Part 3 out of 6
useless, the fact soon becomes known amongst the prospectors, who avoid it
accordingly--though a few from curiosity may give it a further trial.
Slowly but surely the unaided and individual efforts of the prospector,
bring nearer to civilisation the unknown parts of Australia. Many are the
unrecorded journeys of bushmen, which for pluck and endurance would rank
with any of those of recognised explorers.
The distances accomplished by their journeys are certainly of no great
length, as, indeed, they hardly could be, seeing their scanty means and
inadequate equipment; and yet in the aggregate they do as great an amount
of useful work as a man who by a single journey leaves his name on the map
of Australia. It has always seemed a shame to me, how little prospectors
are encouraged. No inducement is offered them to give information to the
Government; they may do so if they like, but they cannot hope to get
anything for it in return. My old mate, Luck, not only surveyed, roughly
but accurately, a track between Southern Cross and Menzies, a distance of
nearly 150 miles, but actually cut the scrub for a part of the way, to
allow his camels to pass; shortly after a Government road was to be cut
between the two towns, and Luck sent in his map, at the suggestion of the
then head official of the Water Supply, with an application for monetary
reward for his work. His request was refused, his map never returned, and
strangely enough the new road followed his traverse from water to water
with startling exactitude. Who was to blame I cannot say; but someone
must be in fault when a man, both able and willing to do such useful work
is not only neglected, but to all intents and purposes robbed. This is not
the only instance of the apathy of the Government in such matters, but is
a sufficient example of the lack of encouragement with which prospectors
MEMBERS AND EQUIPMENT OF EXPEDITION
The most important question in the organisation of an expedition of long
duration is the choice of one's companions. Many men are excellent fellows
in civilisation and exactly the reverse in the bush, and, similarly, some
of the best men for bush work are quite unfitted for civilised life. I was
therefore grievously disappointed when I heard the decision of my late
partners not to accompany me. Dave Wilson thought it unwise to come
because his health was poor and his blood completely out of order, as
evinced by the painful sores due to what is termed "the Barcoo Rot." This
disease is very common in the bush, where no vegetables or change of food
can be obtained, and must be something akin to scurvy. It is usually
accompanied by retching and vomiting following every attempt to eat. The
sufferer invariably has a voracious appetite, but what he eats is of
little benefit to him. The skin becomes very tender and soft, and the
slightest knock or scratch, even a touch sometimes, causes a wound which
gradually spreads in all directions. The back of the hand is the usual
spot to be first affected, then the arms, and in a bad case the legs also,
which become puffy at the joints, and before long the wretched victim
will be covered with sores and abrasions. No external application of
ointment or anything of that nature seems to do any good, though
the wounds are deep and leave but little scar. After a month or two
in the bush one is pretty sure to develop this complaint, which in
the dusty, hot weather is further aggravated by the swarms of flies,
whose poisonous nature is made evident to any one who has killed them.
In my own case I have found fine white wood-ashes, preferably of the
mulga, to have a healing and drying effect. Ashes are used by the natives
for healing wounds, and I found them very efficacious in cases of sore
backs amongst camels. Nothing but an entire change of diet and way of
living can cure the "Barcoo"; constant washing, an impossibility
"out-back," being essential. Dave, having had his sickness for some long
time, was physically unable to form one of the party, to my sorrow,
for he was a man in whom I had the greatest confidence, and one whose
pluck and endurance were unquestionable.
Alfred Morris joined his brother in a reef the latter had found, and
Charlie Stansmore was not at all well. Thus I was for the time stranded.
There was no difficulty in getting men--of a sort! but just the right kind
of man was not easily found. My old friend Benstead added one more to the
many good turns he has done me by recommending Joe Breaden, who had just
finished a prospecting journey with Mr. Carr-Boyd and was looking out for
a job. Benstead had known him from boyhood, in Central Australia, and
gave him the highest character--not higher than he merited, though,
as I hope these pages will make clear. Most of us have, I think, an
instinct that tells us at once whether to trust another or the reverse.
One can say on sight, "I have perfect confidence in that man." As soon as
I saw Breaden I felt a voice within me saying, "That's just the man you
were looking for." I told him my plans and the salary I could afford to
give him; he, in his silent way, turned me and my project over in his mind
for some few minutes before he said the one word "Right," which to him
was as binding as any agreement.
A fine specimen of Greater Britain was Joe Breaden, weighing fifteen stone
and standing over six feet, strong and hard, about thirty-five years of
age, though, like most back-blockers, prematurely grey, with the keen eye
of the hunter or bushman. His father had been through the Maori War, and
then settled in South Australia; Breaden was born and bred in the bush,
and had lived his life away up in Central Australia hundreds of miles from
a civilised town. And yet a finer gentleman, in the true sense of the
word, I have never met with. Such men as he make the backbone of the
country, and of them Australia may well be proud. Breaden had with him his
black-boy "Warri," an aboriginal from the McDonnell Ranges of Central
Australia, a fine, smart-looking lad of about sixteen years, whom Breaden
had trained, from the age of six, to ride and track and do the usual odd
jobs required of black-boys on cattle stations. I had intended getting a
discharged prisoner from the native jail at Rotnest. These make excellent
boys very often, though prison-life is apt to develop all their native
cunning and treachery. Warri, therefore, was a distinct acquisition.
Having made so successful a start in the choice of mates, I turned my
attention to the purchase of camels. My idea had been to have twelve,
for it seemed to me that a big number of camels was more a handicap than
an advantage in country where the chances of finding a large supply of
water were so small. Another excellent reason for cutting down the caravan
was the question of expense. Eventually I decided on nine as being the
least we could do with. Nine of the very best they must be, so I spared no
pains in the choosing of them. Mr. Stoddart, the manager of a large
Carrying Company, from whom I bought them, said that he had never come
across any one so hard to please! However, I meant to have none but the
best, and I got them--five splendid South Australian bulls, three of
mature years and two youngsters--all a proper match for my old train of
four. The best camels, unfortunately, are not the cheapest! The average
value of our caravan was 72 pounds 10 shillings--a tremendous amount when
compared with their cost in other countries. In Somaliland, for instance,
for the price I paid for my nine, I could get one hundred and sixty-three
camels! But the Somali camel from all accounts is a very poor performer,
compared to his kinsman in the Antipodes, his load being about 200 lbs.
against the Australian's 6 to 9 cwt.
The new camels were christened Kruger, Prepeh, Mahatma Billy (always known
as Billy), Redleap, and Stoddy. These, together with my old friends Czar,
Satan, and Shiddi, I put under Breaden's charge; and he and Warri camped
with them a few miles from the town whilst I completed preparations.
Rain was falling at the time, the wet weather lasting nearly a fortnight;
the whole country around Coolgardie was transformed from a sea of dust
into a "Slough of Despond," and, seeing that five out of the nine camels
were bulling, Breaden had anything but a pleasant time. Amongst camels,
it is the male which comes on season, when, for a period of about six
weeks annually, he is mad and unmanageable, and in some cases dangerous.
Once, however, a camel knows you as his friend, in whatever state of mind
he may be, he will not harm you, though a stranger would run
considerable risk. The duration of this bulling depends entirely on what
work they are doing; camels running in the bush without work will remain
perhaps three months on season, and a horrible nuisance they are too,
for they fight anything they come across, and will soon turn a peaceful
camp of unoffending camels into a pandemonium. When in this state they
will neither eat, drink, nor sleep, and unless tied down or carefully
watched will wander far away, and sometimes start off full gallop, in the
shortest of hobbles, and not stop under five or six miles. The
"scotch hobble" prevents this, for by having a chain from a hobble-strap
on the foreleg to another on the hind, the least attempt at galloping
will bring the beast down on to his knees. I used this arrangement on
Satan, but found that the fixing of the chain on the hind leg was a
matter of some danger, which could only be accomplished at the expense of
being sent flying by a kick in the stomach at least once; for a camel
hates anything touching his hind legs, and any attempt to handle them soon
affords ample evidence that he can let out with great vigour with any leg
in any direction. You have only to watch one flicking flies off his nose
with his toe to be convinced of that little point of natural history.
Before many weeks "on season" a bull becomes so thin and miserable, that
it is hardly credible that he can carry a burden of nearly twice the usual
weight; nevertheless it is a fact. I remember a caravan of "season camels"
arriving at Lake Darlot, carrying an average load of nine hundred pounds,
exclusive of the saddle. The extra load that they carry hardly compensates
for the trouble of looking after them, for when in that state they fight
like tigers, especially if they have not been long together. Once,
however, the bulls become friendly, they only fight in a more or less
half-hearted way amongst themselves; but woe betide any alien who finds
himself near them--they will then band themselves together and fall upon
that stranger until even his master would not recognise him. There is no
fun attached to travelling along a much-frequented track, on which mobs
of twenty to fifty camels may be met with; and there is no sleep to be got
at night, for if, following the practice of most white men, a man ties
down his camels at night, he may be certain that they will be attacked,
and from their defenceless position, perhaps seriously injured or killed
by the loose camels of some Afghan, who has neither the energy nor sense
of fair-play to restrain the bulls under his charge.
In this troublesome state were our camels, and poor Breaden, being a
stranger to them, was treated with neither politeness nor respect;
Kruger, especially, being so exceedingly ill-behaved as not only to knock
Breaden down, but to attempt to kneel on his chest and crush him.
This disaster was narrowly averted by the prompt action of Warri, who
first dragged his master out of danger, and then chastised Kruger with a
heavy stick, across the head and neck. Kruger was equally rough to his
fellows, for as in a pioneering party, so in a mob of bull camels, there
must be only one boss.
This knotty point was fought out with bitter vehemence, Czar, Shiddi,
and Misery being vanquished in turn by the redoubtable Kruger. The others
knew their places without fighting; for old Billy, the only one of them
not too young to compete, was far too good-tempered and easy-going to
dispute anything (except the passage of a salt-lake, as we afterwards
discovered). I was naturally sorry to see Misery deposed; but for his age
he fought a good fight, and it was gratifying to possess the champion who
could beat him. What a magnificent fellow was Kruger--a very tower of
strength, and (excepting of course when in the state above described)
with a nature like that of an old pet sheep.
In the meantime I was under the sheltering roof of my old foster-mother
"Bayley's Reward Claim"--the guest of Tom and Gerald Browne.
Gerald had as his henchman a small boy whom he had taken from a tribe
away out to the eastward of Lake Darlot--a smart little chap, and very
intelligent, kept neat and clean by his master, whose pride in his "boy"
knew no bounds. He was wonderfully quick in picking up English and could
count up to twelve. No doubt by this time he is still more learned. It is
rather strange that so much intelligence and aptitude for learning should
be found in these children of the wilderness, who in their wild and
wandering habits are not far removed from animals--for neither "Wynyeri,"
the boy in question, nor any of his tribe, could by any possibility have
seen a white man before 1892. And yet this little chap in a few months is
as spruce and clever as any white boy of the same size, and, far from
showing any fear or respect, evinces a distinct inclination to boss any
white children with whom he comes in contact. The Australian aboriginal is
indeed a puzzle: he lives like a beast of the field, using neither clothes
nor house, and to the casual observer is a savage of the lowest type,
without brains, or any senses other than those possessed by animals;
yet he has his peculiar laws and customs--laws of which the Mosaic rule of
"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is the foundation.
In some districts, and probably all over the continent, were inquiry made,
marriage laws of the most intricate kind are strictly adhered to; and
though his ceremonies and rites are unique in their barbarity, yet when
properly handled he is capable of becoming a useful and intelligent member
of the community. Great tact is necessary in the education of the
aboriginals. Neglect turns them into lazy, besotted brutes who are of no
use to anybody; too kind treatment makes them insolent and cunning; too
harsh treatment makes them treacherous; and yet without a certain amount
of bullying they lose all respect for their master, and when they deserve
a beating and do not get it, misconstrue tender-heartedness into fear.
The "happy medium" is the great thing; the most useful, contented,
and best-behaved boys that I have seen are those that receive treatment
similar to that a highly valued sporting dog gets from a just master;
"to pet" stands for "to spoil." Like most black races, the native soon
develops a love for liquor; but fortunately there exists a stringent law
which prohibits the giving of drink to a black-fellow, except at the
request of his master.
It is marvellous how soon a tame boy comes to despise his own people, when
he far outstrips any white man in his contemptuous manner of speaking
about a "---- black fella."
