Part 4 out of 11
The thought that cheers me onward is, I have not lived in vain."
After our dinner Mr. Tietkens and I ascended the highest mountain in
the neighbourhood--several others not far away were higher, but this
was the most convenient. Water boiled at its summit at 204 degrees,
which gives an altitude above sea level of 4131 feet, it being about
1500 feet above the surrounding country. I called this Mount
Ferdinand, and another higher point nearly west of it I called Mount
James-Winter*. The view all round from west to north was shut out. To
the south and south-east other ranges existed. The timber of the
Ferdinand could be traced for many miles in a southerly direction; it
finally became lost in the distance in a timbered if not a scrubby
country. This mountain was highly magnetic. I am surprised at seeing
so few signs of natives in this region. We returned to the camp and
sowed seeds of many cereals, fodder plants, and vegetables. A great
quantity of tea-tree grew in this glen. The water was pure and fresh.
Two or three miles farther down, the creek passed between two hills;
the configuration of the mountains now compelled me to take a
south-westerly valley for my road. In a few miles another fine
creek-channel came out of the range to the north of us, near the foot
of Mount James-Winter; it soon joined a larger one, up which was
plenty of running water; this I called the Reid*. We were now
traversing another very pretty valley running nearly west, with fine
cotton and salt-bush flats, while picturesque cypress pines covered
the hills on both sides of us. Under some hills which obstructed our
course was another creek, where we encamped, the grass and herbage
being most excellent; and this also was a very pretty place. Our
latitude here was 26 degrees 24'.
(ILLUSTRATION: ENCOUNTER WITH THE NATIVES AT "THE OFFICER," MUSGRAVE
Gibson went away on horseback this morning to find the others, but
came back on foot to say he had lost the one he started with. We
eventually got them all, and proceeded down the creek south, then
through a little gap west, on to the banks of a fine large creek with
excellent timber on it. The natives were burning the grass up the
channel north-westerly. Mr. Tietkens and I rode up in advance to
reconnoitre; we went nearly three miles, when we came to running
water. At the same time we evidently disturbed a considerable number
of natives, who raised a most frightful outcry at our sudden and
unexpected advent amongst them. Those nearest to us walked slowly into
the reeds, rushes, tea-trees, and high salt bushes, but deliberately
watching our every movement. While watering our horses a great many
from the outskirts ran at us, poising and quivering their spears, some
of which were over ten feet long; of these, every individual had an
extraordinary number. When they saw us sitting quietly, but not
comfortably, on our horses, which became very frightened and
impatient, they renewed their horrible yells and gesticulations, some
waving us away, others climbing trees, and directing their spears at
us from the branches. Another lot on the opposite side of the creek
now came rushing up with spears advanced and ensigns spread, and with
their yells and cries encouraged those near to spear us. They seemed,
however, to have some doubts of the nature or vulnerability of our
horses. At the head of our new assailants was one sophisticated enough
to be able to call out, "Walk, white fellow, walk;" but as we still
remained immobile, he induced some others to join in making a rush at
us, and they hurled their jagged spears at us before we could get out
of the way. It was fortunate indeed that we were at the extreme
distance that these weapons can be projected, for they struck the
ground right amongst our horses' hoofs, making them more restive than
I now let our assailants see we were not quite so helpless as they
might have supposed. I unslipped my rifle, and the bullet, going so
suddenly between two of these worthies and smashing some boughs just
behind them, produced silence amongst the whole congregation, at least
for a moment. All this time we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of
Gibson and Jimmy, as my instructions were that if we did not return in
a given time, they were to follow after us. But these valiant
retainers, who admitted they heard the firing, preferred to remain out
of harm's way, leaving us to kill or be killed, as the fortunes of war
might determine; and we at length had to retreat from our sable
enemies, and go and find our white friends. We got the mob of horses
up, but the yelling of these fiends in human form, the clouds of smoke
from the burning grass and bushes, and the many disagreeable odours
incident to a large native village, and the yapping and howling of a
lot of starving dogs, all combined to make us and our horses
exceedingly restless. They seemed somewhat overawed by the number of
the horses, and though they crowded round from all directions, for
there were more than 200 of them, the women and children being sent
away over the hills at our first approach, they did not then throw any
more spears. I selected as open a piece of ground as I could get for
the camp, which, however, was very small, back from the water, and
nearly under the foot of a hill. When they saw us dismount, for I
believe they had previously believed ourselves and our horses to form
one animal, and begin to unload the horses, they proceeded properly to
work themselves up for a regular onslaught. So long as the horses
remained close, they seemed disinclined to attack, but when they were
hobbled and went away, the enemy made a grand sortie, rushing down the
hill at the back of the camp where they had congregated, towards us in
a body with spears fitted in pose and yelling their war cries.
Our lives were in imminent danger; we had out all the firearms we
could muster; these amounted to two rifles, two shot guns, and five
revolvers. I watched with great keenness the motion of their arms that
gives the propulsion to their spears, and the instant I observed that,
I ordered a discharge of the two rifles and one gun, as it was no use
waiting to be speared first. I delayed almost a second too long, for
at the instant I gave the word several spears had left the enemy's
hands, and it was with great good fortune we avoided them. Our shots,
as I had ordered, cut up the ground at their feet, and sent the sand
and gravel into their eyes and faces; this and the noise of the
discharge made the great body of them pause. Availing ourselves of
this interval, we ran to attack them, firing our revolvers in quick
succession as we ran. This, with the noise and the to them
extraordinary phenomenon of a projectile approaching them which they
could not see, drove them up into the hills from which they had
approached us, and they were quiet for nearly an hour, except for
their unceasing howls and yells, during which time we made an attempt
at getting some dinner. That meal, however, was not completed when we
saw them stealing down on us again. Again they came more than a
hundred strong, with heads held back, and arms at fullest tension to
give their spears the greatest projective force, when, just as they
came within spear shot, for we knew the exact distance now, we gave
them another volley, striking the sand up just before their feet;
again they halted, consulting one another by looks and signs, when the
discharge of Gibson's gun, with two long-distance cartridges, decided
them, and they ran back, but only to come again. In consequence of our
not shooting any of them, they began to jeer and laugh at us, slapping
their backsides at and jumping about in front of us, and indecently
daring and deriding us. These were evidently some of those lewd
fellows of the baser sort (Acts 17 5). We were at length compelled to
send some rifle bullets into such close proximity to some of their
limbs that at last they really did believe we were dangerous folk
after all. Towards night their attentions ceased, and though they
camped just on the opposite side of the creek, they did not trouble us
any more. Of course we kept a pretty sharp watch during the night. The
men of this nation were tall, big, and exceedingly hirsute, and in
excellent bodily condition. They reminded me of, as no doubt they are,
the prototypes of the account given by the natives of the Charlotte
Waters telegraph station, on my first expedition, who declared that
out to the west were tribes of wild blacks who were cannibals, who
were covered with hair, and had long manes hanging down their backs.
None of these men, who perhaps were only the warriors of the tribe,
were either old or grey-haired, and although their features in general
were not handsome, some of the younger ones' faces were prepossessing.
Some of them wore the chignon, and others long curls; the youngest
ones who wore curls looked at a distance like women. A number were
painted with red ochre, and some were in full war costume, with
feathered crowns and head dresses, armlets and anklets of feathers,
and having alternate stripes of red and white upon the upper portions
of their bodies; the majority of course were in undress uniform. I
knew as soon as I arrived in this region that it must be well if not
densely populated, for it is next to impossible in Australia for an
explorer to discover excellent and well-watered regions without coming
into deadly conflict with the aboriginal inhabitants. The aborigines
are always the aggressors, but then the white man is a trespasser in
the first instance, which is a cause sufficient for any atrocity to be
committed upon him. I named this Encounter Creek The Officer.* There
was a high mount to the north-east from here, which lay nearly west
from Mount James-Winter, which I called Mount Officer.*
Though there was a sound of revelry or devilry by night in the enemy's
camp, ours was not passed in music, and we could not therefore listen
to the low harmonics that undertone sweet music's roll. Gibson got one
of the horses which was in sight, to go and find the others, while Mr.
Tietkens took Jimmy with him to the top of a hill in order to take
some bearings for me, while I remained at the camp. No sooner did the
natives see me alone than they recommenced their malpractices. I had
my arsenal in pretty good fighting order, and determined, if they
persisted in attacking me, to let some of them know the consequences.
I was afraid that some might spear me from behind while others engaged
me in front. I therefore had to be doubly on the alert. A mob of them
came, and I fired in the air, then on the ground, at one side of them
and then at the other. At last they fell back, and when the others and
the horses appeared, though they kept close round us, watching every
movement, yelling perpetually, they desisted from further attack. I
was very gratified to think afterwards that no blood had been shed,
and that we had got rid of our enemies with only the loss of a little
ammunition. Although this was Sunday, I did not feel quite so safe as
if I were in a church or chapel, and I determined not to remain. The
horses were frightened at the incessant and discordant yells and
shrieks of these fiends, and our ears also were perfectly deafened
with their outcries.
We departed, leaving the aboriginal owners of this splendid piece of
land in the peaceful possession of their beautiful hunting grounds,
and travelled west through a small gap into a fine valley. The main
range continued stretching away north of us in high and heavy masses
of hills, and with a fine open country to the south. At ten miles we
came to another fine creek, where I found water running; this I called
the Currie*. It was late when, in six miles further, we reached
another creek, where we got water and a delightful camp. I called this
the Levinger*. The country to-day was excellent, being fine open,
grassy valleys all the way; all along our route in this range we saw
great quantities of white snail-shells, in heaps, at old native
encampments, and generally close to their fireplaces. In crevices and
under rocks we found plenty of the living snails, large and brown; it
was evident the natives cook and eat them, the shells turning white in
the fire, also by exposure to the sun. On starting again we travelled
about west-north-west, and we passed through a piece of timbered
country; at twelve miles we arrived at another fine watercourse. The
horses were almost unmanageable with flashness, running about with
their mouths full of the rich herbage, kicking up their heels and
biting at one another, in a perfect state of horse-play. It was almost
laughable to see them, with such heavy packs on their backs,
attempting such elephantine gambols; so I kept them going, to steady
them a bit. The creek here I called Winter* Water. At five miles
farther we passed a very high mountain in the range, which appeared
the highest I had seen; I named it Mount Davenport. We next passed
through a small gap, over a low hill, and immediately on our
appearance we heard the yells and outcries of natives down on a small
flat below. All we saw, however, was a small, and I hope happy,
family, consisting of two men, one woman, and another youthful
individual, but whether male or female I was not sufficiently near to
determine. When they saw us descend from the little hill, they very
quickly walked away, like respectable people. Continuing our course in
nearly the same direction, west-north-west, and passing two little
creeks, I climbed a small hill and saw a most beautiful valley about a
mile away, stretching north-west, with eucalyptus or gum timber up at
the head of it. The valley appeared entirely enclosed by hills, and
was a most enticing sight. Travelling on through 200 or 300 yards of
mulga, we came out on the open ground, which was really a sight that
would delight the eyes of a traveller, even in the Province of
Cashmere or any other region of the earth. The ground was covered with
a rich carpet of grass and herbage; conspicuous amongst the latter was
an abundance of the little purple vetch, which, spreading over
thousands of acres of ground, gave a lovely pink or magenta tinge to
the whole scene. I also saw that there was another valley running
nearly north, with another creek meandering through it, apparently
joining the one first seen.
(ILLUSTRATION: THE FAIRIES' GLEN.)
