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Spinifex and Sand by David W Carnegie

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land ahead, hoping to see the white glitter of a salt lake, for we were in
likely country, ironstone blows, quartz, and diorite giving evidence of
its probable auriferous nature; we were therefore anxious to find water to
enable us to test it. On return to camp, after an absence of not more than
half an hour, I was astonished to see it surrounded by the tracks of
numerous "black-fellows." I guessed they had paid us a visit for no good
purpose, and was hardly surprised when I found that they had not only
stolen all our flour, but added insult to injury by scattering it about
the ground. Not daring to leave the camp, lest in my absence they should
return and take all our provisions, I was unable to follow the thieves,
and had to wait in patience the return of the camels.

So far had they wandered in their hobbles, that by the time we were ready
to start the blacks must have gained too great an advantage in distance to
make it worth our while to follow them; nor, since they started off in the
direction from which we had come, was it any use tracking them with the
hope of getting water. So we pushed on eastwards, through open forest of
gums, scrubs, and thickets, broken by occasional small plains of saltbush,
seeing no signs of water or lake, when presently we entered a belt of
sandy desert--rolling sandhills, spinifex-clad, with occasional thickets
of mulga and mallee.

Monotonous work it was, dragging the wretched camels for eight to ten
hours at a stretch, inciting them to fresh exertions by curses and
beatings, kindness and caresses, in turn. In some respects a camel
resembles a bullock; not only does he chew his cud, but he loves to be
sworn at; no self-respecting ox will do an ounce of work until his
driver has flung over him a cloud of the most lurid and hair-raising
language. Now, a camel draws the line at blasphemy, but rejoices in the
ordinary oaths and swear-words of every-day life in much the same way as a
retriever. There is no animal more susceptible to kindness than a camel;
but in a sandy sea of scrub with the blazing sun almost boiling the water,
milk-like from zinc, in the tanks, loads dragged this way and that,
boilers and pipes of condensers rolling, now forward, now back, eventually
to slip clattering down, bearing camel and all to the ground--with these
and other trials kindness was not in us.

Soon after sunset on the 27th, from the branches of a high gum tree we
sighted the Pinnacles almost dead on our course; and late that night we
reached the lake, and found to our joy a condenser already established, by
means of which two men earned a precarious livelihood by selling water to
travellers--for these lakes were on the direct track from Kurnalpi to the
Mount Margaret district. Thus enabled to assuage the seven days' thirst of
the camels forthwith, at the cost of a shilling per gallon, we lost no
time in setting up our own plant, and were fortunate in finding water
and wood easy of access. The next four days were spent in prospecting the
surrounding country, but no gold rewarded our efforts, though numerous
reefs and blows of quartz were to be seen in the hills which the lake
nearly surrounds.

Whilst camped here, I took the opportunity of breaking in Satan as a
riding-camel, and found him at first a most untameable customer, trying
all sorts of dodges to get the better of me. Twisting round his neck he
would grab at my leg; then, rolling, he would unseat and endeavour to roll
on me; finally tiring of these tricks he would gallop off at full speed,
and run my leg against a tree, or do his best to sweep me off by an
overhanging branch, until I felt satisfied that he had been rightly named.
At last he realised that I was master, and after that I hardly remember
one occasion on which he gave any trouble; for the three years that I
afterwards possessed him, we were the best of friends, and he the most
gentle and biddable of beasts. Alas! that I should have had to end his
days with a bullet, and leave his bones to be picked by the dingoes of the
Great Sandy Desert.

Failing to find any gold, and being in need of flour, we made south to
Kurnalpi, through country flat and uninteresting, and arrived at that camp
just in time to secure the last two bags of flour. The town was almost
deserted, and had none of the lively and busy appearance that it presented
when I had last seen it. All who saw us praised our equipment and
forethought in having portable condensers. I am not quite sure that we
agreed with them.

Hearing that some promising country existed near Lake Roe, I decided to
make for that place, and more particularly for a small rock-hole named
Beri, at the west end of the lake. Very rough, stony hills covered with
dense scrub surround Kurnalpi on the south; once across these, flat, open
country of saltbush and samphire, rapidly changing into salt-swamp, made
travelling easy; passing over another low range of diorite, from which we
got an extensive view of Lake Lapage to the west and Lake Roe to the east,
we reached Beri, hitting off the rock with so much accuracy that even
Paddy Egan was surprised into praise of the compass. For some bushmen, be
it known, can neither understand nor appreciate the use of a compass, and,
being quite capable of finding their way back, are content to wander forth
into the bush with no guide but the sun, taking no notes of the country,
no record of their day's march, and making no observations to help either
themselves or anybody else; unable to say where they have been, how they
got there, or how they got home again. Some men have a natural instinct
for direction, and I know some who could start, say from Coolgardie, to
ride seventy miles east and return, then perhaps sixty to the north, and
from that point ride across to their seventy-mile point with great
ease and certainty, having no notion of the distance or point of the

A good many prospectors, depending on their black-boys almost entirely,
wander from one range of hills to another, dodge here and there for water,
keep no count or reckoning, and only return by the help of their guide
when the "tucker-bags" are empty; others make a practice of standing two
sticks in the ground on camping at night, to remind them of the course
they have travelled during the day and must resume in the morning. To such
men as these a map or compass is useless and therefore of no value; and
yet they are often spoken of by the ignorant as "best bushmen in

In my time I have seen and mixed with most prospectors in the West, and as
far as my experience goes the best bushmen not only use the compass, but
keep a reckoning, rough though it may be, of their day's travel. Such a
man is Billy Frost, to quote a well-known name on the goldfields, a man
who has had no chance to learn any of the rudiments of surveying, and who
started life as a boundary rider on a cattle station. He has shown me a
note-book in which he has jotted down directions and distances from water.

In mountainous country where landmarks are numerous the traveller may
manage it; but no man could travel for any length of time without keeping
some sort of reckoning, in a flat country like the interior of Western
Australia, where for days together one sees no hill or rise, without
before long becoming hopelessly lost.

Paddy Egan had been content to travel in this haphazard way, and it was
long before he would acknowledge the benefits of a compass and map. That
he could travel straight there was no gainsaying, for if, as I sometimes
did, I pointed out our line and sent him ahead, he would go as straight as
a die, with now and then a glance at the sun, and a slight alteration in
his course to allow for its altered position, and require but little
correction. Indeed, even when using a compass, one instinctively pays as
much and more attention to the sun or the stars, as the case may be.

The rock-hole at Beri was dry, so we pushed on for Lake Roe, and, though
we worked sinking holes until past midnight, and nearly the whole of the
next day, we were unable to find water. It was only salt water we
expected, but a stiff pipeclay, continuing to a depth too great for our
limited means of sinking, baffled all our efforts. I followed the lake
some six miles to the eastward, carrying a shovel and digging trial holes
at intervals, but this pipeclay foiled me everywhere.

I do not know how far this lake runs east, and fancy its limits have never
been laid down on the map; not that there is anything sufficiently
inviting in its appearance--the usual flat expanse of mud, with banks of
sand fringed with low straggling mallee and spinifex--to warrant further

Lake Roe having failed us, we turned on our tracks for the nearest point
of Lake Lapage, some nine miles distant. Here we were more fortunate, and
obtained a splendid supply of salt water at a depth of only three feet.
Timber was not easily got--that would have been too much joy! It had to
be carried nearly half a mile on our shoulders, for the camels, having
travelled all day, deserved a rest. The condensers worked well, now that
we had had some experience, and produced water at the rate of four gallons
an hour. With our casks replenished and our camels filled, leaving the
condenser standing, we turned south to some hills that were visible; we
intended to be absent for four days, at the end of which the camels would
again require water, as the weather was exceedingly hot.

Nothing of interest was met with until we came upon a huge wall-like reef,
standing some fifteen or twenty feet above the ground, from ten to twenty
feet wide, and running almost due north and south for nearly five miles,
without a break of appreciable extent, as we subsequently found. Breaking
the quartz at intervals, hoping at each blow of the pick to see the
longed-for colours, we followed this curious natural wall, and finally
camped, sheltered by it from the wind. A violent storm of dust, wind,
thunder, and lightning swept over us that night, tearing the "fly" we had
pitched, in the vain expectation of rain, into ribbons.

Leaving the others to continue prospecting, I turned my steps, or rather
those of Satan, whom I was riding, towards Cowarna, a large granite rock,
some fourteen miles distant, and due south from our camp, if I had
reckoned our position on the map correctly. Twelve miles of open forest,
alternating with scrubby thickets, brought me to the edge of a fine little
plain of saltbush and grass, from the centre of which a bare rock of
granite stood out. Arrived at the rock, I hunted long and diligently for
water. Numerous rock-holes were to be seen, but all were dry, and my hopes
of making this our base from which to prospect in various directions were
at first short-lived; but before long I was overjoyed to hear the
twittering of a little flock of Diamond sparrows--a nearly certain sign
that water must be handy; and sure enough I found their supply at the
bottom of a narrow, round hole, down which I could just stretch my arm.



At this point it may not be amiss to give a short description of these
peculiar outcrops of granite, without which the track from York to
Coolgardie could never have been kept open, nor the place discovered, nor
could its early inhabitants have supported life before the condensing
plant came into general use.

The interior of the Colony, between the coast and a point some hundred
miles east of Coolgardie, is traversed by parallel belts of granite,
running in a general direction of north-north-west and south-south-east.
This granite crops out above the surface, at intervals of from ten to
twenty or thirty miles, sometimes in the form of an isolated barren rock,
and sometimes as low ranges and hills several miles in extent. From them
small creeks, and sometimes larger watercourses, run down, to find their
way into the stony and gravelly debris which usually surrounds the rocks.
Much of what little rain does fall is absorbed by the trees and scrub,
and much is taken by the sun's heat, so that a very small proportion can
sink below the surface soil, and only when there is some underground basin
in the rock beneath will water be found by sinking, except immediately
after rain.

Round the granite base a belt of grass of no great extent may be found,
for the most part dry and yellow, but in places green and fresh. It is in
such spots as these that one may hope to tap an underground reservoir in
the rock. To these shallow wells has been given the name of "Soaks."
They seldom exceed fifteen feet in depth, though similar subterranean
basins have been tapped by a well perhaps a hundred feet deep, sunk some
distance from the foot of the outcrop. A good soak will stand a heavy
drain for perhaps months, but not having its origin in a spring the supply
ultimately ceases.

The soil, being alluvial, is in most cases easy to dig, and when the bed
rock is reached it becomes an open question whether to go deeper into the
decomposed rock or to be content with what supply has been struck. Many a
good soak has been ruined by a too ambitious worker, who, after infinite
toil, may see his priceless fluid disappear down some hidden crack
beneath. Native soaks dug out with sticks and wooden "coolimans"--small
troughs used as spades or as a means of carrying seeds, water, or
game--are by no means uncommon, and, when holding water, are easily made
more serviceable by throwing out a few shovelsful of sticks, stones, and
sand, with which they are generally choked. Often the weary traveller has
no such lucky help, and must set to work to dig a soak for himself and his
thirsty beasts--against time, too, in a blazing sun, without the
comforting knowledge that there is any certainty of finding water. I do
not know of any case when a party has actually perished at the mouth of
a waterless soak, but in many instances water has been struck when all
hope had been given up. The skeletons and carcasses of camels and horses
tell a tale of suffering that no man who has travelled can look at
unmoved, and go to show that many a beast of burden has been less
fortunate than his masters.

With what eager anxiety the shovelsful are watched, when the expected
"bottom" is nearly reached, by man and beast alike, who, utterly weary and
absolutely parched, know that they are soon to learn their fate. The
horses snort and plunge in eager and impatient expectation, whilst the
patient camel contents himself with grunts and moans, though, as his knees
are probably strapped beneath him, he cannot protest more forcibly. At
length, perhaps, all are rewarded by the welcome sight of a tiny trickle
in one corner, or perhaps the hole turns out a "duffer," and the weary,
weary work must be commenced again in a fresh spot.