One visitor to Bayley's Reward Claim, brought with him from Victoria,
a highly educated aboriginal who had been born in civilisation, and who
afterwards married his master's parlourmaid. Jim was a tremendously smart
boy, could ride, shoot, box, bowl, or keep wicket against most white men,
and any reference to his colour or family was deeply resented. On his
first appearance the cook at Bayley's (the wife of one of the miners)
proceeded to converse with him in the sort of pigeon-English commonly
used, and handed him a plate of scraps for his dinner, calling out,
"Hi, Jacky-Jacky, this one your tucker," to which Jim replied with stern
dignity, "Who the h--- are you calling Jacky-Jacky? Do you think I'm
a ---- black-fellow?" The cook, a quiet and ladylike little woman, who
had been a schoolmistress "at home" was not less astounded by the
excellent English, than by the delicate way in which his disapprobation
was expressed. This story of Jim reminds me of one about his master.
He was a man who liked to have everything about him smart and showy, and
was quite willing that every one should look upon him as a tremendous
swell with the purse of a Croesus. I heard some diggers discussing him:
one said he had come to buy up all the mines in the place and must be a
man of importance. "Oh," said his mate, "any one could see 'e was a
toff--I seed him black 'is boots and brush his teeth." "Yes, and 'e wears
a ---- collar too." Thus was exemplified the old adage "Fine feathers make
Camped near Bayley's was Godfrey Massie, a cousin of Brownes and brother
of the once famous cricketer. He had taken a contract to sink a shaft on
the adjoining lease, but, owing to the death of one of his mates and his
own incapacity to work, due to a "jarred" hand, he was forced to throw up
the job, and quickly agreed to my proposal that he should form one of my
party. People get to a very casual way of doing things on the goldfields.
There was no formality about my arrangements; Godfrey helping me pack at
a store, and during our work I said without preface, "You'd better come
too;" "Right," said he, and the matter was settled. Godfrey, a son of one
of the leading Sydney families, had started life in an insurance office,
but soon finding that he was not cut out for city life, went on to a
Queensland cattle-station, where he gained as varied a knowledge of bush
life as any could wish for; tiring of breeding and fattening cattle for
somebody else's benefit, he joined the rush to the Tasmanian silver-fields
and there he had the usual ups and downs--now a man of wealth, and now
carrying his load of bacon and oatmeal through the jungle on the steep
Tasmanian mountains. While a field continues to boom, the up-and-down
business does not so much signify, but when the "slump" comes it is
distinctly awkward to be in a state of "down." It is then that the average
speculator bemoans his hard fate, can't think how he is to live; and yet
manages to do so by borrowing from any more fortunate fellow, and almost
invariably omitting to pay him back. A most lively and entertaining class
of men when shares are up, but a miserable, chicken-hearted lot when the
Some, however, of these wandering speculators, who follow from "boom" to
"boom," are of very different mettle and face their luck like men. Such a
one was Godfrey, who, when he found himself "broke" in Tasmania, set to
work and burned charcoal until he had saved enough money to pay his
passage to Perth; and from there he "humped his bluey" to Coolgardie,
and took a job as a miner on his uncle's mine until brighter times should
come. The Australian can set us a good example in some matters, and I must
confess with sorrow that nine out of every ten young Englishmen on the
goldfields, of the same class, would not only be too haughty to work, but
would more readily take to billiards, cards, and borrowing when they
found themselves in low water--and no man sinks lower than an English
"gentlemen" who has gone to the bad, and no one despises him more than an
Australian miner, or is more ready to help him when he shows signs of
trying to help himself by honest work. I had known Godfrey long enough to
be sure that, in the bush, he was as good a man as I could get, hard as
nails, and willing to work for other people, as energetically as he would
for himself, so long as they treated him fairly.
My party was now complete, and included a little fox terrier, "Val" by
name, whose parents belong to Tom and Gerald Browne, and come of the best
stock in Australia. I had intended to take another man, but, since I could
not get one of the right sort, I had no idea of handicapping the party
with one of the wrong. At the last minute, however, Charlie Stansmore
changed his mind, greatly to my delight, for I knew him to be as sterling
a fellow as one could hope to find. Charlie, too, had knocked about from
Queensland to West Australia, now on a station, now a miner, and now
engine-driver. His people were amongst the earliest settlers on the Swan
River, and could well remember the great massacre of whites by the blacks;
subsequently they moved to Victoria, where they have farming land at the
present time. A very quiet, reserved man was Charlie, who took a great
interest in mechanical work and astronomy, a strong man physically and
mentally. Thus at last we were ready to tackle whatever the "great
unknown" had in store for us.
With hearty wishes for success from the few friends who knew where we were
bound for, we shook the mud of Coolgardie from our feet and took the
northern road to Menzies on July 9, 1896. Breaden, Stansmore, Massie,
Warri, nine heavily laden camels, and a dog made a fine show, and I
confess I was near bursting from pride as I watched them.
Who could foresee that one of us was destined never to return?
Acting on the principle of making mention of matters which I have noticed
excite an amount of interest in "Home" people, though to us, who are used
to them, their importance hardly seems to warrant it, I subjoin a list of
the articles and provisions with which we started:--
8 pack-camels. Bulls. South Australian bred. Of ages varying from five
to fifteen years.
1 riding-camel. Bull. S.A. bred. Age five years.
Average value of camels; 72 pounds 10 shillings each.
8 pack saddles of Afghan make.
1 riding saddle, made to order by Hardwick, Coolgardie, specially light,
and stuffed with chaff. A very excellent saddle.
1 camel brand. D.W.C.
1 doz. nose pegs.
6 coils of clothes line.
3 coils of wallaby line (like window-blind cord) for nose lines.
5 hanks of twine.
2 long iron needles for saddle mending (also used as cleaning-rod
2 iron packers for arranging stuffing of saddle.
Spare leather, for hobbles and neck-straps.
Spare buckles for same.
6 lbs. of sulphur.
2 gallons kerosene, to check vermin in camels.
2 gallons tar and oil, for mange in camels.
2 galvanised-iron water casks (15 gallons each).
2 galvanised-iron water casks (17 gallons each), made with bung
on top side, without taps, for these are easily broken off.
1 India-rubber pipe for drawing water from tanks.
3 three-gallon buckets.
1 tin canteen (2 gallons).
2 canvas water tanks, to be erected on poles to hold water
baled from soak, &c.
4 canvas water-bags (10 gallons each.)
4 canvas water-bags (1 1/2 gallons each) slung on camels' necks.
6 Ballarat picks and handles.
1 axe (7 lbs.).
1 hammer (7 lbs.).
1 engineer's hammer.
1 small flat iron anvil.
1 small pair of bellows.
1 iron windlass-handle and fittings.
1 1-inch chisel.
1 brace and bits.
1 3/4 inch auger bit.
1 emery stone.
4 iron dishes.
1 iron dolly.
1 soldering iron for mending water casks.
2 sticks solder for mending water casks.
1 bottle spirits of salts for mending water casks.
1 case of tools. Screwdriver, small saw, hammer, chisel, file, gimlet,
leather-punch, wire nipper, screw wrench, large scissors, &c.
1 case of tools for canvas work (sewing needles, &c.).
2 lbs. of copper rivets.
1 box copper wire.
1 1/2 lbs. 3-inch nails.
1 lb. 2-inch nails.
50 feet of rope.
1 duck tent, 6 ft. x 8 ft.
4 flies, 10 ft. x 12 ft., for covering packs.
4 mosquito nets.
3 quart pots.
6 plates, enamelled tin.
6 knives, forks, and spoons.
1 frying pan,
1 small medicine case (in tabloid form).
7 lbs. Epsom salts.
6 bottles of Elliman's embrocation.
3 bottles of carbolic oil.
3 bottles of eye lotion.
3 bottles of eucalyptus oil.
2 galvanised-iron concertina-made boxes for perishable goods,
e.g., ammunition, journals, &c.
2 twelve-bore shot-guns.
4 colt revolvers, .380 calibre.
4 Winchester repeaters, .44 calibre.
200 twelve-bore cartridges.
300 Winchester do.
200 revolver do.
1 bicycle lamp (for night observations).
1 5-inch theodolite and tripod.
2 prismatic compasses.
2 steering compasses (Gregory's pattern).
1 pair field-glasses.
1 map case.
Drawing materials, note-books, &c.
1 binocular camera, with films. (N.B. Not good in hot climate.)
1 tape measure.
14 50-lb. bags of flour (700 lbs.).
35 doz. 1-lb. tins of meat (420 lbs.).
5 doz. 1-lb. tins of fish (60 lbs.).
(N.B.--Not fit for consumption--thrown away.)
200 lbs. rice.
70 lbs. oatmeal.
6 doz. tins of milk (condensed).
8 doz. tins baking powder.
4 doz. 1-lb tins of jam.
140 lbs. sugar,
40 lbs. salt (for salting down meat--kangaroo, &c.).
30 lbs. tea.
2 doz. tinned fruit.
2 doz. tinned vegetables.
10 lbs. currants.
10 lbs. raisins
40 lbs. dried apricots.
6 doz. 1-lb. tins butter.
4 doz. Liebig's Extract.
1 1/2 doz. pepper (1/4-lb. tins).
1/2 doz. curry-powder (1/4-lb. tins).
9 packets Sunlight soap.
1 box of candles.
6 lbs. cornflour.
28 doz. matches.
50 lbs. tobacco.
100 lbs. preserved potatoes.
4 bottles good brandy.
1 bottle good rum.
1 hair clipper.
Blankets, boots, flannel shirts, trousers (Dungaree and moleskin); &c.
The stores were calculated to last six months with care and longer should
we encounter good country where game could be shot. Everything that could
be was packed in large leather bags, made to order. Other expeditions have
carried wooden brass-bound boxes; I do not approve of these--first on
account of their own weight and bulk; second, when empty they are equally
bulky and awkward; third, unless articles are of certain shapes and
dimensions they cannot be packed in the boxes, which do not "give" like
bags. Wooden water casks are generally used--my objections to them are
that they weigh more than the iron ones, are harder to mend, and when
empty are liable to spring or warp from the hot sun.
It will be seen that a great part of our load consisted of tools which,
though weighty, were necessary, should we come on auriferous country, or
be forced to sink to any depth for water: a great many of these tools were
left in the desert.
The average load with which each camel started, counting the water casks
(the four large ones) full, was 531 lbs., exclusive of saddle. Kruger and
Shiddi carried over 750 lbs. including top loading and saddle.
These loads, though excessive had the season been summer, were not too
great to start with in the cooler weather; and every day made some
difference in their weight.
The brandy was for medicinal purposes only. Even had we been able to
afford the room I should not have carried more; for I am convinced that
in the bush a man can keep his health better, and do more work, when he
leaves liquor entirely alone.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
The week's rain had made the roads in a terrible state, where dust had
been there was now a foot or so of soft mud, and the ground, which had
been hard and clayey, was now so sticky and slippery, that it was not easy
travelling for the camels. We passed several camps of Afghans, squatting
miserably under huge tarpaulins, waiting for the roads to dry before
starting their caravans, loaded with stores for some distant district.
There are one or two things that camels are quite unable to do, according
to an Asiatic driver; one is to travel in wet weather. However, Europeans
manage to work camels, wet or fine; the wily Afghan says, "Camel no do
this," "Camel no do that," because it doesn't suit his book that camel
should do so--and a great many people think that he MUST know and is
indispensable in the driving of camels; which seems to me to be no more
sensible than to say that a chow-dog can only be managed by a Chinaman.
There is, perhaps, a small amount of risk in travelling in wet weather,
for when a camel does slip he does so with a vengeance; each foot seems to
take a different direction and thus, spread-eagled under a heavy load, he
might suffer a severe strain or even break a bone. Redleap fell once, but,
happily, neither hurt himself nor the load.
The winter had caused a transformation in the appearance of the bush;
everywhere little patches of green grass or saltbush could be seen, and
wherever a teamster had stopped to bait his horses, a miniature field of
oats had sprung into life. How we hoped that the rainfall had extended
towards the interior!
If only we could have started sooner, we should have benefited by the cool
weather for a great part of the journey. But though the days were warm
enough, there was no doubt about the coldness of the nights. Our blankets
were white with frost in the mornings, and our canvas water-bags frozen
into a solid mass. My thermometer registered 17 degrees F. just before
dawn on the coldest night. Unhobbling the camels and loading them was
freezing work, during which our fingers were quite numbed. Shivering, we
walked along until the sun was above the trees, then in a little its rays
warmed to their work, and we would peal off now a coat, now a jersey or
shirt, until in the middle of the day the heat was too great to be
pleasant. Poor little Val hated the cold nights, and, as I always sleep
away from a fire, she used to crawl into my blankets and lie up against
my back, which was quite pleasant for both of us. Most men like to sleep
alongside a roaring fire in the winter, but I have always found that after
the fire burns out and the night becomes colder, the change of temperature
becomes unbearable. If the fire burned all night it would be a different
matter; but to do so it must be replenished, and this entails leaving warm
blankets to carry wood. It is amusing to see two men camped by a fire
which has burned low, both lying awake, and watching to see if the other
will get up and attend to it.
