, with the fingers stretched out; the charcoal or ochre powder is
then blown against the back of the hand; when it is withdrawn, it
leaves the space occupied by the hand and fingers clean, while the
surrounding portions of the wall are all black or red, as the case may
be. One device represents a snake going into a hole: the hole is
actually in the rock, while the snake is painted on the wall, and the
spectator is to suppose that its head is just inside the hole; the
body of the reptile is curled round and round the hole, though its
breadth is out of all proportion to its length, being seven or eight
inches thick, and only two or three feet long. It is painted with
charcoal ashes which had been mixed up with some animal's or reptile's
fat. Mr. Carmichael left upon the walls a few choice specimens of the
white man's art, which will help, no doubt, to teach the young native
idea, how to shoot either in one direction or another.
To-day it rained in light and fitful shallows, which, as usual, were
of no use, except indeed to cause a heavy dew which wet all our
blankets and things, for we always camp without tent or tarpaulin
whenever it does not actually rain. The solar beams of morning soon
evaporated the dew. To the west-south-west the natives were hunting,
and as usual burning the spinifex before them. They do not seem to
care much for our company; for ever since we left the Glen of Palms,
the cave-dwelling, reptile-eating Troglodytes have left us severely
alone. As there was a continuous ridge for miles to the westward, I
determined to visit it; for though this little tarn, that I had so
opportunely found, was a most valuable discovery, yet the number of
horses I had were somewhat rapidly reducing the water supply, and I
could plainly perceive that, with such a strain upon it, it could not
last much more than a month, if that; I must therefore endeavour to
find some other watered place, where next I may remove.
On the morning of the 7th October it was evident a warm day was
approaching. Mr. Carmichael and I started away to a small rocky
eminence, which bore a great resemblance to the rocks immediately
behind this camp, and in consequence we hoped to find more water
there. The rocks bore south 62 degrees west from camp; we travelled
over sandhills, through scrub, triodia, and some casuarina country,
until we reached the hill in twenty miles. It was composed of broken
red sandstone rock, being isolated from the main ridge; other similar
heaps were in the vicinity.
We soon discovered that there was neither water nor any place to hold
it. Having searched all about, we went away to some other ridges, with
exactly the same result; and at dark we had to encamp in the scrubs,
having travelled forty miles on fifty courses. The thermometer had
stood at 91 degrees in the shade, where we rested the horses in the
middle of the day. Natives' smokes were seen mostly round the base of
some other ridges to the south-east, which I determined to visit
to-morrow; as the fires were there, natives must or should be also;
and as they require water to exist, we might find their hidden
springs. It seemed evident that only in the hills or rocky reservoirs
water could be found.
We slept under the shadow of a hill, and mounted to its top in the
morning. The view was anything but cheering; ridges, like islands in a
sea of scrub, appeared in connection with this one; some distance away
another rose to the south-east. We first searched those near us, and
left them in disgust, for those farther away. At eight or nine miles
we reached the latter, and another fruitless search was gone through.
We then went to another and another, walking over the stones and
riding through the scrubs. We found some large rocky places, where
water might remain for many weeks, after being filled; but when such
an occurrence ever had taken place, or ever would take place again, it
was impossible to tell. We had wandered into and over such frightful
rocky and ungodly places, that it appeared useless to search farther
in such a region, as it seemed utterly impossible for water to exist
in it all. Nevertheless, the natives were about, burning, burning,
ever burning; one would think they were of the fabled salamander race,
and lived on fire instead of water. The fires were starting up here
and there around us in fresh and narrowing circles; it seems as though
the natives can only get water from the hollow spouts of some trees
and from the roots of others, for on the surface of the earth there is
none. We saw a few rock wallaby, a different variety to the scrub or
open sandhill kinds. Bronze-winged pigeons also were occasionally
startled as we wandered about the rocks; these birds must have water,
but they never drink except at sundown, and occasionally just before
sunrise, then they fly so swiftly, with unerring precision, on their
filmy wings, to the place they know so well will supply them; and
thirty, forty, or fifty miles of wretched scrub, that would take a
poor human being and his horse a whole day to accomplish, are passed
over with the quickness of thought. The birds we flushed up would
probably dart across the scrubs to the oasis we had so recently found.