In many cases these granite rocks have been utilised as a catchment area
for tanks, into which the water is led by drains, which encircle the foot
of the outcrop. Before the railway was built, such tanks, sunk by
Government along the Southern Cross-Coolgardie track, enabled teamsters to
bring their horses through with safety, which would otherwise have been
impossible at some seasons of the year.

I append a table showing cost and contents of Government tanks excavated
at the base of granite rocks between Southern Cross and Coolgardie:--

Name of Reservoir. Cost (pounds). Contents in Cost per Million
Gallons. Gallons (pounds).
Reen's Soak 3,246 900,000 3,607
Kararawalgee 2,947 1,250,000 2,858
Boorabbin 3,025 900,000 3,461
Woolgangee 3,825 1,2501000 3,100
Bullabulling 4,118 1,250,000 3,294
Coolgardie (No, 1) 1,167 800,000 1,454
Coolgardie (No. 2) 2,110 1,400,000 1,503
Halgoorlie (half-way) 1,266 500,000 2,532
Kalgoorlie... 1,554 500,000 3,108
Twenty-five Mile Tank 1,881 500,000 3,762
Forty Mile Tank 1,546 500,000 3,092
Colreavy's Tank 2,193 997,000 2,199

The above table will give some idea of the enormous expense entailed by
the opening up of the interior. In addition to these, wells and bores were
put down, many of which failed to strike water.

Ever-thoughtful Nature has provided, on the surface of the "granites,"
small reservoirs which, after rain, may, in some cases, hold many hundred
gallons of water. The Rock--or Namma-holes (I presume "Namma" is a native
name, but of this I am uncertain) are usually more or less conical in
shape, and vary in depth from a few inches to twenty feet, and in diameter
from half a foot to several. Their sides are smooth, and slope down to a
rounded bottom, where stones are often found which would suggest that they
have had something to do with the formation of these peculiar holes.
Beneath a hard surface layer the rock becomes decomposed and comparatively
soft; and doubtless the rain of countless ages collecting round the
stones, once on the surface and now found at the bottom of the holes, has
at length weathered away the rock, and so by slow degrees the stone
has ground out an ever-increasing hollow. I am neither geologist nor
dentist, but I have often likened in my mind the formation of the
Namma-holes to the gradual hollow formed by decay in a tooth. Whatever
their history, their use is unquestionable--not so the flavour of their
contents; for every bird or beast coming to water will leave some traces
behind, and the natives, to prevent evaporation, throw in sticks, stones,
and grass. Such a collection of rubbish and filth might naturally be
supposed to render the water unhealthy, but apparently this is not the
case, for we have often been forced to drink water, which, in
civilisation would be thought only fit to be used as manure for the
garden, without any injury to health or digestion. Patient search over the
whole surface of the rock is the usual method for finding rock-holes,
though sometimes the pads of wallabies, kangaroos, or emus, may serve as a
guide to them, but game is so scarce that a man must usually trust to his
own observation. Sometimes their existence may be detected from a distance
by the patch of rock round the mouth showing white, owing to its being
worn by the feet of birds and animals.

A typical rock was the high, barren "Cowarna," and one that after rain
would store in its depressions a plentiful supply of the life-giving
water. Thankful for small mercies, I made the best of a bad job, and,
having no dish or bucket from which to give Satan a drink, I was obliged
to make him lie down close to the narrow hole, whilst into his willing
throat I poured the water which at arm's length I scooped up with my
quart pot. This tedious process finished, I still had a potful at my
disposal, so, taking a long drink myself, I stripped off my clothes and
indulged in a shower bath, Not a luxurious bathe certainly, and a larger
supply would have been acceptable, but every little helps, and even a few
drops of fresh water have a pleasant effect on one's body made sticky by
the salt of the water from the lakes, and serve to remind the traveller
that he has once been clean.

Leaving the rock at sundown I travelled well into the night, for progress
was slow through the scrub and trees in the darkness, but little relieved
by the light of a waning moon. Feeling sure that I had gone far enough,
I was preparing to rest awhile and find our camp in the morning, when the
welcome glow of a fire shot up through the branches. Jim and Paddy, with
characteristic thought and resource, had climbed to the top of two tall
and dead gum trees and there built fires, fanned by the fierce draught
through the hollow trunks, knowing well at what a short distance a fire on
the ground is visible in this flat country. During my absence they had
found no gold, but, as they liked the look of the country, we decided to
return to our condensers for a fresh supply of water. Having obtained
this, Egan and I revisited our previous prospecting ground, leaving Jim
behind to "cook" water against our return; and a more uninteresting
occupation I cannot well picture. Camped alone on a spit of sand,
surrounded by a flat expanse of mud, broiled by the sun, half blinded by
the glare of the salt, with no shade but a blanket thrown over a rough
screen of branches, and nothing to do but to stoke up the fires, change
the water in the cooling-trough, and blow off the salt from the bottom of
the boilers, he was hardly to be envied. Yet Jim cheerfully undertook the
job and greeted us on our return, after four days, with the smiling remark
that his work had been varied by the necessity of plugging up the bottom
of one of the boilers which had burned through, with a compound (a patent
of his own) formed from strips of his shirt soaked in a stiff paste of
flour. That night we were astonished by the passage of a flight of ducks
over our heads, which Egan saw, and I and Conley heard distinctly.

A detailed account of our wanderings would be as wearying to the reader as
they were to ourselves, a mere monotonous repetition of cooking water and
hunting for "colours" which we never found. Christmas Eve, 1894, saw us in
the vicinity of Mount Monger, where a few men were working on an alluvial
patch and getting a little gold. A lucky storm had filled a deep clay-hole
on the flat running north-west from the hills, and here we were at last
enabled to give the camels a cheap drink; for over six weeks we had not
seen a drop of fresh water beyond what, with infinite labour, we had
condensed, with the one exception of the small rock-hole I found at
Cowarna. My entry in my journal for Christmas Day is short and sweet:
"Xmas Day, 1894. Wash clothes. Write diary. Plot course." We had no
Christmas fare to make our hearts glad and but for the fortunate arrival
of my old friend David Wilson, who gave us a couple of packets of
cornflour, would have had a scanty feast indeed.

Even in the remote little mining camp Santa Claus did not forget us, and
spread his presents, in the form of a deluge of rain, on all alike. What a
pleasant change to get thoroughly wet through! The storm hardly lasted
twenty minutes, but such was its violence that every little creek and
watercourse was soon running, and water for weeks to come was secured and
plentiful in all directions; but so local is a summer storm that five
miles from the camp, no water or signs of rain were to be seen. Our
provisions being finished, nothing remained but to make all speed for
Coolgardie, some fifty miles distant by road. Unencumbered by the
condensers, which were abandoned as useless since the bottom of both
boilers had burned through, we made fair time, reaching a good
camping-ground two miles from the town on the evening of the second day,
the 30th of December.



Four days sufficed to make preparations for another trip, to hear and read
the news, and write letters. My first, of course, was to my Syndicate, to
report our past movements and future plans, and how I intended making
northward, hoping that change of direction would change our luck.

January 4th we set out with the same three camels, and rations for three
months. My plan was first to revisit some known good country to the south
of Hannan's, and, if unsuccessful, to travel from that point in a more or
less north-north-west direction, and so follow, instead of crossing, the
trend of the various formations; for in travelling from east to west, or
VICE VERSA, one crosses a succession of parallel belts, first a
sand-plain, then a ridge of granite, next a timbered flat, then a stretch
of auriferous country, with possibly a belt of flat salt-lake country on
either side. Since these parallel belts run nearly north-north-west, it
seemed to the mind of the untrained geologist that by starting in a known
auriferous zone, and travelling along it in a north-north-west direction,
the chances of being all the time in auriferous country would be
increased, and the plan worth trying.

Passing the homestead of the Hampton Plains Land Company, where I was
given valuable information and a map by the courteous and kind manager,
Mr. Anderson (now alas! dead, a victim to the typhoid scourge), we
continued on the Lake Lefroy road as far as the Fourteen Mile rock-hole.
This contained water, but so foul that the camels would not look at it.
Nor were we more successful in our next water-hole, for it contained a
dead horse. Leading to this Namma-hole, which was prettily situated on a
low rock at the foot of a rough, broken ridge of granite, surrounded by
green and shady kurrajongs, we found a curious little avenue of stones.
These were piled up into heaps laid in two parallel rows, and at intervals
between the heaps would be a large boulder; evidently this was the work of
aboriginals, but what meaning to attach to it we could not think. The
beginning of our journey promised well for water, for we were again
favoured by a local thunderstorm which, in clay-pans and swamps, left a
plentiful supply. Mr. Anderson had told me of some hills in which he had
found gold in small quantities, and sure enough wherever we tried a "dish
of dirt," colours were sure to result. A pleasant camp was this, plenty of
water, numberless quartz reefs, every prospect of finding payable gold,
and feed of the best kind in profusion--a welcome change for our beasts.
They were shedding the last of their winter coats, and, as the weather was
hot, I hastened the transformation by pulling off great flakes of wool
with which Egan stuffed one of the saddles. Poor Misery had an
uncomfortable experience here in consequence of catching the rings of his
hobble-chain in the broken stump of a bush, so that he was held captive
all night.

The advance of civilisation was marked by the appearance of a small herd
of bullocks, evidently stragglers from "Hannan's," and had we been further
from that place I do not doubt that our desire for fresh beef might have
overcome our conscientious scruples. Virtue, however, was rewarded, for on
awakening one morning I saw advancing towards our camp, with slow and
solemn curiosity, two emus, peering now this way, now that, examining our
packs and other gear with interest and delight. Choosing the younger bird,
I took aim with my Winchester, and dropped him; the report of the rifle
startled my companions from their sleep with the thought that we were
perhaps attacked by the blacks, for emus are even less numerous than they.
But their surprise was not greater than that of the surviving bird, as he
gazed spellbound at his dead mate, whom we found most excellent eating.
Great as the temptation was to have a shot at the remaining bird, I
resisted it, as from the one we could get sufficient meat for our
requirements, and it seemed a shame to take the life, for mere pleasure,
of the only wild creature we had seen for many weeks.

Tiring at length of prospecting reefs, blows, and alluvial with no better
result than an occasional pin's-head of gold, we turned our faces to the
north, passing again the herd of cattle wallowing in the swamps and pans
of rain water.

Clay-pans usually occur in the neighbourhood of salt lakes, and are merely
shallow depressions with smooth clay bottoms. Though as a rule not more
than a few inches to a foot in depth, I have seen them in places holding
four to five feet of water. Immediately after rain all clay-pans are
fresh, before long some will turn salt; those containing drinkable water
are often distinguishable by the growth of cane grass which covers the
bed, a coarse, rush-like grass of no value as food for stock. Dry for
three-quarters of the year, these pans, with their impervious bottoms,
hold the rain, when it fills them, for a considerable period.

Salt-water pans are pellucid and clear, as the inexperienced may find at
his cost. One thirsty day, having tramped many miles horse-hunting,
deceived by a crystal-clear sheet of water, I plunged in my head and
hands, and, before I realised my mistake, took a deep draught with most
unpleasant results. I have been more careful since that catastrophe. An
effective method of clearing muddy clay-pan water is by dropping into it a
sort of powdery gypsum, called "Kopi" by the natives, which is usually to
be found round the margin of the salt lakes--a wonderful provision
of Nature, without which the water after a short time would be useless,
becoming as it does red and thick, and of the consistency of strong cocoa.
Amongst the many industries started on the goldfields is the novel
occupation of clearing clay-water for salt. The process was carried out by
means of a series of settling tanks, into which the water was led by
drains, and into the last tank the kopi was thrown; the cleared water was
then bailed into vessels or casks, and carted up to whatever mining camp
was being thus supplied.

