Part 1 out of 6
SPINIFEX AND SAND by DAVID W CARNEGIE (1871-1900)
A NARRATIVE OF FIVE YEARS' PIONEERING AND EXPLORATION
IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
"An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told."
The following pages profess to be no more than a faithful narrative of
five years spent on the goldfields and in the far interior of Western
Australia. Any one looking for stirring adventures, hairbreadth escapes
from wild animals and men, will be disappointed. In the Australian Bush
the traveller has only Nature to war against--over him hangs always the
chance of death from thirst, and sometimes from the attacks of hostile
aboriginals; he has no spice of adventure, no record heads of rare game,
no exciting escapades with dangerous beasts, to spur him on; no beautiful
scenery, broad lakes, or winding rivers to make life pleasant for him.
The unbroken monotony of an arid, uninteresting country has to be faced.
Nature everywhere demands his toil. Unless he has within him impulses that
give him courage to go on, he will soon return; for he will find nothing
in his surroundings to act as an incentive to tempt him further.
I trust my readers will be able to glean a little knowledge of the
hardships and dangers that beset the paths of Australian pioneers, and
will learn something of the trials and difficulties encountered by a
prospector, recognising that he is often inspired by some higher feeling
than the mere "lust of gold."
Wherever possible, I have endeavoured to add interest to my own
experiences by recounting those of other travellers; and, by studying the
few books that touch upon such matters to explain any points in connection
with the aboriginals that from my own knowledge I am unable to do. I owe
several interesting details to the "Report on the Work of the Horn
Scientific Expedition to Central Australia," and to "Ethnological Studies
among the North-West Central Queensland Aboriginals," by Walter E. Roth.
For the identification of the few geological specimens brought in by me,
I am indebted to the Government Geologist of the Mines Department,
Perth, W.A., and to Mr. W. Botting Hemsley, through the courtesy of the
Director of the Royal Gardens, Kew, for the identification of the plants.
I also owe many thanks to my friend Mr. J. F. Cornish, who has taken so
much trouble in correcting the proofs of my MSS.
EARLY DAYS IN COOLGARDIE
CHAPTER I EARLY DAYS IN THE COLONY
CHAPTER II "HARD UP"
CHAPTER III A MINER ON BAYLEY'S
FIRST PROSPECTING EXPEDITION
CHAPTER I THE RUSH TO KURNALPI--WE REACH QUEEN VICTORIA SPRING
CHAPTER II IN UNKNOWN COUNTRY
CHAPTER III FROM MOUNT SHENTON TO MOUNT MARGARET
SECOND PROSPECTING EXPEDITION
CHAPTER I THE JOYS OF PORTABLE CONDENSERS
CHAPTER II GRANITE ROCKS, "NAMMA HOLES," AND "SOAKS"
CHAPTER III A FRESH START
CHAPTER IV A CAMEL FIGHT
CHAPTER V GOLD AT LAKE DARLOT
CHATTER VI ALONE IN THE BUSH
CHAPTER VII SALE OF MINE
CHAPTER I QUARTZ REEFING AND DRY-BLOWING
THE OUTWARD JOURNEY
CHAPTER I PREVIOUS EXPLORERS IN THE INTERIOR OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA
CHAPTER II MEMBERS AND EQUIPMENT OF EXPEDITION
CHAPTER III THE JOURNEY BEGINS
CHAPTER IV WE ENTER THE DESERT
CHAPTER V WATER AT LAST
CHAPTER VI WOODHOUSE LAGOON
CHAPTER VII THE GREAT UNDULATING DESERT OF GRAVEL
CHAPTER VIII A DESERT TRIBE
CHAPTER IX DR. LEICHARDT'S LOST EXPEDITION
CHAPTER X THE DESERT OF PARALLEL SAND-RIDGES
CHAPTER XI FROM FAMILY WELL TO HELENA SPRING
CHAPTER XII HELENA SPRING
CHAPTER XIII FROM HELENA SPRING TO THE SOUTHESK TABLELANDS.
CHAPTER XIV DEATH OF STANSMORE
CHAPTER XV WELLS EXPLORING EXPEDITION
CHAPTER XVI KIMBERLEY
CHAPTER XVII ABORIGINALS AT HALL'S CREEK
CHAPTER XVIII PREPARATIONS FOR THE RETURN JOURNEY
TO PART V SOME NATIVE WEAPONS AND CEREMONIAL IMPLEMENTS
THE JOURNEY HOME
CHAPTER I RETURN JOURNEY BEGINS
CHAPTER II STURT CREEK AND "GREGORY'S SALT SEA"
CHAPTER III OUR CAMP ON THE "SALT SEA"
CHAPTER IV DESERT ONCE MORE
CHAPTER V STANSMORE RANGE TO LAKE MACDONALD
CHAPTER VI LAKE MACDONALD TO THE DEEP ROCK-HOLES
CHAPTER VII THE LAST OF THE RIDGES OF DRIFT SAND
CHAPTER VIII WOODHOUSE LAGOON REVISITED
CHAPTER IX ACROSS LAKE WELLS TO LAKE DARLOT
CHAPTER X THE END OF THE EXPEDITION
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
(45 illustrations appeared in the original text, published in 1898.
They have not been reproduced in this etext.)
HON. D. W. CARNEGIE
JARRAH FOREST, WEST AUSTRALIA
GENERAL STORE AND POST-OFFICE, COOLGARDIE, 1892
THE FIRST HOTEL AT COOLGARDIE
THE "GOLD ESCORT"
GRASS TREES, NEAR PERTH
DEATH OF "TOMMY"
FRESH MEAT AT LAST
BAYLEY STREET, COOLGARDIE, 1894
CONDENSING WATER ON A SALT LAKE
FEVER-STRICKEN AND ALONE
TYPICAL SANDSTONE GORGE
CROSSING A SALT LAKE
ENTRANCE TO EMPRESS SPRING
AT WORK IN THE CAVE, EMPRESS SPRING
A BUCK AND HIS GINS IN CAMP AT FAMILY WELL
CRESTING A SAND-RIDGE
THE ONLY SPECIMEN OF DESERT ARCHITECTURE
THE MAD BUCK
A NATIVE HUNTING PARTY
PLAN OF SAND-RIDGES
EXAGGERATED SECTION OF THE SAND-RIDGES
CHARLES W. STANSMORE
NATIVE PREPARING FOR THE EMU DANCE
CLUBS AND THROWINQ-STICKS
GROUP OF EXPLORERS
JUST IN TIME
A WILD ESCORT OF NEARLY ONE HUNDRED MEN
ESTABLISHING FRIENDLY RELATIONS
THE TAIL-END OF A MISERABLE CARAVAN
A KARRI TIMBER TRAIN
A PEARL SHELL STATION, BROOME, N.W. AUSTRALIA
* * * * * * * * * *
PART I EARLY DAYS IN COOLGARDIE
EARLY DAYS IN THE COLONY
In the month of September, 1892, Lord Percy Douglas (now Lord Douglas of
Hawick) and I, found ourselves steaming into King George's Sound--that
magnificent harbour on the south-west coast of Western Australia--building
castles in the air, discussing our prospects, and making rapid and vast
imaginary fortunes in the gold-mines of that newly-discovered land of
Ophir. Coolgardie, a district then unnamed, had been discovered, and
Arthur Bayley, a persevering and lucky prospector, had returned to
civilised parts from the "bush," his packhorses loaded with golden
specimens from the famous mine which bears his name. I suppose the
fortunate find of Bayley and his mate, Ford, has turned the course of
events in the lives of many tens of thousands of people, and yet, as he
jogged along the track from Gnarlbine Rock to Southern Cross, I daresay
his thoughts reverted to his own life, and the good time before him,
rather than to moralising on the probable effect of his discovery on
We spent as little time as possible at Albany, or, I should say, made our
stay as short as was permitted, for in those days the convenience of the
passenger was thought little of, in comparison with the encouragement of
local industries, so that mails and travellers alike were forced to remain
at least one night in Albany by the arrangement of the train service,
greatly to the benefit of the hotel-keepers.
We were somewhat surprised to see the landlord's daughters waiting at
table. They were such tremendously smart and icy young ladies that at
first we were likely to mistake them for guests; and even when sure of
their identity we were too nervous to ask for anything so vulgar as a pot
of beer, or to expect them to change our plates.
Between Albany and Perth the country is not at all interesting being for
the most part flat, scrubby, and sandy, though here and there are rich
farming and agricultural districts. Arrived at Perth we found ourselves a
source of great interest to the inhabitants, inasmuch as we announced our
intention of making our way to the goldfields, while we had neither the
means nor apparently the capability of getting there. Though treated with
great hospitality, we found it almost impossible to get any information
or assistance, all our inquiries being answered by some scoffing remark,
such as, "Oh, you'll never get there!"
We attended a rather remarkable dinner--given in honour of the Boot, Shoe,
Harness, and Leather trade, at the invitation of a fellow-countryman in
the trade, and enjoyed ourselves immensely; speech-making and
toast-drinking being carried out in the extensive style so customary in
the West. Picture our surprise on receiving a bill for 10s. 6d. next
morning! Our friend of the dinner, kindly put at our disposal a hansom
cab which he owned, but this luxury we declined with thanks, fearing a
repetition of his "bill-by-invitation."
Owing to the extreme kindness of Mr. Robert Smith we were at last enabled
to get under way for the scene of the "rush." Disregarding the many offers
of men willing to guide us along a self-evident track, we started with one
riding and one packhorse each. These and the contents of the pack-bags
represented all our worldly possessions, but in this we might count
ourselves lucky, for many hundreds had to carry their belongings on their
backs--"humping their bluey," as the expression is.
Our road lay through Northam, and the several small farms and settlements
which extend some distance eastward. Very few used this track, the more
popular and direct route being through York, and thence along the
telegraph line to Southern Cross; and indeed we did pass through York,
which thriving little town we left at dusk, and, carrying out our
directions, rode along the telegraph line. Unfortunately we had not been
told that the line split up, one branch going to Northam and the other to
Southern Cross; as often happens in such cases, we took the wrong branch
and travelled well into the night before finding any habitation at which
we could get food and water.
The owner of the house where we finally stopped did not look upon our
visit with pleasure, as we had literally to break into the house before we
could attract any attention. Finding we were not burglars, and having
relieved himself by most vigorous and pictorial language (in the use of
which the teamsters and small farmers are almost without rivals) the owner
showed us his well, and did what he could to make us comfortable. I shall
never forget the great hospitality here along this road, though no doubt
as time went on the settlers could not afford to house hungry travellers
free of cost, and probably made a fair amount of money by selling
provisions and horse-feed to the hundreds of gold-fever patients who were
Southern Cross, which came into existence about the year '90, was a pretty
busy place, being the last outpost of civilisation at the time of our
first acquaintance with it. The now familiar corrugated-iron-built town,
with its streets inches deep in dust under a blazing sun, its incessant
swarms of flies, the clashing of the "stamps" on the mines, and the
general "never-never" appearance of the place, impressed us with feelings
the reverse of pleasant. The building that struck me most was the bank--a
small iron shanty with a hession partition dividing it into office and
living room, the latter a hopeless chaos of cards, candle ends, whiskey
bottles, blankets, safe keys, gold specimens, and cooking utensils. The
bank manager had evidently been entertaining a little party of friends the
previous night, and though its hours had passed, and a new day had dawned,
the party still continued. Since that time it has been my lot to witness
more than one such evening of festivity!