The best recipe for avoiding cold is to sleep soundly; and to sleep
soundly one must be tired. As a rule night found us in this state, for we
all discovered walking rather trying at first, none of us having done any
for some time. We were all pleased, I think, when our stage of seven or
eight hours was finished--especially Breaden, who had given himself a
nasty strain in loading the camels, and who had a deal more weight to
carry than we thin people. Australian bushmen do not, as a rule, make good
walkers--their home has been the saddle. It was the more necessary,
therefore, that we should start on foot at once and carry out a system of
training, in which I am a great believer; thus we never ate or drank
between breakfast at daylight and tea at night--from nine to eleven hours
afterwards. Stopping in the middle of the day wastes time, and entails the
unloading of the camels or putting them down with their burdens on, a
very bad plan; the time so spent at midday is far more valuable in the
evening, when the camels can employ it by feeding. Then again, a meal,
really unnecessary, during the day soon makes an appreciable difference in
the amount of provisions used. Breaden and Godfrey consoled themselves
with tobacco, but Charlie and I were not smokers. I used to be, but gave
up the practice because it made me so dry--an effect that it does not have
on every one, some finding that a smoke relieves not only hunger but
thirst. I have only one objection to a smoker as a travelling companion,
and that is, that if by some horrible mishap he runs out of tobacco, he
becomes quite unbearable. The same holds with an excessive tea-drinker.
I was specially careful, therefore, to have a sufficient supply of these
articles. A large amount of tea was not required, since Godfrey was the
only confirmed tea-drinker.
On July 15th we reached Menzies, having followed the telegraph line to
that point. And a very badly constructed line this is, the poles being
timber and not sunk sufficiently deep into the ground--a contract job.
The iron poles which are now used in the Government-constructed lines are
a vast improvement. Menzies was the last town we called at, and was not
so specially inviting that we regretted leaving it. Niagara, the next
city, we avoided, and turned up the old Lake Darlot road, some fifteen
miles to the west of it. Between Menzies and Sandy Creek, close to where
we turned, the open, saltbush plain which fringes the salt lake, Lake
Prinsep, was looking quite charming, dotted all over with patches of
splendid green and yellow herbage, plants like our clover and dandelion,
and thousands of pink and white everlastings. There can be no doubt that
with a better rainfall or with some means of irrigation, could artesian
water be found, a great part of the goldfields would be excellent pastoral
land. As it is, however, a few weeks suffice to again alter the face of
the country to useless aridity. We camped a day on Sandy Creek, to allow
our beasts to enjoy, while they could, the luscious green feed; I embraced
the opportunity of taking theodolite observations for practice. The pool,
some eighty yards long, and twenty wide, fringed with overhanging bushes
and weeping willow with its orange-red berries, made a pretty picture;
turkeys evidently came there to water, but we had not the luck to
The northern track from Sandy Creek deviated so much on account of
watering-places, thick scrub, and broken rocks, that we left it and cut
through the bush to some clay-pans south of Cutmore's Well; and
successfully negotiated on our way the lake that had given me so much
trouble when I and the fever were travelling together. All through the
scrub every open spot was covered with grass, that horrible spear-grass
(ARISTIDI), the seeds of which are so troublesome to sheep and horses.
I have seen sores in a horse's mouth into which one could put two
fingers, the flesh eaten away by these vicious little seeds. When turned
out on this kind of grass, horses' mouths should be cleaned every day.
Camels do not suffer, as they seldom eat grass unless long, young, and
specially succulent. We, however, were rather annoyed by the persistent
way in which the seeds worked through our clothes and blankets; and before
much walking, our trousers were fringed with a mass of yellow seeds, like
those of a carter who has wound wisps of straw round his ankles. Truly
rain is a marvellous transformer; not only vegetable but animal life is
affected by it; the bush is enlivened by the twittering of small birds,
which come from nobody knows where, build their nests, hatch out their
young, and disappear! Almost every bush held a nest, usually occupied by a
diamond-sparrow. Her nest is round, like a wren's, with one small entrance
and is built roughly of grass, lined with soft, small feathers. The eggs,
numbering four to five in the few nests we disturbed, are white and of the
size and shape of our hedge-sparrow's. I am pretty sure that the nesting
season depends entirely on the rain. After rain, the birds nest, however
irregular the seasons.
As well as small birds, teal had found their way to the clay-pans, and
gave us both sport and food. These water-holes are the tail-end of
Wilson's Creek, on which is sunk Cutmore's Well, where splendid water was
struck at a depth of about eighty feet. Flood-waters from the creek spread
out over these flats, and eventually reach the lake already mentioned,
to the South. The caretaker at the Well occupied his spare time by growing
vegetables, and our last meal, with white men near us, for many months to
come, was accompanied by pumpkins and turnips. Camped here, too, was a mob
of cattle, about 130 head. The stockmen told us they had started from the
head of the Gascoyne River with 2,000 sheep and 150 bullock's. Leaving the
station, some four hundred miles to the N.N.W. of Cutmore's, they
travelled by Lake Way, where a fair-sized mining community was then
established, and Lawlers, where the advance of civilisation was marked by
numerous "pubs." Their stock had not suffered from want of food or
water--in fact, a very general rain seemed to have spread from Coolgardie
to the Nor'-West. The cattle and our camels seemed quite friendly; the
latter were settling down to work, and could now be allowed to go in their
hobbles at night, in place of being tied down. Only an occasional fight
disturbed our sleep; but at the the clay-pans two strangers, wild and
savage, caused a deal of trouble, necessitating one or other of us being
up all night. However, we would soon be beyond such annoyances. At this
point our journey might be said to begin, for here we left the last
outpost of civilisation, and saw the last white face for some time to
WE ENTER THE DESERT
Our position was in lat. 28 degrees 35 minutes, long. 120 degrees
57 minutes, and from this point I started to map the country as we went.
We left here on July 23rd steering a general N.E. by E. course, my
intention being to strike Mount Allott and Mount Worsnop, on Forrest's
route of 1874--two very noticeable hills, 280 miles distant. I chose these
for the double reason that by hitting them off correctly, as I hoped to
do, I should not only give confidence to my companions, but have the
opportunity of comparing my amateur work with that of a trained surveyor.
Our course would clear the southern end of Lake Wells with which I had no
desire to become entangled; and by so avoiding it I should cross a piece
of country hitherto untraversed.
Our way lay across a rough range of bare diorite hills, whose stony slopes
and steep gullies were not appreciated by the camels. Beyond the hills
flat mulga-clad country extended for several days' march, only broken by
the occurrence of low cliffs or terraces of sandstone. These are of
peculiar formation, running sometimes for five or six miles without a
break; abrupt, on one side, and perhaps fifty feet high, with broken
boulders strewn about the foot of the cliff from which jut out occasional
buttresses. It takes some time to find a break in the cliffs, or a gully,
up which one can pass. Once on the top, trouble is over, for the summit is
flat though often covered with dense scrub; from it a gradual slope takes
one presently down to the same level as the foot of the cliffs. Occasional
pines find a footing on the face of the rocks--how they manage to grow or
get moisture is hard to tell--showing up fresh and green against the dull
grey background of rock. Round the foot of the cliffs a small plain of
saltbush is usually found, through which numerous small creeks and
watercourses wind their way into the scrub beyond. In any one of these,
as we saw them, water could be obtained by sinking in the gravelly bed.
From the summit of the cliffs, which is often perforated by caves and
holes opening on to the sheer face, square bluffs and walls can be seen,
standing up above the sea of scrub, each exactly like its neighbour, and
itself when again seen from another point. Doubtless the numberless creeks
join and form one larger creek probably running South, as the general
trend of the country is in that direction.
We were getting well into the swing of things now, for at first there is
always some trouble in the distribution of the loads and in loading up and
unloading. On camping at night the camels were always put down in a
circle, as near as might be. All top-loading was taken off and placed near
the centre; the side loads placed one on either side of the camel, and the
saddle by his tail. Thus everything, instead of being scattered about in a
long line, was handy, and easily reloaded the next morning. At this time,
when the packs were heavy, it took us thirty minutes from the time Breaden
and Warri brought the camels in to the time we were ready to start;
Breaden, Charlie, Warri, and I loading, whilst Godfrey, who acted as cook,
got his pots and pans together and packed the "tucker-bags." There is
little of interest in this scrub; an occasional plant perhaps attracts
one's attention. Here and there a vine-like creeper (an Asclepiad) trails
upon the ground. With the fruits of this, commonly called cotton-pods,
the black-fellows vary their diet of grubs and the very rare emu or
kangaroo. The skin, the edible part, is soft, thick, and juicy, and has
quite a nice sweet taste. The blacks eat them raw or roasted in
wood-ashes. The seeds are of a golden yellow, and are joined on to a silky
fibrous core. When bruised the pod exudes a white, milky juice.
Numerous large spiders inhabit the scrubs and build their webs from tree
to tree; wonderfully strong they are too, and so frequent as to become a
nuisance to whoever is walking first. It is quite unpleasant when one's
eyes are fixed on the compass, to find, on looking up, that one's hat has
swept off a great web, whose owner runs over one, furious at unprovoked
assault. Though I got the full benefit of these insects, I was never
bitten; they may or may not be poisonous, but look deadly enough, being
from one to four inches from toe to toe. The scrubs for the most part are
thick and without a break for many miles. Sometimes open country is met
with--not always a welcome change.
July 26th the thickets became more and more open until we came across a
narrow salt-lake; by leading each camel separately we reached the other
side without mishap, and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune,
until the next morning when we found that our camp had been on an island;
and the lake stretched North and South as far as the eye could reach,
until lake and sky became one in a shimmering mirage. I think it probable
that this lake joins the Eastern portion of Lake Darlot, which lies to the
N.N.W., and connects with the narrow lake seen by Luck and myself in 1894,
to the S.S.E. Whatever its extent there was no doubt about its nature;
from 8.30 until 1.30 we were occupied in hauling, digging out, and
dragging our camels, and in humping on our backs some 5,000 lbs. weight of
packs, across a channel not half a mile wide. Camels vary very much in
their ability to cross bogs. Those which take small steps succeed best;
the majority take steps of ordinary length and, in consequence, their hind
feet slide into the hole left by the fore, and in an instant they are
pinned by the hind leg up to the haunch. Kruger was splendid, and simply
went through by main force, though he eventually sank close to the shore.
I had carried over some of the loading, amongst it my camera, and was
just in time to take a snapshot as he was sinking. Shiddi, the cunning old
rogue, could not be persuaded across; he would try the ground with one
foot and then draw back like a timid bather. We left him roaring to his
mates and yet afraid to join them, until we were ready to start again. As
soon as he saw the caravan disappear over the sandhill which abutted on
the lake, he took a desperate plunge and came through with ease.
The shores of the lake, as usual, were covered with samphire, having
something the appearance of heather. At this season the plant is soft and
juicy, and, though salt, makes capital feed for camels. In the summer it
withers up to dry sticks and has no moisture. Once out of sight of the
lake we were disgusted at coming into a belt of flat spinifex country,
and were afraid that already we had reached the confines of the desert,
more especially since in 1894 I had placed its edge in that longitude.
However, we were agreeably disappointed, for after a few miles the
spinifex ceased, and on penetrating a dense thicket we debouched on a fine
grassy flat. In the centre ran a line of large white gums (Creek gums,
EUCALYPTUS ROSTRATA), the sure sign of a creek. We were not mistaken, for
down the avenue a watercourse wound its way. The gravelly bed was quite
dry. Climbing a tree, from which to follow with my glasses the course of
the creek, I could see some hills to the northward; in them the creek
evidently rose. Whilst I was climbing, Breaden amused himself by breaking
off pieces of the small roots of the gums which the creek had washed here.
By breaking these quite an appreciable amount of moisture could be got,
enough to save a man's life. But I fancy that these roots only hold water
after rain, and that when they are water-bearing, pools also are to be
found in the creeks. Numerous emu and turkey tracks led up the
watercourse, but, though seeing several emu, we were unable to get a shot.