Whilst on the subject of industries, I may mention that of obtaining
solder from meat-tins by piling them into large heaps and lighting a fire
over them. The melted lumps of solder thus formed were collected by the
ordinary process of dry-blowing, and sold to tinsmiths and others engaged
in the manufacture of condensers. Certainly the scarcity of water was not
an unmixed curse, for it gave employment to many who would otherwise have
been hard put to it to gain a living. Dam-makers, well-sinkers,
water-carters, tinsmiths, condenser-fitters, wood-cutters, employees on
condensing plants, water-bag makers, caretakers at Government wells, dams,
and soaks, engineers, and many more, all found employment either directly
or indirectly in connection with water supply.

By sinking in the bed of dry clay-pans water can usually be obtained, but
unfortunately it is almost sure to be salt. The difference between
clay-pans before and after rain is most marked. First we have the dry,
hard bed of red clay, blistered and cracked into all manner of patterns by
the sun's heat; around us the stillness of death, nothing astir unless it
be the constant shimmering haze of heat which strikes our faces like the
blast from a furnace. Rain falls, and within a few hours the air will be
filled with the croaking of frogs and the cackling of ducks.* To my mind
it is one of the most incomprehensible things in Nature that wildfowl
(for not only ducks, but sometimes swans and geese are seen) know when and
where rain has fallen.

[* Sir John Forrest, in his exploration of 1874, found ducks, geese, and
swans on Lake Augusta--a salt lake in the arid interior, five hundred
miles from the coast.]

But, stranger still, how do they know it is going to fall? That they would
seem to do so the following will go to show. Whilst we were condensing on
Lake Lapage, one moonlight night we saw a flight of ducks fly over us to
the northward. No surface water then existed anywhere near us. This was on
December 16th. No rain fell in the district until December 25th, but I
ascertained afterwards that rain fell at Lake Carey, one hundred miles
north of Lake Lapage about the same date that we had seen the ducks. The
exact date I am not sure of, but in any case the ducks either foresaw the
rain or knew that rain had fallen at least two hundred miles away; for
they must have come from water (and at that season there was no surface
water within one hundred miles of us) and probably from the coast. In
either case, I think it is an extremely interesting fact, and however they
arrive the ducks are a welcome addition to the prospector's "tucker-bags."



Leaving Hannan's on our left, we continued our northerly course, over flat
country timbered with the usual gum-forest, until we reached the
auriferous country in which our camp had been robbed by the blacks;
nothing of interest occurring until January 17th, when we found ourselves
without water. Knowing that we must soon strike the road from Broad Arrow
to Mount Margaret, this gave us no anxiety, and, beyond the necessity of
travelling without having had a drink for eighteen hours, but little

We struck the road as expected, and, following it some five miles, came to
a small, dry creek running down from a broken range of granite. Sinking in
its bed, we got a plentiful supply. Mosquitoes are very rarely found in
the interior, but on this little creek they swarmed, and could only be
kept away by fires of sticks and grass, in the smoke of which we slept.

From the granite hills a fine view to the eastward was obtained, across a
rich little plain of saltbush and grass, and dotted here and there over it
was a native peach tree, or "quondong," a species of sandalwood. We had
now left the timber behind us, its place being taken by a low, straggling
scrub of acacia, generally known as "Mulga," which continues in almost
unbroken monotony for nearly two hundred miles; the only change in the
landscape is where low cliffs of sandstone and ranges of granite, slate,
or diorite, crop up, from which creeks and watercourses find their way
into salt swamps and lakes; and occasional stretches of plain country.

Through these thickets we held on our course, passing various
watering-places and rocks on the several roads leading to the then popular
field of Mount Margaret.

All such rocks bear names given to them by travellers and diggers, though
one can seldom trace the origin or author of the name, "Black Gin Soak,"
"George Withers' Hole," "The Dead Horse Rocks," and the "Donkey Rocks,"
are fair samples.

It was at the last named that we had a slight entertainment in the shape
of a camel-fight. On arrival we found another camel-man (i.e., a man who
prospects with camels instead of horses, not necessarily a camel-driver)
in whose train was a large white bull. Misery, with his usual precocity,
at once began to show fight. The owner of the white camel, a gentleman
much given to "blowing," warned me that his bull was the "strongest in
the ---- country," and advised me to keep my camels away. Anxious to see
how Misery would shape in a genuine bout, I paid no heed, but took the
precaution to remove his hobbles, thus placing him on equal terms with his
older and stronger adversary.

Before very long they were at it hammer and tongs, roaring and grunting to
the music of the bells on their necks; wrestling and struggling, using
their great long necks as flails, now one down on his knees and almost
turned over, and now the other, taking every opportunity of doing what
damage they could with their powerful jaws, they formed a strange picture.
Misery was nearly exhausted, and the white bull's master in triumph
shouted, "Take 'em off, beat 'em off; your ---- camel'll be chewed up!"
But no! With a last expiring effort, brave little Misery dived his long
neck under the body of his enemy, and grabbed his hind leg by the fetlock,
when a powerful twist turned him over as neatly as could be. It was now
time for us to interfere before the white bull's head was crushed by his
conqueror's knees and breast-bone. With sticks and stones we drove him
off, and the white bull retired abashed--but not more so than his master.

Leaving the rocks in possession of our late adversary we once more plunged
into the scrub, altering our course to the west with the object of
revisiting the country around Mount Ida, where Luck and I had found
colours. Our way lay between salt lakes on our left, and a low terrace or
tableland of what is locally known as "conglomerate" on our right. At the
head of a gully running from this we were fortunate in finding water,
sufficient to fill our casks, and give each camel a drink. This was on the
morning of January 25th, and until the 31st about noon we saw no further
signs of water. Every likely place was dry. Where Luck and I had found
water before, not a drop of moisture could be seen; the holes contained
nothing but the feathers and skeletons of disappointed birds. Unable to
stop at Mount Ida without packing water twenty-five miles, which the
prospects of the country did not warrant, we turned northwards across much
broken granite country, which we vainly searched for Namma-holes or soaks.
Far ahead of us we could see sharp pinnacles, standing up high and
solitary above the scrub. These turned out to be huge blows of white
quartz, and were no doubt connected underground, for we traced them a
distance of nearly thirty miles. Interesting as these were, our thoughts
were turned to water-hunting, for the weather--the season being
midsummer--was scorching; the poor camels, sore-footed from the stony
granite, parched with thirst, and forced to carry their loads, eight to
twelve hours a day, showed signs of distress. Weary and footsore
ourselves, tramping at full speed all day over the burning rocks, one with
the camels, the others on either hand, scouting, our casks all but empty,
our position was not enviable.

The night of the 30th our water was finished. The nearest known to us was
thirty-five miles off, and a a salt lake was between--a sufficient bar to
our hopes in that direction. Matters were by no means desperate, however,
for thirty miles north we were bound to cut the Cue-Mount Margaret road,
and having done so it would be merely a question of time, with a certainty
of arriving at a watering place eventually, if we and our camels could
hold out. A dry stage, however long, with the certainty of relief at the
end of it, gives little cause for anxiety when compared with one on which
neither the position nor even the existence of water can be known.

Next morning we followed up a small creek, and on crossing saw the tracks
of several kangaroos and emus making towards two peaks of quartz. Here was
our chance. It was my place of course to go, but I yielded to the
persuasion of Paddy and Jim, who insisted that I had denied myself water
to eke out our scanty supply (though I doubt if I had done so more than
they), and must rest. So, putting the camels down in the welcome shade of
a kurrajong, I lay down beside them and was presently relieved by the
sound of a revolver-shot, our signal that water was found.

What a beautiful sight it was! Nestling in the hollow between two great
white blows of quartz, this little pool of crystal-clear water, filled
evidently by a little gully falling over a steep ledge of quartz beyond,
presented no doubt a pretty picture after the rains. A soakage it must be,
for no open rock-hole could hold water in such terrible heat; and its
clearness would suggest the possibility of an underlying spring. A popular
drinking-place this, frequented by birds of all kinds, crows, hawks,
pigeons, galahs, wee-jugglers, and the ubiquitous diamond-sparrows. During
the night we could hear wallabies hopping along, but were too worn out to
sit up to shoot them. Though our sufferings had not been great, we had had
a "bit of a doing."

One day's rest, occupied in various mendings of clothes, boots, and
saddles, and we were off again to the north, cutting the track as
expected, and presently found ourselves at the newly established mining
camp of Lawlers, prettily situated on the banks of a gum-creek, with a
copious supply of water in wells sunk in its bed. A great advantage that
the northern fields have over those further south is the occurrence of
numerous creeks, sometimes traceable for over thirty miles, in all of
which an abundance of fresh water can be obtained by sinking at depths
varying from fifteen to fifty feet.

Towards the end of their course the well-defined channels, with banks
sometimes ten feet high, disappear, giving place to a grassy avenue
through the scrub, lightly timbered with cork-bark, and other small trees.
It is on such flats as these that the wells are sunk. All creeks find
their way into the lakes, though seldom by a discernible channel, breaking
and making, as the expression is, until a narrow arm of the lake stretches
to meet them. At the most these creeks run "a banker" three times during
the year, the water flowing for perhaps three days; after which pools of
various sizes remain, to be in their turn dried up by evaporation and
soakage. In the dry weather the creeks afford a weird spectacle. Stately
white gums (the only timber of any size in these districts), with their
silvery bark hanging in dishevelled shreds around the branchless stems,
bend ghost-like over an undulating bed of gravel; gravel made up of
ironstone pebbles, quartz fragments, and other water-worn debris washed
down from the hills at the head of the creeks.

What a marvellous transformation the winter rains cause! It is then that
the expert, or journalist, takes his walks abroad; it is then that we read
such glowing accounts of rich grass lands, watered by countless creeks,
only awaiting the coming of an agriculturist to be turned into smiling
farms and fertile fields.

Numerous parties were camped at Lawlers, with some two hundred horses
turned out in the bush, waiting until rain should fall. Though with no
better feed than grass, dry and withered, the freedom from work had made
them skittish. What a pretty sight it is to see a mob of horses trooping
in for water at night; the young colts kicking up their heels with
delight; the solemn old packhorse looking with scorn on the gambols of his
juvenile brethren, with a shake of his hardy old head, as much as to say,
"Ah! wait till you've done the dry stages that I have; wait till you make
your evening feed off mulga scrub and bark--that'll take the buck out of
you! Why can't you have your drink soberly, instead of dancing about all
over the place?"

Then bringing up the rear, far behind, just emerging from the scrub, are
seen those who, from their wandering habits, must wear the bracelets,
hurrying and shuffling along with a rattle of chains, tripping up in their
eagerness to be even with their mates in the scramble for water: presently
they pause to look about and neigh--a delay resented by those behind by a
friendly bite, answered by a kick; which starts them all off at full
gallop, in the approved rocking-horse style, with a tremendous clatter of
hobbles and bells. Suddenly they halt, snorting, and as suddenly start
aside, wheel round, and dash away, as they catch sight of our long-necked
beasts. They have seen them often enough, and know them well, but they
must keep up an appearance of panic, if only to please their masters, who
never cease to jeer at the ungainly shape of the camel, until they possess
one themselves. These unemotional animals watch the horses' play with lips
turned up in derision, and hardly deign to move their heads from the bush
or branch on which they are feeding. Many of the prospectors, though
openly sneering at the camels as slow and unmanageable beasts, secretly
envied us our ability to travel in hot weather, whilst they had nothing to
do but to kick their heels and be thankful they had feed and water for
their ponies. And they envied us all the more on account of the vague
rumour that rich gold had been found in the neighbourhood of Lake Darlot,
towards which some had pushed out only to be driven back by thirst. Seeing
our evident advantage, should the rumour prove correct, in being able to
get there before the crowd, I decided to steer for the lake, with the hope
of picking up the tracks of the supposed lucky diggers.

A large creek, the Erlistoun, was given on the chart as running into the
lake, and on it was marked by the discoverer Mr. Wells, of the Elder
Exploring Expedition, 1892, a permanent pool. To cut this creek was my
object, and, by following its course, to find the pool, and there make a
base from which to investigate the truth of the rumour.