On leaving Southern Cross we travelled with another company of
adventurers, one of whom, Mr. Davies, an old Queensland squatter, was our
partner in several subsequent undertakings.
The monotony of the flat timber-clad country was occasionally relieved by
the occurrence of large isolated hills of bare granite. But for these the
road, except for camels, could never have been kept open; for they
represented our sources of water supply. On the surface of the rocks
numerous holes and indentations are found, which after rain, hold water,
and besides these, around the foot of the outcrops, "soaks," or shallow
wells, are to be found.
What scenes of bitter quarrels these watering-places have witnessed!
The selfish striving, each to help himself, the awful sufferings of man
and beast, horses and camels mad with thirst, and men cursing the country
and themselves, for wasting their lives and strength in it; but they have
witnessed many an act of kindness and self-denial too.
Where the now prosperous and busy town of Coolgardie stands, with its
stone and brick buildings, banks, hotels, and streets of shops, offices,
and dwelling-houses, with a population of some 15,000, at the time of
which I write there stood an open forest of eucalyptus dotted here and
there with the white tents and camps of diggers. A part of the timber had
already been cleared to admit of "dry-blowing" operations--a process
adopted for the separation of gold from alluvial soil in the waterless
parts of Australia.
Desperate hard work this, with the thermometer at 100 degrees in the
shade, with the "dishes" so hot that they had often to be put aside to
cool, with clouds of choking dust, a burning throat, and water at a
shilling to half a crown a gallon! Right enough for the lucky ones
"on gold," and for them not a life of ease! The poor devil with neither
money nor luck, who looked into each dishful of dirt for the wherewithal
to live, and found it not, was indeed scarcely to be envied.
Water at this time was carted by horse-teams in waggons with large tanks
on board, or by camel caravans, from a distance of thirty-six miles, drawn
from a well near a large granite rock. The supply was daily failing, and
washing was out of the question; enough to drink was all one thought of;
two lines of eager men on either side of the track could daily be seen
waiting for these water-carts. What a wild rush ensued when they were
sighted! In a moment they were surrounded and taken by storm, men swarming
on to them like an army of ants. As a rule, eager as we were for water,
a sort of order prevailed, and every man got his gallon water-bag filled
until the supply was exhausted. And generally the owner of the water
received due payment.
About Christmas-time the water-famine was at its height. Notices were
posted by order of the Warden, proclaiming that the road to or from
Coolgardie would soon be closed, as all wells were failing, and advising
men to go down in small parties, and not to rush the waters in a great
crowd. This advice was not taken, and daily scores of men left the
"field," and many were hard put to it to reach Southern Cross. It was a
cruel sight in those thirsty days to see the poor horses wandering about,
mere walking skeletons, deserted by their owners, for strangers were both
unable to give them water, and afraid to put them out of their misery lest
damages should be claimed against them. How long our own supplies would
last was eagerly discussed, as we gathered round the butcher's shop, the
great meeting-place, to which, in the evenings, most of the camp would
come to talk over the affairs of the day.
Postmaster, as well as butcher and storekeeper, was Mr. Benstead,
a kind-hearted, hard-working man, and a good friend to us in our early
struggles. What a wonderful post-office it was too! A proper match for the
so-called coach that brought the mails. A very dilapidated buckboard-buggy
drawn by equally dilapidated horses, used to do the journey from the
Southern Cross to the new fields very nearly as quickly as a loaded waggon
with eight or ten horses! The mail-coach used to carry not only letters,
papers, and gold on the return journey, but passengers, who served the
useful purposes of dragging the carriage through the sand and dust when
the horses collapsed, of hunting up the team in the mornings, and of
lightening the load by walking. For this exceedingly comfortable journey
they had the pleasure of paying at least five pounds. It was no uncommon
sight at some tank or rock on the road, to see the mail-coach standing
alone in its glory, deserted by driver and passengers alike. Of these some
would be horse-hunting, and the rest tramping ahead in hope of being
caught up by the coach. There would often be on board many hundred pounds'
worth of gold, sent down by the diggers to be banked, or forwarded to
their families; yet no instance of robbing the mail occurred. The sort of
gentry from whom bushrangers and thieves are made, had not yet found their
way to the rush.
Many banks were failing at that time, and men anxiously awaited the
arrival of news. The teamsters, with their heavy drays, would be eagerly
questioned as to where they had passed Her Majesty's mail, and as to the
probability of its arrival within the next week or so! The distribution of
letters did not follow this happy event with great rapidity. Volunteers
had to be called in to sort the delivery, the papers were thrown into a
heap in the road, and all anxious for news were politely requested to help
themselves. Several illustrated periodicals were regularly sent me from
home, as I learnt afterwards, but I never had the luck to drop across my
On mail day, the date of which was most uncertain as the coach journeys
soon overlapped, there was always a lengthy, well-attended "roll-up" at
the Store. Here we first made acquaintance with Messrs. Browne and Lyon,
then negotiating for the purchase of Bayley's fabulous mine of gold.
No account of the richness of this claim at that time could be too
extravagant to be true; for surely such a solid mass of gold was never
seen before, as met the eye in the surface workings.
Messrs. Browne and Lyon had at their camp a small black-boy whom they
tried in vain to tame. He stood a good deal of misplaced kindness, and
even wore clothes without complaint; but he could not bear having his hair
cut, and so ran away to the bush. He belonged to the wandering tribe that
daily visited the camp--a tribe of wretched famine-stricken "blacks,"
whose natural hideousness and filthy appearance were intensified by the
dirty rags with which they made shift to cover their bodies. I should
never have conceived it possible that such living skeletons could exist.
Without begging from the diggers I fail to see how they could have lived,
for not a living thing was to be found in the bush, save an occasional
iguana and "bardies,*" and, as I have said, all known waters within
available distance of Coolgardie were dry, or nearly so.
[* "Bardies" are large white grubs--three or four inches long--which the
natives dig out from the roots of a certain shrub. When baked on
wood-ashes they are said to be excellent eating. The natives, however,
prefer them raw, and, having twisted off the heads, eat them with evident
Benstead had managed to bring up a few sheep from the coast, which the
"gins," or women, used to tend. The native camp was near the
slaughter-yard, and it used to be an interesting and charming sight to see
these wild children of the wilderness, fighting with their mongrel dogs
for the possession of the offal thrown away by the butcher. If successful
in gaining this prize they were not long in disposing of it, cooking
evidently being considered a waste of time. A famished "black-fellow"
after a heavy meal used to remind me of pictures of the boa-constrictor
who has swallowed an ox, and is resting in satisfied peace to gorge.
The appeal of "Gib it damper" or "Gib it gabbi" (water), was seldom made
in vain, and hardly a day passed but what one was visited by these silent,
starving shadows. In appreciation no doubt of the kindness shown them,
some of the tribe volunteered to find "gabbi" for the white-fellow in the
roots of a certain gum-tree. Their offer was accepted, and soon a band of
unhappy-looking miners was seen returning. In their hands they carried
short pieces of the root, which they sucked vigorously; some got a little
moisture, and some did not, but however unequal their success in this
respect they were all alike in another, for every man vomited freely. This
means of obtaining a water supply never became popular. No doubt a little
moisture can be coaxed from the roots of certain gums, but it would seem
that it needs the stomach of a black-fellow to derive any benefit from it.
Though I cannot say that I studied the manners and customs of the
aboriginals at that time, the description, none the worse for being old,
given to savages of another land would fit them admirably--"Manners none,
During that drought-stricken Christmas-time my mate was down at the
"Cross," trying to carry through some business by which our coffers might
be replenished; for work how we would on alluvial or quartz reefs, no gold
could we find. That we worked with a will, the remark made to me by an old
fossicker will go to show. After watching me "belting away" at a solid
mass of quartz for some time without speaking, "Which," said he, "is the
hammer-headed end of your pick?" Then shaking his head, "Ah! I could guess
you were a Scotchman--brute force and blind ignorance!" He then proceeded
to show me how to do twice the amount of work at half the expenditure of
labour. I never remember a real digger who was not ready to help one, both
with advice and in practice, and I never experienced that "greening" of
new chums which is a prominent feature of most novels that deal with
In the absence of Lord Douglas, an old horse-artilleryman, Richardson by
name, was my usual comrade. A splendid fellow he was too, and one of the
few to be rewarded for his dogged perseverance and work. In a pitiable
state the poor man was when first we met, half dead from dysentery, camped
all alone under a sheet of coarse calico. Emaciated from sickness, he was
unable to follow his horses, which had wandered in search of food and
water, though they constituted his only earthly possession. How he, and
many another I could mention, survived, I cannot think. But if a man
declines to die, and fights for life, he is hard to kill!
Amongst the prospectors it was customary for one mate to look after the
horses, and pack water to the others who worked. These men, of course,
knew several sources unknown to the general public. It was from one of
them that we learnt of the existence of a small soak some thirteen miles
from Coolgardie. Seeing no hope of rain, and no prospect of being able to
stop longer at Coolgardie, Mr. Davies, who camped near us, and I, decided
to make our way to this soak, and wait for better or worse times. Taking
the only horse which remained to us, and what few provisions we had, we
changed our residence from the dust-swept flats of Coolgardie to the
silent bush, where we set up a little hut of boughs, and awaited the
course of events. Sheltered from the sun's burning rays by our house, so
low that it could only be entered on hands and knees, for we had neither
time nor strength to build a spacious structure, and buoyed up by the
entrancement of reading "The Adventures of a Lady's Maid," kindly lent by
a fellow-digger, we did our best to spend a "Happy Christmas."
Somehow, the climate and surroundings seemed singularly inappropriate;
dust could not be transformed, even in imagination, into snow, nor heat
into frost, any more easily than we could turn dried apples into roast
beef and plum-pudding. Excellent food as dried fruit is, yet it is apt
to become monotonous when it must do duty for breakfast, dinner, and tea!
Such was our scanty fare; nevertheless we managed to keen up the
appearance of being quite festive and happy.
Having spread the table--that is, swept the floor clear of ants and other
homely insects--and laid out the feast, I rose to my knees and proposed
the health of my old friend and comrade Mr. Davies, wished him the
compliments of the season, and expressed a hope that we should never spend
a worse Christmas. The toast was received with cheers and honoured in weak
tea, brewed from the re-dried leaves of our last night's meal. He suitably
replied, and cordially endorsed my last sentiment. After duly honouring
the toasts of "The Ladies," "Absent Friends," and others befitting the
occasion, we fell to on the frugal feast.