Following the creek upwards, for near the head one is likely to find rocky
pools, we soon came on a nice waterhole and made camp. I traced the creek
to its source in the evening and found the hills to be granite, and
discovered one deep pool in the solid rock under a steep step in the creek
bed. Along the banks herbage and green stuff were growing in profusion.
Our beasts were content to feed amicably together, and with the exception
of a sly bite no longer showed signs of ill-feeling. We were thankful
indeed to see them "off season." Here we gave them a good drink and filled
our casks and neckbags, carrying in all sixty-two gallons. We had been so
well off for water up to this point, that we had hopes that the rain had
Leaving the creek on July 29th we again entered the scrub, finding it
lower and more open, the ground covered with occasional patches of grass
and a little squashy plant straggling along the ground--"Pigweed" is the
local name; it belongs, I believe, to the "portulacaceae." It is eaten by
the blacks, and would make excellent feed for stock were it higher from
This day we saw the last auriferous country we were to meet with until
Kimberley was reached. These hills, of diorite, with occasional blows of
ironstone, I take to be a continuation the Neckersgat Range (Wells, 1892).
Many traces of prospectors were visible here--the last to be seen for
many a day--shallow dry-blowing holes and little heaps of sieved dirt,
and the tracks of camels and horses. This was a piece of country worth
trying, had we not had other objects in view.
Two rather curious ironstone dykes, standing square and wall-like above
the ground, occur in these hills, some seven miles apart, running nearly
North and South and parallel; between them a deep but narrow creek, a
saltbush flat, and a ridge of diorite. Standing out prominently to the
south of the first dyke are two sugar-loaf hills, and, beyond them,
distant ranges are visible. Leaving the range the country to the East
underwent a distinct change for the worse; and midday of July 31st found
us on the borders of an unmistakable desert, the North-West corner of the
Great Victoria Desert. We had so far travelled 110 miles from Cutmore's
Well, only some 250 in a direct line from Coolgardie and were already in
the desert! Wilderness perhaps would be a better name for this part; for
the sand now flat, now blown into dunes, is not bare, but overgrown by the
hateful spinifex and timbered pretty thickly with desert gums (EUCALYPTUS
EUDESMOIDES) and low acacia bushes.
I am told that the term "spinifex," though generally employed by those
who have the pleasure of the acquaintance of the plant, is wrongly used.
I do not know its right name, and have seen it described as "Spinifex,"
"Porcupine Grass," "TRIODIA," "TRIODIA PUNGENS," and "FESTUCA IRRITANS."
Why such a wretched, useless plant should have so many names I
cannot say. So often am I bound to refer to it that I might vary the
monotony by using each in turn. However, I will stick to the term I have
always heard used. "Spinifex" grows in round, isolated hummocks, one to
three feet high; these hummocks are a dense mass of needle-like prickles,
and from them grow tall blades of very coarse grass to a height of
sometimes six feet. Occasionally the hummocks are not round or isolated,
but grow in crescent form or almost complete rings, sometimes there is no
top growth--however it grows it is most accursed vegetation to walk
through, both for men and camels. Whatever form it takes it seems to be
so arranged that it cannot be stepped over or circumvented--one must in
consequence walk through it and be pricked, unpleasantly. Camels and
horses suffer rather severely sometimes, the constant pricking causing
sores on their legs. So long, however, as a camel does not drag his hind
legs he will be no worse treated than by having all the hair worn off his
shins. The side of the foot is an easily affected spot, and a raw there,
gives them great pain and is hard to cure.
There are two varieties of spinifex known to bushmen--"spinifex" and
"buck" (or "old man") spinifex. The latter is stronger in the prickle
and practically impossible to get through, though it may be avoided by
twists and turns. There are a few uses for this horrible plant; for
example, it forms a shelter and its roots make food for the kangaroo, or
spinifex, rat, from its spikes the natives (in the northern districts)
make a very serviceable gum, it burns freely, serves in a measure to bind
the sand and protect it from being moved by the wind, and makes a good
mattress when dug up and turned over. I should advise no one to try and
sleep on the plant as it grows, for "He who sitteth on a thistle riseth
up quickly." But the thistle has one advantage, viz., that it does not
leave its points in its victim's flesh. In Northern Australia spinifex is
in seed for three weeks, and when in this state, forms most excellent
feed for horses, and fattens almost as quickly as oats; for the rest of
the year it is useless.
I can imagine any one, on being suddenly placed on rising ground with a
vast plain of waving spinifex spreading before him--a plain relieved
occasionally by the stately desert oak, solemn, white, and
mysterious--saying, "Ah! what a charming view--how beautiful that rolling
plain of grass! its level surface broken by that bold sandhill, fiery-red
in the blaze of sun!" But when day after day, week after week, and month
after month must be passed always surrounded by the hateful plant, one's
sense of the picturesque becomes sadly blunted.
This was our first introduction to the desert and, though a little
monotonous, it seemed quite pleasant, and indeed was so, when compared
to the heartrending country met with later in our journey.
The sand has been formed (blown, I suppose) into irregular ridges,
running more or less parallel, but in no one fixed direction. From the
edge of the desert to Mount Worsnop, a distance of nearly two hundred
miles in a straight line, the country presented the same appearance.
First a belt, eight to ten miles wide, of sand-ridges from thirty to
fifty feet high, with a general direction of E. by S. and W. by N.; then
a broad sand-flat of equal breadth, either timbered with desert gums, or
open and covered with spinifex breast-high, looking in the distance like
a field of ripe corn; next another series of ridges with a S.E. and N.W.
direction; then, with startling suddenness, a small oasis, enclosed or
nearly surrounded by sheer broken cliffs of desert sandstone, from which
little creeks run out into the sand, winding their way for a mile or two
between the ridges. Dry watercourses these, except immediately after
rain; in their beds are found native wells five to ten feet in depth,
sometimes holding water; on their banks, round the foot of the cliffs,
and on the flat where the creeks merge into the sand, grows long
grass--kangaroo-grass--and, in the winter magnificent herbage. Next we
find a dense thicket, and, this passed, we come again to open plains. And
thus sand-ridges now E. and W., now S.E. and N.W., now S.W. and N.E. (as
in the vicinity of Empress Spring), and now sandhills heaped up without
regularity, alternate with mulga thickets, open plains of spinifex, and
flat, timbered country. The most noticeable vegetation is of course
spinifex; as well as that, however, are several shrubs which form good
camel feed, such as ACACIA SALICINA, with its pretty, scented flower like
a little golden powder-puff; the quondong (FUSANUS ACUMINATUS), or
"native peach tree," a graceful little black-stemmed tree, against whose
fresh, green leaves the fruit, about the size of a cherry and of a
brilliant red, shows out with appetising clearness. Alas! it is a fraud
and delusion, for the stone forms more than three-quarters of the fruit,
leaving only a rather tasteless thick skin, which is invariably perforated
by small worms.
Dotted over the open plains the native poplar (CODONOCARPUS) stands
sentry, its head, top-heavy from the mass of seeds, drooping gracefully
to the setting sun; the prevalent wind at the present day would seem to
be from the E.N.E. Here, too, an occasional grass tree or "black-boy"
may be seen, and at intervals little clumps of what is locally termed
"mustard bush," so named from the strong flavour of the leaf; camels eat
this with voracity, of which fact one becomes very sensible when they
chew their cuds.
This description hardly suits a "desert"; yet, in spite of the trees and
shrubs, it is one to all intent. All is sand, and throughout the region
no water is to be found, unless immediately after rain in the little
creeks, or in some hidden rock-hole. Even a heavy storm of rain would
leave no signs in such country; half an hour after the fall no water
would be seen, except on the rocky ground, which only occurs at very
long intervals. The greedy sand soaks up every drop of water, and from
the sand the trees derive their moisture. The winter rain causes such a
growth of herbage around the cliffs and on the sandhills--to die, alas!
in a few weeks' time--that one is inclined to wonder if by means of bores
this wilderness will be made of use to man. What artesian bores have done
for parts of Queensland and Algeria they may in the distant future do for
this, at present useless, interior, where all is still, and the desert
silence unbroken by any animal life, excepting always the ubiquitous
spinifex rat. A pretty little fellow this, as he hops along on his long
hind legs, bounding over the prickly stools like an animated football
with a tail. As he jumps, he hangs one forepaw by his side, while the
other is stretched out with the little hand dangling as if the wrist were
broken. Everything must be spoken of comparatively in this country; thus
the ubiquitous rat may be seen, at the most, a dozen times in a day's
march; an oasis may measure no more than thirty yards across; a creek is
dry, and may be only half a mile long and a few feet broad; a high range
may stand three to four hundred feet above the surrounding country, seldom
more; and "good feed" may mean that the camels find something to eat
instead of being tied down without a bite.
For instance, to continue our journey, on August 1st we have "...the
same miserable country until the evening, when a sudden change brings us
into a little oasis enclosed by cliffs, a small creek running through it.
Here we made camp, the camels enjoying a great patch of feed--could find
no water--saw several small quails--a number of grasshoppers and little
bees--flies of course in abundance. Lat. 27 degrees 40 minutes, long. 122
degrees 54 minutes. Cloudy night."
The next day we sighted a big range to the East across a deep valley, and
a broken table-top range to the North. Following down the little creek we
came on a shallow native well, quite dry; crossing the grassy flat in
which it was dug, winding through a thicket, we again reached open sand.
Here we saw for the first time since leaving Coolgardie the tracks of
wild aboriginals, and the first tracks of blacks, either wild or tame,
since leaving Cutmore's Well. Evidently this part of the world is not
overpopulated. Since everything pointed to the rain having been general,
since the tracks were leading in a direction nearly opposite to our own,
and since at the time we had water enough, we did not waste time in
following them up.
That night we were forced to camp on a barren spot, and tied the camels
down foodless; one night without feed does them no harm--less harm than if
they wandered miles in their hobbles looking for it. The weather was now
distinctly hot, unpleasant and stuffy, as if about to thunder; but the
nights were still cold. At midday we saw two fine quondong trees; how the
camels devoured them, leaves, fruit, stones and all! Emus swallow the
stones without inconvenience; apparently a camel has an equally convenient
interior, but he brings them up again in his cud and drops them out of his
mouth as his jaws move from side to side.
Amongst some broken rocks this day, Breaden found a dingo camped in a
cave with a litter of pups. Had we been returning instead of only just
starting on our travels, I should certainly have secured one--not, I
expect, without some trouble, for the mother showed signs of fierce
hostility when Breaden looked into her lair. There were no traces of
water anywhere near, and I have no doubt that the mother, having found a
suitable spot for her expected family, would think nothing of travelling
many miles for her daily drink. Near the rocks I noticed a little
blue-flowered plant with the leaf and scent of the geranium.
The appearance of the country now soon began to get less fresh, and
drier, and all the next two days we were crossing sandhills, the only
variety being afforded by Valerie. She had lately made it evident that
she would soon follow the example of the lady dingo. Though I had
frequently tried to make her ride on one of the packs, she preferred to
trot along at the heels of Czar, receiving from him occasional kicks if
by chance she touched him, which did not tend to improve the pups so soon
to see the light. Tying her on was no better; she only struggled and
nearly hanged herself. She had therefore to walk as she desired. Having
made camp, and unrolled our blankets ready to turn into them when the
time came, Breaden and I experimented on numerous mallee-roots which we
dug up, but in every case failed to find any appreciable moisture, On
returning to camp we found our party had been increased by one--a large
pup which Val had deposited in her master's blankets. It was dead, which
was fortunate, as we could hardly have kept it, and would not have liked
to destroy the little animal, born in such unusual surroundings.
No change occurred in the country the next day, but the march was saved
from its usual monotony by Warri finding two mallee-hens' nests.
Unluckily they had no eggs, though the birds' tracks were fresh and
numerous. These nests are hollowed out in the sand, to a depth of perhaps
two and a half feet, conical shaped, with a mouth some three feet in
diameter; the sand from the centre is scraped up into a ring round the
mouth. Several birds help in this operation, and when finished lay their
eggs on a layer of leaves at the bottom; they then fill in the hole to
the surface with small twigs and more leaves. Presumably the eggs are
hatched by spontaneous heat, the green twigs and leaves producing a
slightly moist warmth, similar to that of the bird's feathers. I have
seen numbers of these nests, never with eggs in, but often with the
shells from recently hatched birds lying about. How the little ones force
their way through the sticks I do not understand, but Warri and many
others who have found the eggs assure me that they do so.