Passing across this fairy space, I noticed the whitish appearances
that usually accompany springs and flood-marks in this region. We soon
reached a most splendid kind of stone trough, under a little stony
bank, which formed an excellent spring, running into and filling the
little trough, running out at the lower end, disappearing below the
surface, evidently perfectly satisfied with the duties it had to
This was really the most delightful spot I ever saw; a region like a
garden, with springs of the purest water spouting out of the ground,
ever flowing into a charming little basin a hundred yards long by
twenty feet wide and four feet deep. There was a quantity of the
tea-tree bush growing along the various channels, which all contained
The valley is surrounded by picturesque hills, and I am certain it is
the most charming and romantic spot I ever shall behold. I immediately
christened it the Fairies' Glen, for it had all the characteristics to
my mind of fairyland. Here we encamped. I would not have missed
finding such a spot, upon--I will not say what consideration. Here
also of course we saw numbers of both ancient and modern native huts,
and this is no doubt an old-established and favourite camping ground.
And how could it be otherwise? No creatures of the human race could
view these scenes with apathy or dislike, nor would any sentient
beings part with such a patrimony at any price but that of their
blood. But the great Designer of the universe, in the long past
periods of creation, permitted a fiat to be recorded, that the beings
whom it was His pleasure in the first instance to place amidst these
lovely scenes, must eventually be swept from the face of the earth by
others more intellectual, more dearly beloved and gifted than they.
Progressive improvement is undoubtedly the order of creation, and we
perhaps in our turn may be as ruthlessly driven from the earth by
another race of yet unknown beings, of an order infinitely higher,
infinitely more beloved, than we. On me, perchance, the eternal
obloquy of the execution of God's doom may rest, for being the first
to lead the way, with prying eye and trespassing foot, into regions so
fair and so remote; but being guiltless alike in act or intention to
shed the blood of any human creature, I must accept it without a sigh.
The night here was cold, the mercury at daylight being down to 24
degrees, and there was ice on the water or tea left in the pannikins
or billies overnight.
This place was so charming that I could not tear myself away. Mr.
Tietkens and I walked to and climbed up a high mount, about three
miles north-easterly from camp; it was of some elevation. We ascended
by a gorge having eucalyptus and callitris pines halfway up. We found
water running from one little basin to another, and high up, near the
summit, was a bare rock over which water was gushing. To us, as we
climbed towards it, it appeared like a monstrous diamond hung in
mid-air, flashing back the rays of the morning sun. I called this
Mount Oberon, after Shakespeare's King of the Fairies. The view from
its summit was limited. To the west the hills of this chain still run
on; to the east I could see Mount Ferdinand. The valley in which the
camp and water was situate lay in all its loveliness at our feet, and
the little natural trough in its centre, now reduced in size by
distance, looked like a silver thread, or, indeed, it appeared more as
though Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, had for a moment laid her
magic silver wand upon the grass, and was reposing in the sunlight
among the herbage and the flowers. The day was lovely, the sky serene
and clear, and a gentle zephyr-like breeze merely agitated the
atmosphere. As we sat gazing over this delightful scene, and having
found also so many lovely spots in this chain of mountains, I was
tempted to believe I had discovered regions which might eventually
support, not only flocks and herds, but which would become the centres
of population also, each individual amongst whom would envy me us
being the first discoverer of the scenes it so delighted them to view.
For here were:--
"Long dreamy lawns, and birds on happy wings
Keeping their homes in never-rifled bowers;
Cool fountains filling with their murmuring
The sunny silence 'twixt the charming hours."
In the afternoon we returned to the camp, and again and again wondered
at the singular manner in which the water existed here. Five hundred
yards above or below there is no sign of water, but in that
intermediate space a stream gushes out of the ground, fills a splendid
little trough, and gushes into the ground again: emblematic indeed of
the ephemeral existence of humanity--we rise out of the dust, flash
for a brief moment in the light of life, and in another we are gone.
We planted seeds here; I called it Titania's Spring, the watercourse
in which it exists I called Moffatt's* Creek.
The night was totally different from the former, the mercury not
falling below 66 degrees. The horses upon being brought up to the camp
this morning on foot, displayed such abominable liveliness and
flashness, that there was no catching them. One colt, Blackie, who was
the leader of the riot, I just managed at length to catch, and then we
had to drive the others several times round the camp at a gallop,
before their exuberance had in a measure subsided. It seemed, indeed,
as if the fairies had been bewitching them during the night. It was
late when we left the lovely spot. A pretty valley running north-west,
with a creek in it, was our next road; our track wound about through
the most splendidly grassed valleys, mostly having a trend westerly.
At twelve miles we saw the gum timber of a watercourse, apparently
debouching through a glen. Of course there was water, and a channel
filled with reeds, down which the current ran in never-failing
streams. This spot was another of those charming gems which exist in
such numbers in this chain. This was another of those "secret nooks in
a pleasant land, by the frolic fairies planned." I called the place
Glen Watson*. From a hill near I discovered that this chain had now
become broken, and though it continues to run on still farther west,
it seemed as though it would shortly end. The Mount Olga of my former
expedition was now in view, and bore north 17 degrees west, a
considerable distance away. I was most anxious to visit it. On my
former journey I had made many endeavours to reach it, but was
prevented; now, however, I hoped no obstacle would occur, and I shall
travel towards it to-morrow. There was more than a mile of running
water here, the horses were up to their eyes in the most luxuriant
vegetation, and our encampment was again in a most romantic spot. Ah!
why should regions so lovely be traversed so soon? This chain of
mountains is called the Musgrave Range. A heavy dew fell last night,
produced, I imagine, by the moisture in the glen, and not by
extraneous atmospheric causes, as we have had none for some nights
CHAPTER 2.3. FROM 10TH SEPTEMBER TO 30TH SEPTEMBER, 1873.
Leave for Mount Olga.
Change of scene.
The Mann range.
Mount Olga's foot.
Black and gold butterflies.
Appearance of Mount Olga.
A patch of better country.
A new creek and glen.
Heat and cold.
A pellucid pond.
Christy Bagot's Creek.
Hector's Springs and Pass.
A carpet of verdure.
Smell of camels.
How I found Livingstone.
Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit.
Cotton and salt bush flats.
The Champ de Mars.
Sheets of water.
Water in grass.
Ants and burrs.
Across the border.
The Bell Rock.
We left this pretty glen with its purling stream and reedy bed, and
entered very shortly upon an entirely different country, covered with
porcupine grass. We went north-west to some ridges at seventeen miles,
where there was excellent vegetation, but no water. I noticed to-day
for the first time upon this expedition some of the desert oak trees
(Casuarina Decaisneana). Nine miles farther we reached a round hill,
from which Mount Olga bore north. We were still a considerable
distance away, and as I did not know of any water existing at Mount
Olga, I was anxious to find some, for the horses had none where we
encamped last night. From this hill I could also see that the Musgrave
chain still ran on to the west; though broken and parted in masses, it
rose again into high mounts and points. This continuation is called
the Mann Range. Near the foot of the round hill I saw a small flat
piece of rock, barely perceptible among the grass; on it was an old
native fireplace and a few dead sticks. On inspection there proved to
be two fine little holes or basins in the solid rock, with ample water
for all my horses. Scrub and triodia existed in the neighbourhood, and
the feed was very poor. These were called Fraser's Wells. Mount Olga
was still fifty miles away. We now pushed on for it over some stony
and some scrubby country, and had to camp without water and with
wretched feed for the horses. Casuarina trees were often passed. We
generally managed to get away early from a bad camp, and by the middle
of the next day we arrived at the foot of Mount Olga. Here I perceived
the marks of a wagon and horses, and camel tracks; these I knew at
once to be those of Gosse's expedition. Gosse had come down south
through the regions, and to the watering places which I discovered in
my former journey. He had evidently gone south to the Mann range, and
I expected soon to overtake him. I had now travelled four hundred
miles to reach this mount, which, when I first saw it, was only
seventy-five or eighty miles distant.
The appearance of this mountain is marvellous in the extreme, and
baffles an accurate description. I shall refer to it again, and may
remark here that it is formed of several vast and solid, huge, and
rounded blocks of bare red conglomerate stones, being composed of
untold masses of rounded stones of all kinds and sizes, mixed like
plums in a pudding, and set in vast and rounded shapes upon the
ground. Water was running from the base, down a stony channel, filling
several rocky basins. The water disappeared in the sandy bed of the
creek, where the solid rock ended. We saw several quandongs, or native
peach-trees, and some native poplars on our march to-day. I made an
attempt to climb a portion of this singular mound, but the sides were
too perpendicular; I could only get up about 800 or 900 feet, on the
front or lesser mound; but without kites and ropes, or projectiles, or
wings, or balloons, the main summit is unscaleable. The quandong fruit
here was splendid--we dried a quantity in the sun. Some very beautiful
black and gold, butterflies, with very large wings, were seen here and
collected. The thermometer to-day was 95 degrees in the shade. We
enjoyed a most luxurious bath in the rocky basins. We moved the camp
to softer ground, where there was a well-grassed flat a mile and a
half away. To the east was a high and solitary mound, mentioned in my
first journal as ranges to the east of Mount Olga, and apparently
lying north and south; this is called Ayers' Rock; I shall have to
speak of it farther on. To the west-south-west were some pointed
ridges, with the long extent of the Mann Ranges lying east and west,
far beyond them to the south.
The appearance of Mount Olga from this camp is truly wonderful; it
displayed to our astonished eyes rounded minarets, giant cupolas, and
monstrous domes. There they have stood as huge memorials of the
ancient times of earth, for ages, countless eons of ages, since its
creation first had birth. The rocks are smoothed with the attrition of
the alchemy of years. Time, the old, the dim magician, has
ineffectually laboured here, although with all the powers of ocean at
his command; Mount Olga has remained as it was born; doubtless by the
agency of submarine commotion of former days, beyond even the epoch of
far-back history's phantom dream. From this encampment I can only
liken Mount Olga to several enormous rotund or rather elliptical
shapes of rouge mange, which had been placed beside one another by
some extraordinary freak or convulsion of Nature. I found two other
running brooks, one on the west and one on the north side. My first
encampment was on the south. The position of this extraordinary
feature is in latitude 25 degrees 20' and longitude 130 degrees 57'.
Leaving the mountain, we next traversed a region of sandy soil, rising
into sandhills, with patches of level ground between. There were
casuarinas and triodia in profusion--two different kinds of vegetation
which appear to thoroughly enjoy one another's company. We went to the
hills south south-westerly, and had a waterless camp in the porcupine,
triodia, spinifex, Festuca irritans, and everything-else-abominable,
grass; 95 degrees in shade. At about thirty-two miles from Mount Olga
we came to the foot of the hills, and I found a small supply of water
by digging; but at daylight next morning there was not sufficient for
half the horses, so I rode away to look for more; this I found in a
channel coming from a sugar-loaf or high-peaked hill. It was a
terribly rough and rocky place, and it was too late to get the animals
up to the ledges where the water was, and they had to wait till next
From here I decided to steer for a notch in the Mann Range, nearly
south-west. The country consisted chiefly of sandhills, with casuarina
and flats with triodia. We could get no water by night. I collected a
great quantity of various plants and flowers along all the way I had
come in fact, but just about Mount Olga I fancied I had discovered
several new species. To-day we passed through some mallee, and
gathered quandongs or native peach, which, with sugar, makes excellent
jam; we also saw currajongs and native poplars. We now turned to some
ridges a few miles nearer than the main range, and dug a tank, for the
horses badly wanted water. A very small quantity drained in, and the
animals had to go a second night unwatered. It was now the 22nd of
September, and I had hoped to have some rain at the equinox, but none
had yet fallen. The last two days have been very warm and oppressive.
The country round these ridges was very good, and plenty of the little
purple vetch grew here. The tank in the morning was quite full; it
however watered only seventeen horses, but by twelve o'clock all were
satisfied, and we left the tank for the benefit of those whom it might
(ILLUSTRATION: ZOE'S GLEN.)