For the benefit of thrifty housewives, as well as those whom poverty has
stricken, I respectfully recommend the following recipe. For dried apples:
Take a handful, chew slightly, swallow, fill up with warm water and wait.
Before long a feeling both grateful and comforting, as having dined not
wisely but too heavily, will steal over you. Repeat the dose for luncheon
One or two other men were camped near us, and I have no doubt would have
willingly added to our slender store had they known to what short commons
we were reduced. Our discomforts were soon over, however, for Lord Douglas
hearing that I was in a starving condition, hastened from the "Cross," not
heeding the terrible accounts of the track, bringing with him a supply of
the staple food of the country, "Tinned Dog"--as canned provisions are
Wandering on from our little rock of refuge, we landed at the Twenty-five
Mile, where lately a rich reef had been found. We pegged out a claim on
which we worked, camped under the shade of a "Kurrajong" tree, close above
a large granite rock on which we depended for our water; and here we spent
several months busy on our reef, during which time Lord Douglas went home
to England, with financial schemes in his head, leaving Mr. Davies and
myself to hold the property and work as well as we could manage and I
fancy that for a couple of amateurs we did a considerable amount of
Here we lived almost alone, with the exception of another small party
working the adjoining mine, occasionally visited by a prospector with
horses to water. Though glad of their company, it was not with unmixed
feelings that we viewed their arrival, for it took us all our time to get
sufficient water for ourselves. I well remember one occasion on which,
after a slight shower of rain, we, having no tank, scooped up the water we
could from the shallow holes, even using a sponge, such was our eagerness
not to waste a single drop; the water thus collected was emptied into a
large rock-hole, which we covered with flat stones. We then went to our
daily work on the reef, congratulating ourselves on the nice little
"plant" of water. Imagine our disgust, on returning in the evening, at
finding a mob of thirsty packhorses being watered from our precious
supply! There was nothing to be done but to pretend we liked it. The
water being on the rock was of course free to all.
How I used to envy those horsemen, and longed for the time when I could
afford horses or camels of my own, to go away back into the bush and just
see what was there. Many a day I spent poring over the map of the Colony,
longing and longing to push out into the vast blank spaces of the unknown.
Even at that time I planned out the expedition which at last I was enabled
to undertake, though all was very visionary, and I could hardly conceive
how I should ever manage to find the necessary ways and means.
Nearly every week I would ride into Coolgardie for stores, and walk out
again leading the loaded packhorse, our faithful little chestnut "brumby,"
i.e., half-wild pony, of which there are large herds running in the bush
near the settled parts of the coast. A splendid little fellow this, a true
type of his breed, fit for any amount of work and hardship. As often as
not he would do his journey into Coolgardie (twenty-five miles), be tied
up all night without a feed or drink--or as long as I had to spend there
on business--and return again loaded next morning. Chaff and oats were
then almost unprocurable, and however kind-hearted he might be, a poor
man could hardly afford a shilling a gallon to water his horse. On these
occasions I made my quarters at Bayley's mine, where a good solid meal and
the pleasant company of Messrs. Browne and Lyon always awaited me. Several
times in their generosity these good fellows spared a gallon or two of
precious water for the old pony.
They have a funny custom in the West of naming horses after their
owners--thus the chestnut is known to this day as "Little Carnegie."
Sometimes they are named after the men from whom they are bought. This
practice, when coach-horses are concerned, has its laughable side, and
passengers unacquainted with the custom may be astonished to hear all
sorts of oaths and curses, or words of entreaty and encouragement,
addressed to some well-known name--and they might be excused for thinking
the driver's mind was a little unhinged, or that in his troubles and
vexations he was calling on some prominent citizen, in the same way that
knights of old invoked their saints.
Thus, our peaceful life at the "Twenty-five" passed on, relieved sometimes
by the arrival of horsemen and others in search of water. Amongst our
occasional visitors was a well-known gentleman, bearing the proud title
of "The biggest liar in Australia." How far he deserved the distinction I
should hesitate to say, for men prone to exaggerate are not uncommon in
the bush. Sometimes, however, they must have the melancholy satisfaction
of knowing that they are disbelieved, when they really do happen to tell
the truth. A story of my friend's, which was received with incredulous
laughter, will exemplify this.
This was one of his experiences in Central Australia. He was perishing
from thirst, and, at the last gasp, he came to a clay-pan which, to his
despair, was quite dry and baked hard by the sun. He gave up all hope; not
so his black-boy, who, after examining the surface of the hard clay,
started to dig vigorously, shouting, "No more tumble down, plenty water
here!" Struggling to the side of his boy, he found that he had unearthed a
large frog blown out with water, with which they relieved their thirst.
Subsequent digging disclosed more frogs, from all of which so great a
supply of water was squeezed that not only he and his boy, but the horses
also were saved from a terrible death!
This story was received with laughter and jeers, and cries of
"Next please!" But to show that it had foundations of truth I may quote an
extract from "The Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia"
(part i. p. 21), in which we read the following:--
". . . The most interesting animal is the Burrowing or Waterholding Frog,
(CHIROLEPTES PLATYCEPHALUS). As the pools dry up it fills itself out with
water, which in some way passes through the walls of the alimentary
canal, filling up the body cavity, and swelling the animal out until it
looks like a small orange. In this condition it occupies a cavity just big
enough for the body, and simply goes to sleep. When, with the aid of a
native, we cut it out of its hiding-place, the animal at first remained
perfectly still, with its lower eyelids completely drawn over the eyes,
giving it the appearance of being blind, which indeed the black assured
us that it was. . . ."
Most travellers cannot fail to have noticed how clay-pans recently filled
by rain, even after a prolonged drought, swarm with tadpoles and
full-grown frogs and numberless water insects, the presence of which must
only be explained by the ability of the frog to store his supply in his
own body, and the fact that the eggs of the insects require moisture
before they can hatch out.
Many a laugh we had round the camp-fire at night, and many are the yarns
that were spun. Few, however, were of sufficient interest to live in my
memory, and I fear that most of them would lose their points in becoming
fit for publication. "Gold," naturally, was the chief topic of
conversation, especially amongst the older diggers, who love to tell one
in detail how many ounces they got in one place and how many in another,
until one feels that surely they must be either millionaires or liars.
New rushes, and supposed new rushes, were eagerly discussed; men were
often passing and repassing our rock, looking for somebody who was
"on gold"--for the majority of prospectors seldom push out for themselves,
but prefer following up some man or party supposed to have "struck it
The rumours of a new find so long bandied about at length came true.
Billy Frost had found a thousand! two thousand!! three thousand
ounces!!!--who knew or cared?--on the margin of a large salt lake some
ninety miles north of Coolgardie. Frost has since told me that about
twelve ounces of gold was all he found, And, after all, there is not much
difference between twelve and three thousand--that is on a mining field.
Before long the solitude of our camp was disturbed by the constant passing
of travellers to and from this newly discovered "Ninety Mile"--so named
from its distance from Coolgardie.
As a fact, this mining camp (now known as the town of Goongarr) is only
sixty odd miles from the capital, measured by survey, but in early days,
distances were reckoned by rate of travel, and roads and tracks twisted
and turned in a most distressing manner, sometimes deviating for water,
but more often because the first maker of the track had been riding along
carelessly, every now and then turning sharp back to his proper course.
Subsequent horse or camel men, having only a vague knowledge of the
direction of their destination, would be bound to follow the first tracks;
after these would come light buggies, spring-carts, drays, and heavy
waggons, until finally a deeply rutted and well-worn serpentine road
through the forest or scrub was formed, to be straightened in course of
time, as observant travellers cut off corners, and later by Government
surveyors and road-makers.
Prospectors were gradually "poking out," gold being found in all
directions in greater or less degree; but it was not until June, 1893,
that any find was made of more than passing interest. Curiously, this
great goldfield of Hannan's (now called Kalgoorlie) was found by the
veriest chance. Patrick Hannan, like many others, had joined in a
wild-goose chase to locate a supposed rush at Mount Yule--a mountain the
height and importance of which may be judged from the fact that no one was
able to find it! On going out one morning to hunt up his horses, he
chanced on a nugget of gold. In the course of five years this little
nugget has transformed the silent bush into a populous town of 2,000
inhabitants, with its churches, clubs, hotels, and streets of offices and
shops, surrounded by rich mines, and reminded of the cause of its
existence by the ceaseless crashing of mills and stamps, grinding out gold
at the rate of nearly 80,000 oz. per mouth.
Arriving one Sunday morning from our camp at the "Twenty-five," I was
astonished to find Coolgardie almost deserted, not even the usual "Sunday
School" going on. Now I am sorry to disappoint my readers who are not
conversant with miners' slang, but they must not picture rows of good
little children sitting in the shade of the gum-trees, to whom some
kind-hearted digger is expounding the Scriptures. No indeed! The miners'
school is neither more nor less than a largely attended game of
pitch-and-toss, at which sometimes hundreds of pounds in gold or notes
change hands. I remember one old man who had only one shilling between him
and the grave, so he told me. He could not decide whether to invest his
last coin in a gallon of water or in the "heading-school." He chose the
latter and lost . . . subsequently I saw him lying peacefully drunk under
a tree! I doubt if his intention had been suicide, but had it been he
could hardly have chosen a more deadly weapon than the whiskey of those
The "rush to Hannan's" had depopulated Coolgardie and the next day saw
Davies and myself amongst an eager train of travellers bound for the new
site of fortune. "Little Carnegie" was harnessed to a small cart, which
carried our provisions and tools. The commissariat department was easily
attended to, as nothing was obtainable but biscuits and tinned soup. It
was now mid-winter, and nights were often bitterly cold. Without tent or
fly, and with hardly a blanket between us, we used to lie shivering at
A slight rain had fallen, insufficient to leave much water about, and yet
enough to so moisten the soil as to make dry-blowing impossible in the
ordinary way. Fires had to be built and kept going all night, piled up on
heaps of alluvial soil dug out during the day. In the morning these heaps
would be dry enough to treat, and ashes and earth were dry-blown
together--the pleasures of the ordinary process being intensified by the
addition of clouds of ashes.
A strange appearance these fires had, dotted through the brush, lighting
up now a tent, now a water-cart, now a camp of fortunate ones lying cosily
under their canvas roof, now a set of poor devils with hardly a rag to
their backs. Oh glorious uncertainty of mining! One of these very poor
devils that I have in my mind has now a considerable fortune, with rooms
in a fashionable quarter of London, and in frock-coat and tall hat
"swells" it with the best!
How quickly men change to be sure! A man who at one time would "steal the
shirt off a dead black-fellow," in a few short months is complaining of
the taste of his wine or the fit of his patent-leather boots. Dame Fortune
was good to some, but to us, like many others, she turned a deaf ear, and
after many weeks' toil we had to give up the battle, for neither food,
money, nor gold had we. All I possessed was the pony, and from that old
friend I could not part. The fruits of our labours, or I should say my
share in them, I sent home in a letter, and the few pin's-heads of gold
so sent did not necessitate any extra postage. Weary and toil-worn we
returned to Coolgardie, and the partners of some rather remarkable
experiences split company, and went each his own way.