Our horses were getting bad and thirsty; the day was warm; 92 degrees
in the shade, in thirst and wretchedness, is hot enough, for any poor
animal or man either. But man enters these desolate regions to please
himself or satisfy his desire for ambition to win for himself--what? a
medal, a record, a name? Well, yes, dear reader, these may enter into
his thoughts as parts of a tangible recognition of his labours; but a
nobler idea also actuates him--either to find, for the benefit of
those who come after him, some beauteous spots where they may dwell;
or if these regions can't supply them, of deserts only can he tell;
but the unfortunate lower is forced into such frightful privations to
please the higher animals. We now turned up towards the north-west,
amongst scrubs, sandhills, and more stony ridges, where another
fruitless search ended as before. Now to the east of us rose a more
continuous ridge, which we followed under its (base) foot, hoping
against hope to meet some creek or gully with water. Gullies we saw,
but neither creeks or water. We continued on this line till we struck
our outgoing track, and as it was again night, we encamped without
water. We had travelled in a triangle. To-day's march was forty-three
miles, and we were yet twenty-nine from the tarn--apparently the only
water existing in this extraordinary and terrible region.
In one or two places to-day, passing through some of the burning
scrubs and spinifex, we had noticed the fresh footprints of several
natives. Of course they saw us, but they most perseveringly shunned
us, considering us probably far too low a type of animal for their
society. We also saw to-day dilapidated old yards, where they had
formerly yarded emu or wallaby, though we saw none of their wurleys,
or mymys, or gunyahs, or whatever name suits best. The above are all
names of the same thing, of tribes of natives, of different parts of
the Continent--as Lubra, Gin, Nungo, etc., are for woman. No doubt
these natives carry water in wallaby or other animals' skins during
their burning hunts, for they travel great distances in a day, walking
and burning, and picking up everything alive or roasted as they go,
and bring the game into the general camp at night. We passed through
three different lines of conflagrations to-day. I only wish I could
catch a native, or a dozen, or a thousand; it would be better to die
or conquer in a pitched battle for water, than be for ever fighting
these direful scrubs and getting none. The following morning the poor
horses looked wretched in the extreme; to remain long in such a region
without water is very severe upon them; it is a wonder they are able
to carry us so well. From this desert camp our depot bore north 40
degrees east. The horses were so exhausted that, though we started
early enough, it was late in the afternoon when we had accomplished
the twenty-nine or thirty miles that brought us at last to the tarn.
Altogether they had travelled 120 miles without a drink. The water in
the tarn had evidently shrunk. The day was warm--thermometer 92
degrees in shadiest place at the depot. A rest after the fatigue of
the last few days was absolutely necessary before we made a fresh
attempt in some new locality.
(ILLUSTRATION: GLEN EDITH.)
It is only partly a day's rest--for I, at least, have plenty to do;
but it is a respite, and we can drink our fill of water. And oh! what
a pleasure, what a luxury that is! How few in civilisation will drink
water when they can get anything else. Let them try going without, in
the explorer's sense of the expression, and then see how they will
long for it! The figs on the largest tree, near the cave opposite, are
quite ripe and falling; neither Carmichael nor Robinson care for them,
but I eat a good many, though I fancy they are not quite wholesome for
a white man's digestive organs; at first, they act as an aperient, but
subsequently have an opposite effect. I called this charming little
oasis Glen Edith, after one of my nieces. I marked two gum-trees at
this camp, one "Giles 24", and another "Glen Edith 24 Oct 9, 72". Mr.
Carmichael and Robinson also marked one with their names. The
receptacle in which I found the water I have called the Tarn of Auber,
after Allan Poe's beautiful lines, in which that name appears, as I
thought them appropriate to the spot. He says:--
"It was in the drear month of October,
The leaves were all crisped and sere,
Adown by the Tarn of Auber,
In the misty mid regions of Weir."