We were steering for an enticing-looking glen between two high hills
about south-south-west. We passed over sandhills, through scrubs, and
eventually on to open ground. At two or three miles from the new range
we crossed a kind of dry swamp or water flat, being the end of a gum
creek. A creek was seen to issue from the glen as we approached, and
at twelve miles from our last camp we came upon running water in the
three channels which existed. The day was warm, 94 degrees. The water
was slightly brackish. Heat and cold are evidently relative
perceptions, for this morning, although the thermometer stood at 58
degrees, I felt the atmosphere exceedingly cold. We took a walk up the
glen whence the creek flows, and on to some hills which environ it.
The water was rushing rapidly down the glen; we found several fine
rock-basins--one in particular was nine or ten feet deep, the pellucid
element descending into it from a small cascade of the rocks above;
this was the largest sheet of water per se I had yet discovered upon
this expedition. It formed a most picturesque and delightful bath, and
as we plunged into its transparent depths we revelled, as it were, in
an almost newly discovered element. I called this charming spot Zoe's
Glen. In our wanderings up the glen we had found books in the running
brooks, and sermons in stones. The latitude of this pretty little
retreat was 25 degrees 59'. I rode a mile or two to the east to
inspect another creek; its bed was larger than ours, and water was
running down its channel. I called it Christy Bagot's Creek. I flushed
up a lot of ducks, but had no gun. On my return Gibson and Jimmy took
the guns, and walked over on a shooting excursion; only three ducks
were shot; of these we made an excellent stew. A strong gale of warm
wind blew from the south all night. Leaving Zoe's Glen, we travelled
along the foot of the range to the south of us; at six or seven miles
I observed a kind of valley dividing this range running south, and
turned down into it. It was at first scrubby, then opened out. At four
miles Mr. Tietkens and I mounted a rocky rise, and he, being ahead,
first saw and informed me that there was a lake below us, two or three
miles away. I was very much gratified to see it, and we immediately
proceeded towards it. The valley or pass had now become somewhat
choked with low pine-clad stony hills, and we next came upon a running
creek with some fine little sheets of water; it meandered round the
piny hills and exhausted itself upon the bosom of the lake. I called
these the Hector Springs and Hector Pass after Hector Wilson*. On
arrival at the lake I found its waters were slightly brackish; there
was no timber on its shores; it lay close under the foot of the
mountains, having their rocky slopes for its northern bank. The
opposite shore was sandy; numerous ducks and other water-fowl were
floating on its breast. Several springs from the ranges ran into its
northern shore, and on its eastern side a large creek ran in, though
its timber did not grow all the way. The water was now eight or nine
miles round; it was of an oblong form, whose greatest length is east
and west. When quite full this basin must be at least twenty miles in
circumference; I named this fine sheet of water Lake Wilson*. The
position of this lake I made out to be in longitude 129 degrees 52'. A
disagreeable warm wind blew all day.
The morning was oppressive, the warm south wind still blowing. We left
Lake Wilson, named after Sir Samuel, who was the largest contributor
to this expedition fund, in its wildness, its loneliness, and its
beauty, at the foot of its native mountains, and went away to some low
hills south-south-west, where in nine miles we got some water in a
channel I called Stevenson's* Creek. In a few miles further we found
ourselves in a kind of glen where water bubbled up from the ground
below. The channel had become filled with reeds, and great quantities
of enormous milk or sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceous). Some of the
horses got bogged in this ravine, which caused considerable delay.
Eventually it brought us out into a most beautiful amphitheatre, into
which several creeks descended. This open space was covered with the
richest carpet of verdure, and was a most enchanting spot. It was
nearly three miles across; we went over to its southern side, and
camped under the hills which fenced it there, and among them we
obtained a supply of water. The grass and herbage here were
magnificent. The only opening to this beautiful oval was some distance
to the east; we therefore climbed over the hills to the south to get
away, and came upon another fine valley running westward, with a
continuous line of hills running parallel to it on the north. We made
a meandering course, in a south-westerly direction, for about fifteen
miles, when the hills became low and isolated, and gave but a poor
look out for water. Other hills in a more continuous line bore to the
north of west, to which we went. In three miles after this we came to
a valley with a green swamp in the middle; it was too boggy to allow
horses to approach. A round hill in another valley was reached late,
and here our pack-horses, being driven in a mob in front of us, put
their noses to the ground and seemed to have smelt something unusual,
which proved to be Mr. Gosse's dray track. Our horses were smelling
the scent of his camels from afar. The dray track was now
comparatively fresh, and I had motives for following it. It was so
late we had to encamp without finding the water, which I was quite
sure was not far from us, and we turned out our horses hoping they
might discover it in the night.
I went to sleep that night dreaming how I had met Mr. Gosse in this
wilderness, and produced a parody upon 'How I found Livingstone.' We
travelled nearly thirty miles to-day upon all courses, the country
passed over being principally very fine valleys, richly clothed with
grass and almost every other kind of valuable herbage. Yesterday, the
28th of September, was rather a warm day; I speak by the card, for at
ten o'clock at night Herr Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit had not
condescended to fall below 82 degrees. The horses found water in the
night, and in the morning looked sleek and full. I intended now, as I
said before, to follow Gosse's dray track, for I knew he could not be
very far in advance.
We followed the track a mile, when it turned suddenly to the
south-west, down a valley with a creek in it that lay in that
direction. But as a more leading one ran also in a more westerly
direction, I left the dray track almost at right angles, and proceeded
along the more westerly line. The valley I now traversed became
somewhat scrubby with mallee and triodia. In seven or eight miles we
got into much better country, lightly timbered with mulga and
splendidly grassed. Here also were some cotton and salt bush flats. To
my English reader I may say that these shrubs, or plants, or bushes
are the most valuable fodder plants for stock known in Australia; they
are varieties of the Atriplex family of plants, and whenever I can
record meeting them, I do it with the greatest satisfaction. At twelve
miles the hills to our north receded, and there lay stretched out
before us a most beautiful plain, level as a billiard table and green
as an emerald. Viewing it from the top of a hill, I could not help
thinking what a glorious spot this would make for the display of
cavalry manoeuvres. In my mental eye I could see
"The rush of squadrons sweeping,
Like whirlwinds o'er the plain;"
and mentally hear
"The shouting of the slayers,
The screeching of the slain."
I called this splendid circle the Champ de Mars; it is, I dare say,
fifteen or sixteen miles round. The hills on the northern side were
much higher than those near us, and appeared more inviting for water;
so we rode across the circle to them. In a kind of gully between the
hills, at four and a half miles, I found a rock-hole full of water in
a triodia creek; it was seven or eight feet deep, and almost hidden
amongst rocks and scrubs. The water drained into the hole from above.
By the time my horses were all satisfied they had lowered it very
considerably, and I did not think there would be a drink for them all
in the morning; but when we took them up next day I found the rocky
basin had been replenished during the night.
A valley led away from here, along the foot of the northern hills,
almost west. At five miles we crossed the channel of a fine little
creek, coming from thence; it had several sheets of water with rocky
banks, and there were numerous ducks on the waters. The timber upon
this creek was mostly blood-wood or red gum; the blood-wood has now
almost entirely supplanted the other eucalypts. There was another tree
of a very peculiar leaf which I have often met before, but only as a
bush; here it had assumed the proportions of a tree. This was one of
the desert acacias, but which of them I could not tell. Farther on
were several bare red hills, festooned with cypress pines, which
always give a most pleasing tone to any Australian view. These I
called Harriet's Springs. The creek meandered away down the valley
amongst pine-clad hills to the south-westward, and appeared to
increase in size below where we crossed it.
I ascended a hill and saw that the two lines of hills encircling the
Champ de Mars had now entirely separated, the space between becoming
A pointed hill at the far end of the southern line bore west, and we
started away for it. We continued on this west course for fifteen or
sixteen miles, having the southern hills very close to our line of
march. Having travelled some twenty miles, I turned up a blind gully
or water-channel in a small triodia valley, and found some water lying
about amongst the grass. The herbage here was splendid. Ants and burrs
were very annoying, however; we have been afflicted with both of these
animal and vegetable annoyances upon many occasions all through these
regions. There was a high, black-looking mountain with a conical
summit, in the northern line of ranges, which bore north-westward from
here. I named it Mount Aloysius, after the Christian name of Sir A.F.
Weld, Governor of Western Australia. We had entered the territory of
the Colony of Western Australia on the last day of September; the
boundary between it and South Australia being the 129th meridian of
east longitude. The latitude by stars of this camp was 26 degrees 9'.
Leaving it early, we continued upon the same line as yesterday, and
towards the same hill, which we reached in five miles, and ascended.
It was nearly the most westerly point of the line of hills we had been
following. The summit of this hill I found to consist of great masses
of rifted stone, which were either solid iron or stone coated thickly
with it. The blocks rang with the sound of my iron-shod boots, while
moving over them, with such a musical intonation and bell-like clang,
that I called this the Bell Rock. Mount Aloysius bore north 9 degrees
west, distant about ten miles; here I saw it was quite an isolated
range, as, at its eastern and western extremities, open spaces could
be seen between it and any other hills.
CHAPTER 2.4. FROM 30TH SEPTEMBER TO 9TH NOVEMBER, 1873.
Mount Marie and Mount Jeanie.
Pointed ranges to the west.
Chop a passage.
Traces of volcanic action.
Highly magnetic hills.
The Leipoa ocellata.
Frowning bastion walls.
A strong running stream.
Native pheasants' nests.
The Mus conditor's nest.
Difficulty with the horses.
A small creek and native well.
Steer for the west.
Very desolate places.
A circular storm.
The Shoeing Camp.
A bare hill.
Fresh looking creek.
Brine and bitter water.
The desert pea.
Jimmy and the natives.
Natives prowling at night.
Searching for water.
Horses suffering from thirst.
The camp on fire.
Men and horses choking for water.
Abandon the place.
Thermometer 106 degrees.
Return to the Cob.
Old dry well.
A junction from the east.
Another waterless camp.
Return to the Shoeing Camp.
Biting dogs' noses.
A nasal organ.
Boiling an egg.
Tietkens and Gibson return unsuccessful.
Another attempt west.
Country burnt by natives.
We had now been travelling along the northern foot of the more
southerly of the two lines of hills which separated, at the west end
of the Champ de Mars; and on reaching the Bell Rock, this southern
line ceased, while the northern one still ran on, though at diminished
elevation, and we now travelled towards two hills standing together
about west-north-west. On reaching them, in thirteen miles, I found a
native encampment; there were several old and new bough gunyahs, and
the fires were alight at the doors? of many of them. We could not see
the people because they hid themselves, but I knew quite well they
were watching us close by. There was a large bare slab of rock, in
which existed two fine cisterns several feet in depth, one much longer
than the other, the small one containing quite a sufficient supply for
all my horses. I called these Hogarth's Wells, and the two hills Mount
Marie and Mount Jeanie. I was compelled to leave one of these
receptacles empty, which for ages the simple inhabitants of these
regions had probably never seen dry before. Some hills lay
south-westerly, and we reached them in nine miles; they were
waterless. Southward the country appeared all scrub. The western
horizon was broken by ranges with some high points amongst them; they
were a long way off. To the west-north-west some bald ranges also ran
on. I made across to them, steering for a fall or broken gap to the
north-north-west. This was a kind of glen, and I found a watercourse
in it, with a great quantity of tea-tree, which completely choked up
the passage with good-sized trees, whose limbs and branches were so
interwoven that they prevented any animal larger than a man from
approaching the water, bubbling along at their feet. We had to chop a
passage to it for our horses. The hills were quite destitute of
timber, and were composed of huge masses of rifted granite, which
could only have been so riven by seismatic action, which at one time
must have been exceedingly frequent in this region.
