Part 9 out of 11
we should certainly have drunk it, if only to make our water supply
last the longer. Then a banquet was spread, which was attended also by
ladies, and was a most agreeable entertainment, and the evening wound
up with a ball. Guildford being only ten or eleven miles from Perth,
at about three p.m. of the next day we approached the city, riding our
camels, and having the whole of the caravan in regular desert-marching
order. A great number of people came out, both riding and driving, to
meet us, and escorted us into the city; Mr. Forrest was now on
horseback and riding alongside of me.
After traversing the long wooden causeway that bridges the Swan, we
soon reached the city bounds, and were met by the Mayor, Mr. George
Shenton, and the other members of the City Council, companies of
volunteers lined the streets on either side, and the various bodies of
Freemasons, Oddfellows, and Good Templars, accompanied by the brass
band of the latter, took a part in the procession. A great crowd of
citizens assembled, and the balconies of the houses on both sides were
thronged with the fair sex, and garlands of flowers were showered down
upon us. The streets of the city were decorated with flags and
streamers, and scrolls of welcome were stretched across. The
procession moved along to the Town Hall amidst general cheering. We
were ushered into the spacious hall, and placed on a raised platform,
then we were introduced to most of the gentlemen present. The Mayor
then addressed me in most eulogistic terms, and presented me with an
address on vellum, beautifully illuminated and engrossed, on behalf of
the corporation and citizens of Perth, congratulating myself, and
party on our successful exploration across the unknown interior from
South Australia, and warmly expressing the good feelings of welcome
entertained by the citizens towards us.
After this a round of festivities set in; among these were a public
banquet and ball in our honour by the Mayor and Corporation of the
city of Perth and a dinner and ball at Government House. A public
reception also awaited us at Fremantle, on the coast. On our arrival
at the long, high, wooden structure that spans the broad mouth of the
river at Fremantle, we were again met by eager crowds. Mr. Forrest
rode near me on this occasion also. When entering Perth, I had a great
deal of trouble to induce my riding-camel, Reechy, to lead, but when
entering Fremantle she fairly jibbed, and I had to walk and lead her,
so that I was hidden in the crowd, and Mr. Tietkens, coming next to
me, appeared to be the leader, as his camel went all right. The
balconies and verandahs here were also thronged with ladies, who
showered down heaps of garlands while they cheered. I was completely
hidden, and they threw all the flowers down on Tietkens, so that he
got all the honour from the ladies. Here another beautiful address was
presented to me by Mr. John Thomas, the Chairman of the Town Council,
and a public banquet was given us. On returning to Perth, we had
invitations from private individuals to balls, dinners, pic-nics,
boating and riding parties, and the wife of the Honourable O'Grady
Lefroy started the ball giving immediately after that at Government
House. Mr. Forrest gave us a dinner at the Weld Club.
Since our arrival in the settled parts of Western Australia, we have
had every reason to believe that our welcome was a genuine one,
everybody having treated us with the greatest kindness and courtesy.
His Excellency the Governor ordered that all our expenses down the
country, from where Mr. Forrest met us, should be defrayed by the
Government; and having been so welcomed by the settlers on our arrival
at each place, I had no occasion to expend a penny on our march
through the settled districts of the Colony.
In concluding the tale of a long exploration, a few remarks are
necessary. In the first place I travelled during the expedition, in
covering the ground, 2500 miles; but unfortunately found no areas of
country suitable for settlement. This was a great disappointment to
me, as I had expected far otherwise; but the explorer does not make
the country, he must take it as he finds it. His duty is to penetrate
it, and although the greatest honour is awarded and the greatest
recompense given to the discoverer of the finest regions, yet it must
be borne in mind, that the difficulties of traversing those regions
cannot be nearly so great as those encountered by the less fortunate
traveller who finds himself surrounded by heartless deserts. The
successful penetration of such a region must, nevertheless, have its
value, both in a commercial and a geographical sense, as it points out
to the future emigrant or settler, those portions of our continent
which he should rigorously avoid. It never could have entered into any
one's calculations that I should have to force my way through a region
that rolls its scrub-enthroned, and fearful distance out, for hundreds
of leagues in billowy undulations, like the waves of a timbered sea,
and that the expedition would have to bore its way, like moles in the
earth, for so long, through these interminable scrubs, with nothing to
view, and less to cheer. Our success has traced a long and a dreary
road through this unpeopled waste, like that to a lion's abode, from
whence no steps are retraced. The caravan for months was slowly but
surely plodding on, under those trees with which it has pleased
Providence to bedeck this desolate waste. But this expedition, as
organised, equipped, and intended by Sir Thomas Elder, was a thing of
such excellence and precision, it moved along apparently by mechanical
action; and it seemed to me, as we conquered these frightful deserts
by its power, like playing upon some new fine instrument, as we
wandered, like rumour, "from the Orient to the Drooping West,"--
"From where the Torrens wanders,
'Midst corn and vines and flowers,
To where fair Perth still lifts to heaven
Her diadem of towers."
The labours of the expedition ended only at the sea at Fremantle, the
seaport of the west; and after travelling under those trees for
months, from eastern lands through a region accurst, we were greeted
at last by old Ocean's roar; Ocean, the strongest of creation's sons,
"that rolls the wild, profound, eternal bass in Nature's anthem." The
officers, Mr. Tietkens and Mr. Young, except for occasional outbursts
of temper, and all the other members of the expedition, acted in every
way so as to give me satisfaction; and when I say that the personnel
of the expedition behaved as well as the camels, I cannot formulate
It will readily be believed that I did not undertake a fourth
expedition in Australia without a motive. Sir Thomas Elder had ever
been kind to me since I had known him, and my best thanks were due to
him for enabling me to accomplish so difficult an undertaking; but
there were others also I wished to please; and I have done my best
endeavours upon this arduous expedition, with the hope that I might
"win the wise, who frowned before to smile at last."
CHAPTER 5.1. FROM 18TH NOVEMBER, 1875, TO 10TH APRIL, 1876.
Remarks on the last expedition.
Departure of my two officers.
Expedition leaves Perth.
Invited to York.
Curiosity to see the caravan.
Saleh and Tommy's yarns.
A pair of watch(ful) guards.
The Benedictine monastery.
A new road.
A survey party.
An address presented.
A French gentleman.
A bull-camel poisoned.
A native desperado captured.
Native girls and boys.
Depart for the interior.
Natives follow us.
Good pastoral country.
Farewell to the last white man.
After having crossed the unknown central interior, and having
traversed such a terrible region to accomplish that feat, it might be
reasonably supposed that my labours as an explorer would cease, and
that I might disband the expedition and send the members, camels, and
equipment back to Adelaide by ship, especially as in my closing
remarks on my last journey I said that I had accomplished the task I
had undertaken, and effected the object of my expedition. This was
certainly the case, but I regarded what had been done as only the half
of my mission; and I was as anxious now to complete my work as I had
been to commence it, when Sir Thomas Elder started me out. The
remaining portion was no less than the completion of the line I had
been compelled to leave unfinished by the untimely loss of Gibson,
during my horse expedition of 1874. My readers will remember that,
having pushed out west from my depot at Fort McKellar, in the
Rawlinson Range, I had sighted another line of hills, which I had
called the Alfred and Marie Range, and which I had been unable to
reach. It was therefore my present wish and intention to traverse that
particular region, and to connect my present explorations with my
former ones with horses. By travelling northwards until I reached the
proper latitude, I might make an eastern line to the Rawlinson Range.
That Gibson's Desert existed, well I knew; but how far west from the
Rawlinson it actually extended, was the problem I now wished to solve.
As Sir Thomas Elder allowed me carte blanche, I began a fresh journey
with this object. The incidents of that journey this last book will
My readers may imagine us enjoying all the gaieties and pleasures such
a city as Perth, in Western Australia, could supply. Myself and two
officers were quartered at the Weld Club; Alec Ross and the others had
quarters at the United Service Club Hotel nearly opposite; and taking
it altogether, we had very good times indeed. The fountains of
champagne seemed loosened throughout the city during my stay; and the
wine merchants became nervous lest the supply of what then became
known as "Elder wine" should get exhausted. I paid a visit down the
country southwards, to Bunbury, The Vasse, and other places of
interest in that quarter. Our residence at Perth was extended to two
months. Saleh was in his glory. The camels were out in a paddock,
where they did not do very well, as there was only one kind of acacia
tree upon which they could browse. Occasionally Saleh had to take two
or three riding camels to Government House, as it became quite the
thing, for a number of young ladies to go there and have a ride on
them; and on those days Saleh was resplendent. On every finger, he
wore a ring, he had new, white and coloured, silk and satin, clothes,
covered with gilt braid; two silver watches, one in each side-pocket
of his tunic; and two jockey whips, one in each hand. He used to tell
people that he brought the expedition over, and when he went back he
was sure Sir Thomas Elder would fit him out with an expedition of his
own. Tommy was quite a young coloured swell, too; he would go about
the town, fraternise with people, treat them to drinks at any hotel,
and tell the landlord, when asked for payment, that the liquor was for
the expedition. Every now and again I had little bills presented to me
for refreshments supplied to Mr. Oldham. Alec Ross expended a good
deal of his money in making presents to young ladies; and Peter
Nicholls was quite a victim to the fair sex of his class. I managed to
escape these terrible dangers, though I can't tell how.
Both my officers left for South Australia by the mail steamer. Mr.
Tietkens was the more regretted. I did not wish him to leave, but he
said he had private business to attend to. I did not request Mr. Young
to accompany me on my return journey, so they went to Adelaide
together. The remainder of the party stayed until the 13th of January,
1876, when the caravan departed from Perth on its homeward route to
South Australia, having a new line of unexplored country to traverse
before we could reach our goal. My projected route was to lie nearly
400 miles to the north of the one by which I arrived; and upon leaving
Perth we travelled up the country, through the settled districts, to
Champion Bay, and thence to Mount Gould, close to the River Murchison.
Before leaving the city I was invited by the Mayor and Municipality of
the town of York, to visit that locality; this invitation I, of
course, accepted, as I was supposed to be out on show. My party now
consisted of only four other members besides myself, namely, young
Alec Ross, now promoted to the post of second in command, Peter
Nicholls, still cook, Saleh, and Tommy Oldham. At York we were
entertained, upon our arrival, at a dinner. York was a very agreeable
little agricultural town, the next in size to Fremantle. Bushmen,
farmers, and country people generally, flocked in crowds to see both
us and the camels. It was amusing to watch them, and to hear the
remarks they made. Saleh and Tommy used to tell the most outrageous
yarns about them; how they could travel ten miles an hour with their
loads, how they carried water in their humps, that the cows ate their
calves, that the riding bulls would tear their riders' legs off with
their teeth if they couldn't get rid of them in any other way. These
yarns were not restricted to York, they were always going on.
The day after leaving York we passed Mr. Samuel Burgess's
establishment, called Tipperary, where we were splendidly entertained
at a dinner, with his brothers and family. The Messrs. Burgess are
among the oldest and wealthiest residents in the Colony. From hence we
travelled towards a town-site called Northam, and from thence to
Newcastle, where we were entertained upon our first arrival. A lady in
Newcastle, Mrs. Dr. Mayhew, presented me with a pair of little spotted
puppies, male and female, to act for us, as she thought, as watch(ful)
guards against the attacks of hostile natives in the interior. And
although they never distinguished themselves very much in that
particular line, the little creatures were often a source of amusement
in the camp; and I shall always cherish a feeling of gratitude to the
donor for them.