Towards evening we neared a prominent bluff that we had sighted the day
before, and got a further insight into the habits of the wild dog. A
dingo--a female, and possibly our friend with the pups--had followed us
persistently all day. Godfrey, who was walking behind the camels, opened
the acquaintance by practising his revolver-shooting upon her. His poor
aim seemed to give her confidence, and before long she started to play
with Val. By nightfall we had petted and fed her out of our hands, and
given her a small drop of water from our fast diminishing supply--this at
the earnest request of Godfrey, who offered to give her some of his
share; and indeed it seemed rather cruel to refuse a poor famished beast
that had come to us in her distress. We all agreed how nice it was to have
won the affections of a real wild dog. By daybreak our feelings of love
had somewhat abated, as our friend prowled about all night, poking her
nose into pots and pans, chewing saddles, pack-bags, straps, and even our
blankets as we lay in them, and cared no more for blows than for the
violent oaths that were wasted upon her. This strange creature accompanied
us for two more days, trotting along ahead of the camels, with an
occasional look behind to see if she was on the right course, and then
falling at full length in the shade of some bush with her head on her
paws, waiting for us to pass. Eventually my irritability got the better
of my indulgence, and a shrewd whack over the nose put an end to our
Near the bluff were many low, stony hills, with the usual small
watercourses; in them we hunted high and low for water until darkness
overtook us. To the North other similar hills could be seen, by my
reckoning a part of the Ernest Giles Range (Wells, 1892). No doubt from
the distance these hills would look more imposing. Our camp was in lat.
27 degrees 9 minutes, long. 123 degrees 59 minutes. August 6th.
On August 7th we continued to search the hills, but had to leave them
without finding water. We had now been since July 29th without seeing
any, and in consequence of the ease with which we had, up to that date,
found water had not husbanded our supply as carefully as we might have
done, and now had to put ourselves on a very short allowance indeed. The
further we advanced the worse the country became, and the greater the
increase in temperature. Shortly after leaving the hills we came again on
to sandhills. About midday my hopes were high, as I cut the fresh tracks
of two black-fellows.
Warri, after a short examination, said, "Yesterday track water that way,"
pointing in the direction in which they were travelling; not that he could
possibly tell which way the water lay, and for all we knew they might have
just left it. However, we decided that better success would probably
attend us if we followed them forward. Soon several equally fresh tracks
joined the first ones, and not one of us doubted but that our present
discomforts would shortly be over.
"There must be water at the end of them," was the general opinion, and so
on we went gaily; Warri leading, and Charlie, who was an almost equally
good tracker, backing him up. After much twisting and turning, crossing
and recrossing of our own tracks, the footprints at last took a definite
direction, and a pad, beaten by perhaps a dozen feet, led away North-West
for two miles and never deviated. Any doubts as to Warri's correct
interpretation were now dispelled, and on we hurried, looking forward to
at least water for ourselves, and perhaps a drink for the camels. At full
speed through mulga scrub, over sand and stones, on which the tracks were
hardly visible, we came suddenly to an open patch of rock on the side of
a low ridge, and there in the centre of the flat rock lay before us a
fair-sized rock-hole--dry as a bone!--and all our visions of luxury for
our beasts and ourselves were ended.
Not only were we baulked of our water, but nothing but dead scrub
surrounded the rock, affording no feed for the camels, who had therefore
to be tied down. Leaving the rest to dig out the hole on the chance of
getting a drop, though it was evident that the natives had cleaned it out
nearly to the bottom, Warri and I started off to follow the tracks yet
further. Taking a handful of dried peaches to chew, which give a little
moisture, for we were very dry, we walked until darkness overtook us. The
tracks (a man, two women, and a child) led us back towards the West;
we could see their camps, one close to the namma-hole, another four miles
away, with crushed seed lying about, and a few roots pulled up. Warri
said they were "tired fella" from the way they walked. All this made
us doubtful if they knew where the next water was. In any case we could
make no further search that night, and made our best way back through
the scrub, to the camp.
Godfrey had unsuccessfully explored the neighbouring hills, while Breaden
and Charlie cleaned out the rockhole with like result. A very hot, cloudy
night did not make things any more pleasant; we were all a bit done, and
poor Charlie was seized with a violent and painful vomiting--a not unusual
accompaniment to want of food and water. It seemed useless to follow the
tracks any more, since they led us in exactly the wrong direction; and as
we loaded the camels in the morning two turkeys (bustards) flew over us
to the North-East. We would have given something to have their knowledge!
We started, therefore, in this direction, and soon came on other tracks,
which after some time we concluded were only those of natives who had
been hunting from the rock-hole before the water was finished.
I called a halt, and, sitting on the sand, expounded my views as to the
situation. "We had determined on getting through this country--that was
the main point. Turning back, even if wise, was not to be considered. The
tracks had fooled us once, and though doubtless by following them we
would eventually get some water, where would we be at the end of it? No
further forward. Therefore, since we had still a drop or two to go on
with, let us continue on our course. None of us have any idea where water
is, and by travelling North, East, South, or West, we stood an equally
good chance of getting it. We would therefore go on in our proper
direction, and trust to God, Providence, Fate, or Chance, as each might
think. I should feel more satisfied if I knew their opinions agreed with
mine, for, whatever the outcome, the responsibility rested on me."
Breaden answered quietly, "It's a matter of indifference to me; go where
you think best." Godfrey's reply was characteristic, "Don't care a d--n;
if we are going to peg out we will, whichever way we turn." Charlie was
inclined at first to question the wisdom of going on, but soon cheerfully
agreed to do as the rest. So on I went, much relieved in mind that I was
leading no one against his will. Possibly I could not--so far as I know,
no occasion arose.
The day was sweltering, the night worse; in any other country one could
with safety have backed heavily the fall of a thunderstorm. We had to be
content, where we were, with about three drops of rain; and even this,
in spite of tents, flys, and mackintosh-sheets spread for the purpose, we
were unable to collect! Towards dawn the thermometer went down to 40
degrees F. This sudden change was greatly to our advantage, though the sun
soon after rising showed his power. The ridges were now running almost
parallel to our course, about North-East, and gave us in consequence
little trouble. Up to this point I had walked all day, partly because one
can steer better on foot and I wished to do all the steering, until we
picked up the point on Forrest's route, and so give my companions
confidence; and partly because I looked upon it as the leader's duty to
set an example. To-day I took my turn with the rest, each riding for an
hour--a great relief. Sand is weary walking and spinifex unpleasant until
one's legs get callous to its spines.
We had not gone far before our hopes were again raised, and again dashed,
by coming on rocky ground and presently on another rockhole--quite dry!
We began to think that there could be no water anywhere; this hole was
well protected and should hold water for months. Thinking did little
good, nor served to decrease the horrid sticky feeling of lips and mouth.
"Better luck next time," we said, with rather forced cheerfulness, and
once more turned our faces to the North-East.
WATER AT LAST
Presently a single track caught my eye, fresh apparently, and
unmistakably that of a "buck." We all crowded round to examine it, and
as we stooped caught sight of the owner not a hundred yards ahead,
engrossed in unearthing an iguana and entirely ignorant of our presence. A
hasty consultation; "Catch him," said someone, Breaden I think, and off
we started--I first, and Godfrey near behind. He saw us now and fled, so,
shouting to Breaden to stay with the camels, and to Charlie, who was
mounted, to cut him off in front, I put my best leg foremost. A hummock of
spinifex brought me down, and, exhausted from short rations, I lay,
unable to run further. Not so Godfrey, who held on manfully for another
fifty yards and grabbed the black-fellow as he turned to avoid Charlie on
the camel. The poor chap was shaking with fear, but, after relieving his
feelings by making a violent though abortive attack on Godfrey, he soon
calmed down and examined us with interest.
Whatever the buck thought of us, close observation could find nothing
very remarkable about him. A man of about 5 feet 8 inches, thin but
muscular, with very large feet and small hands, very black, very dirty,
his only garment consisted of a band of string round his forehead,
holding his hair back in a ragged, mop-like mass. On his chest, raised
sears; through his nose, a hole ready to hold a bone or stick--such was
this child of the wilderness. By signs we made him understand our wants,
and the strange procession started, the "buck" (the general term for a
male aboriginal) leading the way at a pace too fast for us or our camels.
Guarded on one side by Breaden, I on the other, we plied our new friend
with salt beef, both to cement our friendship, and promote thirst, in
order that for his own sake he should not play us false. For five hours
we held on our way, curiously enough almost on our proper course, having
often to stop awhile to allow the caravan to overtake us. Buoyed up by
the certainty of water so long as we had the buck with us we pushed on,
until just after sunset the country changed from sand to stony rises and
we felt sure a rock-hole was not far off. A little further, and, by the
uncertain light, we could see a fair-sized hole with water in it. I ran
ahead, and was the first to realise that the native had deceived us; the
hole was dry! and must have been so for months.
No sooner did the buck see that I had found him out than he made a sudden
bolt and attempt at escape--very neatly done, but not quick enough to pass
Breaden. This was indeed a disappointment! I had thought it probable that
our guide would lead us anywhere into the sand and try to escape, but I
never guessed that he would tantalise us as he had done. In any case, so
long as he was with us, we must some time get water--and we had no
intention of letting him escape. With a rope we secured him and watched
in turn all through the night.
Never were jailers more vigilant, for that black-fellow meant our lives.
He tried all means of escape, and never slept the whole night through. He
would lie still with closed eyes for a time, and then make a sudden
struggle to wrench the rope away from his captor; then stealthily with
his foot he tried to push the rope into the fire; then he started rubbing
it on the rock on which we lay; and last of all his teeth were brought
into use. When my turn came to watch, I pretended to sleep, to see what
he would do, and so discovered all his tricks. I confess that I saw with
delight the evident feelings of thirst that before long overcame him--the
salt beef had done its duty; he had had no water of course, for we had
none to give him, and I felt sure that he would be only too eager in the
morning. Nor was I mistaken; long before daylight he showed signs of
distress, and anxiety to go on, standing up and stretching out his long,
thin arm--"Gabbi" (water), he said, pointing in three different
directions, putting his head back and pointing with his chin, making a
noise something between a grunt and a puff. To the East, to the
North-East, and to the South-West from where we had come, he made it
clear that water existed. Evidently we had not been far from his camp
when we caught him, and we could hardly blame him for leading us away
from his own supply, which he rightly judged we and our camels would
Standing by the dry rock-hole we could see for many miles, the country to
the North-East being considerably lower than where we were; not a
cheerful view--sand-ridges always! Not a hill or range to be seen, and
yet people have doubted if this really is a desert!
It may happen that in days to come some other party may be stranded in
this region and therefore I will leave out no description that could
assist them in finding the water that King Billy (for so had we named the
buck) eventually took us to. The dry rock-hole (Mulundella) is situated
on a surface outcrop of desert sandstone, about fifty yards across
surrounded by thick mulga scrub, enclosed between two sand-ridges running
North-East and South-West.
On the North and East side of the outcrop the ground suddenly drops,
forming what appears from the distance as a line of sheer cliffs. Down
this steep slope, which is covered with scrub, we discovered a passage,
and, at the foot, found ourselves in an open spinifex plain with a
sand-ridge on either hand. We were steering N.E. by N., and in consequence
had now and again to cross a ridge, since they ran due North-East. After
three miles low outcrops of limestone appeared at intervals, the scrub in
the trough of the ridges became more open with an undergrowth of coarse
grass, buck-bush or "Roly-Poly" (SALSOLA KALI) and low acacia. Hugging
the ridge on our left, we followed along this belt for another one and a
half miles; when, close to the foot of a sandhill, our guide, secured to
my belt by a rope round his waist, stopped and excitedly pointed out what
seemed on first sight to be three rock-holes, in a small, bare patch of
limestone not more than thirty feet across. Twenty yards to the right or
left and we would never have seen it; and to this spot King Billy had
brought us full speed, only stopping once to examine some rocks at the
foot of one ridge, as if to make sure that we were in the right valley.