I may mention that, from the western half of the Musgrave Range, all
the Mann, the Tomkinson, and other ranges westward have been shivered
into fragments by volcanic force. Most of the higher points of all the
former and latter consist of frowning masses of black-looking or
intensely red ironstone, or granite thickly coated with iron. Triodia
grows as far up the sides of the hills as it is possible to obtain any
soil; but even this infernal grass cannot exist on solid rock;
therefore all the summits of these hills are bare. These shivered
masses of stone have large interstices amongst them, which are the
homes, dens, or resorts of swarms of a peculiar marsupial known as the
rock wallaby, which come down on to the lower grounds at night to
feed. If they expose themselves in the day, they are the prey of
aborigines and eagles, if at night, they fall victims to wild dogs or
dingoes. The rocks frequently change their contours from earthquake
shocks, and great numbers of these creatures are crushed and smashed
by the trembling rocks, so that these unfortunate creatures, beset by
so many dangers, exist always in a chronic state of fear and anxiety,
and almost perpetual motion. These hills also have the metallic clang
of the Bell Rock, and are highly magnetic. In the scrubs to-day Gibson
found a Lowan's or scrub pheasant's nest. These birds inhabit the most
waterless regions and the densest scrubs, and live entirely without
This bird is figured in Gould's work on Australian ornithology; it is
called the Leipoa ocellata. Two specimens of these birds are preserved
in the Natural History Department of the British Museum at Kensington.
We obtained six fresh eggs from it. I found another, and got five
more. We saw several native huts in the scrubs, some of them of large
dimensions, having limbs of the largest trees they could get to build
them with. When living here, the natives probably obtain water from
roots of the mulga. This must be the case, for we often see small
circular pits dug at the foot of some of these trees, which, however,
generally die after the operation of tapping. I called the spot Glen
Osborne*; we rested here a day. We always have a great deal of sewing
and repairing of the canvas pack-bags to do, and a day of rest usually
means a good day's work; it rests the horses, however, and that is the
main thing. Saturday night, the 4th October, was a delightfully cool
one, and on Sunday we started for some hills in a south-westerly
direction, passing some low ridges. We reached the higher ones in
twenty-two miles. Nearing them, we passed over some fine cotton-bush
flats, so-called from bearing a small cotton-like pod, and immediately
at the hills we camped on a piece of plain, very beautifully grassed,
and at times liable to inundation. It was late when we arrived; no
water could be found; but the day was cool, and the night promised to
be so too; and as I felt sure I should get water in these hills in the
morning, I was not very anxious on account of the horses. These hills
are similar to those lately described, being greatly impregnated with
iron and having vast upheavals of iron-coated granite, broken and
lying in masses of black and pointed rock, upon all their summits.
Their sides sloped somewhat abruptly, they were all highly magnetic,
and had the appearance of frowning, rough-faced, bastion walls. Very
early I climbed up the hills, and from the top I saw the place that
was afterwards to be our refuge, though it was a dangerous one. This
is called the Cavanagh Range, but as, in speaking of it as my depot,
it was called Fort Mueller*, I shall always refer to it by that name.
What I saw was a strong running stream in a confined rocky, scrubby
glen, and smokes from natives' fires. When bringing the horses, we had
to go over less difficult ground than I had climbed, and on the road
we found another stream in another valley, watered the horses, and did
not then go to my first find. There was fine open, grassy country all
round this range; we followed the creek down from the hills to it. On
reaching the lower grassy ground, we saw Mr. Gosse's dray-track again,
and I was not surprised to see that the wagon had returned upon its
outgoing track, and the party were now returning eastwards to South
Australia. I had for some days anticipated meeting him; but now he was
going east, and I west, I did not follow back after him. Shortly
afterwards, rounding the spurs of these hills, we came to the channel
of the Fort Mueller creek, which I had found this morning, and though
there was no surface-water, we easily obtained some by digging in the
sandy creek-bed. A peculiarity of the whole of this region is, that
water cannot exist far from the rocky foundations of the hills; the
instant the valleys open and any soil appears, down sinks the water,
though a fine stream may be running only a few yards above. Blankets
were again required for the last two nights. I found my position here
to be in latitude 26 degrees 12', longitude 127 degrees 59' 0".
Leaving this encampment, we struck away for a new line of ranges. The
country was very peculiar, and different from any we had yet met; it
was open, covered with tall triodia, and consisted almost entirely of
limestone. At intervals, eucalyptus-trees of the mallee kind, and a
few of the pretty-looking bloodwood-trees and some native poplars were
seen; there was no grass for several miles, and we only found some
poor dry stuff for the horses in a patch of scrub, the ground all
round being stony and triodia-set. To-day we came upon three Lowans'
or native pheasants' nests. These birds, which somewhat resemble
guinea-fowl in appearance, build extraordinarily large nests of sand,
in which they deposit small sticks and leaves; here the female lays
about a dozen eggs, the decomposition of the vegetable matter
providing the warmth necessary to hatch them. These nests are found
only in thick scrubs. I have known them five to six feet high, of a
circular conical shape, and a hundred feet round the base. The first,
though of enormous size, produced only two eggs; the second, four, and
the third, six. We thanked Providence for supplying us with such
luxuries in such a wilderness. There are much easier feats to perform
than the carrying of Lowans' eggs, and for the benefit of any readers
who don't know what those eggs are like, I may mention that they are
larger than a goose egg, and of a more delicious flavour than any
other egg in the world. Their shell is beautifully pink tinted, and so
terribly fragile that, if a person is not careful in lifting them, the
fingers will crunch through the tinted shell in an instant. Therefore,
carrying a dozen of such eggs is no easy matter. I took upon myself
the responsibility of bringing our prize safe into camp, and I
accomplished the task by packing them in grass, tied up in a
handkerchief, and slung round my neck; a fine fardel hanging on my
chest, immediately under my chin. A photograph of a person with such
an appendage would scarcely lead to recognition. We used some of the
eggs in our tea as a substitute for milk. A few of the eggs proved to
possess some slight germs of vitality, the preliminary process being
the formation of eyes. But explorers in the field are not such
particular mortals as to stand upon such trifles; indeed, parboiled,
youthful, Lowans' eyes are considered quite a delicacy in the camp.
At early dawn there was brilliant lightning to the west, and the
horizon in that direction became cloudy. Thunder also was heard, but
whatever storm there might have been, passed away to the south of us.
In the course of a few miles we left the limestone behind, and
sandhills again came on. We went over two low ridges, and five or six
miles of scrub brought us to the hills we were steering for. Some
pine-clad bare rocks induced us to visit them to see if there were
rock-holes anywhere. Mr. Tietkens found a native well under one of the
rocks, but no water was seen in it, so we went to the higher hills,
and in a gully found but a poor supply. There was every appearance of
approaching rain, and we got everything under canvas, but in the night
of the 9th October a heavy gale of wind sprang up and blew away any
rain that might have fallen. As, however, it was still cloudy, we
remained in camp.
From the highest hill here, called Mount Squires, the appearance of
the country surrounding was most strange. To the west, and round by
north-west to north, was a mass of broken timbered hills with scrubby
belts between. The atmosphere was too hazy to allow of distinct
vision, but I could distinguish lines of hills, if not ranges, to the
westward for a long distance. The view was by no means encouraging,
but as hills run on, though entirely different now from those behind
us, our only hope is that water may yet be discovered in them. The
whole region round about was enveloped in scrubs, and the hills were
not much more than visible above them.
The sky had remained cloudy all yesterday, and I hoped, if the wind
would only cease, rain would surely fall; so we waited and hoped
against hope. We had powerful reverberations of thunder, and forked
and vivid lightnings played around, but no rain fell, although the
atmosphere was surcharged with electricity and moisture. The
wished-for rain departed to some far more favoured places, some
happier shores from these remote; and as if to mock our wishes, on the
following morning we had nearly three minutes' sprinkling of rain, and
then the sky became clear and bright.
By this time we had used up all the water we could find, and had to go
somewhere else to get more. A terrible piece of next-to-impassable
scrub, four or five miles through, lay right in our path; it also rose
and fell into ridges and gullies in it. We saw one of the Mus
conditor, or building rats' nests, which is not the first we have seen
by many on this expedition. The scrub being so dense, it was
impossible to see more than two or three of the horses at a time, and
three different times some of them got away and tried to give us the
slip; this caused a great deal of anxiety and trouble, besides loss of
time. Shortly after emerging from the scrubs, we struck a small creek
with one or two gumtrees on it; a native well was in the bed, and we
managed to get water enough for the horses, we having only travelled
six miles straight all day. This was a very good, if not actually a
pretty, encampment; there was a narrow strip of open ground along the
banks, and good vegetation for the horses. We slept upon the sandy bed
of the creek to escape the terrible quantities of burrs which grew all
over these wilds.
We steered away nearly west for the highest hills we had seen
yesterday; there appeared a fall or gap between two; the scrubs were
very thick to-day, as was seen by the state of our pack-bags, an
infallible test, when we stopped for the night, during the greater
part of which we had to repair the bags. We could not find any water,
and we seemed to be getting into very desolate places. A densely
scrubby and stony gully was before us, which we had to get through or
up, and on reaching the top I was disappointed to find that, though
there was an open valley below, the hills all round seemed too much
disconnected to form any good watering places. Descending, and leaving
Gibson and Jimmy with the horses, Mr. Tietkens and I rode in different
directions in search of water. In about two hours we met, in the only
likely spot either of us had seen; this was a little watercourse, and
following it up to the foot of the hills found a most welcome and
unexpectedly large pond for such a place. Above it in the rocks were a
line of little basins which contained water, with a rather pronounced
odour of stagnation about it; above them again the water was running,
but there was a space between upon which no water was seen. We
returned for the horses and camped as near as we could find a
convenient spot; this, however, was nearly a mile from the water. The
valley ran north-east and south-west; it was very narrow, not too
open, and there was but poor grass and herbage, the greater portion of
the vegetation being spinifex. At eight o'clock at night a
thunderstorm came over us from the west, and sprinkled us with a few
drops of rain; from west the storm travelled north-west, thence north
to east and south, performing a perfect circle around; reaching its
original starting point in about an hour, it disappeared, going
northerly again. The rest of the night was beautifully calm and clear.
Some of our horses required shoeing for the first time since we had
left the telegraph line, now over 600 miles behind us. From the top of
a hill here the western horizon was bounded by low scrubby ridges,
with an odd one standing higher than the rest; to one of these I
decided to go next. Some other hills lay a little more to the south,
but there was nothing to choose between them; hills also ran along
eastward and north-eastwards. At eight o'clock again to-night a
thunderstorm came up from the westward; it sprinkled us with a few
drops of rain, and then became dispersed to the south and south-east.
The following day we passed in shoeing horses, mending pack-bags,
restuffing pack-saddles, and general repairs. While out after the
horses Mr. Tietkens found another place with some water, about two
miles southerly on the opposite or west side of the valley. Finishing
what work we had in hand, we remained here another day. I found that
water boiled in this valley at 209 degrees, making the approximate
altitude of this country 1534 above sea level. This we always called
the Shoeing Camp. We had remained there longer than at any other
encampment since we started; we arrived on the 14th and left on the
Getting over a low fall in the hills opposite the camp, I turned on my
proper course for another hill and travelled fifteen miles; the first
three being through very fine country, well grassed, having a good
deal of salt bush, being lightly timbered, and free from spinifex. The
scrub and triodia very soon made their appearance together, and we
were forced to camp in a miserable place, there being neither grass
nor water for the unfortunate horses.