Leaving Lawlers February 7th we struck an arm of the lake on the 10th
the country traversed being mostly sand plain, timbered with desert-gum.
To reach the creek it was necessary to cross the lake; and what a job we
had, twisting and turning to avoid one arm, only to be checked by another;
carrying packs and saddles across what we supposed to be the main lake,
only to find ourselves on an island. All things have an end, even the
ramifications of a salt lake, and eventually we and our mud-plastered
camels found ourselves on the northern shore; and travelling east,
expected confidently to cut the Erlistoun creek. By its position on the
map we should have already crossed it but to make sure we went on five
miles more, when our passage was barred by another salt lake not marked on
the chart. It was clear that the creek did not reach Lake Darlot. Where
could it be? Was it worth while to look for it further? It was evident how
it came to be so shown on the map. Mr. Wells had cut the creek near its
source and seeing only one lake to the south, naturally supposed that
it was joined by the creek, and so had marked its probable course by a
dotted line. His work, copied on to other maps had been carelessly drawn,
and the creek shown running in a defined channel into Lake Darlot. That
this was the case I found afterwards on studying his original chart.

Now to decide our best course! Again our supply was all but done, but we
knew of no water save Lawlers, sixty miles away, and to attempt to return
to that, recrossing the lake was manifestly absurd. To the south-west we
could see some hills which might or might not be granite. We were inclined
to think that they were, as in the setting sun of a few nights before they
had taken a ruddy glow. These rocks appeared to be our only chance.

It has always seemed to me better in such cases to make people follow
one's own wishes by seeming to consult theirs, rather than by a direct
order. Acting on this plan, though with my own mind made up, I consulted
with my two mates. I felt sure that Jim would agree with me, from a remark
he had made to a mutual friend to the effect that "he would follow me to
h--l." Of paddy I was not so sure; nor was I mistaken. He strongly
advised turning back, but, having agreed to abide by the majority, said no
more, and so to the hills we turned our steps.

Our hopes that the two lakes were separate were soon shattered, for before
us lay a narrow neck connecting the two. There was nothing for it but to
go straight ahead. The lightest-packed camel crossed without mischance,
but not so the other two; down they went, too weak to struggle, and again
the toil of digging them out, and driving and hauling them foot by foot,
had to be gone through. Then the packs had to be carried piece by piece,
for we sank too deep in the sticky mud with a heavy load, and our weary
legs had to be dragged step after step from the bog. Hungry and thirsty,
blistered by the glare of the salt in the pitiless sun, we struggled on,
with a wondering thought of what the end would be.

Think of us, picture us, ye city magnates, toiling and struggling that
your capacious pockets may be filled by the fruits of our labour: think of
us, I say, and remember that our experiences are but as those of many
more, and that hardly a mine, out of which you have made all the profit,
has been found without similar hardships and battles for life! Not a
penny would you have made from the wealth of West Australia but for us
prospectors--and what do we get for our pains? A share in the bare sale of
the mine if lucky; if not, God help us! for nothing but curses and
complaints will be our portion. The natural rejoinder to this is, "Why,
then, do you go?" To which I can only answer that one must make a living
somehow, and that some like to make money hard, and some to make it
easily. Perhaps I belong to the former class.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that in the heat of the summer we
were ploughing our way through salt-bogs, without water or any immediate
prospect of getting any, and realised, not for the first time, that the
prospector's life in West Australia is not "all beer and skittles."

The lake negotiated, we decided to rest under the scanty shade of a mulga
tree, and regaled ourselves on oatmeal washed down with a mouthful of
water, the last, hot from the iron casks. At a time when water is
plentiful it can be carried and kept cool in canvas bags; but it owes
this coolness to evaporation, and consequent waste of water. During the
hot weather, when water is scarce, I never allowed canvas bags to be used,
and so saved water, not only by avoiding evaporation, but from the fact
that water carried in galvanised-iron casks becomes so hot and unpalatable
that one is not tempted to take a big draught, and thus the supply is eked

That night we camped in the thick mulga, and from one of the larger trees
I could see the hills, dead on our course, and not more than two miles
off. But we were too tired to go further that night, and in any case could
have done but little good in the dark. The poor camels were too dry to
eat the mulga we cut for them, too dry even to chew the cud; and lay
silent, tied down beside us--the stillness of the night being unbroken by
the rhythmical "crunch" of their jaws.

Before sunrise we were packed and away, and shortly reached the hills
which we found to be, as we had hoped, bare granite rocks. Leaving the
camels, we spread out, and searched every hole and corner without success.
Every rock-hole was dry. One native soak we found, from which we scraped
about half gallon of water none too clear, and the less tempting from the
close proximity of the dead body of a gin, a young native woman,
fortunately not long dead. The ashes of a native camp but lately deserted,
could be seen close by; no doubt they had moved off as the supply of water
was so nearly done. Whether they had left the body to become a skeleton,
before making a bundle of the bones (a practice common to some Australian
tribes), or whether it is their usual custom to leave the dead where they
die, I do not know. I know, however, that this body was subsequently
moved, not by the blacks, but by those snarling scavengers, the dingoes.

This finding of a corpse at the mouth of the only soak we had seen was
hardly encouraging; but still there was a large extent of rocks that we
had not yet visited. Shortly before sunset, as I stood on the summit of
the highest rock, I was astonished by the sight of some horses grazing in
a little valley beneath. I could hardly believe that I saw aright; it
seemed incredible that horsemen should have reached this drought-begirt
spot. Little time was wasted in idle speculation, and the appearance of
our camels soon proved the horses to be flesh and blood, and not mere
phantoms of the brain, unless indeed phantoms can snort and plunge!

The owner of the horses soon made his appearance, and, with reluctant
resignation, showed us the soak from which his horses were watered. He and
his mates, he said, were sinking for water in a likely spot some half-mile
away; in the meantime they used the soak, though it was evident it would
not last much longer. We must have water for our camels, and must use the
soak, I said, until their thirst was somewhat relieved, then in our turn
we would dig for soaks round the rocks. In the hottest time of the year
our poor patient beasts had been eight days without food, except of the
driest description, and eight days without water, struggling and kicking
in the salt-bogs. It was indeed a delight to quench their thirst at last.
All that night we worked without a minute's rest, digging, scraping, and
bailing, and secured enough to keep the camels going. For the next two
days we were engaged in sinking trial holes for soakages; no water,
however, rewarded our labours until the night of the second day, when we
struck a splendid supply, and for the time being our troubles were over.
Pitching a "fly" to keep off the sun's rays in the daytime, we were
content to do nothing but rest for the whole of the next day. Here again I
was fortunate in shooting an emu, a welcome addition to our provisions.

McIlwraith and his mates (the owners of the horses) had also struck a good
supply. From them we got the news which we already suspected that a new
find of gold had been made not five miles from the rocks. An apparently
rich find too! How strangely things turn out. Our ill-fortune in failing
to find the Erlistoun had forced us into a most unpleasant experience,
and yet that ill-fortune was turning into good. For here we were on the
scene of newly-discovered reefs and nuggets, at the new rush, the
existence of which we had gravely doubted. We were the third party on the
field, and from Messrs. Rogers and friends I heard the history of its



About the month of October, 1894, Rogers and party, with their camels,
were camped at Cutmore's (or Doyle's) Well, and, on studying the map of
the Elder Exploring Expedition, they saw that Mr. Wells had marked the
country north of Lake Darlot as "probably auriferous." This they
determined to visit, and, more fortunate than ourselves, were not caught
in the intricacies of the salt lake.

Returning in disgust, having found no signs of gold, they passed the
granites, where they got water, and camped on a promising piece of
country, where they soon found gold in the the reefs. Here they worked for
some time with but little encouragement, until after Christmas, when
alluvial gold was found on the surface by a member of another party who
came upon the original discoverers in a somewhat startling manner.

Cable, Janet, and Pickering had pushed out also from Cutmore's Well, and
by finding water on a granite between the two, had reached the rocks near
Lake Darlot. Here they found camped a tribe of aboriginals, to whom they
showed kindness--too much kindness it appears, for the treacherous
thieves, having tasted the white man's food, conceived the bold idea of
raiding the camp, killing its occupants, and annexing their provisions.
At midnight the prospectors were attacked, Cable and Janet being speared
as they lay in their blankets, Cable through the stomach and Janet in
the arm, Pickering escaping, for he had laid down his blanket under a
tree, away from the packs, to get shade from the moon. He is, too, a man
of exceptionally small stature, and so eluded the quick sight of the

In spite of the disadvantage under which they were placed by the sudden
attack and wounds, the white men overpowered and dispersed their
treacherous foes. In what a terrible position they were now placed,
fifty-five miles from Cutmore's Well, the nearest certain water, for the
chances that the water found between would be dried up, were great! Only
one man unwounded and one suffering the most awful tortures of pain; and
nobody with the smallest medical skill, within God knows how many miles!
Death seemed certain, but while life remained they were not the men to
give in, and they thought of a plan whereby the life of their mate might
be saved if only their horses held out. They travelled five miles, then
camped, and the available man returned to the rocks to water the horses
at the risk of being again attacked by the niggers. And thus dot and go
one, they hoped to reach Cutmore's.

So much endurance could not remain unrewarded and the two wounded men were
overjoyed by the report of a shot (a dynamite shot as it afterwards
transpired, fired by Rogers, Parks, and Lockhart as they worked on their
reef), and as soon as the horses returned, the little band set forth in
the direction from which the welcome sound had come, and before long saw
the camp of the lucky prospectors.

Fortunately Mr. Parks had some knowledge of surgery, picked up in the
African bush, where he had been a trader, and so could doctor the wounded
men. Here they camped until one morning, Janet, recovered of his hurt,
picked up a nugget of gold, strangely enough, close to the track from
Roger's camp to the reef he was working. This nugget was the first-fruit
of a plentiful harvest, and presently they went down to the coast where
poor Cable could be properly attended to in hospital. Pickering and Janet
returned as soon as possible, but not before some inkling of their find
had leaked out; consequently when they returned, just at the time of our
arrival on the scene, their tracks were followed, and a "rush" set in.

We were not long in making our camp at the new diggings, or in getting to
work to hunt for gold. Being out for a syndicate, who naturally wanted
something big in the way of a reef, we were precluded from the alluring
search for alluvial, "specking," as it is termed.

It seems the simplest thing in the world to find a good mine--that is, as
I said before, after you have found it! On Sunday, February 17th, Paddy
and I took a walk, and stepped right on to an outcrop of quartz showing
beautiful gold. Quite simple! Any fool can prospect; all he wants is a
little luck, and the strange inner urgings that make him examine a certain
quartz reef or blow that others have passed, perhaps dozens of times,
without happening to look in the right place! Roughly marking out an area,
to establish our prior claim to the ground amongst those already on the
field, we returned to camp and gave Jim, who had been packing water from
the granites, the joyful news.

On Monday before daylight we were out, and soon had eighteen acres marked
off by a post at each corner, and our notices posted on a conspicuous
tree, which we had been unable to do the day before, Sunday-pegging being

Fresh parties were now arriving daily, and the consequent demand for water
made it necessary for Jim to camp at the rocks, and bring us a supply
whenever he was able.

This was not accomplished without some trouble, for not only were the
soaks we had dug with so much labour, made use of by the new-comers,
which we did not object to, but our right to the water was often disputed
by some who, with small regard for the truth, said that it was they who
had sunk the wells! Jim, however, was not the man to be bluffed, and, in
spite of lameness from sciatica in the loins and hip, managed to keep us
well supplied. Short-handed already, we were further handicapped by Paddy
smashing his thumb, and thus, for a time, I was the only sound workman of
the party.



By March 4th we were satisfied that the appearance of the mine was good
enough to warrant our applying for a lease of the area already marked out.
So leaving Czar behind, to enable Paddy and Jim to pack water, I, riding
Satan and leading Misery, loaded with specimens from the reef, set forth
for Coolgardie, to apply for the lease, and get a fresh supply of
provisions, of which we were sadly in need. My departure for Coolgardie
was taken advantage of by several who wished to bank their gold, and thus
I became an escort.