It is several years since I have seen Mr. Davies; but I believe Fortune's
wheel turned round for him at length, and that now he enjoys the rest that
his years and toils entitle him to. I have many kindly recollections of
our camping days together, and of the numerous yarns my mate used to spin
of his palmy days as a Queensland squatter.
A MINER ON BAYLEY'S
Returned from the rush, I made my way to Bayley's to seek employment for
my pony and his master. Nor did I seek in vain, for I was duly entered on
the pay-sheet as "surface hand" at 3 pounds 10 shillings per week, with
water at the rate of one gallon per day. Here I first made the
acquaintance of Godfrey Massie, a cousin of the Brownes, who, like me,
had been forced by want of luck to work for wages, and who, by the way,
had carried his "swag" on his back from York to the goldfields, a distance
of nearly 300 miles. He and I were the first amateurs to get a job on the
great Reward Claim, though subsequently it became a regular harbour of
refuge for young men crowded out from the banks and offices of Sydney and
Melbourne. Nothing but a fabulously rich mine could have stood the
tinkering of so many unprofessional miners. It speaks well for the
kindness of heart of those at the head of the management of the mine that
they were willing to trust the unearthing of so much treasure to the hands
of boys unused to manual work, or to work of any kind in a great many
How rich the mine was, may be judged from the fact that for the first few
months the enormous production of gold from it was due to the labours of
three of the shareholders, assisted by only two other men. The following
letter from Mr. Everard Browne to Lord Douglas gives some idea of what the
yield was at the time that I went there to work:--
"I am just taking 4,200 oz, over to Melbourne from our reef (Bayley's).
This makes 10,000 oz. we have brought down from our reef without a
battery, or machinery equal to treating 200 lbs. of stone per day; that is
a bit of a record for you! We have got water in our shaft at 137 feet,
enough to run a battery, and we shall have one on the ground in three
months' time or under, Egan dollied out 1,000 oz, in a little over two
months, before I came down, from his reef; and Cashman dollied 700 oz. out
of his in about three weeks and had one stone 10 lbs. weight with 9 lbs.
of gold in it, so we are not the only successful reefers since you left.
I hope you will soon be with us again.
"If you are speaking about this 10,000 oz. we have taken out of our reef
in six months, remember that Bayley and Ford dollied out 2,500 oz. for
themselves before they handed it over to us on February 27th last, so that
actually 12,500 oz. have been taken out of the claim, without a battery,
in under nine months. The shoot of gold is now proved over 100 feet long
on the course of the reef, and we were down 52 feet in our shaft on the
reef, with as good gold as ever at the bottom. The other shaft, which we
have got water in, is in the country (a downright shaft). We expect to
meet the reef in it at 170 feet."
Besides Massie, myself, and Tom Cue, there were not then many employed,
and really we used to have rather an enjoyable time than otherwise.
Working regular hours, eight hours on and sixteen off, sometimes on the
surface, sometimes below, with hammer and drill, or pick and shovel,
always amongst glittering gold, was by no means unpleasant. It would
certainly have been better still had we been able to keep what we found,
but the next best thing to being successful is to see those one is fond
of, pile up their banking account; and I have had few better friends than
the resident shareholders on Bayley's Reward.
What good fellows, too, were the professional miners, always ready to help
one and make the time pass pleasantly. Big Jim Breen was my mate for some
time, and many a pleasant talk and smoke (Smoke, O! is a recognised rest
from work at intervals during a miner's shift) we have had at the bottom
of a shaft, thirty to fifty feet from the surface! I really think that
having to get out of a nice warm bed or tent for night shift, viz., from
midnight to 8 a.m., was the most unpleasant part of my life as a miner.
As recreation we used to play occasional games of cricket on a very hard
and uneven pitch, and for social entertainments had frequent sing-songs
and "buck dances"--that is, dances in which there were no ladies to take
part--at Faahan's Club Hotel in the town, some one and a half miles
distant. "Hotel" was rather too high-class a name, for it was by no means
an imposing structure, hessian and corrugated iron taking the place of the
bricks and slates of a more civilised building. The addition of a
weather-board front, which was subsequently erected, greatly enhanced its
attractions. Mr. Faahan can boast of having had the first two-storeyed
house in the town; though the too critical might hold that the upper one,
being merely a sham, could not be counted as dwelling-room. There was no
sham, however, about the festive character of those evening
Thus time went on, the only change in my circumstances resulting from my
promotion to engine-driver--for now the Reward Claim boasted a small
crushing plant--and Spring came, and with it in November the disastrous
rush to "Siberia." This name, like most others on the goldfields, may be
traced to the wit of some disappointed digger.
The rush was a failure or "frost," and so great a one that "Siberia" was
the only word adequately to express the chagrin of the men who hoped so
much from its discovery. Being one of these myself, I can cordially
endorse the appropriateness of the name. What a motley crowd of eager
faces throngs the streets and camp on the first news of a new rush--every
one anxious to be off and be the first to make his fortune--every man
questioning his neighbour, who knows no more than himself, about distances
and direction, where the nearest water may be, and all manner of similar
Once clear of the town, what a strange collection of baggage animals,
horses, camels, and donkeys! What a mass of carts, drays, buggies,
wheelbarrows, handbarrows, and many queer makeshifts for carrying
goods--the strangest of all a large barrel set on an axle, and dragged or
shoved by means of two long handles, the proud possessor's belongings
turning round and round inside until they must surely be churned into a
most confusing jumble. Then we see the "Swagman" with his load on his
back, perhaps fifty pounds of provisions rolled up in his blankets, with a
pick and shovel strapped on them, and in either hand a gallon bag of
water. No light work this with the thermometer standing at 100 degrees in
the shade, and the track inches deep in fine, powdery dust; and yet men
start off with a light heart, with perhaps, a two hundred mile journey
before them, replenishing their bundles as they pass through camps on
"Siberia" was said to be seventy miles of a dry stage, and yet off we all
started, as happy as kings at the chance of mending our fortunes.
Poor Crossman (since dead), McCulloch, and I were mates, and we were well
off, for we had not only "Little Carnegie," and who, like his master, had
been earning his living at Bayley's, but a camel, "Bungo" by name, kindly
lent by Gordon Lyon. Thus we were able to carry water as well as
provisions, and helped to relieve the sufferings of many a poor wretch who
had only his feet to serve him.
The story of Siberia may be soon told. Hundreds "rushed" over this dry
stage, at the end of which a small and doubtful water supply was
obtainable. When this supply gave out fresh arrivals had to do their best
without it, the rush perforce had to set back again, privations, disaster,
and suffering being the only result. Much was said and written at the time
about the scores of dead and dying men and horses who lined the
roads--roads because there were two routes to the new field. There may
have been deaths on the other track, but I know that we saw none on ours.
Men in sore straits, with swollen tongues and bleeding feet, we saw, and,
happily, were able to relieve; and I am sure that many would have died but
for the prompt aid rendered by the Government Water Supply Department,
which despatched drays loaded with tanks of water to succour the suffering
miners. So the fortunes, to be made at Siberia, had again to be postponed.
Shortly after our return to Coolgardie a "gold escort" left Bayley's for
the coast, and as a guardian of the precious freight I travelled down to
Perth. There was no Government escort at that time, and any lucky
possessor of gold had to carry it to the capital as best he could.
With four spanking horses, Gordon Lyon as driver, three men with him on
the express-waggon, an outrider behind and in front, all armed with
repeating rifles, we rattled down the road, perhaps secretly wishing that
someone would be venturesome enough to attempt to "stick us up." No such
stirring event occurred, however, and we reached the head of the then
partially constructed line, and there took train for Perth, where I
eagerly awaited the arrival of my old friend and companion, Percy Douglas.
He meanwhile had had his battles to fight in the financial world, and had
come out to all appearances on top, having been instrumental in forming an
important mining company from which we expected great things.
PART II FIRST PROSPECTING EXPEDITION
THE RUSH TO KURNALPI--WE REACH QUEEN VICTORIA SPRING
Shortly after Lord Douglas's return, I took the train to York, where
"Little Carnegie," who had formed one of the team to draw the gold-laden
express waggon from Bayley's to the head of the railway line, was running
in one of Mr. Monger's paddocks. The Mongers are the kings of York, an
agricultural town, and own much property thereabouts. York and its
surroundings in the winter-time might, except for the corrugated-iron
roofs, easily be in England. Many of the houses are built of stone, and
enclosed in vineyards and fruit gardens. The Mongers' house was quite
after the English style, so also was their hospitality. From York I rode
along the old track to Southern Cross, and a lonely ride I had, for the
train had superseded the old methods of travel, much to the disgust of
some of the "cockies," or small farmers, who expressed the opinion that
the country was going to the dogs, "them blooming railways were spoiling
everything"; the reason for their complaint being, that formerly, all the
carrying had been in the teamsters' hands, as well as a considerable
amount of passenger traffic.
I had one or two "sells" on the road, for former stopping-places were now
deserted, and wells had been neglected, making it impossible, from their
depth, for me to get any water. I was fortunate in falling in with a
teamster and his waggon--a typical one of his class; on first sight they
are the most uncouth and foul-tongued men that it is possible to imagine.
But on further acquaintance one finds that the language is as superficial
as the dirt with which they cannot fail to be covered, since they are
always walking in a cloud of dust. My friend on this occasion was
apostrophising his horses with oaths that made my flesh creep, to help
them up a steep hill. The top reached, he petted and soothed his team in
most quaint language. At the bottom of the slope he was a demon of
cruelty, at its summit a kind-hearted human being! I lunched with him,
sitting under his waggon for shade, and found him most entertaining--nor
was the old pony neglected, for he was given a fine feed of chaff and
In due time I reached Coolgardie, where Lord Douglas and our new partner,
Mr. Driffield (since drowned in a boating accident on the Swan River),
joined me. They had engaged the services of one Luck and his camels, and
had ridden up from the Cross. The rush to Kurnalpi had just broken out,
so Driffield, Luck, and I joined the crowd of fortune-hunters; and a
queer-looking crowd they were too, for every third or fourth swagman
carried on his shoulder a small portable condenser, the boiler hanging
behind him and the cooler in front; every party, whether with horses,
carts, or camels, carried condensers of one shape or another; for the
month was January, no surface water existed on the track, and only salt
water could be obtained, by digging in the salt lakes which the road
passed. The nearest water to the scene of the rush was a salt lake seven
miles distant, and this at night presented a strange appearance.
Condensers of every size and capacity fringed the two shores of a narrow
channel; under each was a fire, and round each all night long could be
seen figures, stoking the burning wood or drawing water, and in the
distance the sound of the axe could be heard, for at whatever time a party
arrived they had forthwith to set about "cooking water." The clattering
and hammering the incessant talking, and the figures flitting about in the
glare, reminded one of a crowded open-air market with flaring lamps and
frequent coffee stalls. Kurnalpi was known at first as "Billy-Billy," or
as "The Tinker's Rush"--the first name was supposed by some to be of
native origin, by others to indicate the amount of tin used in the
condensing plants--"Billy," translated for those to whom the bush is
unfamiliar, meaning a tin pot for boiling tea in, and other such uses.