The next morning we deviated from our course on seeing a bare-looking
rocky hill to the right of our line of march; we reached it in ten
miles. Searching about, I found several small holes or cups worn into
the solid rock; and as they mostly contained water, the horses were
unpacked, while a farther search was made. This hill was always after
called the Cups. I rode away to other hills westward, and found a
fresh-looking creek, which emptied into a larger one; but I could find
nothing but brine and bitter water. For the first time on this journey
I found at this creek great quantities of that lovely flower, the
desert pea, Clianthus Dampierii. The creek ran south-westward. I
searched for hours for water without success, and returned to the
party at dusk. Mr. Tietkens had found some more water at another hill;
and he and Gibson took some of the horses over to it, leaving Jimmy
Jimmy walked over to one cup we had reserved for our own use, to fill
the tin-billy for tea. Walking along with his eyes on the ground, and
probably thinking of nothing at all, he reached the cup, and, to his
horror and amazement, discovered some thirty or forty aboriginals
seated or standing round the spot. As he came close up to, but without
seeing them, they all yelled at him in chorus, eliciting from him a
yell in return; then, letting fall the tin things he was carrying, he
fairly ran back to the camp, when he proceeded to get all the guns and
rifles in readiness to shoot the whole lot. But Mr. Tietkens and
Gibson returning with the horses, having heard the yells, caused the
natives to decamp, and relieved poor Jimmy's mind of its load of care
and fear. No doubt these Autocthones were dreadfully annoyed to find
their little reservoirs discovered by such water-swallowing wretches
as they doubtless thought white men and horses to be; I could only
console myself with the reflection, that in such a region as this we
must be prepared to lay down our lives at any moment in our attempts
to procure water, and we must take it when we find it at any price, as
life and water are synonymous terms. I dare say they know where to get
more, but I don't. Some natives were prowling about our encampment all
the first half of the night, and my little dog kept up an incessant
barking; but the rest was silence.
We used every drop of water from every cup, and moved away for the
bitter water I found yesterday. I thought to sweeten it by opening the
place with a shovel, and baling a lot of the stagnant water out; but
it was irreclaimable, and the horses could not drink it.
Mr. Tietkens returned after dark and reported he had found only one
poor place, that might yield sufficient for one drink for all the
horses; and we moved down three miles. It was then a mile up in a
little gully that ran into our creek. Here we had to dig out a large
tank, but the water drained in so slowly that only eight horses could
be watered by midday; at about three o'clock eight more were taken,
and it was night before they were satisfied; and now the first eight
came up again for more, and all the poor wretches were standing in and
around the tank in the morning. The next day was spent in doling out a
few quarts of water to each horse, while I spent the day in a
fruitless search for the fluid which evidently did not exist. Six
weeks or two months ago there must have been plenty of water here, but
now it was gone; and had I been here at that time, I have no doubt I
might have passed across to the Murchison; but now I must retreat to
the Shoeing Camp. When I got back at night, I found that not half the
horses had received even their miserable allowance of three quarts
each, and the horse I had ridden far and fast all day could get none:
this was poor little W.A. of my first expedition. One little wretched
cob horse was upon the last verge of existence; he was evidently not
well, and had been falling away to a shadow for some time; he was for
ever hiding himself in the scrubs, and caused as much trouble to look
after him as all the others put together. He was nearly dead; water
was of no use to him, and his hide might be useful in repairing some
packbags, and we might save our stores for a time by eating him; so he
was despatched from this scene of woe, but not without woeful cruelty;
for Jimmy volunteered to shoot him, and walked down the creek a few
yards to where the poor little creature stood. The possibility of any
one not putting a bullet into the creature's forehead at once, never
occurred to me; but immediately after we heard the shot, Jimmy came
sauntering up and said, "Oh! he wants another dose." I jumped up and
said, "Oh, you young--" No, I won't say what I told Jimmy. Then Gibson
offered to do it, and with a very similar result. With suaviter in
modo, sed fortiter in re, I informed him that I did not consider him a
sufficiently crack shot to enable him to win a Wimbledon shield; and
what the deuce did he--but there, I had to shoot the poor miserable
creature, who already had two rifle bullets in his carcass, and I am
sure with his last breath he thanked me for that quick relief. There
was not sufficient flesh on his bones to cure; but we got a quantity
of what there was, and because we fried it we called it steak, and
because we called it steak we said we enjoyed it, though it was
utterly tasteless. The hide was quite rotten and useless, being as
thin and flimsy as brown paper. It was impossible now to push farther
out west, and a retreat to the Shoeing Camp had to be made, though we
could not reach it in a day. Thermometer while on this creek 99, and
100 degrees in shade. This place was always called the Cob.
We had great difficulty in driving the horses past the Cups, as the
poor creatures having got water there once, supposed it always existed
there. Some of these little indents held only a few pints of water,
others a few quarts, and the largest only a few gallons. Early the
second day we got back, but we had left so little water behind us,
that we found it nearly all gone. Six days having elapsed makes a
wonderful difference in water that is already inclined to depart with
such evaporation as is always going on in this region. We now went to
where Mr. Tietkens had found another place, and he and Gibson took the
shovel to open it out, while Jimmy and I unpacked the horses. Here
Jimmy Andrews set fire to the spinifex close to all our packs and
saddles, and a strong hot wind blowing, soon placed all our belongings
in the most terrible jeopardy. The grass was dry and thick, and the
fire raged around us in a terrific manner; guns and rifles, riding-
and pack-saddles were surrounded by flames in a moment. We ran and
halloed and turned back, and frantically threw anything we could catch
hold of on to the ground already burnt. Upsetting a couple of packs,
we got the bags to dash out the flames, and it was only by the most
desperate exertions we saved nearly everything. The instant a thing
was lifted, the grass under it seemed to catch fire spontaneously; I
was on fire, Jimmy was on fire, my brains were in a fiery, whirling
blaze; and what with the heat, dust, smoke, ashes, and wind, I thought
I must be suddenly translated to Pandemonium. Our appearance also was
most satanic, for we were both as black as demons.
There was no shade; we hadn't a drop of water; and without speaking a
word, off we went up the gully to try and get a drink; there was only
just enough thick fluid for us, the horses standing disconsolately
round. The day was hot, the thermometer marked 105 degrees. There was
not sufficient water here for the horses, and I decided, as we had not
actually dug at our old camp, to return there and do so. This we did,
and obtained a sufficiency at last. We were enabled to keep the camp
here for a few days, while Mr. Tietkens and I tried to find a more
northerly route to the west. Leaving Gibson and Jimmy behind, we took
three horses and steered away for the north. Our route on this trip
led us into the most miserable country, dry ridges and spinifex,
sandhills and scrubs, which rolled along in undulations of several
miles apart. We could get no water, and camped after a day's journey
of forty miles.
Though the day had been very hot, the night became suddenly cool. In
the morning of the 28th of October, at five miles we arrived at a
scrubby sand ridge, and obtained a most displeasing view of the
country further north. The surface seemed more depressed, but entirely
filled up with dense scrubs, with another ridge similar to the one we
were on bounding the view; we reached it in about eight miles. The
view we then got was precisely similar to that behind us, except that
the next undulation that bounded the horizon was fifteen to eighteen
miles away. We had now come fifty-one miles from the Shoeing Camp;
there was no probability of getting water in such a region. To the
west the horizon was bounded by what appeared a perfectly flat and
level line running northwards. This flat line to the west seemed not
more than twenty-five to thirty miles away; between us and it were a
few low stony hills. Not liking the northern, I now decided to push
over to the western horizon, which looked so flat. I have said there
were some stony hills in that direction; we reached the first in
twenty miles. The next was formed of nearly bare rock, where there
were some old native gunyahs. Searching about we found another of
those extraordinary basins, holes, or cups washed out of the solid
rock by ancient ocean's force, ages before an all-seeing Providence
placed His dusky children upon this scene, or even before the waters
had sufficiently subsided to permit either animal or man to exist
here. From this singular cup we obtained a sufficient supply of that
fluid so terribly scarce in this region. We had to fill a canvas
bucket with a pint pot to water our horses, and we outspanned for the
remainder of the day at this exceedingly welcome spot. There were a
few hundred acres of excellent grass land, and the horses did
remarkably well during the night. The day had been very hot; the
thermometer in the shade at this rock stood at 106 degrees.
This proved a most abominable camp; it swarmed with ants, and they
kept biting us so continually, that we were in a state of perpetual
motion nearly all the time we were there. A few heat-drops of rain
fell. I was not sorry to leave the wretched place, which we left as
dry as the surrounding void. We continued our west course over
sandhills and through scrub and spinifex. The low ridges of which the
western horizon was formed, and which had formerly looked perfectly
flat, was reached in five miles; no other view could be got. A mile
off was a slightly higher point, to which we went; then the horizon,
both north and west of the same nature, ran on as far as could be
seen, without any other object upon which to rest the eye. There were
a few little gullies about, which we wasted an hour amongst in a
fruitless search for water. The Bitter Water Creek now lay south of
us; I was not at all satisfied at our retreat from it. I was anxious
to find out where it went, for though we had spent several days in its
neighbourhood, we had not travelled more than eight or ten miles down
it; we might still get a bucket or two of water for our three horses
where I had killed the little cob. We therefore turned south in hopes
that we might get some satisfaction out of that region at last. We
were now, however, thirty-nine or forty miles from the water-place,
and two more from the Cob. I was most anxious on account of the water
at the Shoeing Camp; it might have become quite exhausted by this
time, and where on earth would Gibson and Jimmy go? The thermometer
again to-day stood at 106 degrees in the shade.
It was late at night when we reached the Cob tank, and all the water
that had accumulated since we left was scarcely a bucketful.
Though the sky was quite overcast, and rain threatened to fall nearly
all night, yet none whatever came. The three horses were huddled up
round the perfectly empty tank, having probably stood there all night.
I determined to try down the creek. One or two small branches enlarged
the channel; and in six or seven miles we saw an old native well,
which we scratched out with our hands; but it was perfectly dry. At
twelve miles another creek joined from some hills easterly, and
immediately below the junction the bed was filled with green rushes.
The shovel was at the Shoeing Camp, the bed was too stony to be dug
into with our hands. Below this again another and larger creek joined
from the east, or rather our creek ran into it. There were some large
holes in the new bed, but all were dry. We now followed up this new
channel eastwards, as our horses were very bad, and this was in the
direction of the home camp. We searched everywhere, up in hills and
gullies, and down into the creek again, but all without success, and
we had a waterless camp once more. The horses were now terribly bad,
they have had only the third of a bucket of water since Wednesday, it
being now Friday morning. We had still thirty miles to go to reach the
camp, and it was late when the poor unfortunate creatures dragged
themselves into it. Fortunately the day had been remarkably cool,
almost cold, the thermometer only rose to 80 degrees in the shade. The
water had held out well, and it still drained into the tank.
On the following morning, the 1st November, the thermometer actually
descended to 32 degrees, though of course there was neither frost nor
ice, because there was nothing fluid or moist to freeze. I do not
remember ever feeling such a sensation of intense cold. The day was
delightfully cool; I was most anxious to find out if any water could
be got at the junction of the two creeks just left. Mr. Tietkens and
Gibson took three fresh horses, and the shovel, on Monday, the 3rd of
November, and started out there again.
Remaining at the camp was simple agony, the ants were so numerous and
annoying; a strong wind was blowing from the eastwards, and the camp
was in a continual cloud of sand and dust.
The next day was again windy and dusty, but not quite so hot as
yesterday. Jimmy and I and the two dogs were at the camp. He had a
habit of biting the dogs' noses, and it was only when they squealed
that I saw what he was doing; to-day Cocky was the victim. I said,
"What the deuce do you want to be biting the dog's nose for, you might
seriously injure his nasal organ?" "Horgin," said Jimmy, "do you call
his nose a horgin?" I said, "Yes, any part of the body of man or
animal is called an organ." "Well," he said, "I never knew that dogs
carried horgins about with them before." I said, "Well, they do, and
don't you go biting any of them again." Jimmy of course, my reader can
see, was a queer young fellow. On one occasion further back, a good
many crows were about, and they became the subject of discussion. I
remarked, "I've travelled about in the bush as much as most people,
and I never yet saw a little crow that couldn't fly;" then Jimmy said,
"Why, when we was at the Birthday, didn't I bring a little crow hin a
hague hin?" I said, "What's hin a hague hin?" To which he replied, "I
didn't say "hin a hague hin," I says "Hand her hague hin." After this,
whenever we went hunting for water, and found it, if there was a
sufficient quantity for us we always said, "Oh, there's enough to boil
a hague in anyhow." Late in the evening of the next day, Jimmy and I
were watching at the tank for pigeons, when the three horses Mr.