At ten miles from Newcastle is Culham, the hospitable residence of the
well-known and universally respected Squire Phillips, of an old Oxford
family in England, and a very old settler in the Colony of Western
Australia. On our arrival at Culham we were, as we had formerly been,
most generously received; and the kindness and hospitality we met,
induced us to remain for some days. When leaving I took young Johnny
Phillips with me to give him an insight into the mysteries of camel
travelling, so far as Champion Bay. On our road up the country we met
with the greatest hospitality from every settler, whose establishment
the caravan passed. At every station they vied with each other as to
who should show us the greatest kindness. It seems invidious to
mention names, and yet it might appear as though I were ungrateful if
I seemed to forget my old friends; for I am a true believer in the
dictum, of all black crimes, accurst ingratitude's the worst. Leaving
Culham, we first went a few miles to Mr. Beare's station and
residence, whither Squire Phillips accompanied us. Our next friend was
Mr. Butler, at the St. Joseph's schoolhouse, where he had formerly
presented me with an address. Next we came to the Messrs. Clunes,
where we remained half an hour to refresh, en route for New Norcia,
the Spanish Catholic Benedictine Monastery presided over by the good
Bishop Salvado, and where we remained for the night; the Bishop
welcoming us as cordially as before. Our next halt was at the
McPhersons', Glentromie, only four or five miles from the Mission. Our
host here was a fine, hospitable old Scotchman, who has a most
valuable and excellent property. From Glentromie we went to the Hon.
O'Grady Lefroy's station, Walebing, where his son, Mr. Henry Lefroy,
welcomed us again as he had done so cordially on our first visit. At
every place where we halted, country people continually came riding
and driving in to see the camels, and an amusing incident occurred
here. Young Lefroy had a tidy old housekeeper, who was quite the
grande dame amongst the young wives and daughters of the surrounding
farmers. I remained on Sunday, and, as usual, a crowd of people came.
The camp was situated 200 yards from the buildings, and covered a good
space of ground, the camels always being curled round into a circle
whenever we camped; the huge bags and leather-covered boxes and
pack-saddles filling up most of the space. On this Sunday afternoon a
number of women, and girls, were escorted over by the housekeeper.
Alec and I had come to the camp just before them, and we watched as
they came up very slowly and cautiously to the camp. I was on the
point of going over to them, and saying that I was sorry the camels
were away feeding, but something Alec Ross said, restrained me, and we
waited--the old housekeeper doing the show. To let the others see how
clever she was, she came right up to the loads, the others following,
and said, "Ah, the poor things!" One of the new arrivals said, "Oh,
the poor things, how still and quiet they are," the girls stretching
their necks, and nearly staring their eyes out. Alec and I were
choking with laughter, and I went up and said, "My dear creature,
these are not the camels, these are the loads; the camels are away in
the bush, feeding." The old lady seemed greatly annoyed, while the
others, in chorus, said, "Oh, oh! what, ain't those the camels there?"
etc. By that time the old lady had vanished.
Up to this point we had returned upon the road we had formerly
travelled to Perth; now we left our old line, and continued up the
telegraph line, and main overland road, from Perth to Champion Bay.
Here we shortly entered what in this Colony is called the Victoria
Plains district. I found the whole region covered with thick timber,
if not actual scrubs; here and there was a slight opening covered with
a thorny vegetation three or four feet high. It struck me as being
such a queer name, but I subsequently found that in Western Australia
a plain means level country, no matter how densely covered with
scrubs; undulating scrubs are thickets, and so on. Several times I was
mystified by people telling me they knew there were plains to the
east, which I had found to be all scrubs, with timber twenty to thirty
feet high densely packed on it. The next place we visited, was Mr.
James Clinche's establishment at Berkshire Valley, and our reception
there was most enthusiastic. A triumphal arch was erected over the
bridge that spanned the creek upon which the place was located, the
arch having scrolls with mottoes waving and flags flying in our
honour. Here was feasting and flaring with a vengeance. Mr. Clinche's
hospitality was unbounded. We were pressed to remain a week, or month,
or a year; but we only rested one day, the weather being exceedingly
hot. Mr. Clinche had a magnificent flower and fruit garden, with
fruit-trees of many kinds en espalier; these, he said, throve
remarkably well. Mr. Clinche persisted in making me take away several
bottles of fluid, whose contents need not be specifically
particularised. Formerly the sandal-wood-tree of commerce abounded all
over the settled districts of Western Australia. Merchants and others
in Perth, Fremantle, York, and other places, were buyers for any
quantity. At his place Mr. Clinche had a huge stack of I know not how
many hundred tons. He informed me he usually paid about eight pounds
sterling per measurement ton. The markets were London, Hong Kong, and
Calcutta. A very profitable trade for many years was carried on in
this article; the supply is now very limited.
There was a great deal of the poison-plant all over this country, not
the Gyrostemon, but a sheep-poisoning plant of the Gastrolobium
family; and I was always in a state of anxiety for fear the camels
should eat any of it. The shepherds in this Colony, whose flocks are
generally not larger than 500, are supposed to know every individual
poison-plant on their beat, and to keep their sheep off it; but with
us, it was all chance work, for we couldn't tie the camels up every
night, and we could not control them in what they should eat. Our next
friends were a brother of the McPherson at Glentromie and his wife.
The name of this property was Cornamah; there was a telegraph station
at this place. Both here and at Berkshire Valley Mrs. McPherson and
Miss Clinche are the operators. Next to this, we reached Mr. Cook's
station, called Arrino, where Mrs. Cook is telegraph mistress. Mr.
Cook we had met at New Norcia, on his way down to Perth. We had lunch
at Arrino, and Mrs. Cook gave me a sheep. I had, however, taken it out
of one of their flocks the night before, as we camped with some black
shepherds and shepherdesses, who were very pleased to see the camels,
and called them emus, a name that nearly all the West Australian
natives gave them.
After leaving Arrino we met Mr. Brooklyn and Mr. King, two Government
surveyors, at whose camp we rested a day. The heat was excessive, the
thermometer during that day going up 115 degrees in the shade. The
following day we reached a farm belonging to Mr. Goodwin, where we had
a drink of beer all round. That evening we reached an establishment
called Irwin House, on the Irwin River, formerly the residence of Mr.
Lock Burgess, who was in partnership there with Squire Phillips. Mr.
Burgess having gone to England, the property was leased to Mr. Fane,
where we again met Mrs. Fane and her daughters, whom we had first met
at Culham. This is a fine cattle run and farming property. From thence
we went to Dongarra, a town-site also on the Irwin. On reaching this
river, we found ourselves in one of the principal agricultural
districts of Western Australia, and at Dongarra we were met by a
number of the gentlemen of the district, and an address was presented
to me by Mr. Laurence, the Resident Magistrate. After leaving
Dongarra, we were entertained at his house by Mr. Bell; and here we
met a French gentleman of a strong Irish descent, with fine white eyes
and a thick shock head, of red hair; he gazed intently both at us and
the camels. I don't know which he thought the more uncouth of the two
kinds of beasts. At last he found sufficient English to say, "Do dem
tings goo faar in a deayah, ehah?" When he sat down to dinner with us,
he put his mutton chop on his hand, which he rested on his plate. The
latter seemed to be quite an unknown article of furniture to him, and
yet I was told his father was very well to do.
The next town-site we reached was the Greenough--pronounced
Greenuff--Flats, being in another very excellent agricultural
district; here another address was presented to me, and we were
entertained at an excellent lunch. As usual, great numbers of people
came to inspect us, and the camels, the latter laying down with their
loads on previous to being let go. Often, when strangers would come
too near, some of the more timid camels would jump up instantly, and
the people not being on their guard, would often have torn faces and
bleeding noses before they could get out of the way. On this occasion
a tall, gaunt man and his wife, I supposed, were gazing at Tommy's
riding camel as she carried the two little dogs in bags, one on each
side. Tommy was standing near, trying to make her jump up, but she was
too quiet, and preferred lying down. Any how, Tommy would have his
joke--so, as the man who was gazing most intently at the pups said,
"What's them things, young man?" he replied, "Oh, that's hee's
pickaninnies"--sex having no more existence in a black boy's
vocabulary than in a highlander's. Then the tall man said to the wife,
"Oh, lord, look yer, see how they carries their young." Only the pup's
heads appeared, a string round the neck keeping them in; "but they
looks like dogs too, don't they?" With that he put his huge face down,
so as to gaze more intently at them, when the little dog, who had been
teased a good deal and had got snappish, gave a growl and snapped at
his nose. The secret was out; with a withering glance at Tommy and the
camels, he silently walked away--the lady following.
All the riding camels and most of the pet baggage camels were
passionately fond of bread. I always put a piece under the flap of my
saddle, and so soon as Reechy came to the camp of a morning, she would
come and lie down by it, and root about till she found it. Lots of the
people, especially boys and children, mostly brought their lunch, as
coming to see the camels was quite a holiday affair, and whenever they
incautiously began to eat in the camp, half a dozen camels would try
to take the food from them. One cunning old camel called Cocky, a huge
beast, whose hump was over seven feet from the ground, with his head
high up in the air, and pretending not to notice anything of the kind,
would sidle slowly up towards any people who were eating, and swooping
his long neck down, with his soft tumid lips would take the food out
of their mouths or hands--to their utter astonishment and dismay.
Another source of amusement with us was, when any man wanted to have a
ride, we always put him on Peter Nicholls's camel, then he was led for
a certain distance from the camp, when the rider was asked whether he
was all right? He was sure to say, "Yes." "Well, then, take the
reins," we would say; and so soon as the camel found himself free, he
would set to work and buck and gallop back to the camp; in nine cases
out of ten the rider fell off, and those who didn't never wished to
get on any more. With the young ladies we met on our journeys through
the settled districts, I took care that no accidents should happen,
and always gave them Reechy or Alec's cow Buzoe. At the Greenough, a
ball was given in the evening. (I should surely be forgetting myself
were I to omit to mention our kind friend, Mr. Maley, the miller at
Greenough, who took us to his house, gave us a lunch, and literally
flooded us with champagne.) We were now only a short distance from
Champion Bay, the town-site being called Geraldton; it was the 16th
February when we reached it. Outside the town we were met by a number
of gentlemen on horseback, and were escorted into it by them.
On arrival we were invited to a lunch. Champion Bay, or rather
Geraldton, is the thriving centre of what is, for Western Australia, a
large agricultural and pastoral district. It is the most busy and
bustling place I have seen on this side of the continent. It is
situated upon the western coast of Australia, in latitude 28 degrees
40' and longitude 114 degrees 42' 30", lying about north-north-west
from Perth, and distant 250 miles in a straight line, although to
reach it by land more than 300 miles have to be traversed. I delayed
in the neighbourhood of Geraldton for the arrival of the English and
Colonial mails, at the hospitable encampment of Mr. James Palmer, a
gentleman from Melbourne, who was contractor for the first line of
railway, from Champion Bay to Northampton, ever undertaken in Western
While we delayed here, Mr. Tietkens's fine young riding bull got
poisoned, and though we did everything we possibly could for him, he
first went cranky, and subsequently died. I was very much grieved; he
was such a splendid hack, and so quiet and kind; I greatly deplored
his loss. The only substance I could find that he had eaten was
Gyrostemon, there being plenty of it here. Upon leaving Mr. Palmer's
camp we next visited a station called the Bowes--being on the Bowes
Creek, and belonging to Mr. Thomas Burgess, whose father entertained
us so well at Tipperary, near York. Mr. Burgess and his wife most
cordially welcomed us. This was a most delightful place, and so
homelike; it was with regret that I left it behind, Mrs. Burgess being
the last white lady I might ever see.
Mr. Burgess had another station called Yuin, about 115 miles easterly
from here, and where his nephews, the two Messrs. Wittenoom, resided.
They also have a station lying north-east by north called Cheangwa. On
the fifth day from the Bowes we reached Yuin. The country was in a
very dry state. All the stock had been removed to Cheangwa, where
rains had fallen, and grass existed in abundance. At Yuin Mr. Burgess
had just completed the erection of, I should say, the largest
wool-shed in the Colony. The waters on the station consist of shallow
wells and springs all over it. It is situated up the Greenough River.