If these are not the misty mid regions of Weir, I don't know where
they are. There are two heaps of broken sandstone rocks, with cypress
pines growing about them, which will always be a landmark for any
future traveller who may seek the wild seclusion of these sequestered
caves. The bearing of the water from them is south 51 degrees west,
and it is about a mile on that bearing from the northern heap; that
with a glance at my map would enable any ordinary bushman to find it.
I sowed a quantity of vegetable seeds here, also seeds of the
Tasmanian blue gum-tree, some wattles and clover, rye and
prairie-grass. In the bright gleams of the morning, in this Austral
land of dawning, it was beautiful to survey this little spot;
everything seemed in miniature here--little hills, little glen, little
trees, little tarn, and little water. Though the early mornings were
cool and pleasant, the days usually turned out just the opposite. On
the 11th Mr. Carmichael and I got fresh horses, and I determined to
try the country more to the south, and leaving Alec Robinson and the
little dog Monkey again in charge of glen, and camp, and tarn, away we
went in that direction. At first we travelled over sandhills, timbered
with the fine Casuarina decaisneana, or desert oak; we then met some
eucalyptus-trees growing promiscuously on the tops of the sandhills,
as well as in the hollows. At twelve miles we rode over a low ridge;
the country in advance appeared no more inviting than that already
travelled. Descending to the lower ground, however, we entered upon a
bit of better country, covered with green grass, there was also some
thick mulga scrub upon it. Here we saw a few kangaroos and emus, but
could not get a shot at them. Beyond this we entered timbered country
again, the desert oak being quite a desert sign. In a few miles
farther another ridge fronted us, and a trifle on our left lay a
hollow, or valley, which seemed to offer the best road, but we had to
ride through some very scrubby gullies, stony, and covered with
spinifex. It eventually formed the valley of a small creek, which soon
had a few gum-trees on it. After following this about four miles, we
saw a place where the sand was damp, and got some water by scratching
with our hands. The supply was insufficient, and we went farther down
and found a small hole with just enough for our three horses, and now,
having found a little, we immediately wanted to find a great deal
more. At twenty-six miles from the tarn we found a place where the
natives had dug, and there seemed a good supply, so we camped there
for the night. The grass along this creek was magnificent, being about
eight inches high and beautifully green, the old grass having been
burnt some time ago. It was a most refreshing sight to our
triodia-accustomed eyes; at twelve o'clock the thermometer stood at 94
degrees in the shade. The trend of this little creek, and the valley
in which it exists, is to the south-east. Having found water here, we
were prepared to find numerous traces of natives, and soon saw old
camps and wurleys, and some recent footmarks. I was exceedingly
gratified to find this water, as I hoped it would eventually enable me
to get out of the wretched bed of sand and scrub into which we had
been forced since leaving the Finke, and which evidently occupies such
an enormous extent of territory. Our horses fed all night close at
hand, and we were in our saddles early enough. I wanted to go west,
and the further west the better; but we decided to follow the creek
and see what became of it, and if any more waters existed in it. We
found that it meandered through a piece of open plain, splendidly
grassed, and delightful to gaze upon. How beautiful is the colour of
green! What other colour could even Nature have chosen with which to
embellish the face of the earth? How, indeed, would red, or blue, or
yellow pall upon the eye! But green, emerald green, is the loveliest
of all Nature's hues. The soil of this plain was good and firm. The
creek had now worn a deep channel, and in three miles from where we
camped we came upon the top of a high red bank, with a very nice
little water-hole underneath. There was abundance of water for 100 or
200 horses for a month or two, and plenty more in the sand below.
Three other ponds were met lower down, and I believe water can always
be got by digging. We followed the creek for a mile or two farther,
and found that it soon became exhausted, as casuarina and triodia
sandhills environed the little plain, and after the short course of
scarcely ten miles, the little creek became swallowed up by those
water-devouring monsters. This was named Laurie's Creek.
There was from 6000 to 10,000 acres of fine grass land in this little
plain, and it was such a change from the sterile, triodia, and sandy
country outside it, I could not resist calling it the Vale of Tempe.