Tietkens took away came up to drink; this of course informed me they
had returned. The horses looked fearfully hollow, and I could see at a
glance that they could not possibly have had any water since they
left. Mr. Tietkens reported that no water was to be got anywhere, and
the country to the west appeared entirely waterless.
I was, however, determined to make one more attempt. Packing two
horses with water, I intended to carry it out to the creek, which is
forty miles from here. At that point I would water one horse, hang the
remainder of the water in a tree, and follow the creek channel to see
what became of it. I took Gibson and Jimmy, Mr. Tietkens remaining at
the camp. On arriving at the junction of the larger creek, we followed
down the channel and in five miles, to my great surprise, though the
traveller in these regions should be surprised at nothing, we
completely ran the creek out, as it simply ended among triodia,
sandhills, and scrubby mulga flats. I was greatly disappointed at this
turn of affairs, as I had thought from its size it would at least have
led me to some water, and to the discovery of some new geographical
features. Except where we struck it, the country had all been burnt,
and we had to return to that spot to get grass to camp at. Water
existed only in the bags which we carried with us. I gave the horse I
intend riding to-morrow a couple of buckets of water. I suppose he
would have drank a dozen--the others got none. The three of us
encamped together here.
CHAPTER 2.5. FROM 9TH NOVEMBER TO 23RD DECEMBER, 1873.
A stinking pit.
Ninety miles from water.
The Colonel's range.
Hills to the north-east.
Return to Fort Mueller.
Start for the Shoeing Camp once more.
Nothing like leather.
Fever and philosophy.
Gibson taken ill.
Mysterious disappearance of water.
Concussions and falling rocks.
Cut an approach to the water.
Another earthquake shock.
A journey northwards.
New line of ranges.
Return to depot.
The following day was Sunday, the 9th of November, but was not a day
of rest to any of us. Gibson and Jimmy started back with the
packhorses for the Shoeing Camp, while I intended going westward,
westward, and alone! I gave my horse another drink, and fixed a
water-bag, containing about eight gallons, in a leather envelope up in
a tree; and started away like errant knight on sad adventure bound,
though unattended by any esquire or shield-bearer. I rode away west,
over open triodia sandhills, with occasional dots of scrub between,
for twenty miles. The horizon to the west was bounded by open,
undulating rises of no elevation, but whether of sand or stone I could
not determine. At this distance from the creek the sandhills mainly
fell off, and the country was composed of ground thickly clothed with
spinifex and covered all over with brown gravel. I gave my horse an
hour's rest here, with the thermometer at 102 degrees in the shade.
There was no grass, and not being possessed of organs that could
digest triodia he simply rested. On starting again, the hills I had
left now almost entirely disappeared, and looked flattened out to a
long low line. I travelled over many miles of burnt, stony, brown,
gravelly undulations; at every four or five miles I obtained a view of
similar country beyond; at thirty-five miles from the creek the
country all round me was exactly alike, but here, on passing a rise
that seemed a little more solid than the others, I noticed in a kind
of little valley some signs of recent native encampments; and the
feathers of birds strewn about--there were hawks', pigeons', and
cockatoos' feathers. I rode towards them, and right under my horse's
feet I saw a most singular hole in the ground. Dismounting, I found it
was another of those extraordinary cups from whence the natives obtain
water. This one was entirely filled up with boughs, and I had great
difficulty in dragging them out, when I perceived that this orifice
was of some depth and contained some water; but on reaching up a drop,
with the greatest difficulty, in my hand, I found it was quite putrid;
indeed, while taking out the boughs my nasal horgin, as Jimmy would
call it, gave me the same information.
(ILLUSTRATION: THE STINKING PIT.)
I found the hole was choked up with rotten leaves, dead animals,
birds, and all imaginable sorts of filth. On poking a stick down into
it, seething bubbles aerated through the putrid mass, and yet the
natives had evidently been living upon this fluid for some time; some
of the fires in their camp were yet alight. I had very great
difficulty in reaching down to bale any of this fluid into my canvas
bucket. My horse seemed anxious to drink, but one bucketful was all he
could manage. There was not more than five or six buckets of water in
this hole; it made me quite sick to get the bucketful for the horse.
There were a few hundred acres of silver grass in the little valley
near, and as my horse began to feed with an apparent relish, I
remained here, though I anticipated at any moment seeing a number of
natives make their appearance. I said to myself, "Come one, come all,
this rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I." No enemies came,
and I passed the night with my horse feeding quietly close to where I
lay. To this I attributed my safety.
Long before sunrise I was away from this dismal place, not giving my
horse any more of the disgusting water. In a mile or two I came to the
top of one of those undulations which at various distances bound the
horizon. They are but swells a little higher than the rest of the
country. How far this formation would extend was the question, and
what other feature that lay beyond, at which water could be obtained,
was a difficult problem to solve. From its appearance I was compelled
to suppose that it would remain unaltered for a very considerable
distance. From this rise all I could see was another; this I reached
in nine miles. Nearly all the country hereabout had been burnt, but
not very recently. The ground was still covered with gravel, with here
and there small patches of scrub, the country in general being very
good for travelling. I felt sure it would be necessary to travel 150
miles at least before a watered spot could be found. How ardently I
wished for a camel; for what is a horse where waters do not exist
except at great distances apart? I pushed on to the next rising
ground, ten miles, being nearly twenty from where I had camped. The
view from here was precisely similar to the former ones. My horse had
not travelled well this morning, he seemed to possess but little
pluck. Although he was fat yesterday, he is literally poor now. This
horse's name was Pratt; he was a poor weak creature, and died
subsequently from thirst. I am afraid the putrid water has made him
ill, for I have had great difficulty in getting him to go. I turned
him out here for an hour at eleven o'clock, when the thermometer
indicated 102 degrees in the shade. The horse simply stood in the
shade of a small belt of mulga, but he would not try to eat. To the
south about a mile there was apparently a more solid rise, and I
walked over to it, but there was no cup either to cheer or inebriate.
I was now over fifty miles from my water-bag, which was hanging in a
tree at the mercy of the winds and waves, not to mention its removal
by natives, and if I lost that I should probably lose my life as well.
I was now ninety miles from the Shoeing Camp, and unless I was
prepared to go on for another hundred miles; ten, fifteen, twenty, or
fifty would be of little or no use. It was as much as my horse would
do to get back alive. From this point I returned. The animal went so
slowly that it was dusk when I got back to the Cup, where I observed,
by the removal of several boughs, that natives had been here in my
absence. They had put a lot of boughs back into the hole again. I had
no doubt they were close to me now, and felt sure they were watching
me and my movements with lynx-like glances from their dark metallic
eyes. I looked upon my miserable wretch of a horse as a safeguard from
them. He would not eat, but immediately hobbled off to the pit, and I
was afraid he would jump in before I could stop him, he was so eager
for drink. It was an exceedingly difficult operation to get water out
of this abominable hole, as the bucket could not be dipped into it,
nor could I reach the frightful fluid at all without hanging my head
down, with my legs stretched across the mouth of it, while I baled the
foetid mixture into the bucket with one of my boots, as I had no other
utensil. What with the position I was in and the horrible odour which
rose from the seething fluid, I was seized with violent retching. The
horse gulped down the first half of the bucket with avidity, but after
that he would only sip at it, and I was glad enough to find that the
one bucketful I had baled out of the pit was sufficient. I don't think
any consideration would have induced me to bale out another.
Having had but little sleep, I rode away at three o'clock next
morning. The horse looked wretched and went worse. It was past midday
when I had gone twenty miles, when, entering sandhill country, I was
afraid he would knock up altogether. After an hour and a half's rest
he seemed better; he walked away almost briskly, and we reached the
water-bag much earlier than I expected. Here we both had a good drink,
although he would have emptied the bag three times over if he could
have got it. The day had been hot.
When I left this singular watercourse, where plenty of water existed
in its upper portions, but was either too bitter or too salt for use,
I named it Elder's Creek. The other that joins it I called Hughes's
Creek, and the range in which they exist the Colonel's Range.
There was not much water left for the horse. He was standing close to
the bag for some hours before daylight. He drank it up and away we
went, having forty miles to go. I arrived very late. Everything was
well except the water supply, and that was gradually ceasing. In a
week there will be none. The day had been pleasant and cool.
Several more days were spent here, re-digging and enlarging the old
tank and trying to find a new. Gibson and I went to some hills to the
south, with a rampart-like face. The place swarmed with pigeons, but
we could find no water. We could hear the birds crooning and cooing in
all directions as we rode, "like the moan of doves in immemorial elms,
and the murmurings of innumerable bees." This rampart-like ridge was
festooned with cypress pines, and had there been water there, I should
have thought it a very pretty place. Every day was telling upon the
water at the camp. We had to return unsuccessful, having found none.
The horses were loose, and rambled about in several mobs and all
directions, and at night we could not get them all together. The water
was now so low that, growl as we may, go we must. It was five p.m. on
the 17th of November when we left. The nearest water now to us that I
knew of was at Fort Mueller, but I decided to return to it by a
different route from that we had arrived on, and as some hills lay
north-easterly, and some were pretty high, we went away in that
We travelled through the usual poor country, and crossed several dry
water-channels. In one I thought to get a drink for the horses. The
party having gone on, I overtook them and sent Gibson back with the
shovel. We brought the horses back to the place, but he gave a very
gloomy opinion of it. The supply was so poor that, after working and
watching the horses all night, they could only get a bucketful each by
morning, and I was much vexed at having wasted time and energy in such
a wretched spot, which we left in huge disgust, and continued on our
course. Very poor regions were traversed, every likely-looking spot
was searched for water. I had been steering for a big hill from the
Shoeing Camp; a dry creek issued from its slopes. Here the hills
ceased in this northerly direction, only to the east and south-east
could ranges be seen, and it is only in them that water can be
expected in this region. Fort Mueller was nearly fifty miles away, on
a bearing of 30 degrees south of east. We now turned towards it. A
detached, jagged, and inviting-looking range lay a little to the east
of north-east; it appeared similar to the Fort Mueller hills. I called
it Jamieson's* Range, but did not visit it. Half the day was lost in
useless searching for water, and we encamped without any; thermometer
104 degrees at ten a.m. At night we camped on an open piece of
spinifex country. We had thunder and lightning, and about six
heat-drops of rain fell.
The next day we proceeded on our course for Fort Mueller; at twelve
miles we had a shower of rain, with thunder and lightning, that lasted
a few seconds only. We were at a bare rock, and had the rain lasted
with the same force for only a minute, we could have given our horses
a drink upon the spot, but as it was we got none. The horses ran all
about licking the rock with their parched tongues.
Late at night we reached our old encampment, where we had got water in
the sandy bed of the creek. It was now no longer here, and we had to
go further up. I went on ahead to look for a spot, and returning, met
the horses in hobbles going up the creek, some right in the bed. I
intended to have dug a tank for them, but the others let them go too
soon. I consoled myself by thinking that they had only to go far
enough, and they would get water on the surface. With the exception of
the one bucket each, this was their fourth night without water. The
sky was now as black as pitch; it thundered and lightened, and there
was every appearance of a fall of rain, but only a light mist or heavy
dew fell for an hour or two; it was so light and the temperature so
hot that we all lay without a rag on till morning.
At earliest dawn Mr. Tietkens and I took the shovel and walked to
where we heard the horsebells. Twelve of the poor animals were lying
in the bed of the creek, with limbs stretched out as if dead, but we
were truly glad to find they were still alive, though some of them
could not get up. Some that were standing up were working away with
their hobbled feet the best way they could, stamping out the sand
trying to dig out little tanks, and one old stager had actually
reached the water in his tank, so we drove him away and dug out a
proper place. We got all the horses watered by nine o'clock. It was
four a.m. when we began to dig, and our exercise gave us an excellent
appetite for our breakfast. Gibson built a small bough gunyah, under
which we sat, with the thermometer at 102 degrees.