On further investigation the three holes turned out to be entrances, of
which two were large enough for a man to pass through, leading
perpendicularly to a cave beneath. With the help of a rope Charlie and I
descended twenty-five feet to the floor of the chamber, which we found to
be covered with sand to a depth of two feet. In the sand we dug holes but
did not succeed in getting even moisture. Plunged as we were so suddenly
into darkness, our eyes could distinguish no passage leading from the
chamber, and it seemed as if we had been tricked again. Further
exploration by the light of candles revealed two passages, one leading
west and upwards, the other east and downwards. Charlie chose the latter;
before long I came to the end of mine, having failed to find anything but
bats, bones of birds and dingoes, and old native camp-fires. Following
Charlie, I found him crawling on hands and knees down a steep
slope--progress was slow, as the floor was rough and the ceiling jagged;
presently the passage dropped again, and at the end, below us, we could
see our candles reflected, and knew that at last we had water! Who,
except those who have had similar experiences, can picture one's feelings
of relief! "Thank God! thank God!" is all one can reiterate in one's
mind over and over again. The visible supply of water was small, and we
had grave doubts as to any soakage existing! Not wasting valuable time in
discussion, we crawled back with all speed to the cave, shouted up the
joyful news, and called for buckets and billies to bale with. The King was
now allowed to descend, but not unguarded, as we must first ascertain the
value of our supply. We could understand now why he had insisted on
carrying with him from our last camp a burning branch (a "fire-stick");
for he proceeded to make a fire on the floor of the cave from some dead
leaves and branches, and others along the passage, to light him; after
some hesitation he took a candle instead, and bolted down the passage like
a rat. He must have been very dry, judging from the time he stayed below
and from his distended appearance on re-ascending. He drank a great deal
more than any of us and yet had been a comparatively short time without
water, whilst we had been walking and working on starvation rations for a
good number of days.
Breaden and I set to work to unload the camels while the others started
preparations for water-getting. By 3 p.m. we were ready. King Billy at
the bottom, baling water with a meat tin into a bucket, which he handed
to Warri, who passed it to Charlie; thence VIA Godfrey it reached
Breaden, who on the floor of the cave hitched it on to a rope, and I from
above hauled it through the entrance to the surface. Useful as he was
below, I soon had to call Warri up to keep off the poor famished camels,
who, in their eagerness, nearly jostled me into the hole. First I filled
our tanks, doubtful what supply the cave would yield; but when word was
passed that "She was good enough, and making as fast as we baled," I no
longer hesitated to give the poor thirsty beasts as much as ever they
could drink. What a labour of love that was, and what satisfaction to see
them "visibly swelling" before my eyes! Till after sunset we laboured
unceasingly, and I fancy none of us felt too strong. The thundery weather
still continued; the heat was suffocating--so much so that I took off my
hat and shirt, to the evident delight of the flies, whose onslaughts
would have driven me mad had I not been too busily engaged to notice
Before night all the camels were watered; they drank on an average
seventeen gallons apiece, and lay gorged upon the ground too tired or too
full of liquid to eat. We had a very different camp that night, and King
Billy shared our good spirits. Now that he had his liberty he showed no
signs of wishing to leave us, evidently enjoying our food and full of
pride in his newly acquired garment, a jersey, which added greatly to his
striking appearance. He took great interest in all our belongings, but
seemed to value highest the little round piece of metal that is fixed on
the inside of a meat-tin! This, hung on a string, made a handsome
ornament for him.
That night, in reviewing our affairs, I came to the conclusion that this
dry stage at the beginning of our journey had been a good thing for all.
We had had a bad time, but had come out of it all right. Although these
things always appear worse, when written or read, yet it is no light task
to trudge day after day over such horrible country with an empty stomach
and dry throat, and with no idea of when the next water will be found, or
if any will be found; and through it all to be cheerful and good-tempered,
and work away as usual, as if all were right. It had inspired us with
complete confidence in the staying powers of the camels, who, in spite of
a thirteen and a half days' drought, had shown no signs of giving in.
It had afforded each of us an insight into the characters of his
companions that otherwise he never would have had. It had given me
absolute confidence in Breaden, Godfrey, and Charlie, and I trust had
imbued them with a similar faith in me.
August 11th to 15th we rested at the cave, occupying ourselves in the
numerous odd jobs that are always to be found, happy in the knowledge
that we had an unfailing supply of water beneath us. I have little doubt
but that this water is permanent, and do not hesitate to call it a
spring. I know well that previous travellers have called places "springs"
which in after years have been found dry; but I feel sure that this
supply so far, nearly sixty feet, below the surface, must be derived from
a permanent source, and even in the hottest season is too well protected
to be in any way decreased by evaporation.
As a humble tribute to the world-wide rejoicings over the long reign of
our Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, I have honoured this hidden well of
water by the name of "The Empress Spring." A more appropriate name it
could not have, for is it not in the Great Victoria Desert? and was it
not in that region that another party was saved by the happy finding of
Queen Victoria Spring?
The "Empress Spring" would be a hard spot to find. What landmarks there
are I will now describe. My position for the Spring is lat. 26 degrees 47
minutes 21 seconds S., long. 124 degrees 25 minutes E. Its probable
native name (I say probable because one can never be sure of words taken
from a wild aboriginal, who, though pointing out a water, may, instead of
repeating its name, be perhaps describing its size or shape) is
"Murcoolia Ayah Teenyah." The entrance is in a low outcrop of magnesian
limestone, surrounded by buckbush, a few low quondongs and a low,
broom-like shrub; beyond this, mulga scrub. Immediately to the North of
the outcrop runs a high sand-ridge, covered sparsely with acacia and
spinifex. On the top of the ridge are three conspicuously tall dead mulga
trees. From the ridge looking West, North, North-East, and East nothing
is visible but parallel sand-ridges running N.E. To the South-West can be
seen the high ground on which is the rock-hole (Mulundella).
To the South-East, across a mulga-covered flat, is a high ridge one mile
distant, with the crests of others visible beyond it; above them, about
twelve miles distant, a prominent bluff (Breaden Bluff), the North end of
a red tableland. From the mulga trees the bluff bears 144 degrees. One
and a half miles N.E. by N. from the cave is a valley of open spinifex,
breaking through the ridges in a West and Southerly direction, on which
are clumps of cork-bark trees; these would incline one to think that
water cannot be far below the surface in this spot.
Close to the entrance to the cave is erected a mulga pole, on which we
carved our initials and the date. There are also some native signs or
ornaments in the form of three small pyramids of stones and grass, about
eight feet apart, in a line pointing S.W.
Several old native camps were dotted about in the scrub; old fires and
very primitive shelters formed of a few branches. Amongst the ashes many
bones could be seen, particularly the lower maxillary of some species of
rat-kangaroo. To descend to the cave beneath, the natives had made a
rough ladder by leaning mulga poles against the edge of the entrance from
the floor. All down the passage to the water little heaps of ashes could
be seen where their fires had been placed to light them in their work.
Warri found some strange carved planks hidden away in the bushes, which
unfortunately we were unable to carry. King Billy saw them with evident
awe; he had become very useful, carrying wood and so forth with the
greatest pleasure. The morning we left this camp, however, he sneaked
away before any of us were up. I fancy that his impressions of a white
man's character will be favourable; for never in his life before had he
been able to gorge himself without having had the trouble of hunting his
food. From him I made out the following words, which I consider reliable:
Smoke, fire. Warru or wallu.
Nose. Wula or Ula.
[* This word "pappa" we found to be used by all natives encountered by us
in the interior. Warri uses it, and Breaden tells me that in Central
Australia it is universal.]
August 15th we again watered the camels, who were none the worse for
their dry stage. Breaden was suffering some pain from his strain, and on
descending to the cave was unable to climb up again; we had some
difficulty in hauling him through the small entrance.
But for the flies, which never ceased to annoy us, we had enjoyed a real
good rest, and were ready to march on the morning of the 16th, no change
occurring in the character of the country until the evening of the 18th,
when we sighted a low tableland five miles to the North, and to the West
of it a table-topped detached hill. Between us and the hills one or two
native smokes were rising, which showed us that water must be somewhere
in the neighbourhood. From a high sandhill the next morning, we got a
better view, and could see behind the table-top another and similar hill.
I had no longer any doubt as to their being Mounts Worsnop and Allott
(Forrest, 1874), the points for which I had been steering, though at
first they appeared so insignificant that I hesitated to believe that
these were the right ones. From the West, from which direction Forrest
saw them first, they appear much higher, and are visible some twenty
miles off. From the North they are not visible a greater distance than
three miles, while from the East one can see them a distance of eight
I altered our course, therefore, towards the hills, and we shortly
crossed the narrow arm of a salt-lake; on the far side several tracks of
emus and natives caught my eye, and I sent Charlie on Satan to scout.
Before long he reported a fine sheet of water just ahead. This, as may be
imagined, came as a surprise to us; for a more unlikely thing to find,
considering the dry state of the rock-holes we had come upon, could not
have been suggested. However, there it was; and very glad we were to see
it, and lost no time in making camp and hobbling the camels. What a
glorious sight in this parched land!--so resting to the eye after days of
sand! How the camels wallowed in the fresh water! how they drank! and
what a grand feed they had on the herbage (TRICHINIUM ALOPECUROIDEUM) on
the banks of the lagoon! Charlie and I spent the afternoon in further
exploring our surroundings, and on return to camp found our mates busily
engaged in plucking some teal and waterhen which they had shot. The
latter were numerous, and Godfrey at one shot bagged nine. They are
almost identical in size and appearance with our British waterhen, though
they seem to have less power of flight, thus enabling us to drive them
from one gun to the other, and so secure a fine lot for the pot. I doubt
if in civilisation they would be considered good eating, but after tinned
horrors they were a perfect delicacy. The teal were as numerous; but
though there were several emu tracks we saw none of those queer birds.
Our bag for three days was seventeen teal, twelve waterhen, one pigeon.
The natives whose smoke we had seen, disappeared shortly after our
arrival. Godfrey, whilst shooting, came across their camp; the occupants,
a man, woman, and child, fled as soon as they caught sight of him,
leaving a shield behind them, and did not appear again. This small oasis
deserves particular attention, for it is bound to play an important part
in any scheme of a stock route from the cattle-stations of Central
Australia to the Murchison or Coolgardie Goldfields.
There are three lagoons (or deep clay-pans) connected by a shallow, sandy
channel. They are entirely surrounded by sandhills, excepting at one
spot, where a narrow creek breaks through the sand-ridge. Of the three
the largest and most South-Westerly one is nearly circular, and has a
diameter of 600 yards with a depth varying from 1 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 6
in. It is capable of holding considerably more water than we saw in it.
The bottom is of rock, a sort of cement in which ironstone is visible in
the middle, and of clay near the edges. From the N.W. a narrow channel
enters, traceable for a distance of two miles to a cane-grass swamp; into
this, small watercourses, and the tail end of a larger creek lead.
Following up this flat, it will be found to develop into a defined
channel running through a grassy flat timbered with bloodwoods (a kind of
eucalyptus). This creek rises in the sandstone tablelands to the N. of
Mount Allott, and in it at its head, is situated Alexander Spring
Round the foot of these hills, extending to the lagoon, is a fine little
plain of grass, saltbush, and numerous low shrubs, all excellent feed for
stock. Mounts Allott and Worsnop are certainly remarkable hills, perhaps
200 feet above the surrounding country, quite flat on the top, which is
covered with scrub. From the latter the lagoon is visible, one mile
distant on bearing 150 degrees. Our camp at the lagoon was in lat. 26
degrees 10 minutes, long. 124 degrees 48 minutes. This reckoning placed
Alexander Spring in a position agreeing very closely with that given it
by Forrest, which was very gratifying to me. This water was marked by
Forrest as "permanent." He says in his journal: "July 13th . . . Fine
water at this place. I have no doubt water is always here. I named it
Alexander Spring after my brother, who discovered it. Abundance of water
also in rock-holes." This was in 1874. Since that date this spot has been
revisited, first and not long after Forrest, by W. W. Mills, who was
commissioned to bring over a mob of camels from South Australia. He
followed Forrest's track from water to water, at first with no
difficulty; depending on Alexander Spring, he made a longish dry stage,
reached the spring only to find it dry, and had a bad time in
consequence. The second party to follow Forrest's route was that of
Carr-Boyd in 1896, whom Breaden accompanied, and who was prospecting for
an Adelaide syndicate. They passed by this spot, but having plenty of
water, as it was raining at the time, did not visit the spring. From
Mount Worsnop, Woodhouse, one of the party, sighted the lagoon; but
neither he nor any of the party had troubled to see whether it was
salt or fresh, or of what extent it was. I have named it after
Woodhouse, who first saw it. Breaden had told me of the fact of his
having seen it, but I had supposed that, as rain was falling, Woodhouse
was only looking on a shallow pool that could by no possibility hold
water for long.