Before reaching Cheangwa I met the elder of the two Wittenooms, whom I
had previously known in Melbourne; his younger brother was expected
back from a trip to the north and east, where he had gone to look for
new pastoral runs. When he returned, he told us he had not only been
very successful in that way, but had succeeded in capturing a native
desperado, against whom a warrant was out, and who had robbed some
shepherds' huts, and speared, if not killed, a shepherd in their
employ. Mr. Frank Wittenoom was leading this individual alongside of
his horse, intending to take him to Geraldton to be dealt with by the
police magistrate there. But O, tempora mutantur! One fine night, when
apparently chained fast to a verandah post, the fellow managed to slip
out of his shackles, quietly walked away, and left his fetters behind
him, to the unbounded mortification of his captor, who looked
unutterable things, and though he did not say much, he probably
thought the more. This escape occurred at Yuin, to which place I had
returned with Mr. E. Wittenoom, to await the arrival of Mr. Burgess.
When we were all conversing in the house, and discussing some
excellent sauterne, the opportunity for his successful attempt was
seized by the prisoner. He effected his escape through the good
offices of a confederate friend, a civilised young black fellow, who
pretended he wanted his hair cut, and got a pair of sheep shears from
Mr. Wittenoom during the day for that apparent purpose, saying that
the captive would cut it for him. Of course the shears were not
returned, and at night the captive or his friend used them to prise
open a split link of the chain which secured him, and away he went as
free as a bird in the air.
I had Mr. Burgess's and Mr. Wittenoom's company to Cheangwa, and on
arrival there my party had everything ready for a start. We arranged
for a final meeting with our kind friends at a spring called Pia, at
the far northern end of Mr. Wittenoom's run. A great number of natives
were assembled round Cheangwa: this is always the case at all frontier
stations, in the Australian squatting bush. Some of the girls and
young women were exceedingly pretty; the men were not so attractive,
but the boys were good-looking youngsters. The young ladies were
exceedingly talkative; they called the camels emus, or, as they
pronounced it, immu. Several of these girls declared their intention
of coming with us. There were Annies, and Lizzies, Lauras, and Kittys,
and Judys, by the dozen. One interesting young person in undress
uniform came up to me and said, "This is Judy, I am Judy; you
Melbourne walk? me Melbourne walk too!" I said, "Oh, all right, my
dear;" to this she replied, "Then you'll have to gib me dress." I gave
her a shirt.
When we left Cheangwa a number of the natives persisted in following
us, and though we outpaced them in travelling, they stopping to hunt
on the way, they found their way to the camp after us. By some of the
men and boys we were led to a water-hole of some length, called
Cooerminga, about eleven miles nearly north from Cheangwa. As the day
was very warm, we and the natives all indulged promiscuously in the
luxury of swimming, diving, and splashing about in all directions. It
might be said that:--
"By yon mossy boulder, see an ebony shoulder,
Dazzling the beholder, rises o'er the blue;
But a moment's thinking, sends the Naiad sinking,
With a modest shrinking, from the gazer's view."
The day after we crossed the dry channel of what is called the River
Sandford, and at two or three miles beyond it, we were shown another
water called Moodilah, six miles from our last night's encampment. We
were so hampered with the girls that we did not travel very rapidly
over this part of the continent. Moodilah lay a little to the east of
north from Cooerminga; Barloweerie Peak bore north 37 degrees west
from camp, the latitude of which was 27 degrees 11' 8". On Saturday,
the 8th of April, we went nearly north to Pia Spring, where the
following day we met for the last time, Messrs. Burgess and Wittenoom.
We had some bottles of champagne cooling in canvas water-buckets, and
we had an excellent lunch. The girls still remained with us, and if we
liked we might have stayed to "sit with these dark Orianas in groves
by the murmuring sea."
On Sunday, the 9th of April, we all remained in peace, if not
happiness, at Pia Spring; its position is in latitude 27 degrees 7'
and longitude 116 degrees 30'. The days were still very hot, and as
the country produced no umbrageous trees, we had to erect awnings with
tarpaulins to enable us to rest in comfort, the thermometer in the
shade indicating 100 degrees. Pia is a small granite rock-hole or
basin, which contains no great supply of water, but seems to be
permanently supplied by springs from below. From here Mount Murchison,
near the eastern bank of the River Murchison, bore north 73 degrees
east, twenty-three or twenty-four miles away, and Barloweerie, behind
us, bore south 48 degrees west, eight miles.
(ILLUSTRATION: FAREWELL TO WESTERN AUSTRALIA.)
The country belonging to Mr. Burgess and the Messrs. Wittenoom
Brothers appeared to me the best and most extensive pastoral property
I had seen in Western Australia. Water is obtained in wells and
springs all over the country, at a depth of four or five feet; there
are, besides, many long standing pools of rain-water on the runs. Mr.
Burgess told me of a water-hole in a creek, called Natta, nine or ten
miles off, where I intend to go next. On Monday, the 10th of April, we
bade farewell to our two kind friends, the last white men we should
see. We finished the champagne, and parted.
CHAPTER 5.2. FROM 10TH APRIL TO 7TH MAY, 1876.
The natives continue with us.
Myriads of flies.
Alec returns to Cheangwa.
Native customs and rites.
Red granite mounds.
Loads carried by women.
Laura and Tommy.
Mount Hale range.
Flooded grassy flat.
Clianthus or desert pea.
Natives show us water.
Timber of the Murchison.
Mount Gould and Mount Hale.
A new tribe of natives.
Pretty girls brought to the camp.
A picturesque place.
Plague of flies.
Ascend Mount Gould.
A high peak.
Country beautifully green.
Natives less friendly.
Leave Mount Gould.
Native well in a thicket.
An Australian scene.
The Valley of the Gascoyne.
A second anniversary.
Ascent of the peak.
Severe country for camels' feet.
The Lyon's river.
A new watercourse.
A turkey bustard.
An extraordinary scene.
Remarks upon the country.
The harem elected to continue with us. Natta was reached in about nine
miles, north-east by north from Pia. On the way we passed some
excellent and occasionally flooded country, and saw some sheets of
rain-water on which were numerous ducks, but our sportsmen were not so
fortunate as to bag any, the birds being so exceedingly shy. I got a
few afterwards, when we reached Natta. The thermometer to-day, 96
degrees. The country was beautifully green, and the camels beginning
to show great signs of improvement. The only drawbacks to our
enjoyments were the myriads of flies by day and mosquitoes at night.
It now turned out that Alec Ross had forgotten something, that he
wanted at Cheangwa, and we waited here until he returned. During his
absence we actually got enough ducks to give us all a most excellent
dinner, and some to spare for the girls, who left all the hunting to
the men and boys, and remained very comfortably in the camp. Peter
Nicholls was quite in his glory among them. Tommy, being a very
good-looking boy, was an object of great admiration to a good many of
them; but he was so bashful he wouldn't even talk to them, though they
tried very hard to make love to him. Alec having returned, we left
Natta on the 14th, and went about north-east by east, to a small
brackish water in a little creek channel, which we reached in about
fifteen miles. Here our native escort was increased by the arrival of
a young black gentleman, most beautifully dressed in fat and red
ochre, with many extraordinary white marks or figures all over his
back; we were informed that he was a "cowra man." I had heard this
expression before, and it seems it is a custom with the natives of
this part of the country, like those of Fowler's and Streaky Bays on
the south coast, to subject the youths of the tribe to a mutilating
operation. After this they are eligible for marriage, but for a
certain time, until the wounds heal, they are compelled to absent
themselves from the society of women. They go about the country
solitary and wretched, and continually utter a short, sharp "cowra
cry" to warn all other men to keep their women away, until the time of
their probation is over. Married men occasionally go on "cowra" also,
but for what reason, I do not know. The time of our new arrival, it
appeared, was just up, and he seemed very glad indeed of it, for he
was evidently quite a society young man, and probably belonged to one
of the first families. He talked as though he knew the country in
advance for hundreds of miles, and told us he intended to come with
The country we were now passing through was all covered with low
timber, if indeed the West Australian term of thicket was not more
applicable. There was plenty of grass, but as a rule the region was
poor; no views could be had for any distance. I was desirous of making
my way to, or near to, Mount Hale, on the Murchison River. None of our
natives knew any feature beyond, by its European name. A low line of
hills ran along westerly, and a few isolated patches of granite hills
occurred occasionally to the east of our line of march. We reached a
chain of little creeks or watercourses, and on the 15th camped at a
small water-hole in latitude 26 degrees 46', and longitude about 116
degrees 57'. From hence we entered thickets, and arrived at the foot
of some red granite mounds, where our cowra man said there was plenty
of water in a rock-hole. It turned out, however, as is usually the
case with these persons, that the information was not in strict
accordance with the truth, for the receptacle he showed us was
exceedingly small, and the supply of water which it contained was
Mount Murchison bore south 14 degrees west; the latitude of the camp
at these rocks was 26 degrees 36' 8". A lot of stony hills lay in
front of us to the north. Our Cheangwa natives, like the poor, were
always with us, although I was anxious to get rid of them; they were
too much of a good thing; like a Portuguese devil, when he's good he's
too good. Here I thought it advisable to try to induce them to return.
A good many of the girls really cried; however, by the promise of some
presents of flour, tea, sugar, shirts, tobacco, red handkerchiefs,
looking glasses, etc., we managed to dry their tears. It seemed that
our little friends had now nearly reached the boundary of their
territories, and some of the men wanted to go back, perhaps for fear
of meeting some members of hostile tribes beyond; and though the men
do occasionally go beyond their own districts, they never let the
women go if they can help it; but the women being under our
protection, didn't care where they went. Many of them told me they
would have gone, perhaps not in such poetic phrase as is found in
Lallah Rookh, east, west--alas! I care not whither, so thou art safe
and I with thee. It was, however, now agreed that they should return.
The weight of the loads some of these slim-figured girls and young
wives carried, mostly on their heads, was astonishing, especially when
a good-sized child was perched astride on their shoulders as well. The
men, of course, carried nothing but a few spears and sticks; they
would generally stay behind to hunt or dig out game, and when
obtained, leave it for the lubras or women to bring on, some of the
women following their footsteps for that purpose.
The prettiest of these girls, or at least the one I thought the
prettiest, was named Laura; she was a married young lady with one
child. They were to depart on the morrow. At about eleven or twelve
o'clock that night, Laura came to where my bed was fixed, and asked me
to take her to see Tommy, this being her last opportunity. "You little
viper," I was going to say, but I jumped up and led her quietly across
the camp to where Tommy was fast asleep. I woke him up and said,
"Here, Tommy, here's Laura come to say 'good-bye' to you, and she
wants to give you a kiss." To this the uncultivated young cub replied,
rubbing his eyes, "I don't want to kiss him, let him kiss himself!"
What was gender, to a fiend like this? and how was poor Laura to be
Our cowra and a friend of his, evidently did not intend to leave us
just yet; indeed, Mr. C. gave me to understand, that whithersoever I
went, he would go; where I lodged, he would lodge; that my people
should be his people; I suppose my God would be good enough for him;
and that he would walk with me to Melbourne. Melbourne was the only
word they seemed to have, to indicate a locality remote. Our course
from these rocks was nearly north, and we got into three very pretty
circular spaces or amphitheatres; round these several many-coloured
and plant-festooned granite hills were placed. Round the foot of the
right-hand hills, between the first and second amphitheatre, going
northerly, Mr. C. showed us three or four rock water-holes, some of
which, though not very large in circumference, were pretty deep, and
held more than sufficient for double my number of camels. Here we
outspanned for an hour and had some dinner, much to the satisfaction
of our now, only two attendants; we had come about six miles. From a
hill just above where we dined, I sighted a range to the north, and
took it to be part of the Mount Hale Range; Mount Hale itself lying
more easterly, was hidden by some other hills just in front. After
dinner we proceeded through, or across, the third amphitheatre, the
range in front appearing thirty to forty miles away. That night we
encamped in a thicket, having travelled only sixteen or seventeen
miles. In a few miles, on the following day, we came on to a line of
white or flood gum-trees, and thought there was a river or creek ahead
of us; but it proved only a grassy flat, with the gum-trees growing
promiscuously upon it. A profusion of the beautiful Sturt, or
desert-pea, or Clianthus Dampierii, grew upon this flat. A few low,
red granite hills to the north seemed to form the bank or edge of a
kind of valley, and before reaching them, we struck a salt
watercourse, in which our two satellites discovered, or probably knew
of before, a fresh waterhole in rock and sand in the channel of the
creek, with plenty of water in, where we encamped. The day was
exceedingly hot, and though near the end of the hot months, our
continued northerly progress made us painfully aware that we were
still in the region of "sere woodlands and sad wildernesses, where,
with fire, and fierce drought, on her tresses, insatiable summer
oppresses." Our latitude here was 26 degrees 14' 50".