Coolgardie lay almost due south, 220 miles on the chart, but nearly 300
miles by the track, which deviated from water to water. Speed being an
object, I decided to strike through the bush to George Withers' hole.
Here, by the way, poor Alec Kellis had just been murdered by the
blacks--not the pleasantest of news to hear, as I started on my solitary
journey. I followed a horse pad for fifty-five miles, mostly through thick
scrub, to Cutmore's Well, where several parties were camped, who eagerly
questioned me as to the richness of the new field.

Leaving Cutmore's, I struck through the bush, and before long the sickness
I had had on me for some time past, developed into a raging fever. Every
bone in my body ached and shot with pain. I could neither ride nor walk
for more than a few minutes at a stretch; I was unable to eat, nor cared
to drink the hot water in my canteen. I struggled on, now riding, now
walking, and now resting under a bush, travelling in this fashion as long
as daylight lasted, from five in the morning until six at night. Afraid to
let the camels go at night lest they should wander too far, or, while I
was following them in the morning, my packs should be raided by the
blacks, I tied them down, one on either side of my blankets; and thus I
had not only a protection against the wind, but the pleasure of their
companionship--no slight blessing in that solitude.

How lonely I felt, in that vast uninhabited bush! Racked by pain, I tossed
from side to side, until sheer weariness kept me still; so still that the
silence of death seemed to have fallen upon us; there was not a sound in
all that sea of scrub, save the occasional sleepy grunt of one of the
camels, until the quiet night re-echoed with the hoarse call of the
"Mopoke," which seemed to be vainly trying to imitate the cheerful notes
of the cuckoo. How could any note be true in such a spot! or how could a
dry-throated bird he anything but hoarse! At last morning came, heralded
by the restless shuffling of the camels, and another day's journey began.

Tying the camels down at nights necessitated the cutting of scrub and
bushes for them to feed upon, and I doubt they got little enough to eat.
Before long I was too weak to lift the saddles off, and could only with
difficulty load and unload the bags of quartz, and, weakened as I was by
illness, my labours were not light. Yet further trouble was in store for
me, for presently a salt lake barred my way. Then I began to understand
the meaning of the word despair. Neither kindness or cruelty would induce
my camels to cross; I was therefore forced to follow the banks of the
lake, hoping to get round it, as I could see what I supposed was its end.
Here I was again baffled by a narrow channel not ten yards wide. It might
as well have been half a mile, for all the chance I had of crossing it.
The trend of the lake was north-west by south-east, and I was now at the
north-west end, but stopped, as I say, by a narrow channel connecting
evidently with another lake further to the north-west.

There was nothing for it but to retrace my steps, and follow along the
margin of the lake to the south-east, and eventually I got round, having
been forced some ten miles out of my course.

I was fortunate in finding water without difficulty, in a small rock-hole
amongst some granite hills in which "Granite Creek" takes its rise.
From these I had still eighty miles to travel before I could reach a
settlement, Coongarrie (the 90 mile) being the nearest point. Could I do
it? I had to succeed or perish miserably, and a man fights hard for his
life. So I struggled on day and night, stopping at frequent intervals from
sheer exhaustion, cursing the pitiless sun, and praying for it to sink
below the horizon. Some twenty miles from Coongarrie I was relieved by
striking a track, which did away with the necessity of thinking where I
was going.

A few miles more, and--joy unspeakable--I found a condenser and a camp.
The hospitable proprietor, whose name I never learned, did all he could to
make me comfortable, and I felt inclined to stay, but despatch was
imperative, for not only must the lease be applied for forthwith, but
Conley and Egan must be provisioned. At Coongarrie I gave a swagman a
lift, and he helped me with the camels and loads, until at last Coolgardie
was reached.

Giving my camels in charge of the first man I could find willing to look
after them, an Afghan, Neel Bas by name, I finished my business at the
Warden's office. Then, yielding to the persuasion of my friends in Asken
and Nicolson's store, I retired to the hospital, for indeed I could fight
against my sickness no longer. Here I remained some three weeks under the
kind care of Miss O'Brien (now Mrs. Castieau) and Miss Millar, the pioneer
nurses on the goldfields. No words can express the admiration I, and all
of us, felt for the pluck and goodness of these two gently nurtured
ladies, who had braved the discomforts and hardships of the road from York
to Coolgardie--discomforts that many of the so-called stronger sex had
found too much for them--to set up their hospital tent, and soothe the
sufferings of poor fever-stricken fellows.

The services of these kind ladies, and of many that subsequently followed
their example, were badly needed, for the typhoid fiend was
rampant--carrying off the young, and apparently strong, men at a rate too
tremendous to be credible. Funerals were too common to call for even
passing notice. "Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung," they went to a nameless

My chief anxiety was for my mates. How could I send them relief,
incapacitated as I was? Fortunately, my friend David Wilson offered to go
for me, in consideration of a certain interest in the mine we had found.
This was a great help, and now I could rest contented; not altogether
though, for Neel Bas had some hesitation in giving up the camels, and had
a violent row with Dave Wilson, all of which he would insist on explaining
to me in broken English, as he sat cross-legs on the floor of my tent. The
doctor happily arrived and kicked him out, and I was left in peace. In
less than three weeks I was able to go by coach to Southern Cross, and
thence by train to Perth, where, under the kind roof of Colonel Fleming,
the Commandant, I soon regained my health.

When I mention that my syndicate never even offered to defray the cost of
my illness, my readers will understand that my statements as to the
ingratitude of those who benefit by the prospectors' toil are not
unfounded. Unfortunately for me, my old mate, Lord Douglas, was absent
in England, and, in consequence, much misunderstanding resulted between
the syndicate and myself.



During my convalescence in Perth, I occupied my time by drawing in the
Government offices, a map, compiled from the various notes and journals I
had kept during the prospecting expeditions in which I had been engaged.
I also took the opportunity of getting some knowledge of astronomical
subjects, likely to be of service in the more extended expedition I had
in my mind. My thanks are due to Mr. Barlee, chief draughtsman, and
Mr. Higgins, of the Mines Department, for the kindness they showed in
helping me in this work.

It was not very long before I felt it was necessary to return to my
duties at Lake Darlot. Timing my arrival in Coolgardie to coincide with
that of Mr. Wilson from the mine, we met; and from him I was pleased to
hear how well the claim was turning out.

Since it was not necessary for both of us to be on the spot, I took one of
the camels, of which we now had five, and made all speed to a reported
"new rush" near Lake Lefroy, that was causing much excitement. Knots of
men could be seen in every corner of the town eagerly discussing the news;
gold, to the tune of 30,000 ounces, was being brought in; was in the town;
was actually in one of the banks! Many had seen it (or said so). Where was
this Eldorado? Every man knew; every man had directions how to get there,
from quite unimpeachable sources. It was actually in the local papers;
indeed, there could be no doubt about it. I knew of course that all this
must be discounted, but the matter was worth looking into, and I was
fortunate to get THE very latest information from one who was an old
mate of the supposed lucky digger. I found my travelling companion had
equally well authenticated information. On comparing notes we soon
discovered that our directions were entirely at variance.

To make a long story short, we at length found that, like hundreds of
others, we had been fooled, and that the whole thing was bogus. The
diggers' indignation was righteously intense, the office of the offending
newspaper was attacked, and much damage narrowly averted. One unfortunate
man, on whom fell the wrath of the crowd, returning from the supposed
rush, lied profusely when "in drink," said that he had found the spot,
that hundreds of men were gleaning rich gold in fabulous quantities, that
the world had never seen so wonderful a find, that gold would soon be as
cheap as lead in the market--in fact told a thousand and one similar fairy
tales, engendered by whisky and excitement. When sober he foolishly stuck
to what he had said; and, in consequence, was sent by the diggers, under
escort, to point out the spot, which of course he could not find. His
reception in Coolgardie may be imagined! Doubtless on the Western
goldfields of America, "lynching" would have been his portion. Even in
order-loving Australia he might have had an unpleasant time, had not
Mr. Finnerty, the popular Warden, quelled the turmoil, and placed the
offender under Police protection. For want of the real article, a
well-attended procession burnt this idiot's effigy, and thus the great
rush ended.

It was supposed by some, if I remember rightly, that the fire which gutted
nearly half the town had its origin in this effigy-burning. What a blaze
that was to be sure! Tents, shanties, houses of hessian, shops of
corrugated iron and wood, offices, hotels, and banks, consumed in one
sheet of flame in a matter of half an hour or so, the blaze accompanied by
explosions of dynamite caps, kerosene, and cartridges. Nothing could be
done to stay its fury. To save the town, houses were demolished, to form
wide gaps across which the flames could not reach. It was the general
impression that corrugated iron was more or less fireproof. However, it
burnt like cardboard. Ruinous to some as the early fires were, they
benefited the general community, as more substantial buildings were
erected, and hessian shanties forbidden.

After a good deal of unpleasant business over the mine at Lake Darlot,
which the syndicate wished to abandon, for reasons best known to
themselves, I was at length on the road for that district, with the
agreeable news that our mine was for sale, and would soon be off our

I had a rather more enjoyable journey than my previous one, for not only
was I free from fever, and the mine in a fair way to being sold, but
winter had changed the face of the bush from dull dead yellow to bright
smiling green, dotted here and there with patches of white and pink
everlastings. One could hardly believe it was the same country. Instead of
the intense heat a bright warm sun dissipated the keen and frosty air of
early morning, while the hoar-frost at night made one glad of a good
possum rug to coil oneself up in. I did not envy the cyclists, for
sometimes, failing to hit off a camp on the road, they had perforce to
make the best of a fire as a substitute for a blanket, and to be content
with a hungry stomach, in place of having a meal.

Before the erection of telegraph wires, which now connect all the more
important mining towns, cyclists made good money by carrying special
messages from Coolgardie to the outlying districts. Except where the sand
was deep they had a good track, well-beaten by the flat pads of camels,
and could do their hundred miles a day at a push. Travelling at express
rate, they were unable to carry blankets or provisions except of the
scantiest description, and took their chance of hitting off the camp of
some wayfarer, who would always be ready to show what hospitality he
could, to messengers of so much importance. To have to part with one of
your blankets on a cold night for the benefit of another traveller, is
one of the severest exercises of self denial.

These little kindly services are always rendered, for a man in the bush
who would not show courtesy and hospitality to a fellow-wayfarer is
rightly considered a cur. No matter what time one strikes a man's camp,
his first thought, whether for stranger or friend, is to put on the
"billy" and make a pot of tea.

Arrived at Lake Darlot, I found work being carried on well and with
energy, as could not fail to be the case where Dave Wilson was concerned.
Poor Jim and Paddy had had hard times, before Wilson arrived, to make the
provisions last out. Nevertheless they had worked away on the reef without
complaint, while others around them were waxing rich on the alluvial.

The population had increased to some two thousand men during my absence:
two thousand men working and living in order and peace, with no police or
officials of any kind within two hundred miles--a state of affairs of
which we may justly be proud.

Evil-doing, however, was not entirely absent, and occasional cases of
robbery of gold, or pilfering of tents occurred; the offenders in such
cases were usually caught and summarily dealt with.

A "roll up" would be called, and those who cared to put themselves
forward, would form judge, jury, police, and all. The general verdict was
notice to quit within so many hours--an order that few would dare to
neglect. A case in which this did happen occurred at Kurnalpi when a man
was caught passing bad notes in the "Sunday School." He refused to budge,
and, seeing that he was a great giant with the reputation of being the
roughest and hardest fighter in the country, the question arose who should
"bell the cat." The man who had been swindled was a stranger, and
unwilling to fight his own battle; who, therefore, would volunteer to get
a sound hammering from one of the toughest blackguards in Australia.

The "roll up" slowly dispersed, every man muttering that it was not his
business, and that, after all, passing a "stiff 'un" on to a new chum was
no great crime as compared to stealing gold or robbing a camp. In this I
think they showed sound judgment. The prize-fighting gent, however, became
too bumptious, and was eventually hustled out of the place.