Shortly after Carr-Boyd, there followed Hubbe's party. He was sent out by
the South Australian Government to follow Forrest's route, to ascertain
its suitability or otherwise for a stock route. Hubbe found the spring
dry, or practically so, and was much disappointed. He did not happen to
find the lagoon, and had a long stage before he found water. His party
arrived at Menzies shortly before we started. I was unable to get any
information from him beyond the opinion that the country was worthless
and a stock route impracticable. I put more faith, however, in Breaden,
whose life has been spent amongst stock and travelling cattle. When with
Carr-Boyd he came to the conclusion that as far as the Warburton Range
cattle could be taken without much trouble; and indeed in 1873, so I have
read, Gosse drove some bullocks as far as that point, which was the
furthest west he penetrated when attempting to cross the Colony.
From the Warburton Range to Lake Wells the awkward part came in, but now
this lagoon and the Empress Spring go far to bridge it over. I have no
doubt that a fortnight's work at both these places would be sufficient to
make splendid wells, supposing that the lagoon was found dry and the
spring too hard to get at. At the expenditure of no great amount I feel
confident that a serviceable stock route could be formed, easily
negotiated in the winter months and kept open by wells during the rest of
the year. The country through which the route would pass is excellent as
far as the border. From there it would be necessary to hit off the small
oases which are met with near Mount Squires, Warburton Ranges, Blyth
Creek, and Alexander Spring. From this point the route could be taken to
Empress Spring, thence to Lake Wells (or direct to Lake Wells) and the
Bonython Creek, and from there to Lake Darlot there would be no
difficulty. The only really bad bit of the route would be between
Woodhouse Lagoon and Lake Wells, and this is no great distance. Whether
the scheme would be worth the expenditure necessary to equip a really
serviceable well-sinking party I am unable to judge; but it seems to me
that it would be a tremendous advantage to Central Australian cattle
owners to be able to drive their bullocks direct to the West Australian
goldfields, even though they could only do so in the winter, at which
season alone it is probable that the feed would be sufficiently good. The
fact that Forrest with his horses traversed this route is evidence enough
that at some seasons certain surface waters exist at no great distances
apart--in some cases large supplies. For cattle to follow the route that
we had come so far would be manifestly absurd, and these remarks,
especially where the country between Woodhouse Lagoon and Lake Wells, and
between that lake and Lake Darlot is discussed, are made with the further
knowledge of these regions that our return journey gave us.
It seems a remarkable fact that while a spring should be found dry, not
five miles from it a fresh-water lagoon with millions of gallons in it
should exist. In the first place Alexander Spring is no spring; Sir John
Forrest told me himself that at the time of naming it he was very
doubtful. Hubbe dug it out to bedrock and proved it to be merely a local
soakage in the gravelly bed of a narrow gully. Now a heavy downpour
sufficient to run the creek and fill the lagoon must certainly first fill
the spring and neighbouring pools. But the water in the spring would soon
evaporate, whilst the depth and area of the lagoon would save its
contents from diminishing from this cause, for a much longer period. So
that after all it is easily understandable that we should find the lagoon
full and the so-called spring dry.
Near the foot of Mount Allott we found Hubbe's camp, and in it several
straps and hobble-chains; two tin-lined packing cases had been left
behind, and from them we took the lids, not quite knowing to what use we
could put them, but yet feeling they might be serviceable; and indeed
On the summit of the hill Forrest had raised a cairn of stones; this had
been pulled down by the natives and subsequently replaced by Hubbe. The
blacks had again started to take it to pieces; I rebuilt what they had
removed and placed on the cairn a board on which I wrote directions to
the lagoon, in case any other traveller should pass.
By the side of the little creek to the North-West of the hill a bloodwood
tree has been marked on one side with the number of Mills's camp, and on
the other with a record of the objects of Hubbe's expedition, S.R.
standing presumably for "Stock Route."
The flat on which these trees are growing is, in my opinion, a very
likely spot for finding water by sinking.
THE GREAT UNDULATING DESERT OF GRAVEL
On August 22nd we left this kindly little oasis and directed our course
to the North. We were now nearly in the centre of the Colony, and had
made enough easting, a general northerly course being necessary to take
us through the heart of the great unknown. It was my intention to steer
due North for as long a period as possible, only deviating from it when
forced by the exigencies of water-hunting, and when it became necessary,
to bear somewhat to the eastward so as to hit off the vicinity of Hall's
Creek. Unless absolutely forced to do so, I did not propose to make any
deviation to the Westward--for from our small caravan it was incumbent
upon us to waste no time, unless we could do so in country where game was
procurable. So far, although our actual line of march had been through
unmapped country, we had traversed a region already crossed by another
party, whose route ran parallel to ours and some forty miles to the
north. Not that that was of the least benefit to us any more than if we
had been at sea; but it gave us the feeling that we were not in an
absolutely TERRA INCOGNITA. From the lagoon, however, our route lay
through country untrodden by any white man, with the exception of Ernest
Giles, whose track we should cross at right angles, about one hundred
miles North of Alexander Spring. But unless we sighted the Alfred and
Marie Range, named by him, we should have no guide, excepting our
position on the chart, to show us where we crossed the path of a caravan
which marched through the wilderness twenty years before.
To give a description of the country that we now encountered, from day to
day, would be so deadly monotonous that the kindest reader would hardly
forgive me; and even if it could serve any useful purpose I should
hesitate to recount the daily scene of solitude. A general account of
this country, followed by any incidents or personal adventures worthy of
notice, will suffice to give an idea of this dreary region.
From lat. 26 degrees S. to lat. 22 degrees 40 minutes there stretches a
vast desert of rolling sand, not formed in ridges like those already
described, nor heaped up with the regularity of those met with further
north. "Downs" I think is the only term that describes properly the
configuration of the country. "The Great Undulating Desert of Gravel"
would meet all requirements should it be thought worthy of a name. In
this cheerless and waterless region we marched from August 22nd until
September 17th seeing no lakes, nor creeks, nor mountains; no hills even
prominent enough to deserve a name, excepting on three occasions. Day
after day over open, treeless expanses covered only by the never-ending
spinifex and strewn everywhere with pebbles and stones of ferruginous
sandstone, as if some mighty giant had sown the ground with seed in the
hope of raising a rich crop of hills. The spinifex here cannot grow its
coarse, tall blades of grass--the top growth is absent and only round
stools of spines remain; well was it named Porcupine Grass!
Occasional clumps of mulga break the even line of the horizon, and, in
the valleys, thickets or belts of bloodwood are seen. In these hollows one
may hope to find feed for the camels, for here may grow a few quondongs,
acacia, and fern-tree shrubs, and in rare cases some herbage. The beefwood
tree, the leaves of which camels, when hard pressed, will eat, alone
commands the summit of the undulations. As for animal life--well, one
forgets that life exists, until occasionally reminded of the fact by a
bounding spinifex rat, frightened from his nest. Day after day one or
other of us used to walk away from the caravan carrying a gun on the
chance of getting a shot; never once did we succeed; the rats invariably
got up out of range, and after a time we voted it unnecessary labour. Had
they been easily shot their small numbers would hardly have made it worth
while to burden one's self with a gun; to see a dozen in a day was
counted out of the common. Birds were nowhere numerous--an occasional
eagle-hawk, or crow, and once or twice a little flock of long-tailed
parrots whose species was unknown to any of us. Unfortunately I was
unable to procure a specimen. At any waters pigeons, sparrows, crows,
and hawks might be seen in fair quantities; and very rarely a turkey.
From the 22nd to the 24th we saw no signs of natives. On the latter day
several smokes rose during the march. So far, we had no certain knowledge
of the meaning of these smokes. They might be native signals, or from
fires for the purpose of burning off the old spinifex to allow young feed
to grow and so attract the rats to a known locality; or it might be that
the blacks were burning the country to hunt out the rats and lizards. On
the 25th a sudden change took place, and we found ourselves in a small,
open thicket with a coarse undergrowth of grass, and scattered about were
a few boulders of decomposed granite and occasional low outcrops of rock.
Several old native camps put us on the alert, and presently we found a
well--a shallow hole, 7 feet deep, and 2 feet 6 inches in diameter,
entirely surrounded by high spinifex. Why there should ever be water
there, or how the blacks got to know of it, was a problem we could only
guess at. Everything looked so dry and parched that we were in no way
surprised at finding the well waterless. Prempeh had been very unwell
lately, refusing to take what little feed there was to be got. A dose of
sulphur and butter was administered, poured warm down his throat by me as
Breaden held open his month, grasped firmly by either lip. I believe
sulphur is an excellent thing for camels, and used often to treat them
to the mixture, some--Satan, for example--being very partial to it. The
position of this well I found to be lat. 25 degrees 15 minutes, long.
124 degrees 48 minutes; from the edge of the mulga, one hundred yards or
so to the North of it, a range of rough looking hills is visible. This I
named the Browne Range, after my old friends at Bayley's Reward, and the
two conspicuous points I christened Mount Gordon, after Mr. Gordon Lyon,
and Mount Everard, after Mr. Everard Browne, respectively.
Mount Gordon is flat-topped; and Mount Everard a double hill, a peak
rising from a flat top, bears 82 degrees from the well. This range stood
out boldly from the open country and promised well for hilly country
ahead. Nor were we disappointed, for after two hours' travel we sighted
an imposing-looking range, and altered our course to the highest point, a
queer dome-shaped peak, which we called Charlie's Knob, since he had
first seen the hills. On nearer approach the hills lost much of their
grandeur. By camping-time we were close to their foot amongst rocky
rises, very rough to the feet of our animals. They were rewarded for
their discomforts by a small patch of herbage which they quickly
demolished. That night we heard the dismal howling of two dingoes, who
might either be giving expression to their satisfaction at finding water
or to their disappointment at not having done so. Three miles more of
rugged ground the next morning brought us to Charlie's Knob, and beyond
it the range, which on close examination was not imposing, being a series
of detached sandstone hills, their summits flat and slightly sloping to
the South, capped with a hard reddish-brown rock (baked shale). On the
cap, loose fragments of shale and thick scrub; forming its sides sheer
cliffs, at most fifteen feet high, perforated by holes and caves, above
rough, stony banks. The whole covered with tufts of spinifex, barren,
wretched, and uninviting.
On Charlie's Knob a queer little natural pinnacle of rock stands half-way
up the side, and from a hill close by, an excellent view of the Browne
Range was obtained, Mount Gordon bearing 148 degrees. With the help of my
field-glasses I could make out the character of this range to be similar
to that of the Young Range on which I was standing. It is of course
necessary to name these hills for future reference, and this range got
its name from somebody's remark that it was hardly full grown. From the
knob the hills run in a crescent, a line joining the two horns being
North-East. In the bend of the crescent I could see some very
green-looking bloodwoods and made sure we should find a creek. First we
hunted the neighbouring hills without success, and then crossed on to the
bloodwood flat which had appeared like a creek. Here for the only time
our patience in carrying the gun was rewarded, and Charlie shot two fine
turkeys. This welcome occurrence, added to Godfrey's having seen a
kangaroo in the hills and the dingoes heard the night before, made us
confident that water was not far off. That night Godfrey and I took it in
turns to baste the turkeys, as they were baking between two prospecting
dishes. Godfrey was an excellent cook, and most particular that
everything should be done cleanly and properly. I was quite under his
orders in the kitchen, for the cook's art is one that I have not the
patience to learn, and cordially hate.
Cold turkey and tea for breakfast, and then I divided the party into two,
Breaden with the camels being directed to a prominent hill at the end of
the range there to await the arrival of Godfrey and myself, who went off
to the hills to make further search for water. All day we hunted in
different directions and everywhere found the same barren rocks. We had
fixed upon a certain gully as a rendezvous; each gully was exactly like
its neighbour. Towards the evening I returned to the gully, which I was
sure was the one agreed upon, and there awaited Godfrey. He did the same,
only chose another gully, equally sure that he was right. And there we
sat, each impatiently blaming the other. At last, to pass the time, I
fired some shots at an ant-hill; these had the effect of bringing
Godfrey over the rise, and we had a good laugh at each other when we
discovered that for nearly half an hour we had sat not two hundred yards
apart--and each remained firmly convinced that he was right! Godfrey had
shot a kangaroo and carried part of the meat and the tail; he had tracked
it a long way, but could see no signs of water.