Immediately upon arrival, our cowra man and his friend seemed aware of
the presence of other natives in the neighbourhood, and began to make
signal smokes to induce their countrymen to approach. This they very
soon did, heralding their advent with loud calls and cries, which our
two answered. Although I could not actually translate what the jabber
was all about, I am sure it was a continual question as to our
respectability, and whether we were fit and presentable enough to be
introduced into their ladies' society. The preliminaries and doubts,
however, seemed at last to be overcome, and the natives then made
their appearance. With them came also several of their young women,
who were remarkably good-looking, and as plump as partridges; but they
were a bit skeery, and evidently almost as wild as wild dogs. Our two
semi-civilised barbarians induced them to come nearer, however, and
apparently spoke very favourably about us, so that they soon became
sociable and talkative. They were not very much dressed, their
garments being composed of a very supple, dark kind of skin and hair,
which was so thickly smeared over with fat and red ochre, that if any
one attempted to hold them, it left a tell-tale mark of red fat all
over their unthinking admirers. The following day they wanted to
accompany us, but I would not permit this, and they departed; at
least, we departed, and with us came two men, who would take no
denial, or notice of my injunction, but kept creeping up after us
every now and then. Our cowra led us by evening to a small--very
small, indeed--rock-hole, in which there was scarcely sufficient water
for our four followers. It took me considerably out of my road to
reach it, and I was greatly disgusted when I did so. It lay nearly
north-west by west from the last camp, and was in latitude 26 degrees
7' 9". Mount Hale now bore a little to the north of east from us, and
the timber of the Murchison could be seen for the first time from some
hills near the camp.
I now steered nearly north-east, for about fifteen miles, until we
struck the river. The country here consisted of extensive grassy
flats, having several lines of gum-timber traversing it, and
occasionally forming into small water-channels; the entire width of
the river-bed here was between five and six miles. We went about three
miles into it, and had to encamp without water, none of the channels
we had passed having any in. I sent Alec Ross still further
northwards, and he found a small rain water-hole two miles farther
north-north-easterly; we went there on the following morning. The
grass and vegetation here, were very rich, high, and green. One of the
little dogs, Queenie, in running after some small game, was lost, and
at night had not returned to the camp, nor was she there by the
morning; but when Saleh and Tommy went for the camels, they found her
with them. I did not intend to ascend Mount Hale, but pushed for Mount
Gould, which bore north 55 degrees east. After crossing the Murchison
channel and flats--fine, grassy, and green--we entered thickets of
mulga, which continued for fifteen miles, until we arrived on the
banks of a watercourse coming from the north, towards the Murchison
near Mount Hale, and traversing the country on the west side of Mount
Gould. Mount Gould and Mount Hale are about twenty-two miles apart,
lying nearly north-north-east and south-south-west from one another,
and having the Murchison River running nearly east and west between,
but almost under the northern foot of Mount Hale. These two mounts
were discovered by H.C. Gregory in 1858.
We reached the Mount Gould creek on the 22nd of April, and almost so
soon as we appeared upon its banks, we flushed up a whole host of
natives who were living and hunting there. There were men, women, and
children in scores. There was little or no water in the many channels
of the new creek; and as there appeared yet another channel near Mount
Gould, we went towards it; the natives surrounding us, yelling and
gesticulating in the most excited state, but they were, so to say,
civil, and showed us some recent rain water in the channel at Mount
Gould's foot, at which I fixed the camp. As these were the same
natives or members of the same tribes, that had murdered one if not
both the young Clarksons, I determined to be very guarded in my
dealings with them. The men endeavoured to force their way into the
camp several times. I somewhat more forcibly repelled them with a
stick, which made them very angry. As a rule, very few people like
being beaten with a stick, and these were no exception. They did not
appear in the least degree afraid, or astonished, at the sight of the
camels. When they were hobbled out several of the men not only went to
look at them, but began to pull them about also, and laughed heartily
and in chorus when a camel lay down for them. One or two could say a
few words of English, and said, "Which way walk? You Melbourne walk?"
the magic name of Melbourne being even in these people's mouths. This
is to be accounted for by the fact that Mr. E. Wittenoom had returned
from thence not long before, and having taken a Cheangwa black boy
with him, the latter had spread the news of the wonders he had seen in
the great metropolis, to the uttermost ends of the earth.
There was not very much water where we camped, but still ample for my
time. The grass and herbage here were splendid and green. When the men
found I would not allow them to skulk about the camp, and apparently
desired no intercourse with them, some of them brought up first one,
then another, and another, and another, very pretty young girls; the
men leading them by the hand and leaving them alone in the camp, and
as it seemed to them that they were required to do or say something,
they began to giggle. The men then brought up some very nice-looking
little boys. But I informed them they might as well go; girls and boys
went away together, and we saw nothing more of them that evening. This
was a very pretty and picturesque place. Mount Gould rose with rough
and timbered sides to a pointed ridge about two miles from the camp.
The banks of the creek were shaded with pretty trees, and numerous
acacia and other leguminous bushes dotted the grassy flooded lands on
either side of the creek. The beauty of the place could scarcely be
enjoyed, as the weather was so hot and the flies such awful plagues,
that life was almost a misery, and it was impossible to obtain a
moment's enjoyment of the scene. The thermometer had stood at 103
degrees in the shade in the afternoon, and at night the mosquitoes
were as numerous and almost more annoying than the flies in the day.
The following day being Sunday, we rested, and at a very early hour
crowds of black men, women, boys, and children, came swarming up to
the camp. But the men were not allowed to enter. There was no
resisting the encroachments of the girls; they seemed out of their
wits with delight at everything they saw; they danced and pirouetted
about among the camels' loads with the greatest glee. Everything with
them was, "What name?" They wanted to know the name of everything and
everybody, and they were no wiser when they heard it. Some of these
girls and boys had faces, in olive hue, like the ideal representation
of angels; how such beauty could exist amongst so poor a grade of the
human race it is difficult to understand, but there it was. Some of
the men were good-looking, but although they had probably been
beautiful as children, their beauty had mostly departed. There were
several old women at the camp. They were not beautiful, but they were
very quiet and retiring, and seemed to feel gratification at the
pleasures the young ones enjoyed. Sometimes they would point out some
pretty girl or boy and say it was hers, or hers; they were really very
like human beings, though of course no one can possibly be a real
human being who does not speak English. A custom among the natives
here is to cicatrise in parallel horizontal lines the abdomens of the
female portion of the community. The scars of the old being long
healed left only faint raised lines, intended to hide any natural
corrugations; this in a great measure it did, but the younger,
especially those lately operated on, had a very unsightly appearance.
Surely these people cannot deem these the lines of beauty. These young
ladies were much pleased at beholding their pretty faces in a
looking-glass for the first time. They made continual use of the word
"Peterman." This was a word I had first heard from the natives of the
Rawlinson Range, upon my last horse expedition of 1874. It seems to
signify, where are you going? or where have you come from? or
something to that effect; and from the fact of their using it, it
appears that they must speak the same language as the natives of the
Rawlinson, which is over 600 miles away to the eastward, and is
separated from their territory by a vast and dreary desert. The day
was again distressingly hot; the thermometer in the afternoon rising
to 104 degrees in the shade, which so late in April is something
extraordinary. The girls seemed greatly to enjoy sitting in the fine
shade made by our awnings. The common house-fly swarmed about us in
thousands of decillions, and though we were attended by houris, I at
least did not consider myself in Paradise. The latitude of this camp
was 25 degrees 46' 37", and longitude 117 degrees 25'. Next day Alec
Ross and I climbed to the top of Mount Gould; this was rather rough
work, the height being between 1100 and 1200 feet above the
surrounding country, and 2600 feet above the sea level. The country
immediately to the eastward was flat and grassy, but with the
exception of a few miles from the foot of the mount, which was open
and clear, the whole region, though flat, is thickly covered with
mulga or thickets; this, in Western Australian parlance, is called a
plain. Mount Hale appeared much higher than this hill.
The only other conspicuous object in view was a high peak to the
north-north-east. The timber of the River Murchison could be traced
for some miles as coming from the eastwards, and sweeping under the
northern foot of Mount Hale. The creek the camp is situated on came
from the north-east. The creek we first saw the natives on, comes from
the north, and the two join before reaching the Murchison. Mount Gould
is almost entirely composed of huge blocks of almost pure iron, which
rendered the compass useless. The creek the camp is on appears to come
from some low hills to the north east-wards, and on leaving this place
I shall follow it up. Some recent rains must have fallen in this
neighbourhood, for the whole country is beautifully green. The flies
at the camp to-day were, if possible, even more numerous than before.
They infest the whole air; they seem to be circumambient; we can't
help eating, drinking, and breathing flies; they go down our throats
in spite of our teeth, and we wear them all over our bodies; they
creep up one's clothes and die, and others go after them to see what
they died of. The instant I inhale a fly it acts as an emetic. And if
Nature abhors a vacuum, she, or at least my nature, abhors these
wretches more, for the moment I swallow one a vacuum is instantly
produced. Their bodies are full of poisonous matter, and they have a
most disgusting flavour, though they taste sweet. They also cause
great pains and discomfort to our eyes, which are always full of them.
Probably, if the flies were not here, we might think we were overrun
with ants; but the flies preponderate; the ants merely come as
undertakers and scavengers; they eat up or take away all we smash, and
being attracted by the smell of the dead victims, they crawl over
everything after their prey. The natives appear far less friendly
to-day, and no young houris have visited us. Many of the men have
climbed into trees in the immediate neighbourhood of the camp, not
being allowed in, and are continually peering down at us and our
doings, and reporting all our movements to their associates. At our
meal-times they seem especially watchful, and anxious to discover what
it is we eat, and where it comes from. Some come occasionally creeping
nearer to our shady home for a more extensive view. Wistfully gazing
"And they linger a minute,
Like those lost souls who wait,
Viewing, through heaven's gate,
Angels within it."
By the morning of the following day I was very glad to find that the
natives had all departed. Saleh and Tommy were away after the camels,
and had been absent so many hours that I was afraid these people might
have unhobbled the camels and driven them off, or else attacked the
two who were after them. We waited, therefore, for their return in
great anxiety, hour after hour. As they only took one gun besides
their revolvers, I was afraid they might not be able to sustain an
attack, if the natives set upon them. After the middle of the day they
turned up, camels and all, which put an end to our fears.
We departed from Mount Gould late in the day, and travelled up the
creek our camp was on, and saw several small ponds of clear
rain-water, but at the spot where we camped, after travelling fifteen
miles, there was none. Mount Gould bore south 56 degrees west from
camp. The travelling for about twenty miles up the creek was pretty
good. At twenty-seven miles we came to the junction with another
creek, where a fine permanent rocky pool of fresh water, with some
good-sized fish in it, exists. I named this fine watering-place
Saleh's Fish-ponds, after my Afghan camel-driver, who was really a
first-rate fellow, without a lazy bone in his body. The greatest
requirement of a camel caravan, is some one to keep the saddles in
repair, and so avert sore backs. Saleh used to do this admirably, and
many times in the deserts and elsewhere I have known him to pass half
the night at this sort of work. The management of the camels, after
one learns the art, is simple enough; they are much easier to work
than a mob of pack-horses; but keeping the saddles right is a task of
the hardest nature. In consequence of Saleh's looking after ours so
well, we never had any trouble with sore-backed camels, thus escaping
a misfortune which in itself might wreck a whole caravan. We kept on
farther up our creek, and at a place we selected for a camp we got
some water by digging in the channel at a depth of only a few inches
in the sandy bed. The country now on both sides of the creek was both
stony and scrubby. Following it up, at ten miles farther, we reached
its head amongst the mass of hills which, by contributing lesser
channels, combine to form its source. Here we re-sighted the
high-peaked mount first seen from Mount Gould, and I decided to visit
it. It is most probably the mountain seen from a distance by H.C.