Certainly there was plenty of tin at Kurnalpi, and plenty of alluvial gold
as well for the lucky ones--amongst which we were not numbered. Poor
Driffield was much disgusted; he had looked upon gold-finding as the
simplest thing in the world--and so it is if you happen to look in the
right place! and when you do so it's a hundred to one that you think your
own cleverness and knowledge guided you to it! Chance? Oh dear, no! From
that time forth your reputation is made as "a shrewd fellow who knows a
thing or two"; and if your find was made in a mine, you are an "expert"
at once, and can command a price for your report on other mines
commensurate with the richness of your own!
As the gold would not come to us, and my partner disliked the labour of
seeking it, we returned to Coolgardie, and set about looking after the
mines we already had. Financial schemes or business never had any charms
for me; when therefore I heard that the Company had cabled out that a
prospecting party should be despatched at once, I eagerly availed myself
of the chance of work so much to my taste. As speed was an object, and
neither camels nor men procurable owing to the rush, we did not waste any
time in trying to form a large expedition, such as the soul of the London
director loveth, but contented ourselves with the camels already to hand.
On March 24, 1894, we started; Luck, myself, and three camels--Omerod,
Shimsha, and Jenny by name--with rations for three months, and
instructions to prospect the Hampton Plains as far as the supply of
surface water permitted; failing a long stay in that region I could go
where I thought best.
To the east and north-east of Coolgardie lie what are known as the Hampton
Plains--so named by Captain Hunt, who in 1864 led an expedition past York,
eastward, into the interior. Beyond the Hampton Plains he was forced back
by the Desert, and returned to York with but a sorry tale of the country
he had seen. "An endless sea of scrub," was his apt description of the
greater part of the country. Compared to the rest, the Hampton Plains were
splendid pastoral lands. Curiously enough, Hunt passed and repassed close
to what is now Coolgardie, and, though reporting quartz and ironstone,
failed to hit upon any gold. Nor was he the only one; Coolgardie had
several narrow squeaks of being found out.
Giles and Forrest both traversed districts since found to be gold-bearing,
and though, like Hunt, reporting, and even bringing back specimens of
quartz and ironstone, had the bad luck to miss finding even a "colour."
Alexander Forrest, Goddard, and Lindsay all passed within appreciable
distance of Coolgardie without unearthing its treasures, though in
Lindsay's journal the geologist to the expedition pronounced the country
auriferous. When we come to consider how many prospectors pass over gold,
it is not so wonderful that explorers, whose business is to see as much
country as they can, in as short a time as possible, should have failed to
drop on the hidden wealth.
Bayley and Ford, its first discoverers, were by no means the first
prospectors to camp at Coolgardie. In 1888 Anstey and party actually found
colours of gold, and pegged out a claim, whose corner posts were standing
at the time of the first rush; but nobody heeded them, for the quartz was
not rich enough.
In after years George Withers sunk a hole and "dry blew" the wash not very
far from Bayley's, yet he discovered no gold. Macpherson, too, poked out
beyond Coolgardie, and nearly lost his life in returning, and, indeed, was
saved by his black-boy, who held him on the only remaining horse.
Other instances could be given, all of which show that Nature will not be
bustled, and will only divulge her secrets when the ordained time has
arrived. It has been argued that since Giles, for example, passed the
Coolgardie district without finding gold, therefore there is every
probability of the rest of the country through which he passed being
auriferous. It fails to occur to those holding this view, that a man may
recognise possible gold-bearing country without finding gold, or to read
the journals of these early travellers, in which they would see that the
Desert is plainly demarcated, and the change in the nature of the country,
the occurrence of quartz, and so forth, always recorded. These folk who so
narrowly missed the gold were not the only unfortunate ones; those
responsible for the choosing for their company of the blocks of land on
the Hampton Mains were remarkably near securing all the plums.
Bayley's is one and a half miles from their boundary, Kalgoorlie twelve
miles, Kurnalpi seven miles, and a number of other places lie just on the
wrong side of the survey line to please the shareholders, though had all
these rich districts been found on their land, I fancy there would have
been a pretty outcry from the general public.
At the time of which I am writing this land was considered likely to be as
rich as Ophir. Luck and I were expected to trip up over nuggets, and come
back simply impregnated with gold. Unfortunately we not only found no
gold, but formed a very poor idea of that part of the property which we
were able to traverse, though, given a good supply of water, it should
prove valuable stock country. Before we had been very long started on our
journey we met numerous parties returning from that region, though legally
they had no right to prospect there; each told us the same story--every
water was dry; and since every one we had been to was all but dry, we
concluded that they were speaking the truth; so when we arrived at Yindi,
a large granite rock with a cavity capable of holding some twenty
thousand gallons of water, and found Yindi dry, we decided to leave the
Hampton Plains and push out into new country.
Queen Victoria Spring, reported permanent by Giles, lay some seventy
miles to the eastward, and attracted our attention; for Lindsay had
reported quartz country near the Ponton, not far from the Spring, and the
country directly between the Spring and Kurnalpi was unknown.
On April 15th we left Yindi, having seen the last water twenty-six miles
back near Gundockerta, and passed Mount Quinn, entering a dense thicket of
mulga, which lasted for the next twenty miles. It was most awkward country
to steer through, and I often overheard Luck muttering to himself that I
was going all wrong, for he was a first-rate bushman and I a novice. I had
bought a little brumby from a man we met on the Plains, an excellent pony,
and most handy in winding his way through the scrub. Luck rode Jenny and
led the other two camels. Hereabouts we noticed a large number of old
brush fences--curiously I have never once seen a new one--which the
natives had set up for catching wallabies. The fences run out in long
wings, which meet in a point where a hole is dug. Neither wallabies nor
natives were to be seen, though occasionally we noticed where "bardies"
had been dug out, and a little further on a native grave, a hole about
three feet square by three feet deep, lined at the bottom with gum leaves
and strips of bark, evidently ready to receive the deceased. Luck, who
knew a good deal about native customs, told me that the grave, though
apparently only large enough for a child, was really destined for a grown
man. When a man dies his first finger is cut off, because he must not
fight in the next world, nor need he throw a spear to slay animals, as
game is supplied. The body is then bent double until the knees touch the
chin--this to represent a baby before birth; and in this cramped position
the late warrior is crammed into his grave, until, according to a
semi-civilised boy that I knew, he is called to the happy hunting grounds,
where he changes colour! "Black fella tumble down, jump up white fella."
A clear proof that this benighted people have some conception of a better
Once through the scrub, we came again into gum-timbered country, and when
fifty miles east of Kurnalpi crossed a narrow belt of auriferous country,
but, failing to find water, were unable to stop. In a few miles we were in
desert country--undulations of sand and spinifex, with frequent clumps of
dense mallee, a species of eucalyptus, with several straggling stems
growing from one root, and little foliage except at the ends of the
branches, an untidy and melancholy-looking tree. There was no change in
the country till after noon on the 18th, when we noticed some grass-trees,
or black-boys, smaller than those seen near the coast, and presently
struck the outskirts of a little oasis, and immediately after an old camel
pad (Lindsay's in 1892, formed by a caravan of over fifty animals), which
we followed for a few minutes, until the welcome sight of Queen Victoria
Spring met our eyes. A most remarkable spot, and one that cannot be better
described than by quoting the words of its discoverer, Ernest Giles,
in 1875, who, with a party of five companions, fifteen pack, and seven
riding camels, happened on this spring just when they most needed water.
Giles says of it:--
"It is the most singularly placed water I have ever seen, lying in a small
hollow in the centre of a little grassy flat and surrounded by clumps of
funereal pines. . . . The water is no doubt permanent, for it is supplied
by the drainage of the sandhills which surround it and it rests on a
substratum of impervious clay. It lies exposed to view in a small, open
basin, the water being about only one hundred and fifty yards in
circumference and from two to three feet deep. Further up the slopes at
much higher levels native wells had been sunk in all directions--in each
and all of these there was water. Beyond the immediate precincts of this
open space the scrubs abound. . . . Before I leave this spot I had perhaps
better remark that it might prove a very difficult, perhaps dangerous,
place to any other traveller to attempt to find, because although there
are many white sandhills in the neighbourhood, the open space on which
the water lies is so small in area and so closely surrounded by scrubs,
that it cannot be seen from any conspicuous one, nor can any conspicuous
sandhill, distinguishable at any distance, be seen from it. On the top of
the banks above the wells was a beaten corroboree path, where the denizens
of the desert have often held their feasts and dances. Some grass-trees
grew in the vicinity of this spring to a height of over twenty
feet. . . ."
A charming spot indeed! but we found it to be hardly so cheerful as this
description would lead one to expect. For at first sight the Spring was
dry. The pool of water was now a dry clay-pan; the numerous native wells
were there, but all were dry. The prospect was sufficiently gloomy, for
our water was all but done, and poor Tommy, the pony, in spite of an
allowance of a billy-full per night, was in a very bad way, for we had
travelled nearly one hundred miles from the last water, and if this was
dry we knew no other that we could reach. However, we were not going to
cry before we were hurt and set to work to dig out the soak, and in a
short time were rewarded by the sight of water trickling in on all sides,
and, by roughly timbering the sides, soon had a most serviceable well--a
state of affairs greatly appreciated by Tommy and the camels. This spring
or soakage, whichever it may be, is in black sand, though the sand outside
the little basin is yellowish white. From what I have heard and read of
them it must be something of the nature of what are called "black soil
springs." Giles was right in his description of its remarkable
surroundings--unless we had marched right into the oasis, we should
perhaps have missed it altogether, for it was unlikely that Lindsay's
camel tracks would be visible except where sheltered from the wind by the
trees; and our only instruments for navigation were a prismatic and pocket
compass, and a watch for rating our travel. I was greatly pleased at such
successful steering for a first attempt of any distance, and Luck was as
pleased as I was, for to him I owed many useful hints. Yet I was not blind
to the fact that it was a wonderful piece of luck to strike exactly a
small spot of no more than fifty acres in extent, hidden in the valleys of
the sandhills, from whose summits nothing could be seen but similar mounds
of white sand. Amongst the white gum trees we found one marked with
Lindsay's initials with date. Under this I nailed on a piece of tin, on
which I had stamped our names and date. Probably the blacks have long
since taken this down and used it as an ornament. Another tree, a pine,
was marked W. Blake; who he was I do not know, unless one of Lindsay's
party. Not far off was a grave, more like that of a white man than of a
native; about its history, too, I am ignorant.