Still following the hills, we made our way towards the point where the
camels should be, and presently cut a deep, rocky gorge, which we
followed down. The camels had crossed this; and, as it was getting late,
I sent Godfrey along their tracks to rejoin the others, telling him that
I should continue down the creek, and return to wherever they made camp;
to guide me to it they were to light a fire. I followed the creek, or
storm channel as I should rather call it, for some four miles; climbing a
tree I could see it apparently continuing for some miles, so, feeling
that I had already had a fair tramp, I noted the direction of the smoke
from the camp and returned to it. As luck would have it, it was the wrong
smoke; Breaden on arriving at the end hill had made a fire, and this the
evening breeze had rekindled; and the camp-fire happened to die down at
the very time it was most needed. In due course I arrived at the hill,
named Mount Colin, after poor Colin Gibson, a Coolgardie friend who had
lately died from typhoid. From the summit a noticeable flat-topped hill,
Mount Cox, named after Ernest Cox, also of Coolgardie, bears 76 degrees
about fifteen miles distant, at the end of a fair-sized range running
S.S.W. Between this range and that from which I was observing, I noticed
several belts of bloodwoods, which might be creeks, but probably are only
flats similar to that crossed by us. Picking up the tracks of the main
party, I followed them to camp, not sorry to have a rest; for it was ten
hours since Godfrey and I had had anything to eat or drink, and the rocks
were rough and the spinifex dense. I mention this, not as illustrating our
hardships, but to show what training will do; any one of us would have
been quite ready to do the day's tramp over again had any necessity
That night as I was shooting the stars, by which I found we were in lat.
24 degrees 57 minutes, long. 125 degrees 9 minutes (dead reckoning), I
noticed several bronzewing pigeons flying down the creek which I had
followed, and on which we were camped. In the morning others observed
them flying up the watercourse. As a bronzewing drinks just after dark,
or just before daylight, this was pretty good evidence that water existed
in the direction in which the creek ran--and probably an open pool would
be found. No such luck! for we followed the channel until it no longer
was one, that is to say its banks became further apart, and lower, until
its wash was spread out in all directions over a flat whose limits were
defined by bloodwoods and grass. Here we found an old blacks' camp and
spent some time examining its neighbourhood. Little heaps of the yellow
seed of a low plant, swept together on clear spaces on the ground, and
the non-existence of any well, led us to suppose that this was merely a
travelling camp of some buck who had been sent to collect seed. It was
rather aggravating to be morally certain that water existed and yet be
unable to find it; we still had hopes of the creek making again, and so
followed the direction of its previous course.
Before long the tracks of a buck and a gin crossed our path, and we at
once turned to follow them through all their deviations. We saw where the
woman had dug out bardies from the roots of a wattle, where the buck had
unearthed a rat,* and where together they had chased a lizard. Finally we
reached their camp. Several implements lay about, including two bark
coolimans. These, the simplest form of cooliman, are made by peeling the
bark off the projecting lumps so common on the stems of bloodwoods. The
bark so obtained forms a little trough. In some regions they are gouged
out of a solid piece of wood, but this requires a knowledge of carpentry,
and probably tools, not possessed by the desert black. Another kind more
simple than the first mentioned, is made by bending the two sides of a
strip of bark together, so as to form the half of a pipe; then, by
stuffing up the two ends with clay and grass, a serviceable little trough
is made. In those we saw the clay was moist, and we knew that this was no
mere travelling camp. However, search as we would we could find no water,
until a flock of diamond-sparrows rose in front of Warri, and he
discovered a little well hidden in the spinifex--so perfectly hidden that
our own tracks had passed half an hour before its discovery within a few
paces of it!
[* The rat mentioned here was probably a "Bandicoot," "Boody," or "Bilby,"
the scientific name of which I do not know; I have never seen one, only
their burrows, and these have always shown every appearance of being
unoccupied. Most of the burrows that I have seen have been in a low
mound, perhaps 30 feet across, of white powdery soil, like gypsum. The
only living things I have seen emerge being a cat (near Lake Prinsep) and
snakes or lizards.
There is a smaller rat, which the natives in the goldfields districts get
in rather an ingenious way. This rat makes a single burrow, with a nest
at the end of it close beneath the surface. When it is inside the hole it
fills in the entrance and retires to its nest. This is ventilated by a
little hole to the surface, the mouth of this hole being hidden with
small stones and sticks. The rat, however, with all his cunning has only
built a mark by which his home may be discovered by the native. I had
often noticed these little heaps of stones in the scrub, and until a tame
boy explained it had no notion of their meaning.]
What chance has one of finding water, except by the most diligent search
and by making use of every sign and indication written on the surface of
the ground? This well was similar to the one already described,
excepting in one important respect. This one had water. Turning the
camels out we started work, and by sundown had the well in order. Tying
the others down we proceeded to water each camel in turn. Picture our
surprise and joy when each turned from the bucket without drinking more
than two gallons. Billy rolled up like a great balloon, and one would
have sworn that he had just had a long drink. What was this miracle? Here
were camels, after an eight days' drought, travelling eight to ten hours
daily in hot weather, over rough stones and gravel, actually turning away
The answer to this riddle was "Parakeelia." This is a local, presumably
native, name in Central Australia for a most wonderful and useful plant.
A specimen brought back by me from this locality was identified at Kew as
CALANDRINIA BALONENSIS. This plant grows close to the ground in little
bunches; in place of leaves it has long, fleshy projections, like
fingers, of a yellowish-green colour. From the centre grows a pretty
little lilac flower at the end of a single thin stalk. The fingers are
full of watery juice and by no means unpalatable. We tried them raw, and
also fried in butter, when they were quite good eating. The plant is
greedily devoured by stock of all kinds, and in dry tracts in Central
Australia has been the means of saving many head of cattle. As we found
it, it was not easily got hold of, for invariably it grew right in the
centre of a hummock of spinifex. At first the camels, not knowing its
properties, would not risk pricking themselves, but after we had shown
them, by clearing away the spinifex, how nice it was, they did not
hesitate to plunge their soft noses into the spiny mass, with what good
effect I have already described. Indeed, this plant is a wonderful
provision of nature, and compensates a little for the hideous sterility
of the country. I am not wide of the mark when I say that given
"parakeelia" every second night or so a camel would never want to drink
at all, though it is not really as serviceable as water--not having the
same lasting effect. A similar plant, also found in Central Australia, is
"Munyeru." In the centre of this a little bag of black seeds grows;
these seeds are crushed and eaten by the natives. Munyeru, Breaden tells
me, is quite a good vegetable for human consumption. Why the locality of
this well, "Warri Well," should be specially favoured by the growth of
parakeelia I cannot guess.
The well itself was sufficiently remarkable. Our work took us some twelve
feet from the surface, and in the well we had nearly five feet of water
and the probability of a deal more, as we had not reached "bottom." The
question that presented itself to my mind was whether the natives had
sunk the well on a likely looking spot and been fortunate in finding a
supply, or whether, from tradition, they knew that this well, possibly
only a rock-hole covered by surface soil, existed. The depression in
which the well is situated must after rain receive the drainage, not only
from the channel we followed, but from the stony rise to the north of it.
After a heavy storm--and from the way in which this creek has been torn
through the sand, scouring a channel down to bedrock, it is clear that
occasionally violent storms visit this region--a large volume of water
would collect in this depression. Some of it would be sucked up by the
trees and shrubs, some would evaporate, but the greater part would soak
into the ground where, so long as the bed-rock (which in this particular
case is a hard sandstone and iron conglomerate) is impervious, it would
remain. I should think it likely, therefore, that on this and similar
flats, not far from hills or tablelands, water by sinking could be
obtained at no great depth. A good guide to this well is a bare patch of
rock on Mount Colin, which bears 138 degrees three miles distant.
This hill is visible from ten miles due North of the well, from which
point it shows up prominently. Continuing a northerly march from that
point we found that the gravel and stones for the next few miles became
much rougher, and made walking tiring work. Occasionally mulga thickets
free from stones had to be passed through; in these there often occurred
very shallow depressions overgrown with grass and floored with clay. From
the floors rose high, pinnacled ant-heaps, built by the white ant; these
hills, grouped into little colonies, sometimes attained a height of
eleven feet, and had in the distance a weird appearance, reminding me in
shape, at least, of the picture of Lot's wife turned into a pillar of
salt. Around these clay flats large white gum-trees were growing, a
different species from the desert gum, having a quite smooth bark.
On September 1st we sighted the Alfred and Marie Range due East of us. I
had expected to find this almost on our course; however, my reckoning
differs from Giles's by eight miles, my position for the range being to
the East of his. As we approached the range the country improved greatly,
and had every appearance of having experienced recent rains, for green
herbage [HALORAGIS, and TRICHINIUM ALOPECUROIDEUM.] was in places
abundant--that is to say, little patches of it, perhaps twenty paces
across. These we saw were feeding-grounds for kangaroos and wallabies.
Turkey tracks were fairly numerous; of the latter we saw six, and shot
one. They are very wary birds and not easily stalked. A very good plan
for shooting them is for one man to hide in a bush or behind a tree
whilst the other circles round a good way off, and very slowly advances,
and so drives the turkey past the hidden sportsman. He, if he is wise,
will let the turkey rise before firing, as their wings are easily broken,
whilst the thick breast-feathers readily turn shot.
We made camp one mile from the foot of the hills, and Charlie and I
walked over to see what was to be seen. This range is of sandstone, and
made up of a series of flat-topped hills of peculiar shapes, standing on
the usual rough, stony slopes. The hills are traceable in a broken line
for a considerable distance, perhaps twenty miles, in a North-Easterly
direction. No doubt some good water-hole exists amongst these hills,
judging from the tracks of kangaroos, turkeys, and dingoes. I fancy that
animals and birds follow up rain-storms from place to place to take
advantage of the good feed which springs into life, and it is most
probable that for ten months in the year these hills are undisturbed by
animal or bird life. Certainly Giles found that to be the case when he
crossed them in 1876; so disgusted was he with their appearance that he
did not trouble to investigate them at all. Indeed, he could have no
other than sad remembrances of this range, for he first sighted it from
the East, when attempting to cross the interior from East to West--an
attempt that failed, owing to the impossibility of traversing this desert
of rolling sand and gravel with horses only as a means of transport.
Baffled, he was forced to return, leaving behind him, lost for ever,
his companion Gibson. After him this desert is named, and how he lost his
life is related in Giles's journals.
In 1874 Giles, Tietkens, Gibson, and Andrews, with twenty-four horses,
left the overland Central Australian telegraph line, to push out to the
West as far as possible. Keeping to the South of the already discovered
Lake Amadeus, they found the Rawlinson and neighbouring ranges just
within the Colony of West Australia. Water was plentiful, and a depot camp
was formed, Giles and Gibson making a flying trip ahead to the westward.
The furthest point was reached on April 23, 1874, from which the Alfred
and Marie was visible some twenty-five miles distant. At this point
Gibson's horse "knocked up," and shortly afterwards died. Giles thereupon
gave up his own horse, the Fair Maid of Perth, and sent his companion
back to the depot for relief; for it was clear that only one could ride
the horse, and he who did so, by hurrying on, could return and save his
companion. With a wave of his hat, he shouted goodbye to his generous
leader and rode off. "This was the last ever seen of Gibson." It appears
that the poor fellow failed to follow back the outgoing tracks, got lost
in the night, became hopelessly "bushed," and perished, alone in the
desert. Giles meanwhile struggled on and on, every hour expecting relief,
which of course never came. At last he staggered into camp, nearly dead.
No time was lost in saddling fresh horses, and Tietkens and his exhausted
companion set out in search of the missing man. Picking up the Fair
Maid's tracks, they followed them until they were four days out from
camp, and it became clear that to go further meant sacrificing not only
their own lives but that of their mate left behind at the depot, as well
as that of all the horses. Gibson's tracks when last seen were leading in
a direction exactly opposite to that of the camp. Luckily the cold
weather (April) stood their horses in good stead; but in spite of this
and of the water they packed for them, the horses only managed to crawl
into camp. It was manifestly impossible to make further search, for
seventy miles of desert intervened between the depot-camp and the tracks
when last seen; and the mare was evidently still untired. So, sorrowfully
they retraced their steps to the East, and the place of Gibson's death
remains a secret still. I have heard that months after Giles's return,
Gibson's mare came back to her home, thin and miserable, and showing on
her belly and back the marks of a saddle and girth, which as she wasted
away had become slack and so turned over. Her tracks were followed back
for some distance without result. Poor thing! she had a long journey, and
Giles must have spoken truly when he said, "The Fair Maid was the gamest
horse I ever rode."
Giles's account of this desert shows that the last twenty years have
done little to improve it! He says "The flies were still about us in
persecuting myriads; . . . the country was, quite open, rolling along in
ceaseless undulations of sand, the only vegetation besides the
ever-abounding spinifex was a few bloodwood trees. The region is so
desolate that it is horrifying even to describe. The eye of God looking