Our camp at Lake Darlot was rather pleasantly situated on rising ground by
the side of the blow; behind us, sheer cliffs of conglomerate, worn and
weathered into queer little caves, the floors of which were covered inches
deep by the droppings of bats and small wallabies; and, stretching away
to the South, an open plain enclosed in an endless sea of scrub. Every
morning we witnessed the strange phenomenon of a lake appearing in the sky
to the South, miles away, above the scrub, a lake surrounded by steep
white cliffs. This mirage would last perhaps half an hour, and was, I
suppose, a reflection of Lake Darlot, which lay at the back of us, some
five miles distant to the North.

Our camp consisted of the usual tents and bough-shades and for the first,
and probably the only, time in our lives we cooked our pots on a golden
fireplace. To protect the fire from the wind, so that a good pile of ashes
should collect for baking purposes, we had made a semicircular wall of
stones. The nearest available stones, quartz boulders from the blow, were
used, and so it came about that we had a gold-studded fireplace! We used
to have a curious visitor from the caves--a small black cat, which was
tame enough to wander between our legs as we sat round the fire, but too
wary to be caught. I can hardly imagine a prospector carrying a cat as
companion, and yet how else did it get there? Its shyness inclined us to
think it had strayed from civilisation. Jim tried to catch it one evening,
and not only got scratched and bitten for his trouble, but so startled the
beast that it never returned. Our party was now increased to five; for an
extra hand, Alfred Morris, had been engaged. Between us the duties of the
day's work were divided.

Our daily labours included hunting up the camels, lest they strayed or
were stolen, cutting timber for mining or firewood, packing water from the
rocks five miles away, and working on the mine.

I had occasion to make a journey to Lawlers, where a Warden, Mr. Clifton,
had lately been established, and I mention here an illustration of one of
the many intelligent traits in the character of camels.

Not wishing to follow the road in its many turns from water to water, I
cut through the bush for some fifty miles. The first part was over hard,
stony ground, then came sand, then more stones, and then I struck the road
again about two miles from Lawlers. I stayed there two or three days,
intending to return on my tracks. Wishing to test the intelligence of my
camel Satan I allowed him a free rein, either to keep on the track or turn
off for a short cut. As soon as we came to the spot where we had first
struck the road, he turned into the bush without hesitation with his nose
for home. After some eight miles of stones, on which I could distinguish
no trail, we came to the sand, and at once I could see our former tracks
right ahead, which little Satan had followed with the precision of a

In repasssing old camping-places on the road, camels will often stop, and
look surprised if made to go further. They have, too, an excellent idea of
time, and know very well when the day's march should come to an end.
With what sad reproof they look at one with their great, brown eyes, that
say, as plainly as eyes can speak, "What! going on? I am SO tired."
I fancy the reason that camels are so often described as stupid and
vicious, and so forth, is that they are seen, as a rule, in large mobs
under the care of Indian or other black drivers, whose carelessness and
cruelty (so far as my experience goes) are unspeakable. For that reason I
never have had an Afghan driver in my employ, nor can I see any advantage
in employing one, unless it be on the score of cheapness. Camels are
infinitely better managed and treated by white men--of course, I speak
within my own knowledge of Australia--and in consequence their characters
develop, and they are properly appreciated.

In due course the expected inspecting engineer came to see our mine, and,
as he had several reports to make, we had the pleasure of his company at
our camp, and very glad we were to do what we could for such a fine
specimen of an expert and gentleman as Mr. Edward Hooper. He was satisfied
with what he saw--indeed, he could hardly have been otherwise at that
period of the mine's existence; and on our arrival in Cue, wither we had
travelled part of the way together, a bargain was struck, and before many
days Jim and I returned with the glad tidings that the mine was sold, and
would be taken over forthwith.

The road from Cue was as uninteresting as all others on the goldfields--
miles of flat, sandy soil covered with dense scrub, an occasional open
plain of grass and saltbush round the foot of the breakaways, and cliffs
that are pretty frequently met with. Travellers on this road had been kept
lively by a band of marauding black-fellows, most of whom had "done time"
at Rotnest Jail for cattle-spearing, probably, on the coast stations.
Having learnt the value of white-fellows' food, they took to the road, and
were continually bailing up lonely swagmen, who were forced to give up
their provisions or be knocked on the head, since hardly any carried
firearms. The finest prize that they captured was a loaded camel, which in
some extraordinary way had got adrift from the end of a large caravan,
and wandered into the scrub. The Afghans, when they had perceived their
loss, tracked up the camel, only to find it dying in agony, with its knees
chopped nearly two. This was Jacky-Jacky's way of putting the poor beast
down to be unloaded. Happily, after a Warden was appointed at Lawlers, a
trooper was sent out, who broke up the gang and captured most of them, at
the expense of the life of one black tracker.

One of these thieves paid our camp a visit, but the sight of a rifle,
combined with a smart blow on the shins with a stick, quite satisfied him
that he had come to the wrong place.

Returned to Lake Darlot, we impatiently awaited the arrival of those who
were to take over the mine from us. At last they came, and it only
remained to pack up our traps, take the road to Coolgardie, and finish up
all business connected with the syndicate. There we parted, Conley and
Egan leaving with their shares; and with regret on both sides I think,
that our ways no longer lay together: for months of close companionship in
the bush, facing hardships and sometimes mutual dangers, make a close tie
of friendship between men, that is not easily broken.

Wishing to pay a visit to the old country, and yet not caring to part with
the camels which had been my property for some months past, and of which I
was very fond, we formed a syndicate, composed of Dave Wilson, Charles
Stansmore, and Alfred Morris, who found the money, and myself, who found
the camels, the profits of the venture, if any arose, to be divided in a
proportion agreed upon. I could depart, therefore, with the satisfactory
feeling of knowing that my faithful animal-friends would be well cared

Shares were rising, the mine was sold, and the work done, and it was with
a light heart that I booked passage for London in October, 1895.




I would not, even if I had the requisite knowledge, wish to bore the
reader by giving a scientific account of gold-mining, but Western
Australia presents so many appearances differing from those in other
gold-producing countries, and so varied are some of the methods of
obtaining gold, that I hope a short account of the usual ways of winning
the precious metal, purely from a prospector's point of view, will be of

The area over which the goldfields extend, may be described as very gently
undulating country, from which rise, at intervals, low ranges or isolated
hills.* These ranges, in reality seldom over 200 feet above the plain,
have in the distance a far more important appearance. It is a common
experience to steer for a range, sighted from perhaps a distance of
fifteen miles, and find on closer inspection that it is no more than a low
line of rocks. It is equally common for a hill to appear as quite a
respectable mountain when seen from one point, but entirely to disappear
from view when seen from the opposite direction, so gentle is the slope.

[* Mount Burgess, the highest hill around Coolgardie, is about 500 feet
above surrounding country.]

These ranges, such as they are, occur at intervals of a few miles up to
thirty or more, and between them scrub-covered plains, sand-plains, or
flat stretches of open forest are found. In the deeper undulations, long
chains of dry salt-lakes and samphire-flats are met with, occupying a
narrow belt, perhaps one hundred miles in length. Doubtless were the
rainfall greater, these lakes would be connected, and take the place of
rivers, which would eventually find their way into the Australian Bight.
Unfortunately for the comfort of travellers, this is not the case, and
their water supply must depend upon one or other of the various sources
already described.

The first aim of a party of Western Australian prospectors is to find not
gold, but water. Having found this they make camp, and from it start short
excursions in all directions towards any hill that may be in sight.
Arrived at the hills, which, though bare of undergrowth, are usually
covered with low scrub, they can soon determine from the nature the rock
whether further search is likely to have good results. Should they see
hills of ironstone and diorite, or blows and outcrops of quartz, they
will certainly revisit the locality. In what manner, will depend upon the
distance from water. They may be able to form camp in the desired spot,
with water close at hand; or the party may have to divide, some camping in
the likely country, engaged in prospecting solely, while the others "tail"
the horses or camels at the watering-place and pack water to their mates.
In cases where "good gold is getting," water has sometimes been packed
distances of twenty to forty miles; or it may happen that good country
must be passed over, from the want of water within reasonable distance.

From his limited appliances and means, a prospector's object is to find a
vein or reef of gold-bearing ore, not by sinking, but from surface

Veins or reefs may be described as layers, which have been deposited in
fissures and cracks in the rock surrounding them. The enclosing rock is
known as the "country rock." "Lodes" are veins composed of a mixture of
quartz, ironstone, and other material, and usually exceed in width the
"reefs," which sometimes, as at Southern Cross, attain thirty feet, but
are rarely more than one to four feet in thickness. The part of a reef
showing above the surface is the "outcrop," which may appear either as a
mass or "blow" of quartz, sometimes sixty feet in height, or as a solid
wall or dyke which can be followed for perhaps five miles without a break;
the direction in which it runs is known as its "strike."

Reefs may go down vertically, or on a sloping "dip" or "underlay." The
country rock lying immediately above the reef is the "hanging wall," and
that immediately below, the "foot wall."

In prospecting a reef, a miner walks along the strike of the outcrop,
"napping" as he goes, i.e., breaking off with a hammer or pick, pieces of
the quartz or ironstone outcrop. Each fragment is carefully examined for
the presence of gold, which is nearly always found, if on the surface, in
a free state, that is to say, uncombined with any other mineral. If any
gold is present, it may occur in small specks as fine as flour, or in
large solid lumps as big as one's fist, as in Bayley's Reward Claim,
Londonderry, and one or two other mines. In the latter case the rich find
would immediately be pegged out as a claim, or lease, and work commenced,
the coarse gold being won by the simple process of "dollying" the ore;
or pounding it in an iron mortar with an iron pestle, and passing it when
crushed, through a series of sieves in which the gold, too large to fall
through, is held.

To estimate roughly the worth of a reef in which only fine gold is visible
it is necessary to take several samples along the outcrop, "dolly" them,
and wash the powdered quartz by means of two iron dishes, from which the
light material is floated off, leaving the gold behind. From a series of
experiments an idea can be formed as to whether the reef is worth further

It will be found on napping a reef, that the gold occurs at more or less
regular intervals. This deposit of gold in the surface outcrop is the top
of a "shoot" of gold, which may be followed down on the underlay for many
feet. And this peculiarity in the distribution of the metal has been the
cause of much disappointment and misunderstanding.

Having determined that your reef is good enough on the surface, the next
thing to be done is to ascertain, by means of cuts and shafts, its nature
below the surface. This may be done either by an underlay shaft, which
follows the reef down from the surface, or by a vertical shaft, sunk some
distance away from the outcrop, to cut the reef perhaps one hundred feet

By a series of shafts with drives, or galleries, connecting them when they
cut the vein, a more accurate estimate of the value of the reef can be

Now in the case of a reef which has rich shoots a prospector, naturally
anxious to make his "show" as alluring as possible to any possible buyer,
sinks his trial shaft, on the underlay, through the shoots. And so it
might happen, that by carefully selecting the sites of his shafts, he
might have a dazzling show of gold in each one, and merely blank quartz
between them. A mining expert, usually only too ready to give a glowing
report, makes his estimates on the assumption that the quartz intervening
between the shafts is as rich as that visible in them, and the purchase
price increases accordingly.

Not only do shoots occur to puzzle the expert, gladden the heart of the
prospector, and madden the shareholder, but the eccentricity of gold is
further exemplified by the way in which it has been been deposited in

No better example of this could be given than the Londonderry Mine, where
gold to the value of many thousand pounds was won from quite a small hole
in the outcrop. At the bottom of this hole lumps of solid gold could be
seen, and inasmuch as other pockets, equally rich, had been found, it was
assumed by nearly all concerned that the reef was a solid mass of gold,
and the whole community was mad with excitement. However, when the
purchasers started work, it was soon discovered that the golden floor to
the golden hole only continued golden to the depth of three or four
inches, to the despair of the promoters and unlucky shareholders, as well
as of the numberless adjoining leaseholders, through whose property this
rich reef had been traced.