Numerous old native camps surrounded the water, and many weapons, spears,
waddies, and coolimans were lying about. The camps had not been occupied
for some long time. In the scrub we came on a cleared space, some eighty
yards long and ten to twelve feet wide. At each end were heaps of ashes,
and down the middle ran a well-beaten path, and a similar one on either
side not unlike an old dray track. Evidently a corroboree ground of some
kind. From Luck I learnt that north of Eucla, where he had been with a
survey party, the natives used such grounds in their initiation
ceremonies. A youth on arriving at a certain age may become a warrior,
and is then allowed to carry a shield and spear. Before he can attain this
honour he must submit to some very horrible rites--which are best left
undescribed. Seizing each an arm of the victim, two stalwart "bucks"
(as the men are called) run him up and down the cleared space until they
are out of breath; then two more take places, and up and down they go
until at last the boy is exhausted. This is the aboriginal method of
applying anaesthetics. During the operations that follow, the men dance
and yell round the fires but the women may not be witnesses of the
ceremony. Tribes from all neighbouring districts meet at such times and
hold high revel. Evidently Queen Victoria Spring is a favourite
meeting-place. I regret that I never had the chance of being present at
such a gathering--few white men have. For except in thickly populated
districts the ceremonies are rare; the natives are very ready to resent
any prying into their mysteries, and Luck only managed it at some risk to
himself. Whilst camped at the Spring we made one or two short excursions
to the southward, but met with little encouragement. On turning our
attention to the opposite direction we found that nearly two hundred miles
due north a tract of auriferous country was marked on the map of the Elder
Expedition. Between us and that point, the country was unmapped and
untrodden except by black-fellows, and it seemed reasonable to suppose
that since the belts of country run more or less north and south. we had
a fair chance of finding gold-bearing country extending southward. We
should be getting a long way from Coolgardie, but if a rich company could
not afford to open up the country, who could? To the east we knew that
desert existed, to the south the country was known, and to return the way
we had come would be only a waste of time. So we decided on the northern
course, and chose Mount Shenton, near which a soakage was marked, as our
objective point. We were not well equipped for a long march in new
country, since we had few camels and scanty facilities for carrying water.
By setting to work with the needle we soon had two canvas water-bags made;
Luck, who had served in the French navy, like all sailors, was a very
handy man in a camp, and could of course sew well, and gave me useful
lessons in the handling of a sail-needle.
IN UNKNOWN COUNTRY
On April 22nd we left the spring, steering due north--carrying in all
thirty-five gallons of water, though this supply was very perceptibly
reduced by evening, owing to the canvas being new; loss by evaporation was
lessened by covering the bags with a fly (a sheet of coarse calico). The
class of country we encountered the first and second day can stand for the
rest of the march. Spinifex plains, undulating sand-plains, rolling
sandhills, steep sand-ridges, mallee scrubs, desert-gum forests, and dense
thickets of mulga. The last were most unpleasant to travel through; for
as we wound our way, one walking ahead to break down the branches, the
other leading the camels, and Tommy following behind, every now and again
the water-camel banged his precious load against a tree; and we walked
with the constant risk of a dead branch ripping the canvas and letting
out the water.
On the second evening, in passing through a mallee scrub, we came on a
small tract of "kopi country" (powdered gypsum). Here were numerous old
native tracks, and we could see where the mallee roots had been dragged
up, broken into short pieces, presumably sucked or allowed to drain into
some vessel, and stacked in little heaps. Though we knew that the blacks
do get water from the mallee roots, and though we were in a spot where it
was clear they had done so perhaps a month before, yet our attempts at
water-finding were futile. This kopi is peculiar soil to walk over; on the
surface there is a hard crust--once through this, one sinks nearly to the
knee; the camels of course, from their weight, go much lower.
On the night of the 23rd, we gave Tommy two gallons of water--not much of
a drink, but enough to make him tackle the mulga, and spinifex-tops, the
only available feed; none but West Australian brumbies could live on such
fare, and they will eat anything, like donkeys or goats. On the 24th there
was no change, a few quondongs affording a meal for the camels.
The next day we crossed more old native tracks and followed them for some
time without any sign of water being near. More tracks the following day,
fresher this time; but though doubtless there was water at the end of
them, for several reasons we did not follow them far: first, they were
leading south-west and we wished to go north; second, the quantity of
mallee root heaps, suggested the possibility that the natives could obtain
from them sufficient moisture to live upon. I think now that this is most
unlikely, and that roots are only resorted to when travelling or in time
of great need. However, at that time we were inclined to think it
probable, and though we might have sucked roots in place of a drink of tea
or water, such a source of supply was absolutely valueless to the camels
On the 27th we sighted a hill dead ahead, which I named Mount Luck, and on
the southern side a nice little plain of saltbush and grass--a pleasant
and welcome change. Mount Luck is sheer on its south and east sides and
slopes gradually to the north-west; it is of desert sandstone, and from
its summit, nearly due east, can be seen an imposing flat-topped hill,
which I named Mount Douglas, after my old friend and companion, to the
north of this hill two quaint little pinnacles stand up above the scrub to
a considerable height.
Poor Tommy was now getting very weak and had to be dragged by the last
camel. I had not ridden him since the second day from the Spring; he was
famished and worn to a skeleton. His allowance of two gallons a night had
continued, which made a considerable hole in our supply, further
diminished by the necessity of giving him damper to eat. Poor little pony!
It was a cruel sight to see him wandering from pack to pack in camp,
poking his nose into every possible opening, and even butting us with his
head as if to call attention to his dreadful state, which was only too
apparent. "While there's life there's hope," and every day took us nearer
to water--that is if we were to get any at all! So long as we could do so,
we must take Tommy with us, who might yet be saved. This, however, was not
to be, for on the 28th we again encountered sand-ridges, running at right
angles to our course, and these proved too hard for the poor brave
brumby. About midday he at last gave in, and with glazed eyes and stiff
limbs he fell to the ground. Taking off the saddle he carried, I knelt by
his head for a few minutes and could see there was no hope. Poor, faithful
friend! I felt like a murderer in doing it, but I knew it was the kindest
thing--and finished his sufferings with a bullet. There on the ridge, his
bones will lie for many a long day. Brave Tommy, whose rough and unkempt
exterior covered a heart that any warhorse might have envied, had covered
135 miles, without feed worth mentioning, and with only eleven gallons of
water during that distance, a stage of nearly seven days' duration of very
hard travelling indeed, with the weather pretty sultry, though the nights
were cool. His death, however, was in favour of our water supply, which
was not too abundant. So much had been lost by the bags knocking about on
the saddle, by their own pressure against the side of the saddle, and by
evaporation, that we had to content ourselves with a quart-potful between
us morning and evening--by no means a handsome allowance.
On the 29th, after travelling eight hours through scrubs, we were just
about to camp when the shrill "coo-oo" of a black-fellow met our ears; and
on looking round we were startled to see some half-dozen natives gazing at
us. Jenny chose at that moment to give forth the howl that only cow-camels
can produce; this was too great a shock for the blacks, who stampeded
pell-mell, leaving their spears and throwing-sticks behind them. We gave
chase, and, after a spirited run, Luck managed to stop a man. A
stark-naked savage this, and devoid of all adornment excepting a
waist-belt of plaited grass and a "sporran" of similar material. He was in
great dread of the camels and not too sure of us. I gave him something to
eat, and, by eating some of it myself, put him more at ease. After various
futile attempts at conversation, in which Luck displayed great knowledge
of the black's tongue, as spoken a few hundred miles away near Eucla, but
which unfortunately was quite lost on this native, we at last succeeded in
making our wants understood. "Ingup," "Ingup," he kept repeating, pointing
with his chin to the North and again to the West. Evidently "Ingup" stood
for water; for he presently took us to a small granite rock and pointed
out a soak or rock-hole, we could not say which. Whilst we stooped to
examine the water-hole, our guide escaped into the scrub and was soon lost
to view. Near the rock we found his camp. A few branches leaning against a
bush formed his house. In front a fire was burning, and near it a plucked
bird lay ready for cooking. Darkness overtook us before we could get to
work on the rock-hole, so we turned into the blankets with a more
satisfied feeling than we had done for some days past. During the night
the blacks came round us. The camels, very tired, had lain down close by,
and, quietly creeping to Jenny, I slapped her nose, which awoke her with
the desired result, viz., a loud roar. The sound of rapidly retreating
feet was heard, and their owners troubled us no more.
So sure were we of the supply in the granite that we gave the camels the
few gallons that were left in our bags, and were much disgusted to find
the next day that, far from being a soakage, the water was merely
contained in a rock-hole, which had been filled in with sand and sticks.
April 30th and May 1st were occupied in digging out the sand and
collecting what water we could, a matter of five or six gallons. So bad
was this water that the camels would not touch it; however, it made
excellent bread, and passable tea. Man, recognising Necessity, is less
fastidious than animals who look to their masters to supply them with the
best, and cannot realise that in such cases "Whatever is, is best."
From a broken granite rock North-West of the rock-hole, we sighted
numerous peaks to the North, and knew that Mount Shenton could not now be
far away. To the East of the rock-hole is a very prominent bluff some
fifteen miles distant; this I named Mount Fleming, after Colonel Fleming,
then Commandant of the West Australian forces.
May 2nd we reached the hills and rejoiced to find ourselves once more in
decent country. Numerous small, dry watercourses ran down from the hills,
fringed with grass and bushes. In the open mulga, kangaroos' tracks were
numerous, and in the hills we saw several small red kangaroos, dingoes,
and emus. At first we found great difficulty in identifying any of the
hills; but after much consultation and reference to the map we at last
picked out Mount Shenton, and on reaching the hill knew that we were
right, for we found Wells' cairn of stones and the marks of his camp and
camels. The next difficulty was in finding the soakage, as from a bad
reproduction of Wells' map it was impossible to determine whether the soak
was at the foot of Mount Shenton or near another hill three miles away.
It only remained to search both localities. Our trouble was rewarded by
the finding of an excellent little soakage, near the foot of a granite
rock, visible due East, from the top of Mount Shenton, some two miles
distant. Here we had an abundant supply, and not before it was wanted. The
camels had had no water with the exception of a mouthful apiece from the
night of April 21st until the night of May 3rd, a period of twelve days,
during which we had travelled nearly two hundred miles over very trying
ground. The cool nights were greatly in their favour, and yet it was a
good performance, more especially that at the end of it they were in
pretty fair fettle.
What a joy that water was to us! what a luxury a wash was! and clean
clothes! Really it's worth while being half famished and wholly filthy for
a few days, that one may so thoroughly enjoy such delights afterwards!
I know few feelings of satisfaction that approach those which one
experiences on such occasions. Our cup of joy was not yet full, for as we
sat mending our torn clothes, two over-inquisitive emus approached.
Luckily a Winchester was close to hand, and as they were starting to run I
managed to bowl one over. Wounded in the thigh he could yet go a great
pace, but before long we caught up with him and despatched him with a blow
on the head. What a feed we had! I suppose there is hardly a part of that
bird, barring bones, feathers, and beak that did not find its way into our
mouths during the next day or two! Tinned meat is good, sometimes
excellent; but when you find that a cunning storekeeper has palmed off all
his minced mutton on you, you are apt to fancy tinned fare monotonous!