In the afternoon the sky became overcast, and at six p.m. rain
actually began to fall heavily, but only for a quarter of an hour,
though it continued to drip for two or three hours. During and after
that we had heavy thunder and most vivid lightnings. The thermometer
at nine fell to 48 degrees; in the sun to-day it had been 176 degrees,
the difference being 128 degrees in a few hours, and we thought we
should be frozen stiff where we stood. A slight trickle of surface
water came down the creek channel. The rain seemed to have come from
the west, and I resolved to push out there again and see. This was
Friday; a day's rest was actually required by the horses, and the
following day being Sunday, we yet remained.
MONDAY, 24TH NOVEMBER.
We had thunder, lightnings, and sprinklings of rain again during last
night. We made another departure for the Shoeing Camp and Elder's
Creek. At the bare rock previously mentioned, which was sixteen miles
en route 30 degrees north of west, we found the rain had left
sufficient water for us, and we camped. The native well was full, and
water also lay upon the rock. The place now seemed exceedingly pretty,
totally different from its original appearance, when we could get no
water at it. How wonderful is the difference the all-important element
creates! While we were here another thunderstorm came up from the west
and refilled all the basins, which the horses had considerably
reduced. I called this the Lightning Rock, as on both our visits the
lightning played so vividly around us. Just as we were starting, more
thunder and lightnings and five minutes' rain came.
From here I steered to the one-bucket tank, and at one place actually
saw water lying upon the ground, which was a most extraordinary
circumstance. I was in great hopes the country to the west had been
well visited by the rains. The country to-day was all dense scrubs, in
which we saw a Mus conditor's nest. When in these scrubs I always ride
in advance with a horse's bell fixed on my stirrup, so that those
behind, although they cannot see, may yet hear which way to come.
Continually working this bell has almost deprived me of the faculty of
hearing; the constant passage of the horses through these direful
scrubs has worn out more canvas bags than ever entered into my
calculations. Every night after travelling, some, if not all the bags,
are sure to be ripped, causing the frequent loss of flour and various
small articles that get jerked out. This has gone on to such an extent
that every ounce of twine has been used up; the only supply we can now
get is by unravelling some canvas. Ourselves and our clothes, as well
as our pack-bags, get continually torn also. Any one in future
traversing these regions must be equipped entirely in leather; there
must be leather shirts and leather trousers, leather hats, leather
heads, and leather hearts, for nothing else can stand in a region such
We continued on our course for the one-bucket place; but searching
some others of better appearance, I was surprised to find that not a
drop of rain had fallen, and I began to feel alarmed that the Shoeing
Camp should also have been unvisited. One of the horses was unwell,
and concealed himself in the scrubs; some time was lost in recovering
him. As it was dark and too late to go on farther, we had to encamp
without water, nor was there any grass.
The following day we arrived at the old camp, at which there had been
some little rain. The horses were choking, and rushed up the gully
like mad; we had to drive them into a little yard we had made when
here previously, as a whole lot of them treading into the tank at once
might ruin it for ever. The horse that hid himself yesterday knocked
up to-day, and Gibson remained to bring him on; he came four hours
after us, though we only left him three miles away. There was not
sufficient water in the tank for all the horses; I was greatly grieved
to find that so little could be got.
The camp ground had now become simply a moving mass of ants; they were
bad enough when we left, but now they were frightful; they swarmed
over everything, and bit us to the verge of madness. It is eleven days
since we left this place, and now having returned, it seems highly
probable that I shall soon be compelled to retreat again. Last night
the ants were unbearable to Mr. Tietkens and myself, but Gibson and
Jimmy do not appear to lose any sleep on their account. With the aid
of a quart pot and a tin dish I managed to get some sort of a bath;
but this is a luxury the traveller in these regions must in a great
measure learn to do without. My garments and person were so perfumed
with smashed ants, that I could almost believe I had been bathing in a
vinegar cask. It was useless to start away from here with all the
horses, without knowing how, or if any, rains had fallen out west. I
therefore despatched Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy to take a tour round to
all our former places. At twenty-five miles was the almost bare rocky
hill which I called par excellence the Cups, from the number of those
little stone indentures upon its surface, which I first saw on the
19th of October, this being the 29th of November. If no water was
there, I directed Mr. Tietkens then only to visit Elder's Creek and
return; for if there was none at the Cups, there would be but little
likelihood of any in other places.
Gibson and I had a most miserable day at the camp. The ants were
dreadful; the hot winds blew clouds of sandy dust all through and over
the place; the thermometer was at 102 degrees. We repaired several
pack-bags. A few mosquitoes for variety paid us persistent attentions
during the early part of the night; but their stings and bites were
delightful pleasures compared to the agonies inflicted on us by the
myriads of small black ants. Another hot wind and sand-dust day; still
sewing and repairing pack-bags to get them into something like order
At one p.m. Mr. Tietkens returned from the west, and reported that the
whole country in that direction had been entirely unvisited by rains,
with the exception of the Cups, and there, out of several dozen rocky
indents, barely sufficient water for their three horses could be got.
Elder's Creek, the Cob tank, the Colonel's Range, Hughes's Creek, and
all the ranges lying between here and there, the way they returned,
were perfectly dry, not a drop of moisture having fallen in all that
region. Will it evermore be thus? Jupiter impluvius? Thermometer
to-day 106 degrees in shade. The water supply is so rapidly decreasing
that in two days it will be gone. This is certainly not a delightful
position to hold, indeed it is one of the most horrible of imaginable
encampments. The small water supply is distant about a mile from the
camp, and we have to carry it down in kegs on a horse, and often when
we go for it, we find the horses have just emptied and dirtied the
tank. We are eaten alive by flies, ants, and mosquitoes, and our
existence here cannot be deemed a happy one. Whatever could have
obfuscated the brains of Moses, when he omitted to inflict Pharaoh
with such exquisite torturers as ants, I cannot imagine. In a fiery
region like to this I am photophobist enough to think I could wallow
at ease, in blissful repose, in darkness, amongst cool and watery
frogs; but ants, oh ants, are frightful! Like Othello, I am perplexed
in the extreme--rain threatens every day, I don't like to go and I
can't stay. Over some hills Mr. Tietkens and I found an old rocky
native well, and worked for hours with shovel and levers, to shift
great boulders of rock, and on the 4th of December we finally left the
deceitful Shoeing Camp--never, I hope, to return. The new place was no
better; it was two and a half miles away, in a wretched, scrubby,
rocky, dry hole, and by moving some monstrous rocks, which left holes
where they formerly rested, some water drained in, so that by night
the horses were all satisfied. There was a hot, tropical, sultry
feeling in the atmosphere all day, though it was not actually so hot
as most days lately; some terrific lightnings occurred here on the
night of the 5th of December, but we heard no thunder. On the 6th and
7th Mr. Tietkens and I tried several places to the eastwards for
water, but without success. At three p.m. of the 7th, we had thunder
and lightning, but no rain; thermometer 106 degrees. On returning to
camp, we were told that the water was rapidly failing, it becoming
fine by degrees and beautifully less. At night the heavens were
illuminated for hours by the most wonderful lightnings; it was, I
suppose, too distant to permit the sound of thunder to be heard. On
the 8th we made sure that rain would fall, the night and morning were
very hot. We had clouds, thunder, lightning, thermometer 112 degrees
and every mortal disagreeable thing we wanted; so how could we expect
rain? but here, thanks to Moses, or Pharaoh, or Providence, or the
rocks, we were not troubled with ants. The next day we cleared out;
the water was gone, so we went also. The thermometer was 110 degrees
in the shade when we finally left these miserable hills. We steered
away again for Fort Mueller, via the Lightning Rock, which was
forty-five miles away. We traversed a country nearly all scrub,
passing some hills and searching channels and gullies as we went. We
only got over twenty-one miles by night; I had been very unwell for
the last three or four days, and to-day I was almost too ill to sit on
my horse; I had fever, pains all over, and a splitting headache. The
country being all scrub, I was compelled as usual to ride with a bell
on my stirrup. Jingle jangle all day long; what with heat, fever, and
the pain I was in, and the din of that infernal bell, I really thought
it no sin to wish myself out of this world, and into a better, cooler,
and less noisy one, where not even:--
"To heavenly harps the angelic choir,
Circling the throne of the eternal King;"
"With hallowed lips and holy fire,
Rejoice their hymns of praise to sing;"
which revived in my mind vague opinions with regard to our notions of
heaven. If only to sit for ever singing hymns before Jehovah's throne
is to be the future occupation of our souls, it is doubtful if the
thought should be so pleasing, as the opinions of Plato and other
philosophers, and which Addison has rendered to us thus:--
"Eternity, thou pleasing, dreadful thought,
Through what variety of untried being,
Through what new scenes and changes must we pass
The wide, the unbounded prospect lies before me," etc.
But I am trenching upon debatable ground, and have no desire to enter
an argument upon the subject. It is doubtless better to believe the
tenets taught us in our childhood, than to seek at mature age to
unravel a mystery which it is self-evident the Great Creator never
intended that man in this state of existence should become acquainted
with. However, I'll say no more on such a subject, it is quite foreign
to the matter of my travels, and does not ease my fever in any way--in
fact it rather augments it.
The next morning, the 10th, I was worse, and it was agony to have to
rise, let alone to ride. We reached the Lightning Rock at three p.m.,
when the thermometer indicated 110 degrees. The water was all but gone
from the native well, but a small quantity was obtained by digging. I
was too ill to do anything. A number of native fig-trees were growing
on this rock, and while Gibson was using the shovel, Mr. Tietkens went
to get some for me, as he thought they might do me good. It was most
fortunate that he went, for though he did not get any figs, he found a
fine rock water-hole which we had not seen before, and where all the
horses could drink their fill. I was never more delighted in my life.
The thought of moving again to-morrow was killing--indeed I had
intended to remain, but this enabled us all to do so. It was as much
as I could do to move even the mile, to where we shifted our camp;
thermometer 108 degrees. By the next day, 12th, the horses had
considerably reduced the water, and by to-morrow it will be gone. This
basin would be of some size were it cleaned out; we could not tell
what depth it was, as it is now almost entirely filled with the debris
of ages. Its shape is elliptical, and is thirty feet long by fifteen
broad, its sides being even more abrupt than perpendicular--that is to
say, shelving inwards--and the horses could only water by jumping down
at one place. There was about three feet of water, the rest being all
soil. To-day was much cooler. I called this Tietkens's Tank. On the
14th, the water was gone, the tank dry, and all the horses away to the
east, and it was past three when they were brought back.
Unfortunately, Gibson's little dog Toby followed him out to-day and
never returned. After we started I sent Gibson back to await the poor
pup's return, but at night Gibson came without Toby; I told him he
could have any horses he liked to go back for him to-morrow, and I
would have gone myself only I was still too ill. During the night
Gibson was taken ill just as I had been; therefore poor Toby was never
recovered. We have still one little dog of mine which I bought in
Adelaide, of the same kind as Toby, that is to say, the small
black-and-tan English terrier, though I regret to say he is decidedly
not, of the breed of that Billy indeed, who used to kill rats for a
bet; I forget how many one morning he ate, but you'll find it in
sporting books yet. It was very late when we reached our old bough
gunyah camp; there was no water. I intended going up farther, but,
being behind, Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy had began to unload, and some of
the horses were hobbled out when I arrived; Gibson was still behind.
For the second time I have been compelled to retreat to this range;
shall I ever get away from it? When we left the rock, the thermometer
indicated 110 degrees in the shade.
Next morning I was a little better, but Gibson was very ill--indeed I
thought he was going to die, and would he had died quietly there. Mr.