It seems incredible that a vein should run in more than one direction, and
yet it is made to do so, and to go North, East, South, or West, or to any
intermediate point of the compass, at the discretion of those responsible
for the prospectus! An unmistakable surface outcrop is not popular amongst
experts (it leaves no scope for the exercise of an elastic imagination),
whereas they cannot be expected to see under ground, and can then make
their reef run in the most suitable direction.

I do not think the much-abused expert is any more dishonest than other
folk, though he has more temptation. His bread and butter depends on his
fee, his fee depends, not on the accuracy of his report, but on the fact,
whether or no that report suits his employers. If, as often is the case,
he has to report on a "lease" whose only value is derived from its close
proximity to a rich show, and if that rich show only appears above the
surface in an isolated mass, and its direction of strike can only be
guessed at, and, above all, if he knows that his fee or future employment
depends on guessing that direction into the property under report, I think
he has been led into temptations from which most of us are exempt, and
which a good many would find it hard to resist. The term "expert" refers
only to the numerous army of "captains" and "mining experts" of mushroom
growth, for which the soil of the goldfields is so suitable, and is not
applied to the mining engineer of high standing, whose honourable and
straight dealing is unimpeachable.

Having brought the mine to such a state that it is ready to be purchased,
in which unsatisfactory position it sometimes remains for many long
months, I will now leave it, and will not touch upon "mills" and
"batteries," which are the same, or nearly so, in all countries, and are
outside the province of a prospector, who, from his limited capital, is
unable to erect the costly machinery necessary for the extraction of gold
from quartz on a large scale. Therefore the prospector parts with his mine
as soon as he can find a purchaser, usually an agent, who sells at a
profit to some company, which in its turn sells at a greater profit to the
British or Australian public.

The humbler prospector confines his attention to alluvial gold, that is to
say the gold which has been shed from the outcrop of the reef, by
weathering and disintegration. The present small rainfall, and the
evidence from the non-existence of river-beds, that the past rainfall was
no greater, go to show that this weathering is due to the sudden change in
temperature between night and day, the extreme dryness of the atmosphere,
and strong winds. Without any rush of water it is not possible for any
great depth of alluvial soil to have been formed, nor can the gold have
been carried far from the reef, or reefs, in which it has its origin. For
this reason, though exceptionally rich in places, the alluvial diggings
have never been either of great extent, or depth, or of general richness.

In many places the alluvial soil is not more than a few inches in
depth. It is in such places that "specking" may be carried on, which
consists in walking slowly about with eyes to the ground, and picking up
any nuggets that may be seen. Many thousand ounces of gold have been found
in this simple manner. Where, however, the alluvium is deeper, a
considerable amount of labour must be expended before gold can be won. In
countries blessed with abundant rainfall the nuggets can be separated from
the dirt by a comparatively simple arrangement of sluices and cradles. In
the drought-stricken west of Australia other means must be adopted, which
I will endeavour to describe.

Having picked and dug out a certain amount of the alluvial ground which,
it is hoped, contains nuggets of various sizes, the digger then breaks up
any lumps of clay or earth by means of a heavy billet of wood, or like
implement, and this prepared dirt, as it is called, he treats in one of
the following ways:--

1. BY MEANS OF TWO IRON DISHES, in diameter 15 to 18 inches, and in depth
4 to 5 inches.

One dish is placed empty on the ground, the other, filled with the
prepared dirt, is held up at arm's length above the head, with the mouth
of the dish turned to the wind; the earth is then allowed to fall
gradually into the dish beneath, all light particles and dust being blown
away by the wind. Exchange of dishes having been made, the same process is
repeated again and again. When there is only a small amount of dust left,
the full dish is held in both hands, and given a circular movement, which
causes the larger stones or pebbles to come to the surface; these are
cleared away with the left hand, and a sharp look out is kept for nuggets
or quartz specimens. This is repeated until nothing is left in the dish
but a small quantity of dust, ironstone-gravel, and possibly fine gold, or
small nuggets. The dish is then held up at an angle, and shaken from side
to side until a compact little heap remains, to the bottom of which the
gold will have sunk. The next and final operation is to hold the dish up
to the mouth nearly horizontally, and blow the little heap across the
dish. Any fine gold will then be seen lying on the bottom just under the
nose of the operator.

Given a good hot summer's day, flies as numerous as the supply of water is
scanty, clouds of dust, little or no breeze, and the same quantity of
gold, and a few score of men working within an area of nine or ten acres,
one is sometimes tempted to think that gold may be bought too dear. But
the very lowest depths of despair, cannot compare with the heights of
satisfaction, attained after a successful day's "dry-blowing."


A tripod, twelve or fifteen feet high, is set up over a hard and smooth
piece of ground. By a rope and pulley the full dish is hauled up as far as
required; the rope is then made fast and a string, fixed to the edge of
the dish, is pulled, and the dish tipped up allowing the dirt to fall on
to the prepared surface below, where it is swept up and treated as in the
first method described. With a fair breeze this is a very effectual way of
getting rid of the fine dirt.


This method is only suitable when the soil is wet and sticky, or where the
nuggets are fairly large and not too rare.

On the first rush to Kurnalpi, where more alluvial gold was found in a
short time than on any other field, sieves were almost the only implements

A sieve is very useful for prospecting the surface soil, being more
portable and more rapidly worked than the dishes.

A combination of these three methods is found in the DRY BLOWING MACHINE.

It has always been a hotly debated question, whether what is known as the
"Cement" comes under the heading of "reefs" or "alluvial." This cement is
composed of angular quartz-fragments, broken from the reefs or veins,
and fragments of diorite and hornblende schists, cemented together by
lime; it is very hard and solid and, in places, continues to a depth of
over twenty feet. The gold is extracted from these depths by crushing and
dry-blowing. I have mentioned this peculiar composition last, as I am not
at all clear to which class of formation it belongs.

At first this cement, which the shallow alluvial ground overlies, was
supposed to be "bottom," that is to say, that there was considered no
likelihood of gold being found at a greater depth. Later developments,
however, have proved this theory to be wrong, and with regard to this I
cannot do better than quote extracts from a report made by
Mr. E. P. Pittman, Government Geologist of New South Wales, in which
he says:--

"He had considered the question of deep-leads of alluvial, and after
visiting Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, and Kanowna, he thought it probable that
there would shortly be a large output of alluvial gold from this source.
In Coolgardie the dry-blowing had been confined to a very shallow depth,
and yet close to Coolgardie--in Rollo's Bore--there was evidence of the
existence of a very deep valley. He produced a specimen, taken by him
from an alluvial working near the Boulder Mine, showing what the
dry-blowers had all through regarded as the natural floor of the alluvial.
Below this floor they had never penetrated until the enterprising
prospector at Kanowna recently did so, and followed the lead down to
fifty feet.

" . . . He was satisfied that the alluvial went down to a depth at
Kalgoorlie just as it did at Kanowna. All the conditions were favourable
to deep-leads of alluvial.

" . . . Rollo's Bore at Coolgardie had proved the existence of alluvial
gold at great depths.

" . . . So far the alluvial men had been working on a false bottom."

At the time of writing, some two thousand men have found profitable
employment in working this newly discovered deposit; and doubtless
conditions similar to those found at Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, and Kanowna,
will be proved to hold on other alluvial fields, formerly supposed to be
worked out.

How hotly debated this "cement question" has been may be judged from the
fact that, at the time of writing, riots are reported from Kalgoorlie,
during which the Premier was hooted and stoned. This cowardly act could
hardly be the work of genuine diggers, and could doubtless be traced to
the army of blackguards and riffraff who have, of late years, found their
way to the goldfields.

It would be idle to discuss here the questions of "who is right" and
"who is wrong." A great deal can be said on both sides. Let us hope the
controversy will be settled to the satisfaction of both parties; that the
diggers will not be turned off what is justly theirs, to benefit
leaseholding companies, nor leaseholders deprived of their rights.




I had not been enjoying the comforts of civilised life for long before I
had a letter from Dave Wilson telling me how he and our mates had pegged
out, and applied for, a lease which gave every promise of doing well.

In April, 1896, I returned to Australia, and made speed to our new
property, which I found to be in every respect as satisfactory as Wilson
had told me. To be in the possession of a good mine, and to find someone
anxious to change places on terms mutually agreeable, are two very
different things. We were fortunate, however, in finding a purchaser, but
not fortunate enough to bring him up to the scratch with any promptitude.
I had hoped to have had all preparations for the projected expedition
complete by the beginning of May, in order that by the time the hot
weather came on we should be well on our way, if not at the end of our
journey. The Fates ordered things differently, and it was not until the
middle of June that I was free to turn my attention to the thousand and
one details connected with the composition and equipment of my party.

With what keenness I entered into the preparations may be well imagined,
for now at last I was in a position to undertake the expedition I had so
long in my mind. In order to explain what my object was, and what my plan
of procedure was to be, it will be necessary to give a short sketch of the
history of exploration and advance of settlement in Western Australia.
The Colony, occupying one third of the continent, has an extreme length of
1,500 miles and a breadth of one thousand miles. The length of coast-line
exceeds three thousand miles. A most noticeable feature of the coast-line
on the South is the entire absence of rivers--for nearly seven hundred
miles no rivers or even watercourses are met with. Along the Western coast
rivers are fairly frequent, the largest being the Swan, Murchison,
Gascoyne, Ashburton, the Fortescue, and De Grey. The Swan, on which the
capital is situated, is the most important--the rivers North of this are
not always running, the seasons in the country where they rise being very
unreliable. Further North again, where Warburton's Desert abuts on the
sea, we find an inhospitable sandy beach (the Eighty-mile Beach), along
which no river mouths are seen. In the far North, the Kimberley Division,
the coast-line is considerably indented by bays, gulfs, and the mouths of
rivers of fair size, which run for the greater part of the year; of these
the most important are the Fitzroy, Lennard, Prince Regent, and Ord. The
Colony can boast of no great mountain ranges, the highest, the Darling
Range, being something over 2,000 feet. The Leopold range in the north is
of about the same altitude. No mountain chain breaks the monotony of the
central portions of the Colony. In the interior hills are called
mountains, and a line of hills, ranges, for want of a better name.

The first settlement was formed on the Swan River in 1826, and gradually
spread to the South and North, until to-day we find the occupied portion
of the Colony extending along the western seaboard for about 1,200 miles,
with an average breadth of perhaps two hundred miles. In the North the
occupied country is confined to the watersheds of the two main rivers,
the Fitzroy and the Ord.

To the Eastward of Perth the populous mining towns and many scattered
mining camps and settlements extend some five hundred miles towards the
interior. In spite of the discovery of gold and the advance of the Colony
in every way, there still remains more than half the province unoccupied.

How scattered the population of the settled country is may be judged from
the fact that the average population is one individual to every six square
miles. The vast, almost unknown, interior well merits its designation of
"Desert," and I suppose that in few parts of the world have travellers
had greater difficulties to overcome than in the arid, sun-dried
wilderness of interior Australia. The many attempts to penetrate beyond
the head-waters of the coastal rivers date from the earliest days of the
Swan River Settlement. But in every case travellers, bold and enduring,
were forced back by the impassable nature of the sandy deserts--impassable
to all except camels. Roe, Hunt, Austin, and the Gregorys made more than
one effort to solve the mysteries of the interior. Numerous attempts were
made to cross the Colony from West to East or VICE VERSA, with the double
object of ascertaining whether the nature of the country rendered it
suitable for settlement, and of establishing some means of communication
with the sister colonies to the East.

The first who succeeded in travelling overland from South to West
Australia was Eyre, afterwards made governor of Jamaica. He started in
1841, and his route hugged the coast-line along the shores of the Great
Australian Bight, and is now closely followed by the telegraph line. In
spite of almost insurmountable obstacles in the form of waterless regions,
almost bare of vegetation, in spite of mutiny in the camp, and the murder
of his white companion by one of the black-boys, the loss of his horses,
in spite of starvation and thirst, this gallant man battled his way
across, finishing his journey on foot with one companion only, a faithful
black-boy. Lucky it was that this district is blessed with a plentiful dew
in the cool weather, otherwise Eyre's horses could never have lasted as
long as they did. This journey was successfully accomplished again in 1879
by Forrest (now Sir John Forrest, Premier of West Australia) who, keeping
somewhat to the north of Eyre's track, had comparatively little difficulty
in finding water.