Such was our case; and no matter what the label, the contents were always
the same--though we tried to differentiate in imagination, as we used to
call it venison, beef, veal, or salmon, for variety's sake! "Well, old
chap, what shall we have for tea--Calf's head? Grouse? Pheasant?" "Hum!
what about a little er--MINCED MUTTON--we've not had any for some time,
I think." In this way we added relish to our meal.
Amongst the hills we saw numerous kangaroos, but could never get a shot.
This must be a fine camp for natives. Near the soak was a camp of quite a
dozen blacks, but recently deserted. In fact we must have scared them
away, for their fires were still smouldering. We spent three days in
exploring the hills, but failed to see any auriferous indications,
excepting in the immediate neighbourhood of Mount Shenton. We had
therefore had our long tramp for nothing, and had to be content with
knowing that we had tried our best and had at least proved the useless
character of a large stretch of country. For this, however, one gets no
On the 6th we moved to a rock-hole near Mount Grant, in the same range as
Mount Shenton, and spent another day tramping the hills with no result.
Here again we were in luck, for a mob of thirteen emus came to drink
whilst I was in the rock-hole. Having seen them early that morning and
knowing that they had had no drink, I felt sure they would return, and so
had patiently waited, crouched in the rock hole, waist deep in water.
This, perhaps, did not improve its flavour, but emu meat was worth
procuring at the small cost of tainting the water with the taste of
clothes. Presently I heard the drumming of the approaching birds, and,
cautiously looking up, found them attentively examining the bucket and
pannikin, I had left on the rock. They made such a quaint, pretty picture
that unless we had really wanted meat, I should not have disturbed them.
Had I been so inclined I could have shot several as they were bunched
together within a few feet of me; one, however, was sufficient, and as he
fell the rest streamed away up the slope with tremendous speed. This bird
we cut into strips of meat which we dried in the sun.
To celebrate this addition to our larder, we held a concert that night,
and took it in turns to be the audience. Luck had rather a good voice,
and treated me to French songs; his favourite started, "J'ai souvent
parcouru le monde, les forets et les grandes savannes----" This was always
loudly applauded. My songs were not a great success--in fact an audience
of one is all I can manage, that is if I am stronger, or fleeter of foot
than he is. Luck was polite enough to say he enjoyed my rendering of
"The Scottish Cavalier." Then we used to read aloud to each other by the
light of the camp-fire. I did most of the reading, for my mate's English
was not as clear as it might have been.
Athletic sports, too, we used to indulge in, feats of strength, and so
forth, in most of which Luck was too good for me, but I always beat him at
cock-fighting, which was rather a sore point. In fact, considering that we
were alone and had been so for many weeks, and were a long way into the
interior, "outside the tracks" by a good many score of miles, we managed
to be fairly cheerful on the whole. I do not like writing about my
companion's crotchets, because it seems unfair, since one's own
shortcomings never find the light unless the other man writes a book too.
By freely conceding that sometimes I must have been a horrible nuisance
to him, I feel absolved in this matter. When Luck used to get sulky fits,
he really was most trying; for two or three days he wouldn't speak, and
for want of company I used to talk to the camels; at the end of that time,
when I saw signs of recovery, I used to address him thus, "Well, Bismarck,
what's it all about?" Then he would tell me how I had agreed to bake a
damper, and had gone off and done something else, leaving him to do it, or
some such trivial complaint. After telling me about it, he would regain
his usual cheerfulness. "Bismarck" was a sure draw, and made him so angry
that he had to laugh as the only way out of it without fighting someone.
Luck, you see, was from Alsace, and did not care about the Germans.
FROM MOUNT SHENTON TO MOUNT MARGARET
But to continue our journey. We left Mount Grant on May 8th, travelling
South-West, and once away from the hills came again into sand and
spinifex. From absence of feed we tied the camels down two nights running.
The second night we had a visit from a native gentleman, and by his tracks
in the morning we saw that he had been quite close to our heads at one
On the 10th a great change occurred in the country, and on passing through
a thicket, we found a great wall of rock (decomposed granite) barring
further progress. Following along the wall we came upon a gap, and,
entering, reached a nice little plain of saltbush, surrounded by rocks and
cliffs. This remarkable gap in the apparently extensive wall of rock we
christened the "Desert's Gate," for we hourly expected to see better
country. The next day we cut some recent horse tracks, the first signs of
prospectors we had seen since April 15th, and following them back, hoping
for water, came to an empty rock-hole amongst some rough hills of black
slate, and in places, blows of quartz. No colours of gold could be found,
nor signs of water, to induce us to stay longer prospecting. On the 12th
we crossed a narrow salt lake and bade adieu to the sand and spinifex. To
commemorate this longed-for day, we afterwards composed numerous poems(?)
illustrating our daily life in the desert. The one considered by us the
best, I beg to submit to the indulgent reader.
SPINIFEX AND SAND.
I will sing you a lay of W.A.
Of a wanderer, travelled and tanned
By the sun's fierce ray, through the livelong day
In the Spinifex and Sand.
At the day's first dawn, in earliest morn,
As a soldier obeys a command,
From his blanket he's torn, still weary and worn,
By the Spinifex and Sand.
Unrested still, he must put on the billy,
And eat of the meat that is canned,
He must take his full fill, he must face willy-nilly
The Spinifex and the Sand.
Then he gets on the tracks and sights the arched backs
Of his camels of true South Aus. brand,
And with saddle and sack he must hasten to pack
For the Spinifex and Sand.
From the start until night, till he's sick of the sight,
There seem to dance hand in hand
A lady so bright, and a green-armoured knight,
The Spinifex and the Sand.
He turns to his mate with "It gets a bit late,"
His mate, he just answers offhand--
"It's the same soon or late, we'll camp 't any rate
In the Spinifex and Sand."
As the night drags along, a weird-looking throng
Fills his dreams of a far-off land,
And a voice loud and strong chants the same ceaseless song,
Of the SPINIFEX AND THE SAND.
Since this is one of the few attempts at rhyming that I have been guilty
of, I hope I may be excused for wishing to see it in print, for at the
time I was exceedingly proud of the composition. Ah! well, it served to
pass the time and afforded some amusement. Soon we had other matters to
think about, for on the 12th we found ourselves on the outskirts of
auriferous country and were lucky in reaching plenty of water. Being
lightly loaded we had made good marches, covering 103 miles from the last
water on May 8th, an average of twenty and a half miles per day.
From the 13th to the 21st we camped surrounded by hills, any one of which
might contain gold if only we could find it. Unremitting labours resulted
in nothing but a few colours here and there. We were now thirty miles to
the North-West of Mount Margaret (discovered and named by Forrest in 1869,
who on that journey reached a point some sixty miles further East than
that hill), and though we were the first, so far as I know, to prospect
this particular part of the district, it was reserved for subsequent
fossickers to find anything worth having.
Wandering about, pick in hand, one day I put up several turkeys from the
grass surrounding some granite rocks, and shortly after found their
watering-place, a nice little pool. The next day whilst Luck prospected I
returned to the pool with a gun, and, building a hide of bushes, waited
all day. Towards evening two fine emus came stalking along, and I shot
one. By the time I had him skinned and the legs cut off it was dark. A
most deceptive bird is an emu, for in reality he has but little meat on
his body. The legs, that is the thighs, are the only parts worth taking,
so shouldering these I started for camp a couple of miles off. It was
pretty late when I got back, and found Luck ringing a camel-bell violently
and frequently. He had been a bit anxious at my long absence, and had
taken a bell off one of the camels to guide me in case I was "bushed."
A party of two is too small for a journey that takes them far from
settlements for if anything happens to one, the other has little chance by
himself. The man left in camp does not know what to do--if he goes far
from home, there is the danger of the camp being robbed by natives,
therefore he hesitates to go in search of his mate, who possibly is in
sore need of help from an accident, or bushed, or speared--so many things
might happen. If one broke a limb, as he easily might, what could his mate
do? Nothing. If in waterless country he would have to leave him, or kill
him, or die with him.
Though Luck and I were spared any catastrophes, we often thought of such
things, and therefore felt anxious when either was away for long.
On the 22nd we were surprised at cutting a freshly made dray-track, along
which it was clear that many had passed--and the next day arrived at the
Red Flag, an alluvial rush that had "set in" during our sojourn in the
sand. This came as a great surprise, as we had no idea that gold had been
found so far afield. This camp, some twelve miles North-East of Mount
Margaret, consisted then of only forty or fifty men, though others were
daily arriving. These were the first white men we had seen for seven
weeks, and they were greatly astonished to see us, when they learnt what
direction we had come from.
Here were gathered together men from Coolgardie and Murchison, attracted
by the tales of wealth brought by the first prospectors of the new rush.
Some of them had been longer away from civilisation than we had, and many
arguments were held as to the correct date. Of course I knew, because I
kept a diary; but the Queen's Birthday was celebrated by us on the wrong
day after all, for I had given April thirty-one days! We heard that
hundreds had started for the rush, but this camp represented all who had
persevered, the rest being scared at the distance.
This reads funnily now when Mount Margaret is as civilised as Coolgardie
was then, and is connected by telegraph, and possibly will be soon
boasting of a railway. The blacks had been very troublesome, "sticking up"
swagmen, robbing camps, spearing horses, and the like. It is popularly
supposed that every case of violence on the part of the natives, may be
traced to the brutal white man's interference in their family
arrangements. No doubt it does happen that by coming between man and wife
a white man stirs up the tribe, and violence results, but in the majority
of cases that I know of, the poor black-fellow has recklessly speared,
wounding and killing, prospectors' horses, because he wanted food or
amusement. A man does not travel his packhorses into the bush for the
philanthropic purpose of feeding the aboriginals, and naturally resents
his losses and prevents their recurrence in a practical way.
As a matter of fact, the black population was so small, that even had
every individual of it been shot, the total would not have reached by a
long way the indiscriminate slaughter that was supposed to go on in the
bush. The people who used to hold their hands up in horror--righteous
horror had the tales been true--at the awful cruelties perpetrated by the
prospectors, based their opinions on the foolish "gassing" of a certain
style of man who thinks to make himself a hero by recounting dark deeds
of blood, wholly imaginary. I remember reading a letter to a friend from
his mother, in which she begged him to take no part in the "nigger hunting
excursions" that she had heard went on in Western Australia. Poor lady!
she need not have disturbed herself, for such things never existed, nor
had her boy ever seen a black-fellow, except round the slaughter-yards of
No luck attended our search in the Mount Margaret district, and we shared
the opinion of everybody there that it was a "duffer," and after events
had proved what that opinion was worth. Travelling and prospecting as we
went, we at last succeeded in finding a reef which we thought was worth
May 30th. We made camp amongst some auriferous hills in what is now known
as the Niagara District, and within a few miles of a spot where,
subsequently, a rich find of gold was made. Since the natives were known
to be troublesome in this locality, we adopted the plan of one stopping
in camp whilst the other prospected. Formerly we had considered it safe
for the one at home to be within reasonable distance of camp, but now,
when semi-civilised natives were prowling about, it was unwise to leave
the camp at all. Luck found gold first, but in so small a vein of quartz
that we did not consider it worth working. The next day, however, we
"got colours" in a fine big reef, and, moving our belongings to its
vicinity, started prospecting the outcrop. Everywhere we tried we found
gold sprinkled through the stone like pepper, and by "dollying" obtained
good results. Satisfied with the prospect, the next thing to be done was
to cross-cut the reef to ascertain its thickness and character below the
Fortunately water was close to hand, that is to say three miles away, in a
creek since named "Dingo Creek." From there we packed water back to camp,
as often as we required it. Our luck in securing game had now deserted us,
and we had again to fall back on our nearly diminished stock of mince.