Tietkens and I walked up the creek to look for the horses. We found
and took about half of them to the surface water up in the narrow
glen. When we arrived, there was plenty of water running merrily along
the creek channel, and there were several nice ponds full, but when we
brought the second lot to the place an hour and a half afterwards, the
stream had ceased to flow, and the nice ponds just mentioned were all
but empty and dry. This completely staggered me to find the drainage
cease so suddenly. The day was very hot, 110 degrees, when we returned
I was in a state of bewilderment at the thought of the water having so
quickly disappeared, and I was wondering where I should have to
retreat to next, as it appeared that in a day or two there would
literally be no water at all. I felt ill again from my morning's walk,
and lay down in the 110 degrees of shade, afforded by the bough gunyah
which Gibson had formerly made.
I had scarcely settled myself on my rug when a most pronounced shock
of earthquake occurred, the volcanic wave, which caused a sound like
thunder, passing along from west to east right under us, shook the
ground and the gunyah so violently as to make me jump up as though
nothing was the matter with me. As the wave passed on, we heard up in
the glen to the east of us great concussions, and the sounds of
smashing and falling rocks hurled from their native eminences rumbling
and crashing into the glen below. The atmosphere was very still
to-day, and the sky clear except to the deceitful west.
Gibson is still so ill that we did not move the camp. I was in a great
state of anxiety about the water supply, and Tietkens and I walked
first after the horses, and then took them up to the glen, where I was
enchanted to behold the stream again in full flow, and the sheets of
surface water as large, and as fine as when we first saw them
yesterday. I was puzzled at this singular circumstance, and concluded
that the earthquake had shaken the foundations of the hills, and thus
forced the water up; but from whatsoever cause it proceeded, I was
exceedingly glad to see it. To-day was much cooler than yesterday. At
three p.m. the same time of day, we had another shock of earthquake
similar to that of yesterday, only that the volcanic wave passed along
a little northerly of the camp, and the sounds of breaking and falling
rocks came from over the hills to the north-east of us.
Gibson was better on the 17th, and we moved the camp up into the glen
where the surface water existed. We pitched our encampment upon a
small piece of rising ground, where there was a fine little pool of
water in the creek bed, partly formed of rocks, over which the purling
streamlet fell, forming a most agreeable little basin for a bath.
The day was comparatively cool, 100 degrees. The glen here is almost
entirely choked up with tea-trees, and we had to cut great quantities
of wood away so as to approach the water easily. The tea-tree is the
only timber here for firewood; many trees are of some size, being
seven or eight inches through, but mostly very crooked and gnarled.
The green wood appears to burn almost as well as the dead, and forms
good ash for baking dampers. Again to-day we had our usual shock of
earthquake and at the usual time. Next day at three p.m., earthquake,
quivering hills, broken and toppling rocks, with scared and agitated
rock wallabies. This seemed a very ticklish, if not extremely
dangerous place for a depot. Rocks overhung and frowned down upon us
in every direction; a very few of these let loose by an earthquake
would soon put a period to any further explorations on our part. We
passed a great portion of to-day (18th) in erecting a fine large
bough-house; they are so much cooler than tents. We also cleared
several patches of rich brown soil, and made little Gardens (de
Plantes), putting in all sorts of garden and other seeds. I have now
discovered that towards afternoon, when the heat is greatest the flow
of water ceases in the creek daily; but at night, during the morning
hours and up to about midday, the little stream flows murmuring on
over the stones and through the sand as merrily as one can wish. Fort
Mueller cannot be said to be a pretty spot, for it is so confined by
the frowning, battlemented, fortress-like walls of black and broken
hills, that there is scarcely room to turn round in it, and attacks by
the natives are much to be dreaded here.
We have had to clear the ground round our fort of the stones and huge
bunches of triodia which we found there. The slopes of the hills are
also thickly clothed with this dreadful grass. The horses feed some
three or four miles away on the fine open grassy country which, as I
mentioned before, surrounds this range. The herbage being so excellent
here, the horses got so fresh, we had to build a yard with the
tea-tree timber to run them in when we wanted to catch any. I still
hope rain will fall, and lodge at Elder's Creek, a hundred miles to
the west, so as to enable me to push out westward again. Nearly every
day the sky is overcast, and rain threatens to fall, especially
towards the north, where a number of unconnected ridges or low ranges
lie. Mr. Tietkens and I prepared to start northerly to-morrow, the
20th, to inspect them.
We got out in that direction about twenty miles, passed near a hill I
named Mount Scott*, and found a small creek, but no water. The country
appeared to have been totally unvisited by rains.
We carried some water in a keg for ourselves, but the horses got none.
The country passed over to-day was mostly red sandhills, recently
burnt, and on that account free from spinifex. We travelled about
north, 40 degrees east. We next steered away for a dark-looking,
bluff-ending hill, nearly north-north-east. Before arriving at it we
searched among a lot of pine-clad hills for water without effect,
reaching the hill in twenty-two miles. Resting our horses, we ascended
the hill; from it I discovered, with glasses, that to the north and
round easterly and westerly a number of ranges lay at a very
considerable distance. The nearest, which lay north, was evidently
sixty or seventy miles off. These ranges appeared to be of some
length, but were not sufficiently raised above the ocean of scrubs,
which occupied the intervening spaces, and rose into high and higher
undulations, to allow me to form an opinion with regard to their
altitude. Those east of north appeared higher and farther away, and
were bolder and more pointed in outline. None of them were seen with
the naked eye at first, but, when once seen with the field-glasses,
the mind's eye would always represent them to us, floating and faintly
waving apparently skywards in their vague and distant mirage. This
discovery instantly created a burning desire in both of us to be off
and reach them; but there were one or two preliminary determinations
to be considered before starting. We are now nearly fifty miles from
Fort Mueller, and the horses have been all one day, all one night, and
half to-day without water. There might certainly be water at the new
ranges, but then again there might not, and although they were at
least sixty miles off, our horses might easily reach them. If,
however, no water were found, they and perhaps we could never return.
My reader must not confound a hundred miles' walk in this region with
the same distance in any other. The greatest walker that ever stepped
would find more than his match here. In the first place the feet sink
in the loose and sandy soil, in the second it is densely covered with
the hideous porcupine; to avoid the constant prickings from this the
walker is compelled to raise his feet to an unnatural height; and
another hideous vegetation, which I call sage-bush, obstructs even
more, although it does not pain so much as the irritans. Again, the
ground being hot enough to burn the soles off one's boots, with the
thermometer at something like 180 degrees in the sun, and the choking
from thirst at every movement of the body, is enough to make any one
pause before he foolishly gets himself into such a predicament.
Discretion in such a case is by far the better part of valour--for
valour wasted upon burning sands to no purpose is like love's labour
Close about in all directions, except north, were broken masses of
hills, and we decided to search among them for a new point of
departure. We re-saddled our horses, and searched those nearest, that
is to say easterly; but no water was found, nor any place that could
hold it for an hour after it fell from the sky. Then we went
north-west, to a bare-looking hill, and others with pines ornamenting
their tops; but after travelling and searching all day, and the horses
doing forty-six miles, we had to camp again without water.
In the night the thermometer went down to 62 degrees. I was so cold
that I had to light a fire to lie down by. All this day was uselessly
lost in various traverses and searchings without reward; and after
travelling forty-two miles, the unfortunate horses had to go again for
the third night without water. We were, however, nearing the depot
again, and reached it, in sixteen miles, early the next morning.
Thankful enough we were to have plenty of water to drink, a bath, and
change of clothes.
CHAPTER 2.6. FROM 23RD DECEMBER, 1873 TO 16TH JANUARY, 1874.
Natives troublesome in our absence.
Gibson's estimate of a straight heel.
Christmas day, 1873.
Attacked by natives.
A wild caroo.
Wild grapes from a sandal-wood tree.
The moon on the waters.
Another journey northwards.
Retreat to the depot.
More rain at the depot.
A "canis familiaris".
An innocent lamb.
Groves of oak-trees.
Beautiful green flat.
Bold and abrupt range.
A glittering cascade.
Invisibly bright water.
The murmur in the shell.
A shower bath.
The Alice Falls.
Ascend to the summit.
A strange view.
Gratified at our discoveries.
Return to Fort Mueller.
Digging with a tomahawk.
Wallaby for supper.
Physical peculiarities of the region.
The way we wash our clothes is primitive--it can only be done at a
depot. When we have sufficient water, we simply put them into it, and
leave them until we want to change again, and then do the same with
those we take off; sometimes they sweeten for several days, oftener
much less. It is an inexpensive method, which, however, I suppose I
must not claim as an invention. On the 23rd, when we arrived, Gibson
informed us that the natives had been exceedingly troublesome, and had
thrown several spears and stones down from the rocks above, so that he
and Jimmy had had to defend themselves with firearms. Our bough-house
was a great protection to them, and it appeared also that these
wretches had hunted all the horses away from their feeding ground, and
they had not been seen for three days, and not having come up to water
all the time we were away. At four p.m. we had our afternoon
earthquake, and Gibson said the shock had occurred twice during our
absence. The hostility of the natives was very annoying in more senses
than one, as it would delay me in carrying out my desire to visit the
new and distant ranges north. Christmas had been slightly anticipated
by Gibson, who said he had made and cooked a Christmas pudding, and
that it was now ready for the table. We therefore had it for dinner,
and did ample justice to Gibson's cookery. They had also shot several
rock-wallabies, which abound here. They are capital eating, especially
when fried; then they have a great resemblance to mutton.
Gibson and Jimmy did not agree very well; Jimmy always had some tale
of woe to pour into my ear whenever I returned from an outside trip.
He was a very clean young fellow, but Gibson would never wash himself;
and once when Jimmy made some remark about it, Gibson said to me, "I
can't think what you and Tietkens and Jimmy are always washing
yourselves for." "Why," I said, "for health and cleanliness, to be
sure." "Oh," said he, "if I was to bathe like you do, it would give me
the 'ives'." I often showed the others how to mend their boots. One
day, sitting in the shade of our bough-house, we were engaged in
cobbling. Gibson used to tread so unevenly on his boots that the heels
were turned nearly upwards, and he walked more on the uppers than on
the soles, therefore his required all the more repairing. Picking up
one of my boots that I had just mended, Gibson looked very hard at it,
and at last said, "How do you manage to wear your boots so straight?"
"Oh," I said, "perhaps my legs are straight." He rejoined, "Well,
ain't mine straight too?" I said, "I don't know; I don't see them
often enough to tell," alluding to his not bathing. "Well," he said at
last, with a deep sigh, "By G--"--gum, I suppose he meant--"I'd give a
pound to be able to wear my boots as straight as you. No, I'm damned
if I wouldn't give five-and-twenty bob!" We laughed. We had some rolls
of smoked beef, which caused the ants to come about the camp, and we
had to erect a little table with legs in the water, to lay these on.
One roll had a slightly musty smell, and Gibson said to me, "This
roll's rotten; shall I chuck it away?" "Chuck it away," I said; "why,
man, you must be cranky to talk such rubbish as throwing away food in
such a region as this!" "Why," said he, "nobody won't eat it." "No,"
said I, "but somebody will eat it; I for one, and enjoy it too."
Whereupon he looked up at me, and said, "Oh, are you one of them as
likes yer meat 'igh?" I was annoyed at his stupendous stupidity, and
said, "One of them! Who are you talking about? Who are THEY I'd like
to know? When we boil this meat, if we put a piece of charcoal in the
pot, it will come out as sweet as a nut." He merely replied, with a
dubious expression of face, "Oh!" but he ate his share of it as
readily as anybody else. The next day, Christmas eve, I sent Mr.
Tietkens and Gibson on two of the horses we had lately brought back,
to find the mob, which they brought home late, and said the tracks of
the natives showed that they had driven the horses away for several
miles, and they had found them near a small creek, along the south