Gregory, and named by him Mount Labouchere. We were now among a mass
of dreadfully rough and broken hills, which proved very severe to the
camels' feet, as they had continually to descend into and rise again
out of, sharp gullies, the stones being nearly up-edged. The going up
and down these short, sharp, and sometimes very deep, stony
undulations, is a performance that these excellent animals are not
specially adapted for. Heavily-loaded camels have only a rope crupper
under their tails to keep the saddles and loads on, and in descending
these places, when the animals feel the crupper cutting them, some of
them would skip and buck, and get some of their loading off, and we
had a great deal of trouble in consequence.
Both yesterday and to-day, the 27th of April, we saw several stunted
specimens of the sandal-wood-tree of commerce, santalum. In the
afternoon, getting over the highest part of the hills, the country
fell slightly towards the north, and we reached a small creek with
gum-trees on it, running to the north-north-west; it was quite dry; no
rain appeared to have visited it or the country surrounding it for
centuries. As the sharp stones had not agreed with the camels, we
encamped upon it, although we could get no water. The latitude of our
camp on this dry creek was 25 degrees 19'. The flies and heat were
still terrible. Leaving the creek and steering still for the high peak
of Mount Labouchere, we came, at thirteen miles, upon a native well in
the midst of a grassy flat among thickets. The peak bore 6 degrees 30'
east of north from it. This well appeared to have been dug out of
calcareous soil. We did not use it, but continued our journey over and
through, both stony and occasionally sandy thickets, to some low hills
which rose before us to the north. On ascending these, a delightful
and truly Australian scene was presented to our view, for before us
lay the valley of the Gascoyne River. This valley is three or four
miles wide, and beautifully green. It is bounded on the north,
north-easterly, and north-westerly, by abrupt-faced ranges of hills,
while down through the centre of the grassy plain stretch serpentine
lines of vigorous eucalyptus-trees, pointing out the channels of the
numerous watercourses into which the river splits. The umbrageous and
evergreen foliage of the tops, the upright, creamy white stems of
these elegant gum-trees, contrasted remarkably and agreeably with the
dull and sombre hues of the treeless hills that formed the background,
and the enamelled and emerald earth that formed the groundwork of the
scene. We lost no time in descending from the hills to the beautiful
flat below, and discovered a fine long reach of water in the largest
channel, where there were numbers of wild ducks. The water was
slightly brackish in taste. It appeared to continue for a considerable
distance upon either hand, both east and west. The herbage was
exceedingly fine and green, and it was a most excellent place for an
encampment. The trees formed the greatest charm of the scene; they
were so beautifully white and straight. It could not be said of this
"The gnarled, knotted trunks Eucalyptian,
Seemed carved like weird columns Egyptian;
With curious device, quaint inscription,
And hieroglyph strange."
The high Mount Labouchere bore 8 degrees 20' east of north, the
latitude was 25 degrees 3', longitude 117 degrees 59', and the
variation 4 degrees 28' west. The wind blew fiercely from the east,
and seemed to betoken a change in the weather. From a hill to the
north of us we could see that small watercourses descended from low
hills to the north and joined the river at various points, one of
which, from a north-easterly direction, I shall follow. The country in
that direction seemed very rough and stony. We shot a number of ducks
and pigeons here. No natives came near us, although Saleh picked up a
burning fire-stick close to the camp, dropped by some wandering
savage, who had probably taken a very keen scrutiny and mental
photograph of us all, so as to enable him to give his
fellow-barbarians a full, true, and particular account of the wild and
hideous beings who had invaded their territory. The water-hole was
nearly three miles long; no other water was to be found in any of the
other channels in the neighbourhood. We have seen no other native game
here than ducks and pigeons. We noticed large areas of ground on the
river flats, which had not only been dug, but re-dug, by the natives,
and it seems probable that a great portion of their food consists of
roots and vegetables. I remained here two days, and then struck over
to the creek before mentioned as coming from the north-east. At eight
miles it ran through a rough stony pass between the hills. A few
specimens of the native orange-tree, capparis, were seen. We encamped
in a very rough glen without water. The country is now a mass of
jumbled stones. Still pushing for the peak, we moved slowly over
hills, down valleys, and through many rocky passes; generally
speaking, the caravan could proceed only along the beds of the
trumpery watercourses. By the middle of the 1st of May, the second
anniversary of the day I crawled into Fort McKellar, after the loss of
Gibson, we crawled up to the foot of Mount Labouchere; it seemed very
high, and was evidently very rough and steep. Alec Ross and Saleh
ascended the mount in the afternoon, and all the satisfaction they
got, was their trouble, for it was so much higher than any of its
surroundings that everything beyond it seemed flattened, and nothing
in particular could be seen. It is composed of a pink and
whitish-coloured granite, with quantities of calcareous stone near its
base, and it appears to have been formed by the action of submarine
volcanic force. No particular hills and no watercourses could be seen
in any northerly direction. The Gascoyne River could be traced by its
valley trend for twenty-five or thirty miles eastwards, and it is most
probable that it does not exist at all at fifty miles from where we
crossed it. The elevation of this mountain was found to be 3400 feet
above sea level, and 1800 feet above the surrounding country. The
latitude of this feature is 24 degrees 44', and its longitude 118
degrees 2', it lying nearly north of Mount Churchman, and distant 330
miles from it. There were no signs of water anywhere, nor could any
places to hold it be seen. It was very difficult to get a camel
caravan over such a country. The night we encamped here was the
coolest of the season; the thermometer on the morning of the 2nd
indicated 48 degrees. On the stony hills we occasionally saw stunted
specimens of the scented commercial sandal-wood and native
orange-trees. Leaving the foot of this mountain with pleasure, we went
away as north-easterly as we could, towards a line of hills with a gap
or pass in that direction. We found a small watercourse trending
easterly, and in it I discovered a pool of clear rain-water, all among
stones. We encamped, although it was a terribly rough place. Arriving
at, and departing from, Mount Labouchere has made some of the camels
not only very tender-footed, but in consequence of the stony layers
lying so up-edged, has cut some of them so badly that the caravan
might be tracked by a streak of blood on the stones over which we have
passed. This was not so much from the mere stones, but from the camels
getting their feet wedged into clefts and dragging them forcibly out.
Some were so fortunate as to escape without a scratch. We made very
little distance to-day, as our camp is not more than five miles from
the summit of the mountain, which bore south 61 degrees west from us.
We rested at this little pond for a day, leaving it again upon the
Following the watercourse we were encamped upon, it took us through a
pass, among the rough hills lying north-easterly. So soon as we
cleared the pass, the creek turned northerly, and ran away over a fine
piece of grassy plain, which was a kind of valley, between two lines
of hills running east and west, the valley being of some width. The
timber of the creek fell off here, and the watercourse seemed to
exhaust itself upon the valley in a westerly direction, but split into
two or three channels before ending, if, indeed, it does end here,
which I doubt, as I believe this valley and creek, form the head of
the Lyons River, as no doubt the channel forms again and continues its
course to the west. To-day on our journey I noticed some native
poplar-trees. We left all the water-channels on our left hand, and
proceeded north across the plain, towards a low part or fall, between
two ranges that run along the northern horizon. The valley consists of
grassy flats, though somewhat thickly timbered with mulga. Some
natives' fires were observed in the hills on our line of march. That
night we encamped without water, in a low part of the hills, after
travelling nineteen or twenty miles. The night became very cloudy, and
so was the next morning. We had more rough, stony, and scrubby hills
to traverse. At six miles we got over these and down into another
valley, but even in this, the country was all scrub and stones. We
encamped at a dry gum-creek, where there was good herbage and bushes
for the camels; but the whole region being so rough, it does not
please either us or the camels at all. They can't get soft places to
stand on while they are feeding, nor are their sleeping places like
feather-beds either. At night a very slight sprinkling of rain fell
for a minute or two.
May the 6th was the anniversary of the departure of the caravan from
Beltana in South Australia, whither we were now again endeavouring to
force our way by a new line. More hills, rough and wretched, were
travelled over to-day. In five miles we got to a new watercourse,
amongst the hills, which seemed inclined to go north-easterly, so we
followed it. It meandered about among the hills and through a pass,
but no water was seen, though we were anxiously looking for it at
every turn. Alec shot a wild turkey or bustard to-day. After going
thirteen or fourteen miles, and finding no water, I camped, and as we
had none for ourselves, I sent Alec Ross, Saleh, and Tommy into the
hills with the camels to a place about ten miles back, where I had
seen a small native well. They returned the following day, having
found a good-sized water-hole, and brought a supply to the camp. The
last two nights were cloudy, and I could get no observations for
latitude. While the camels were away I ascended a hill close by the
camp; the scene was indeed most extraordinary, bald and abrupt hills,
mounts, and ranges being thrown up in all directions; they resemble
the billows of a tempestuous ocean suddenly solidified into stone, or
as though a hundred thousand million Pelions had been upon as many
million Ossas hurled, and as though the falling masses, with
superincumbent weight, falling, flattened out the summits of the
mountains low but great.
Our creek, as well as I could determine, seemed to be joined by others
in its course north-easterly. I was surprised to find a creek running
in that direction, expecting rather to find the fall of the whole
region to the opposite point, as we are now in the midst of the
hill-country that forms the watershed, that sends so many rivers into
the sea on the west coast. The hills forming these watersheds are
almost uniformly composed of granite, and generally lie in almost
parallel lines, nearly east and west. They are mostly flat-topped, and
at various points present straight, rounded, precipitous, and
corrugated fronts, to the astonished eyes that first behold them. A
few small water-channels rise among them, and these, joining others of
a similar kind, gather strength and volume sufficient to form the
channels of larger watercourses, which eventually fall into some
other, dignified by the name of a river, and eventually discharge
themselves into the sea. Between the almost parallel lines of hills
are hollows or narrow valleys, which are usually as rough and stony as
the tops of the hills themselves; and being mostly filled with scrubs
and thickets, it is as dreadful a region for the traveller to gaze
upon as can well be imagined; it is impossible to describe it. There
is little or no permanent water in the whole region; a shower
occasionally falls here and there, and makes a small flood in one or
other of the numerous channels; but this seems to be all that the
natives of this part of the country have to depend upon. If there were
any large waters, we must come upon them by signs, or instinct, if not
by chance. The element of chance is not so great here as in hidden and
shrouded scrubs, for here we can ascend the highest ground, and any
leading feature must instantly be discovered. The leading features
here are not the high, but the low grounds, not the hills, but the
valleys, as in the lowest ground the largest watercourses must be
found. Hence we follow our present creek, as it must run into a larger
one. I know the Ashburton is before us, and not far off now; and as it
is the largest river? in Western Australia, it must occupy the largest
and lowest valley. The number of inhabitants of this region seems very
limited; we have met none, an occasional smoke in the distance being
the only indication of their existence. In the hot months of the year
this region must be vile in the extreme, and I consider myself most
fortunate in having the cool season before me to traverse it in. It is
stony, sterile, and hideous, and totally unsuited for the occupation
or habitation of the white man.
CHAPTER 5.3. FROM 7TH MAY TO 10TH JUNE, 1876.
Depart for higher ground.
Camels on the down grade.
Excellent bushes for camels.