We left the exhausted creek, and in ten miles from our camp we entered
on and descended into another valley, which was open, but had no signs
of any water. From a hill I saw some ridges stretching away to the
south and south-west, and to the west also appeared broken ridges. I
decided to travel about south-west, as it appeared the least stony. In
eight miles we had met the usual country. At eighteen we turned the
horses out for an hour on a burnt patch, during which the thermometer
stood at 94 degrees in the shade; we then left for some ridges through
a small gap or pass between two hills, which formed into a small
creek-channel. As it was now dark, we camped near the pass, without
water, having travelled thirty-five miles. In the morning we found the
country in front of us to consist of a small well grassed plain, which
was as green, as at the last camp. The horses rambled in search of
water up into a small gully, which joins this one; it had a few
gum-trees on it. We saw a place where the natives had dug for water,
but not very recently. We scratched out a lot of sand with our hands,
and some water percolated through, but the hole was too deep to get
any out for the horses, as we had no means of removing the sand,
having no shovel. Upon searching farther up the gully we found some
good-sized rock-holes, but unfortunately they were all dry. We next
ascended a hill to view the surrounding country, and endeavour to
discover if there was any feature in any direction to induce us to
visit, and where we might find a fresh supply of water. There were
several fires raging in various directions upon the southern horizon,
and the whole atmosphere was thick with a smoky haze. After a long and
anxious scrutiny through the smoke far, very far away, a little to the
west of south, I descried the outline of a range of hills, and right
in the smoke of one fire an exceedingly high and abruptly-ending
mountain loomed. To the south east-wards other ranges appeared; they
seemed to lie nearly north and south.
The high mountain was very remote; it must be at least seventy or
seventy-five miles away, with nothing apparently between but a country
similar to that immediately before and behind us; that is to say,
sandhills and scrub. I was, however, delighted to perceive any feature
for which to make as a medium point, and which might help to change
the character and monotony of the country over which I have been
wandering so long. I thought it not improbable that some extensive
watercourses may proceed from these new ranges which might lead me at
last away to the west. For the present, not being able to get water at
this little glen, although I believe a supply can be obtained with a
shovel, I decided to return to the tarn at Glen Edith, which was now
fifty-five miles away, remove the camp to the newly-found creek at the
Vale of Tempe, and then return here, open out this watering place with
a shovel, and make a straight line for the newly-discovered high
mountain to the south. By the time these conclusions had been arrived
at, and our wanderings about the rocks completed, it was nearly
midday; and as we had thirty-five miles to travel to get back to the
creek, it took us all the remainder of the day to do so; and it was
late when we again encamped upon its friendly banks. The thermometer
to-day had stood at 96 degrees. We now had our former tracks to return
upon to the tarn. The morning was cool and pleasant, and we arrived at
the depot early. Alec Robinson informed me that he believed some
natives had been prowling about the camp in our absence, as the little
dog had been greatly perturbed during two of the nights we were away.
It was very possible that some natives had come to the tarn for water,
as well as to spy out who and what and how many vile and wicked
intruders had found their way into this secluded spot; but as they
must have walked about on the rocks they left no traces of their
This morning's meal was to be the last we should make at our friendly
little tarn, whose opportune waters, ripe figs, miniature mountains,
and imitation fortresses, will long linger in my recollection.
Opposite the rocks in which the water lies, and opposite the camp
also, is a series of small fort-like stony eminences, standing apart;
these form one side of the glen; the other is formed by the rocks at
the base of the main ridge, where the camp and water are situated.
This really was a most delightful little spot, though it certainly had
one great nuisance, which is almost inseparable from pine-trees,
namely ants. These horrid pests used to crawl into and over everything
and everybody, by night as well as by day. The horses took their last
drink at the little sweet-watered tarn, and we moved away for our new
home to the south.
CHAPTER 1.6. FROM 15TH OCTOBER, 1872 TO 31ST JANUARY, 1873.
Move the camp to new creek.
Revisit the pass.
Hornets and diamond birds.
More ornamented caves.
Start for the mountain.