Some 150 miles to the northward, the Colony was traversed from East to
West by Giles in 1876, who found it to be a flat, sandy wilderness of
scrub, alternating with open limestone plains, covered with saltbush and

[* These plains, first crossed by Giles, have every appearance of being
splendid pasture-lands. Unfortunately no surface water can be obtained.
The formation is limestone, in which are found "blowholes"--that is to
say, circular holes two to four feet in diameter, which go down vertically
to a depth never yet ascertained. They derive their name from the curious
booming noise which they emit, probably caused by the wind. Judging from
the growth of saltbush and other herbage it would seem likely that the
rainfall on these elevated plains is considerable, and apparently runs to
waste down blow-holes and cracks in the limestone. No doubt when other
parts of the Colony become occupied and civilisation advances, settlers
will turn their attention to this part, and possibly, by means of bores,
find a plentiful supply of water, as on the Nullarbor Plains across the
border. It seems likely that a most undesirable class of colonists will
forestall the "back blockers" from the west, for to the northward of Eucla
rabbits have been seen slowly advancing to the westward. The Government
fortunately realises the importance of checking the incursion. To my mind
the safest plan would be to run a fence, at whatever cost, north from
Eucla, for some 150 miles, until the desert was reached, and so force the
rabbits into a part of the country where, supposing they could live
(which is doubtful), they could do no harm, and might come as a welcome
addition to the diet of the wandering blacks, or might serve to break the
monotony of "tinned dog" for the weary prospector.]

Without camels as transport this expedition could not have been carried
out, which will be readily understood when we find that a waterless stage
of three hundred miles was negotiated. It is of course likely that Giles
passed by waters unknowingly, for owing to the number of camels he had
(twenty-two) and the supply of water he was enabled to carry, he was able
to push on without turning to the right hand or to the left.

In the following year Giles again crossed the Colony from West to East,
some 350 miles North of his first route, and encountered considerably
worse country, spinifex desert covered with light gravel. Between Giles's
two tracks, Forrest, in 1874, made a remarkable journey from West to East,
connecting his traverse with that of Gosse, who from the East had
penetrated some 150 miles into the Western Colony, and finally reached the
Adelaide-Port Darwin telegraph line. This journey was accomplished with
horses, and Forrest, like Stuart in Central Australia, happened to strike
a belt of country intersected by low ranges and hills in which he found
water. On his left hand was the undulating hill-less desert crossed by
Giles, on his right a wilderness of rolling sandhills. Not only was
Forrest a surveyor but a bushman as well, and accompanied by good men and
black-boys, who let not the slightest indications of the existence of
water escape them. One has only to notice the numerous twists and turns in
his route to understand that no pains were spared to find water, and thus
from rock-hole to rock-hole he wound his way across.

It seems certain that Forrest must have had an exceptional season, judging
from the difficulties that have beset subsequent travellers, even though
they had camels, over the same route. Mills, Hubbe, Carr-Boyd, Macpherson,
and Frost have in late years traversed the same country, not following
exactly in Forrest's footsteps, but visiting several waters yielding a
plentiful supply when found by him, but which were dry when seen by them.
Nevertheless if ever an overland route for stock is found from Central
Australia to the Coolgardie fields, I feel confident it will closely
approximate to Forrest's route of 1874 for a considerable distance.
Between Giles's northern track and that of the next explorer, Warburton,
there is a gap of some four hundred miles. Colonel Warburton, with a party
of four white men, two Afghans, and one black-boy, left Central Australia,
in 1873 to cross to the western coast. This he succeeded in doing after
fearful hardships and sufferings, entailing the death of sixteen out of
seventeen camels, the temporary failure of his eyesight, and the permanent
loss of one eye. One of his party lost his reason, which he never properly
recovered, and sufferings untold were experienced by the whole expedition,
the members of which narrowly escaped with their lives. Indeed they would
not have done so but for the faithful courage and endurance of Samuel
Lewis, who alone pushed on to the coastal settlements for aid, and,
returning, was just in time to rescue the other survivors. So bad was the
account given by these travellers of the interior that it was only by the
gradual extension of settlement, rather than by the efforts of any one
individual, that any part of it became better known. But for the finding
of gold it is certain that the interior would have long remained an
unknown region of dangers, so boldly faced by the early explorers.

The existence of gold was known to the Dutch as far back as 1680 or
thereabouts, and what is now known as the Nor'-West (including Pilbarra
and the Ashburton) was called by them "Terra Aurifera." In spite of vague
rumours of the existence of gold, and the report of Austin in 1854, who
passed close to what is now the town of Cue and noticed auriferous
indications, it was not until 1868 that an authenticated find of gold was
made--at Mallina, in the Nor'-West. Since that date the precious metal has
been found now in one place, now in another, until to-day we see on the
map goldfields extending in a comparatively unbroken line from Esperance
Bay on the South, along the Western seaboard to Kimberley in the North.

Whilst prospectors were at work, explorers were not idle, and in 1892 a
large expedition, equipped by that public-spirited colonist, Sir Thomas
Elder--now alas! dead--was fitted out and put under the leadership of
David Lindsay. Sir Thomas was determined to finish what he had so well
begun, viz., the investigation of the interior, for by him not only had
Giles and Warburton been equipped, but several other travellers in South
and Central Australia. This expedition, however, though provided with a
large caravan of fifty-four camels, accomplished less than its
predecessors. Leaving Forrest's route at Mount Squires, Lindsay marched
his caravan across the Queen Victoria Desert to Queen Victoria Spring,
a distance of some 350 miles, without finding water except in small
quantities in rock-holes on the low sandstone cliffs he occasionally met
with. From Queen Victoria Spring, he made down to Esperance Bay, and
thence by the Hampton Plains, through settled country to the Murchison.
Here Lindsay left the expedition and returned to Adelaide; Wells, surveyor
to the party, meanwhile making a flying trip to the eastward as far as the
centre of the Colony and then back again. During this trip he accomplished
much useful work, discovering considerable extents of auriferous country
now dotted with mining camps and towns. On reaching the coast, he found
orders to return to Adelaide, as the expedition had come to an end. Why,
it was never generally known. Thus there still remained a vast unknown
expanse right in the heart of the interior covering 150,000 square miles,
bounded on the North by Warburton's Great Sandy Desert, on the South by
Giles's Desert of Gravel (Gibson's Desert), on the West by the strip
of well-watered country between the coast and the highland in which the
rivers rise, on the East by nothing but the imaginary boundary-line
between West and South Australia, and beyond by the Adelaide to Port
Darwin Telegraph Line.

To penetrate into this great unknown it would be necessary first to pass
over the inhospitable regions described by Wells, Forrest, and Giles, and
the unmapped expanses between their several routes--crossing their tracks
almost at right angles, and deriving no benefit from their experiences
except a comparison in positions on the chart, should the point of
intersection occur at any recognisable feature, such as a noticeable hill
or lake.

Should the unexplored part between Giles's and Warburton's routes be
successfully crossed, there still would remain an unexplored tract 150
miles broad by 450 long before the settlements in Kimberley could be
reached, 1,000 miles in a bee-line from Coolgardie. This was the
expedition I had mapped out for my undertaking, and now after four
years' hard struggle I had at length amassed sufficient means to carry it
through. I do not wish to pose as a hero who risked the perils and dangers
of the desert in the cause of science, any more than I would wish it to be
thought that I had no more noble idea than the finding of gold. Indeed,
one cannot tell one's own motives sometimes; in my case, however, I
believe an insatiable curiosity to "know what was there," joined to a
desire to be doing something useful to my fellow-men, was my chief
incentive. I had an idea that a mountain range similar to, but of course
of less extent, than the McDonnell Ranges in Central Australia might be
found--an idea based on the fact that the vast swamps or salt-lakes, Lake
Amadeus and Lake Macdonald, which apparently have no creeks to feed them
from the East, must necessarily be filled from somewhere. Since it was
not from the East, why not from the West?

Tietkens, Giles's first officer in nearly all his journeys, who led an
expedition from Alice Springs in Central Australia to determine the extent
of Lake Amadeus, cut off a considerable portion of that lake's supposed
area, and to the North-West of it discovered Lake Macdonald, which he
encircled. To the West of this lake he found samphire swamps and
clay-pans, which are so often seen at the end of creeks that seldom join
the lakes in a definite channel. He might, therefore, have crossed the
tail-end of a creek without being aware of it.

Should such a range exist it might be holding undiscovered rich minerals
or pasture-lands in its valleys. Anything seemed possible in 150,000
square miles. Then again it seemed to me possible that between Kimberley
in the North and Coolgardie in the South auriferous connection might
exist. A broken connection with wide intervals perhaps, but possibly belts
of "mixed" country, now desert, now lake, now gold-bearing. Such mixed
country one finds towards the eastern confines of the goldfields. No
better example of what I mean could be given than Lake Darlot, of which
one might make an almost complete circuit and be in a desert country all
the time. Should we find auriferous country in the "far back," it was not
my intention to stop on it (and, indeed, our limited supplies would have
made that difficult), but to push on to Hall's Creek, Kimberley,
investigating the remaining portion of unknown on the way; then to refit
and increase the means of transport, and so return to the auriferous
country in a condition to remain there and properly prospect. These were
the ideas that possessed me before our journey commenced.

I do not wish to institute comparisons, but it is often said that a
prospector, or pioneer, who explores with the hope of gain to himself,
cannot be deserving in an equal degree of the credit due to those who have
risked their lives in the cause of science. I may point out that these
latter have not only been at no expense themselves, but have been paid
salaries for their services, and have, in addition, been rewarded by
grants of money and land--and deservedly so. Yet a man willing to take the
same risks, and venture the fruits of perhaps years of hard work, in
equipping and bearing all the expenses of an expedition, is credited with
no nobler incentive than the "lust of gold"--because he hopes, with a
vague chance of his hope being realised, to be repaid by compelling Nature
to part with some of her hidden treasures.

The prospector in his humble way slowly but surely opens up the country,
making horse or camel-pads, here, there, and everywhere, from water to
water, tracks of the greatest service to the Government road-maker and
surveyor who follow after. He toils and labours, suffers, and does heroic
deeds, all unknown except to the few. He digs soaks and wells many feet in
depth, makes little dams in creeks, protects open water from contamination
by animals, and scores of other services, primarily for his own benefit,
it is true, but also for the use of those who come after. Very few
recognise the immense value of the work carried out by prospectors who are
not actuated only by the greed for gold, as I, who know them, can assert.
Some wish to satisfy a longing to determine the nature of new country,
to penetrate where others have never been; others work for love of
adventure and of the free bush life; while many are anxious to win what
distinction may fall to the lot of successful travellers, though reward
or distinction are seldom accorded to prospectors. But beyond all this,
there is the glorious feeling of independence which attracts a prospector.
Everything he has is his own, and he has everything that IS his own with
him; he is doing the honest work of a man who wins every penny he may
possess by the toil of his body and the sweat of his brow. He calls no man
master, professes no religion, though he believes in God, as he cannot
fail to do, who has taken the chances of death in the uphill battle of
life "outside the tracks," though he would perhaps be annoyed if you told
him so; and it is only by intimate acquaintance with him that you can know
that his God is the same as other men's, though called by another name.
For the rest, he lives an honourable life, does many acts of kindness to
those in need, never leaves his mate in the lurch, and goes "straight" to
the best of his ability. For him, indeed,

"Two things stand like stone:
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in his own."

As to his work, the results remain, even though he keeps no record. Should
he find good country or gold, the land is soon occupied--sooner than if
some officially recognised expedition had reported it. For in the one case
the man is known and trusted by his fellow-prospectors, while in the other
there is not only the bushman's dislike of anything official to be
overcome, but the curious conviction, which most of them possess, that any
one in the position of a geologist, or other scientific calling, must
necessarily be an ass! In the same way, if the country met with is

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