A strange spot.
Junction of several creeks.
Grand Junction Depot.
A northerly journey.
Pool of water.
Blind with ophthalmia.
Leading the blind.
Mount Robinson and The Governor.
A glen full of water.
Camels nearly drowned.
Scarcity of living things.
And of water.
Continued plague of flies.
A pretty view.
Nicholls's Fish ponds.
Characteristics of watering places.
Frost, thermometer 28 degrees.
A bluff hill.
Gibson's Desert again.
Remarks upon the Ashburton.
The desert's edge.
Barren and wretched region.
Low ridges and spinifex.
Deep native well.
Thermometer 18 degrees.
Salt bush and Acacia flats.
A rocky cleft.
Sandhills in sight.
Enter the desert.
The solitary caravan.
Severe ridges of sand.
Camels poisoned in the night.
In doubt, and resolved.
Water by digging.
More camels attacked.
A horrible and poisonous region.
A deadly Upas-tree.
Though the camels returned early from where the water was found, some
of them required a rest on the soft ground on the banks of the creek,
and as there were good bushes here also, we remained for the rest of
the day. The night set in very close and oppressive, and a slight rain
fell. On the morning of May the 8th there was some appearance of more
rain, and as we were camped upon ground liable to be flooded, I
decided to be off at once to some higher ground, which we reached in
about two miles down the creek. While we were packing up, and during
the time we were travelling, the rain came down sufficiently heavily
to wet us all thoroughly. We got to the side of a stony hill, put up
our tents and tarpaulins, and then enjoyed the rain exceedingly,
except that our senses of enjoyment were somewhat blunted, for all of
us had been attacked with ophthalmia for several days previously.
Livingstone remarks in one of his works that, in Africa, attacks of
ophthalmia generally precede rain. The rain fell occasionally
throughout the remainder of the day and during the night. "All night
long, in fitful pauses, falling far, but faint and fine." By the next
morning it had flooded the small lateral channels; this, however,
caused a very slight trickling down the channel of the larger creek.
The following day was windy and cloudy, but no more rain fell; about
an inch and a half had fallen altogether. We remained in camp to-day,
and dried all our things. The position of the camp was in latitude 24
degrees 12' 8" and longitude about 118 degrees 20'.
(ILLUSTRATION: GLEN ROSS.)
On the 10th of May we left, still following our creek about
east-north-east. We have had, a line of hills to the north of us for
some distance, but now at five miles this fell off, and some other
hills on the south, running up close to the creek, turned its course
up to the north, and in two or three miles it ran into a most
picturesque and romantic glen, which had now a rushing torrent roaring
through its centre. Here no doubt some permanent water exists, as we
not only saw great quantities of mussel shells at deserted native
camps, but Alec Ross saw a large rocky water reservoir in the glen, in
which were quantities of good-sized fish. The camels could not pass
through this glen, it was too rocky; they therefore had to travel
along the top of a precipice of red and white granite. That overlooked
it on the eastern side. The noise of waters rushing over the rocky
bottom of this stone-bound glen, was music sweet, and sound melodious,
to ears like ours, so unaccustomed to the beautiful cadences of
Nature's pure and soothing voice. The atmosphere was pure and clear,
the breeze fresh, the temperature such as man may enjoy; and this was
one of those few and seldom-met-with, places where the wanderer's eye
may rest for a moment with pleasure as it scans the scene around. The
verdure of the glen, the bright foliage of the trees that lined the
banks of the stream below, the sparkling water as it danced and
glittered in the sunlight, the slow and majestic motion of the passing
caravan, as it wound so snake-like along the top of the precipitous
wall, combined with the red and white colouring of the rifted granite
of which it is composed, formed a picture framed in the retina of his
eye, which is ever pleasing to the traveller to remember, and a
pleasure also to describe. I have named this pretty place Glen Ross,
after my young friend Alec. We got the caravan easily enough up on top
of the wall, the difficulty was to get it down again. A very steep
place had to be negotiated, and we were more than an hour in
descending to ground not a hundred yards below us. Camels are not
designed for going down places of this kind, with loads on; but they
have so many other splendid qualities, that I cannot censure them for
not possessing the faculty of climbing like cats or monkeys.
From a hill near the mouth of this glen it could be seen that this
creek ran into a much larger one, in the course of three or four
miles. There also appeared a kind of valley in which the new creek
lay; it and its valley seemed to run east and west. On arrival at this
new feature the following morning, I found the channel very broad and
sandy-bedded, with fine vigorous eucalyptus timber growing upon either
bank. I was at once certain that this new feature was the upper
portion of the Ashburton River, which enters the sea upon the west
coast. It has always been supposed to be the largest river in Western
Australia. No traveller had ever reached so high a point up it
previously; of course its flow was to the west. Only a small stream of
water was running down its bed, caused no doubt by the late rains. The
valley down which it runs is so confined and stony, that no sufficient
areas of country suitable for occupation can be had on it, in this
neighbourhood. Its course was nearly from the east, and we followed
along its banks. In the immediate neighbourhood there was very fine
grass and herbage. I struck it in latitude 24 degrees 5', and
longitude 118 degrees 30'. A branch creek joins it from the north-east
at nine miles. I encamped upon it for the first time on the 11th of
May. In our progress up this river--I use the term in its Australian
sense, for at this portion the Ashburton might be termed a dry river
only--we found a slight stream of water trickling along its bed. The
banks are low, the bed is broad. We had to travel mainly in the sandy
bed, as this proved the best travelling ground in general, the valley
being both narrow and stony. On the second day it appeared that the
only water that ran down the bed came from another creek, which joined
from the south; above that spot the Ashburton channel was quite dry,
although we occasionally found small ponds of water in the sand here
and there. At night, on the 12th, there was none where we camped; the
river still ran nearly east and west. That hideous and objectionable
vegetation, the Triodia irritans, or spinifex, was prevalent even in
places where the waters sometimes flowed. We have had plenty of this
enemy ever since we left Mount Gould. No natives were seen, or appear
to exist here. A few strips of good country occur occasionally on the
banks of the river, but not in areas of sufficient extent to be of any
use for occupation. Neither man, beast, bird, nor fish was to be seen,
only an odd and apparently starving crow was occasionally heard. As we
travelled farther up the river, there was even less appearance of rain
having fallen; but the grass and herbage is green and fresh, and it
may be it was visited by rains previously. There are excellent acacia
and other leguminous bushes for the camels.
On the 13th of May we came to a very strange spot, where a number of
whitish, flat-topped hills hemmed in the river, and where the
conjunction of three or four other creeks occurred with the Ashburton,
which now appeared to come from the south, its tributaries coming from
the east and north-east. On the most northerly channel, Peter Nicholls
shot a very large snake; it was nearly nine feet long, was a foot
round the girth, and weighed nearly fifty pounds. It was a perfect
monster for Australia. Had we been without food, what a godsend it
would have been to us! It would have made two or three good meals for
the whole party. I called this place the Grand Junction Depot, as the
camp was not moved from there for thirteen days. The position of the
camp at this Grand Junction was in latitude 24 degrees 6' 8", and
longitude 119 degrees. At this time I had a second attack of
ophthalmia; but on the 15th, thinking I was recovering, I went away in
company with Alec Ross to penetrate as far north as the 23rd parallel
of latitude, as I was in hopes of finding some new hills or ranges in
that locality that might extend for a distance eastwards. We took four
camels with us, three being the same animals which Alec and I took
when we found the Boundary Dam.
Leaving the depot, we went up the most easterly of the creeks that
came in at the Grand Junction. In its channel I saw some of the milk
or sow-thistle plant growing--the Sonchus oleraceus. I have met this
plant in only four places during my explorations. The trend of the
creek was nearly from the east-north-east. At six miles the gum-timber
disappeared from the creek, and the channel being confined by hills,
we were in a kind of glen, with plenty of running water to splash
through. A great quantity of tea-tree--Melaleuca--grew in the creek
bed. There we saw another large snake, but not of such dimensions as
Nicholls's victim. At ten miles up from the depot the glen ceased, and
the creek ran through a country more open on the north bank. We camped
at about twenty miles. During the day we saw some native poplars,
quandong, or native peach, capparis, or native orange, and a few
scented sandal-wood-trees; nearly all of these different kinds of
trees were very stunted in their growth. At night my eyes were so much
inflamed and so painful with ophthalmia, that I could scarcely see.
The next day we steered north-north-east, the ground being very stony
and bad for travelling. We passed some low hills at seven or eight
miles, and at twenty-one we encamped in a dry, stony creek channel.
The following day the country was almost identical in its nature, only
that we found a small pool of water at night in a creek, our course
being still the same. My eyes had been so bad all day, I was in agony;
I had no lotion to apply to them. At length I couldn't see at all, and
Alec Ross had to lead the camels, with mine tied behind them. I not
only couldn't see, I couldn't open my eyes, and had no idea where I
was going. That day Alec sighted a range of somewhat high hills to our
left; he next saw another range having rounded, dome-like masses about
it, and this lay across our path. Alec ascended one of the hills, and
informed me that he saw an extensive mass of hills and ranges in every
direction but the east. To the north they extended a great distance,
but they rose into the highest points at two remarkable peaks to the
north-west, and these, although I cannot be certain exactly where they
are situated, I have named respectively Mount Robinson and The
Governor, in the hope that these designations will remain as lasting
memorials of the intelligent and generous interest displayed by
Governor Robinson in the exploration of the province under his sway.
The country to the east is all level; no ranges whatever appear in
that direction. From what Alec saw and described to me, it was evident
that we were upon the edge of the desert, as if the ranges ceased to
the east, it was not likely that any watercourses could exist without
them. No watercourses could be seen in any direction, except that from
which we had come. It was a great disappointment to me to get such
information, as I had hoped to discover some creeks or rivers that
might carry me some distance farther eastward; but now it was evident
they did not exist. I called this range, whose almost western end Alec
ascended, Ophthalmia Range, in consequence of my suffering so much
from that frightful malady. I could not take any observations, and I
cannot be very certain where this range lies. I wanted to reach the
23rd parallel, but as the country looked so gloomy and forbidding
farther north, it was useless plunging for only a few miles more into
such a smashed and broken region. By careful estimate it was quite
fair to assume that we had passed the Tropic of Capricorn by some
miles, as my estimated latitude here was 23 degrees 15', and longitude
about 119 degrees 37'. I was in such pain that I ordered an instant
retreat, my only desire being to get back to the depot and repose in
This was the 18th of May, and though the winter season ought to have
set in, and cool weather should have been experienced, yet we had
nothing of the kind, but still had to swelter under the enervating
rays of the burning sun of this shadeless land; and at night, a
sleeping-place could only be obtained by removing stones, spinifex,
and thorny vegetation from the ground. The latter remark, it may be
understood, does not apply to only this one place or line of travel;
it was always the case. After returning for a few miles on our
outcoming tracks, Alec found a watercourse that ran south-westerly,
and as it must eventually fall into the Ashburton, we followed it. In
travelling down its course on the 22nd the creek became enclosed by
hills on either side, and we found an extraordinary rocky spring. The
channel of the creek dropped suddenly down to a lower level, which,
when in flood, must no doubt form a splendid cascade. Now a person
could stand on a vast boulder of granite and look down at the waters,
as they fell in little sprays from the springs that supplied the spot;
the small streams rushing out from among the fissures of the broken
rocks, and all descending into a fine basin below. To Alec's eyes was
this romantic scene displayed. The rocks above, below, and around,
were fringed and decked with various vegetations; shrubs and small
trees ornamented nearly the whole of the surrounding rocks, amongst
which the native fig-tree, Ficus platypoda, was conspicuous. It must
have been a very pretty place. I could hear the water rushing and
splashing, but could not see anything. It appeared also that the water
ran out of the basin below into the creek channel, which goes on its
course apparently through or into a glen. I describe this peculiar
freak of nature from what Alec told me; I hope my description will not
mislead others. Soon after we found that this was the case, as we now
entered an exceedingly rough and rocky glen full of water--at least so
it appeared to Alec, who could see nothing but water as far down as he
could look. At first the water was between three and four feet deep;
the farther we went the deeper the water became. Could any one have
seen us we must have presented a very novel sight, as the camels got
nearly up to their humps in water, and would occasionally refuse to go
on; they would hang back, break their nose-ropes, and then lie quietly
down until they were nearly drowned. We had to beat and pull them up
the best way we could. It was rather disagreeable for a blind man to
slip off a camel up to his neck in cold water, and, lifting up his
eyelids with both hands, try to see what was going on. Having,
however, gone so far, we thought it best to continue, as we expected
the glen to end at any turn; but the water became so deep that Alec's
riding cow Buzoe, being in water deep enough for her to swim in, if
she could swim, refused to go any farther, and thought she would like
to lie down. This she tried, but the water was too deep for her to
keep her head above it, and after being nearly smothered she got up
"And now to issue from the glen,
No pathway meets the wand'rers' ken,
Unless they climb, with footing nice,
A far-projecting precipice."