A salt lake.
Horses nearly lost.
Follow the lake.
A prospect wild and weird.
A day's rest.
A National Gallery.
Signal for natives.
The lake again.
High hill westward.
Sufferings and dejection of the horses.
Food all gone.
Review of our situation.
Pleasure of a bath.
A journey eastward.
A fine creek.
Fine open country.
Termination of the range.
George Gill's range.
A host of aborigines.
Break up the depot.
Improvement in the horses.
Follow the Petermann.
Enter a glen.
Up a tree.
A new creek.
Fall over a bank.
A fenced-in water-hole.
Resight the pillar.
Remarks on the Finke.
Reach the telegraph line.
I buy one.
The Charlotte Waters.
Arrive at the Peake.
News of Dick.
It was late in the day when we left Glen Edith, and consequently very
much later by the time we had unpacked all the horses at the end of
our twenty-nine mile stage; it was then too dark to reach the lower or
best water-holes. To-day there was an uncommon reversal of the usual
order in the weather--the early part of the day being hot and sultry,
but towards evening the sky became overcast and cloudy, and the
evening set in cold and windy. Next morning we found that one horse
had staked himself in the coronet very severely, and that he was quite
lame. I got some mulga wood out of the wound, but am afraid there is
much still remaining. This wood, used by the natives for spear-heads,
contains a virulent poisonous property, and a spear or stake wound
with it is very dangerous. The little mare that foaled at Mount Udor,
and was such an object of commiseration, has picked up wonderfully,
and is now in good working condition. I have another mare, Marzetti,
soon to foal; but as she is fat, I do not anticipate having to destroy
her progeny. We did not move the camp to-day. Numbers of bronze-winged
pigeons came to drink, and we shot several of them. The following day
Mr. Carmichael and I again mounted our horses, taking with us a week's
supply of rations, and started off intending to visit the high
mountain seen at our last farthest point. We left Alec Robinson again
in charge of the camp, as he had now got quite used to it, and said he
liked it. He always had my little dog Monkey for a companion. When
travelling through the spinifex we carried the little animal. He is an
excellent watchdog, and not a bird can come near the camp without his
giving warning. Alec had plenty of firearms and ammunition to defend
himself with, in case of an attack from the natives. This, however, I
did not anticipate; indeed, I wished they would come (in a friendly
way), and had instructed Alec to endeavour to detain one or two of
them until my return if they should chance to approach. Alec was a
very strange, indeed disagreeable and sometimes uncivil, sort of man;
he had found our travels so different from his preconceived ideas, as
he thought he was going on a picnic, and he often grumbled and
declared he would like to go back again. However, to remain at the
camp, with nothing whatever to do and plenty to eat, admirably suited
him, and I felt no compunction in leaving him by himself. I would not
have asked him to remain if I were in any way alarmed at his position.
We travelled now by a slightly different route, more easterly, as
there were other ridges in that direction, and we might find another
and better watering place than that at the pass. It is only at or near
ridges in this strange region that the traveller can expect to find
water, as in the sandy beds of scrub intervening between them, water
would simply sink away. We passed through some very thick mulga,
which, being mostly dead, ripped our pack-bags, clothes, and skin, as
we had continually to push the persistent boughs and branches aside to
penetrate it. We reached a hill in twenty miles, and saw at a glance
that no favourable signs of obtaining water existed, for it was merely
a pile of loose stones or rocks standing up above the scrubs around.
The view was desolate in the extreme; we had now come thirty miles,
but we pushed on ten miles for another hill, to the south-east, and
after penetrating the usual scrub, we reached its base in the dark,
and camped. In the morning I climbed the hill, but no water could be
seen or procured. This hill was rugged with broken granite boulders,
scrubby with mulga and bushes, and covered with triodia to its summit.
To the south a vague and strange horizon was visible; it appeared
flat, as though a plain of great extent existed there, but as the
mirage played upon it, I could not make anything of it. My old friend
the high mountain loomed large and abrupt at a great distance off, and
it bore 8 degrees 30' west from here, too great a distance for us to