It would be out of all propriety to expect a camel to climb a
precipice; fortunately at a few yards further a turn of the glen
showed Alec a place on the southern bank where a lot of rocks had
fallen down. It was with the greatest difficulty we got to it, and
with still greater that at last we reached the top of the cliff, and
said good-bye to this watery glen. Our clothes, saddles, blankets, and
food were soaked to a pulp. We could not reach the depot that night,
but did so early on the following day. I called this singular glen in
which the camels were nearly drowned, Glen Camel.
No natives had visited the camp, nor had any living thing, other than
flies, been seen, while we were away, except a few pigeons. The camp
at this depot was fixed on the soft, sandy bed of the Ashburton, close
to the junction of the east creek, which Alec and I had followed up.
It had been slightly flooded by the late rains, and two open ponds of
clear water remained in the bed of the Ashburton. It seems probable
that water might always be procured here by digging, but it is
certainly not always visible on the surface. Once or twice before
reaching the depot, we saw one or two places with dried-up bulrushes
growing in the bed, and water may have existed there in the sand. In
consequence of my eyes being so bad, we remained here for the next two
days. The heat and the flies were dreadful; and the thermometer
indicated 93 degrees one day and 95 degrees the next, in the shade. It
was impossible to get a moment's peace or rest from the attacks of the
flies; the pests kept eating into our eyes, which were already bad
enough. This seemed to be the only object for which these wretches
were invented and lived, and they also seemed to be quite ready and
willing to die, rather than desist a moment from their occupation.
Everybody had an attack of the blight, as ophthalmia is called in
Australia, which with the flies were enough to set any one deranged.
Every little sore or wound on the hands or face was covered by them in
swarms; they scorned to use their wings, they preferred walking to
flying; one might kill them in millions, yet other, and hungrier
millions would still come on, rejoicing in the death of their
predecessors, as they now had not only men's eyes and wounds to eat,
but could batten upon the bodies of their slaughtered friends also.
Strange to say, we were not troubled here with ants; had we been, we
should only have required a few spears stuck into us to complete our
happiness. A very pretty view was to be obtained from the summit of
any of the flat-topped hills in this neighbourhood, and an area of
nearly 100 square miles of excellent country might be had here.
On Friday, the 26th of May, we left the depot at this Grand Junction.
The river comes to this place from the south for some few miles. In
ten miles we found that it came through a low pass, which hems it in
for some distance. Two or three tributaries joined, and above them its
bed had become considerably smaller than formerly. At about eighteen
miles from the depot we came upon a permanent water, fed by springs,
which fell into a fine rock reservoir, and in this, we saw many fish
disporting themselves in their pure and pellucid pond. Several of the
fishes were over a foot long. The water was ten or more feet deep. A
great quantity of tea-tree, Melaleuca, grew in the river-bed here;
indeed, our progress was completely stopped by it, and we had to cut
down timber for some distance to make a passage for the camels before
we could get past the place, the river being confined in a glen. Peter
Nicholls was the first white man who ever saw this extraordinary
place, and I have called it Nicholls's Fish Ponds after him. It will
be noticed that the characteristics of the only permanent waters in
this region are rocky springs and reservoirs, such as Saleh's Fish
Ponds, Glen Ross, Glen Camel, and Nicholls's Fish Ponds will show.
More junctions occurred in this neighbourhood, and it was quite
evident that the main river could not exist much farther, as
immediately above every tributary its size became manifestly reduced.
On the 27th of May we camped close to a red hill on the south bank of
the river; just below it, was another spring, at which a few reeds and
some bulrushes were growing. The only views from any of the hills near
the river displayed an almost unvarying scene; low hills near the
banks of the river, and some a trifle higher in the background. The
river had always been in a confined valley from the time we first
struck it, and it was now more confined than ever. On the morning of
the 28th of May we had a frost for the first time this year, the
thermometer indicating 28 degrees. To-day we crossed several more
tributaries, mostly from the north side; but towards evening the river
split in two, at least here occurred the junction of two creeks of
almost equal size, and it was difficult to determine which was the
main branch. I did not wish to go any farther south, therefore I took
the more northerly one; its trend, as our course for some days past
had been, was a good deal south of east; indeed, we have travelled
about east-south-east since leaving the depot. In the upper portions
of the river we found more water in the channel than we had done lower
down; perhaps more rain had fallen in these hills.
By the 29th, the river or creek-channel had become a mere thread; the
hills were lowering, and the country in the glen and outside was all
stones and scrub. We camped at a small rain-water hole about a mile
and a half from a bluff hill, from whose top, a few stunted gum-trees
could be seen a little farther up the channel. Having now run the
Ashburton up to its head, I could scarcely expect to find any more
water before entering Gibson's Desert, which I felt sure commences
here. So far as I knew, the next water was in the Rawlinson Range of
my former horse expedition, a distance of over 450 miles. And what the
nature of the country between was, no human being knew, at least no
civilised human being. I was greatly disappointed to find that the
Ashburton River did not exist for a greater distance eastwards than
this, as when I first struck it, it seemed as though it would carry me
to the eastwards for hundreds of miles. I had followed it only eighty
or a trifle more, and now it was a thing of the past. It may be said
to rise from nowhere, being like a vast number of Australian rivers,
merely formed in its lower portions by the number of tributaries that
join it. There are very few pretty or romantic places to be seen near
it. The country and views at the Grand Junction Depot form nearly the
only exceptions met. From that point the river decreased in size with
every branch creek that joined it, and now it had decreased to
nothing. No high ranges form its head. The hills forming its
water-shed become gradually lower as we approach its termination, or
rather beginning, at the desert's edge. The desert's edge is a raised
plateau of over 2000 feet above the sea-level--the boiling point of
water being 208 degrees = 2049 feet--and being about 350 miles in a
straight line from where the Ashburton debouches into the sea. My camp
upon the evening of the 29th of May, a little westward of the
bluff-faced hill before mentioned, was in latitude 24 degrees 25' and
longitude 119 degrees 58'. We remained here during the 30th. The
horizon to the east was formed by a mass of low ranges; from them we
saw that several diminutive watercourses ran into our exhausted
channel. I could not expect that any hills would extend much farther
to the east, or that I should now obtain any water much farther in
that direction. A line of low ridges ran all round the eastern
horizon, and another bluff-faced hill lay at the south-west end of
them. The whole region had a most barren and wretched appearance, and
there was little or no vegetation of any kind that the camels cared to
eat. Feeling certain that I should now almost immediately enter the
desert, as the explorer can scent it from afar, I had all our
water-vessels filled, as fortunately there was sufficient water for
the purpose, so that when we leave this camp we shall not be entirely
The morning of the 31st of May was again cold, the thermometer falling
to 27 degrees, and we had a sharp frost. I was truly delighted to
welcome this long-expected change, and hoped the winter or cool season
had set in at last. This day we travelled east, and went over low,
rough ridges and stony spinifex hills for several miles. At about
eleven miles, finding a dry water-channel, which, however, had some
good camel shrubs upon its banks, we encamped in latitude 24 degrees
28', being still among low ridges, where no definite view could be
obtained. On June the 1st we travelled nearly east-north-east towards
another low ridge. The ground became entirely covered with spinifex,
and I thought we had entered the desert in good earnest; but at about
six miles we came upon a piece of better country with real grass,
being much more agreeable to look at. Going on a short distance we
came upon a dry water-channel, at which we found a deep native well
with bitter water in it. We encamped in latitude 24 degrees 24'. The
night and following morning were exceedingly cold--the thermometer
fell to 18 degrees.
We had not yet reached the low ridge, but arrived at it in two miles
on the morning of the 2nd. From it another low ridge bore 23 degrees
north of east, and I decided to travel thither.
To-day we had a good deal of country covered with ironstone gravel; we
passed a few grassy patches with, here and there, some salt bush and
acacia flats; there were also many desert shrubs and narrow thickets.
The camp was fixed nearly under the brow of the ridge we had steered
for, and it was quite evident, though a few ridges yet appeared for a
short distance farther east, that we had at length reached the
desert's edge and the commencement of the watershed of the western
coast. It will be observed that in my journey through the scrubs to
Perth, I had met with no creeks or water-sheds at all, until after I
reached the first outlying settlement.
The question which now arose was, what kind of country existed between
us and my farthest watered point in 1874 at the Rawlinson Range? In a
perfectly straight line it would be 450 miles. The latitude of this
camp was 24 degrees 16' 6". I called it the Red Ridge camp. Since my
last attack of ophthalmia, I suffer great pain and confusion when
using the sextant. The attack I have mentioned in this journey was by
no means the only one I have had on my numerous journeys; I have
indeed had more or less virulent attacks for the last twenty years,
and I believe the disease is now chronic, though suppressed. From the
Red Ridge camp we went about eight miles east-north-east, and I found
under a mass of low scrubby hills or rises tipped with red sandstone,
a rocky cleft in the ground, round about which were numerous old
native encampments; I could see water under a rock; the cleft was
narrow, and slanted obliquely downwards; it was not wide enough to
admit a bucket. There was amply sufficient water for all my camels,
but it was very tedious work to get enough out with a quart pot; the
rock was sandstone. There was now no doubt in my mind, that all beyond
this point was pure and unrelieved desert, for we were surrounded by
spinifex, and the first waves of the dreaded sandhills were in view.
The country was entirely open, and only a sandy undulation to the
eastward bounded the horizon. The desert had to be crossed, or at
least attempted, even if it had been 1000 miles in extent; I therefore
wasted no time in plunging into it, not delaying to encamp at this
last rocky reservoir. After watering our camels we made our way for
about four miles amongst the sandhills. As we passed by, I noticed a
solitary desert oak-tree, Casuarina decaisneana, and a number of the
Australian grass-trees, Xanthorrhoea. The country was almost destitute
of timber, except that upon the tops of the parallel lines of red
sandhills, which mostly ran in a north-east and south-west direction,
a few stunted specimens of the eucalypt, known as blood-wood or red
gum existed. This tree grows to magnificent proportions in Queensland,
and down the west coast from Fremantle, always in a watered region.
Heaven only knows how it ever got here, or how it could grow on the
tops of red sandhills. Having stopped to water our camels at the rocky
cleft, our first day's march into the desert was only eleven miles.
Our camp at night was in latitude 24 degrees 12' 22".
The next day all signs of rises, ridges, hills, or ranges, had
disappeared behind the sandhills of the western horizon, and the
solitary caravan was now launched into the desert, like a ship upon
the ocean, with nothing but Providence and our latitude to depend
upon, to enable us to reach the other side.
The following morning, Sunday, the 4th June, was remarkably warm, the
thermometer not having descended during the night to less than 60
degrees, though only two mornings ago it was down to 18 degrees. I now
travelled so as gradually to reach the 24th parallel, in hopes some
lines of hills or ranges might be discovered near it. Our course was
east by north. We had many severe ridges of sand to cross, and this
made our rate of travelling very slow. We saw one desert oak-tree and
a few currajong-trees of the order of Sterculias, some grass-trees,
quandong, or native peach, Fusanus, a kind of sandal-wood, and the red
gum or blood-wood-trees; the latter always grows upon ground as high
as it can get, and therefore ornaments the tops of the sandhills,
while all the first-named trees frequent the lower ground between
them. To-day we only made good twenty miles, though we travelled until
dark, hoping to find some food, or proper bushes for the camels; but,
failing in this, had to turn them out at last to find what sustenance
they could for themselves. On the following morning, when they were
brought up to the camp--at least when some of them were--I was
informed that several had got poisoned in the night, and were quite
unable to move, while one or two of them were supposed to be dying.
This, upon the outskirt of the desert, was terrible news to hear, and
the question of what's to be done immediately arose; but it was
answered almost as soon, by the evident fact that nothing could be
done, because half the camels could not move, and it would be worse
than useless to pack up the other half and leave them. So we quietly
remained and tended our sick and dying ones so well, that by night one
of the worst was got on his legs again. We made them sick with hot
water, butter, and mustard, and gave them injections with the clyster
pipe as well; the only substance we could get out of them was the
chewed-up Gyrostemon ramulosus, which, it being nearly dark, we had
not observed when we camped. We drove the mob some distance to another
sandhill, where there was very little of this terrible scourge, and
the next morning I was delighted to find that the worst ones and the
others were evidently better, although they were afflicted with
staggers and tremblings of the hind limbs. I was rather undecided what
to do, whether to push farther at once into the desert or retreat to
the last rocky cleft water, now over five-and-twenty miles behind us.
But, as Othello says, once to be in doubt is once to be resolved, and
I decided that, as long as they could stagger, the camels should
stagger on. In about twelve miles Alec Ross and Tommy found a place
where the natives had formerly obtained water by digging. Here we set
to work and dug a well, but only got it down twelve feet by night, no
water making its appearance. The next morning we were at it again, and
at fifteen feet we saw the fluid we were delving for. The water was
yellowish, but pure, and there was apparently a good supply. We had,
unfortunately, hit on the top of a rock that covered nearly the whole
bottom, and what water we got came in only at one corner. Two other
camels were poisoned in the night, but those that were first attacked
were a trifle better.
On the 8th of June more camels were attacked, and it was impossible to
get out of this horrible and poisonous region. The wretched country
seems smothered with the poisonous plant. I dread the reappearance of
every morning, for fear of fresh and fatal cases. This plant, the
Gyrostemon, does not seem a certain deadly poison, but as I lost one
camel by death from it, at Mr. Palmer's camp, near Geraldton, and so
many are continually becoming prostrated by its virulence, it may be
well understood how we dread the sight of it, for none can tell how
soon or how many of our animals might be killed. As it grows here, all
over the country, the unpoisoned camels persist in eating it; after
they have had a shock, however, they generally leave it entirely
alone; but there is, unfortunately, nothing else for them to eat here.
The weather now is very variable. The thermometer indicated only 18
degrees this morning, and we had thick ice in all the vessels that
contained any water overnight; but in the middle of the day it was
impossible to sit with comfort, except in the shade. The flies still
swarmed in undiminished millions; there are also great numbers of the
small and most annoying sand-flies, which, though almost too minute to
be seen, have a marvellous power of making themselves felt. The well
we put down was sunk in a rather large flat between the sandhills. The
whole country is covered with spinifex in every direction, and this,
together with the poisonous bushes and a few blood-wood-trees, forms
the only vegetation. The pendulous fringe instead of leaves on the
poison bush gives it a strange and weird appearance, and to us it
always presents the hideous, and terrible form of a deadly Upas-tree.
CHAPTER 5.4. FROM 11TH JUNE TO 23RD AUGUST, 1876.
Farther into the desert.
Sandhills crowned with stones.
Natives' smokes and footprints seen.
Ten days' waterless march.
A region of desolation.
Birds round the well.
Natives hovering near.
Their different smokes.
Sad Solitude's triumphant reign.
The Alfred and Marie range once more.
The Rawlinson range and Mount Destruction.
Australia twice traversed.
A last search after Gibson.
Return to Sladen Water.
The Petermann tribes.
Marvellous Mount Olga.
Natives of the Musgrave range.
The missing link.
South for the Everard range.
Show us a watering-place.
Alec and Tommy find water.
Compelled to give up their plunder.
Natives assist at dinner.
A bad camping-place.
Natives accompany us.
Find the native well.
The Everard revisited.
Gruel thick and slab.
Well in the Ferdinand.
Natives numerous and objectionable.
A hunt for spears.
Taking an observation.
A midnight foe.
The next morning.
A new well.
Change of country.
Approaching the telegraph line.
Decrepit native women.
The telegraph line.
Dry state of the country.
Arrival at the Peake.
On the 11th of June I was delighted to be able to be again upon the
move, and leave this detestable poisonous place and our fifteen-foot
shaft behind. Our only regret was that we had been compelled to remain
so long. The camels had nearly all been poisoned, some very much worse
than others; but all looked gaunt and hollow-eyed, and were
exceedingly weak and wretched, one remarkable exception being noticed
in Alec Ross's riding-cow, old Buzoe, who had either not eaten the
poison plant, or had escaped untouched by it. Our course was now east
by north, and as we got farther into the desert, I noticed that
occasionally some of the undulations of sand were crowned with stones,
wherever they came from. Where these stones crop up a growth of
timber, generally mulga, occurs with them. It is sandstone that tips
these rises. Some smokes of native fires were seen from our line of
march, in northerly and southerly directions, and occasionally the
footprints upon the sands, of some wandering child of the desert.
These were the only indications we could discover of the existence of
primordial man upon the scene. We passed a few grass-trees, which are
usually called "black boys" in almost every part of the continent
where they exist, and they seem to range over nearly the whole of
Australia, from Sydney to Perth, south of the Tropic. The camels were
so weak that to-day we could only accomplish about eighteen miles. At
five miles, on the following morning, we passed a hollow with some
mulga acacia in it. Near them Alec and I found a place where the
number of deserted huts, or gunyahs of the natives induced us to look
about for a well or some other kind of watering-place. An old well was
soon found, which was very shallow; the water was slightly brackish
and not more than three feet below the surface. How I wished I had
known of its existence before, it being not twenty-five miles from our
poison camp, and that some good acacia bushes grew here also; as it
was, I made no use of it. The weather being cool, and the camels
having filled themselves with water at the deep well, they would not
drink. That afternoon we got into a hollow where there was a low ridge
of flat-topped cliffs, and a good deal of mulga timber in it. Very
likely in times of rain a flow of water might be found here, if there
ever are times of rain in such a region. We just cleared the valley by
night, having travelled nearly twenty miles. My latitude here was 23
degrees 56' 20" and not desiring to go any farther north, I inclined
my course a little southerly--that is to say, in an east by south
We had left the deep well on the 9th June, and not until ten days of
continuous travelling had been accomplished--it being now the
18th--did we see any more water. That evening we reached a little
trifling water-channel, with a few small scattered white gum-trees,
coming from a low stony mulga-crowned ridge, and by digging in it we
found a slight soakage of water. Here we dug a good-sized tank, which
the water partly filled, and this enabled us to water all the camels.
They had travelled 230 miles from our deep well. For the last two or
three days poor old Buzoe, Alec Ross's riding cow, has been very ill,
and almost unable to travel; she is old and worn out, poor old
creature, having been one of Sir Thomas Elder's original importations
from India. She had always been a quiet, easy-paced old pet, and I was
very much grieved to see her ailing. I did not like to abandon her,
and we had to drag her with a bull camel and beat her along, until she
crossed this instalment of Gibson's Desert: but she never left this
spot, which I have named Buzoe's Grave. I don't think this old cow had
been poisoned--at least she never showed any signs of it; I believe it
was sheer old age and decay that assailed her at last. The position of
this welcome watered spot was in latitude 24 degrees 33', and
longitude 123 degrees 57'. It was by wondrous good fortune that we
came upon it, and it was the merest chance that any water was there.
In another day or two there would have been none; as it was, only a
little rainwater, that had not quite ceased to drain down the
half-stony, half-sandy bed of the little gully, was all we got. The
weather had been very disagreeable for some days past, the thermometer
in the early dawn generally indicating 18 degrees while in the middle
of the day the heat was oppressive.
The flies were still about us, in persecuting myriads. The nature of
the country during this march was similar to that previously
described, being quite open, it rolled along in ceaseless undulations
of sand. The only vegetation besides the ever-abounding spinifex was a
few blood-wood-trees on the tops of some of the red heaps of sand,
with an occasional desert oak, an odd patch or clump of mallee-trees,
standing desolately alone, and perhaps having a stunted specimen or
two of the quandong or native peach-tree, and the dreaded Gyrostemon
growing among them. The region is so desolate that it is horrifying
even to describe. The eye of God looking down on the solitary caravan,
as with its slow, and snake-like motion, it presents the only living
object around, must have contemplated its appearance on such a scene
with pitying admiration, as it forced its way continually on; onwards
without pausing, over this vast sandy region, avoiding death only by
motion and distance, until some oasis can be found. Slow as eternity
it seems to move, but certain we trust as death; and truly the
wanderer in its wilds may snatch a fearful joy at having once beheld
the scenes, that human eyes ought never again to see. On the 15th of
June we found a hollow in which were two or three small salt-lake
beds, but these were perfectly dry; on the 16th also another solitary
one was seen, and here a few low rises lay across a part of the
eastern horizon. On the 17th a little water left in the bottom of a
bucket overnight was frozen into a thick cake in the morning, the
thermometer indicating 18 degrees. The nights I pass in these fearful
regions are more dreadful than the days, for "night is the time for
care, brooding o'er days misspent, when the pale spectre of despair
comes to our lonely tent;" and often when I lay me down I fall into a
dim and death-like trance, wakeful, yet "dreaming dreams no mortals
had ever dared to dream before."
The few native inhabitants of these regions occasionally burn every
portion of their territories, and on a favourably windy day a spinifex
fire might run on for scores of miles. We occasionally cross such
desolated spaces, where every species of vegetation has been by flames
devoured. Devoured they are, but not demolished, as out of the roots
and ashes of their former natures, phoenix-like, they rise again. A
few Australian eagles are occasionally seen far up in the azure sky,
hovering with astonished gaze, over the unwonted forms below; and as
the leading camels of the caravan frighten some wretched little
wallaby from its lair under a spinifex bunch, instantly the eagle
swoops from its height, and before the astonished creature has had
time to find another refuge he is caught in the talons of his foe. We
also are on the watch, and during the momentary struggle, before the
eagle can so quiet his victim as to be able to fly away with it, up
gallops Reechy, Alec and Tommy, and very often we secure the prize.
Round this spot at Buzoe's Grave, just while the water lasts I
suppose, there were crows, small hawks, a few birds like cockatoos,
and many bronze-winged pigeons. Some natives also were hovering near,
attracted probably by the sight of strange smoke. The natives of these
regions signal with different kinds of smoke by burning different
woods or bark, and know a strange smoke in an instant. Some smokes
which they make, go up like a thin white column, others are dark and
tower-like, while others again are broad and scattered. These natives
would not come to visit us. The small marsupial wallaby, which I
mentioned just now, exists throughout the whole of these deserts; they
live entirely without water, as do many small birds we occasionally
see where there is a patch of timber. The wallabies hide during the
day amongst the spinifex bushes, and feed, like other rodents, on
their roots at night. Another way of getting some of these wallabies
was by knocking them over, blackfellow fashion, with a short stick,
when startled from their hiding-places. Tommy used to work very hard
at this game, and we usually got one a day for food for our little
dogs. They are exceedingly good eating, being very like rabbits in
size and taste. We remained at this little oasis, I suppose I may call
it--at least it was so to us, though I should not like to return to it