After a week's hard work we found that with our limited supply of tools,
without drills and dynamite, it was impossible to do any farther sinking;
besides which the low tide in our provisions necessitated a return to
civilisation before many days.
I pegged out, therefore, an area of four hundred yards by four hundred
yards, as a "protection area"; that is to say, that the fact of four
corner-pegs and a notice having been put up in some prominent place
protects the ground from being taken by any one else for a period of
thirty days. After that time has elapsed the area must be applied for at
the nearest Warden's office, where, unless disputed, it is registered
under the name of the applicant, who must at once commence work upon it.
When such work proves the existence of "payable gold" the area must be
again applied for as a lease, to hold which the sum of 1 pound per acre,
per annum, must be paid to the Government. There are other conditions with
which it is necessary to conform, and which need not be enumerated here.
Since we had ample time to go and return from Coolgardie within the
prescribed period, we decided that in place of travelling direct
homewards, we would make a detour and visit the locality of Mount Ida,
where we had heard gold had been found. By rapid travelling our "tucker"
could be made to last out the time. Winter was now coming on, and the
nights were bitterly cold. Our blankets in the morning were soaked with
dew and frost, and when the days were cloudy and sometimes drizzly we had
no chance of drying them until we built a fire at night. One is so used to
reading of the terrible heat in Australia that it may come as a surprise
to many to hear that in the short winter in the interior--which, by the
way, is 1,500 feet above sea level--the thermometer sometimes sinks for a
brief period of time to 17 degrees F.
This low temperature is reached about an hour before daylight, as you know
to your cost, if you are ill-provided with blankets. At that time in the
morning your head is drawn into the possum rug, and you lie stiff and
shivering until you hear the indescribable something--that heralds the
coming of the sun. It may be a camel moving, as he shakes the frost from
his woolly coat, it may be a bird, or a grasshopper, but always there is
some little noise that would tell even a blind man that the night is over.
Often you know by the stars how long it will be before daylight, and stir
up the fire, put on the billy, and get the saddles and packs in order.
Sometimes you fix on the wrong star, and are thanked accordingly by your
mate when, with his feet in his cold, clammy boots, he discovers that his
watch reads 2 a.m. Sometimes you have the satisfaction of growling at him,
and occasionally, if you feel in very nasty humour, you may lie "dog-oh"
and watch his early rising, knowing full well the right time; laughter,
however, gives you away, and you are justly rewarded by having the
blankets torn off you. Such simple pranks as these make bearable a life
that would otherwise suffocate you with its monotony.
And yet there is a charm about the bush--the perfect peace in the "free
air of God"--that so takes hold of some men that they can never be happy
anywhere else. Civilisation is a fine thing in its way, but the petty
worries and annoyances, the bustle and excitement, the crowds of people,
the "you can't do this," and "you must do that," the necessity for
dressing in most uncomfortable garments to be like other people, and a
thousand other such matters, so distress a bushman, who, like a caged
beast in a menagerie, wanders from corner to corner and cannot find where
to rest, that he longs for the day that he will again be on the track,
with all his worldly goods with him and the wide world before him. Such
a man in the bush and in the town is as different as a fish in and out of
Some of the finest fellows "outside the tracks" are the least respectable
in civilised places, where before long they can find no better occupation
than drinking, which, owing to months of teetotalism in the bush, they are
less able to stand than the ordinary individual who takes his beer or
spirits daily. And thus it is that bushmen very often get the name of
being loafers and drunkards, though on the aggregate they consume far less
liquor than our most respected citizens in the towns. The sudden change in
surroundings, good food, and the number of fellow-creatures, the noise of
traffic, and want of exercise--all these combined are apt to affect a
man's head, even when unaided by the constant flow of liquor with which a
popular bushman is deluged--a deluge hard to resist in a country where to
refuse a drink amounts to an insult. A plan recommended by some is to
"please 'em all by one jolly good spree, and then knock off and drink with
nobody." A man only gives offence who discriminates in his entertainers.
I fear I have wandered far from the subject of our journey, for Luck and I
had some time yet before us until the joys and troubles of civilised life
should be ours. The daily routine of travel was varied occasionally by
incidents of no great moment; for instance, when riding through the scrub,
Omerod, a rather clumsy old camel, tripped and fell, pinning me beneath
him, without injury to either of us; for a water bag acted as a buffer
between my leg and the saddle, and by the time all the water was squeezed
out of it, Luck had the saddle off, and I was extricated. Certainly some
camels are hard to put out or fluster; such a one was Omerod, who lay
without a kick until relieved of his saddle, when he rose and at once
proceeded to feed on the scrub.
Later, we had another instance of his stolidity; that was when crossing
a salt lake. Jenny was light and escaped bogging; not so Omerod, who sank
as far as his legs would allow, and there waited calmly until we had
unpacked the loads, carried them across the lake, and returned to help
Shimsha, who struggled violently in the sticky clay. When he was safely
taken across to an island on which we sought refuge, Omerod was attended
to. There he lay, half buried in salt mud, chewing his cud unconcernedly;
either he had perfect confidence in us, or was indifferent as to his
fate--he looked rather as if he were saying "Kismet." We had some trouble
in digging him out, during which operation Luck fared as I had done
before; he was pinned beneath the camel, waist deep in clay, and in that
position had to emulate the stolid patience of Omerod until I could dig
him out. At last they were both free, and after considerable labour we
landed on the island, camels, baggage, and all, just as night fell.
We WERE cold too, clothes and arms and faces covered with moist salt clay,
and nothing with which to make a fire but sprigs of dead samphire. A cold
night means an early start--so we were up betimes and found that the
camels, not tied, since we thought them safe on an island, had in search
of feed hobbled across the lake, and were standing disconsolate on this
sea of mud, afraid to move now that in daylight they could see their
surroundings. A repetition of the preceding day's performance, landed us
beyond the treacherous lake-bed, and the following day we were fortunate
in finding a fine rock-hole of water, which enabled us to reappear as
Mirages are nearly always to be seen on these lakes of the interior, and
from their occurrence it is impossible to determine the extent of the flat
expanse of mud. On this occasion I witnessed the finest I have ever seen.
The hot sun playing upon the damp breeze rising from the lake, transformed
this desolate sea of salt and clay, into a charming picture. The horizon
and the sky were joined by a mirage of beautiful clear water, from which
islands and hills seemed to rise; even their shadows and those of the
trees with which they were clothed were reflected in the unruffled surface
of the lake. The long stretch of sand between, gave the picture the
appearance of a peaceful, natural harbour, which the tide was about to
We were unable to pay more than a flying visit to Mount Ida, but
sufficiently long to assure us of the auriferous character of its
neighbourhood. It is quite an imposing hill, rough, dark, and rugged, and
formed as if layers of black slate had been thrown violently against each
other. It rises some five hundred feet above the surrounding country.
We needed all our time to reach Siberia, before our provisions gave out.
There we arrived in due course, passing close, on our way, to the hills
near which Menzies afterwards made his great "find."
At Siberia a Government survey party, under Messrs. Newman and Brazier,
was camped, preparatory to running a line to connect Coolgardie and the
Murchison. Bidding them adieu, we took the road to Coolgardie, and arrived
there on June 22nd after an absence of exactly ninety days, having
travelled 843 miles. The result of the journey to ourselves was nil, for
the company considered that the reef we had found was too far off, and
took no further steps to develop it. It was afterwards under offer for
13,000 pounds in cash and shares, though whether the deal came off or not,
or what the mine was worth, I am not aware.
The company's representative in Coolgardie welcomed us with great
hospitality, and invited us to tea at his camp. Here he produced whisky,
and what he told us he considered the very best of tinned meats. "So HELP
me never, it's MINCED MUTTON!" shouted poor Luck, as the tin was
opened--a little joke that has never been forgotten.
It is a rather novel sensation to find that you are dead; and this was
our experience, for the papers had killed us some time since--our bones
had been seen bleaching in the sun, and all that sort of thing.
Unfortunately our death was not certain enough to warrant any obituary
notices, which might have been interesting reading.
On our return to Perth, the manager of the company for which we had
worked, who had arrived in our absence, far from thanking us for having
tried our best, asked why we went into a d----d desert to look for gold!
This we considered a little mean, seeing that a great part of the country
we had traversed had been hitherto unexplored. However, one doesn't look
for thanks from a mining company. So our journey was finished--a journey
that I shall never look back upon with regret, but with pleasure, for Luck
was a fine fellow and the best of mates; and at least we had the
satisfaction of knowing that if we had been unsuccessful, it was not for
the want of trying.
PART III SECOND PROSPECTING EXPEDITION
THE JOYS OF PORTABLE CONDENSERS
November 8, 1894, was a red-letter day in the history of Coolgardie, for
on that date the foundation-stone of the first brick building was laid by
Mr. James Shaw, the mayor. Under the stone was deposited a specimen of
each coin of the realm, and these, by the way, were purloined in the
night. This great day was made the occasion for feasting and jubilation,
the feasting taking the not uncommon form of a gigantic "Champagne Spree,"
to which the whole town was invited.
When once a wave of inebriety swept over the settlement, something a
little out of the ordinary was likely to occur. Fights and rows would be
started with the most bloodthirsty intentions, only to end in peace and
harmony after the swearing of eternal friendships. A good fight in
Coolgardie in those days would attract as much attention as a cab accident
in the streets of London. The well-known cry of "A fight! a fight!" would
bring the greater part of the population from their dwellings--from
stores, banks, offices, bars, an excited and rushing crowd would hurry
to the scene of the fray, all eager to witness a good row; they were not,
as a rule, disappointed, for, as one fight usually breeds several, a fair
afternoon's or morning's entertainment could be safely counted on.
A mining community must have excitement; even a dog-fight would command a
considerable amount of interest.
On the celebrated night of the laying of the foundation stone I had the
pleasure of witnessing a rough-and-tumble fight between two of the most
powerful men in Coolgardie. The excitement was intense as one seized his
antagonist, and, using him as a flail, proceeded to clear the room with
him; he retaliated by overpowering the other man, and finally breaking his
leg as they fell heavily together out through the door on to the hard
street beyond. How much ill-feeling this little incident engendered may be
judged from the fact that the maimed man was employed by his late
adversary as clerk until his limb mended, and subsequently held the billet
for many months.
It was my misfortune to be engaged in organising a prospecting expedition
at this time--misfortune, because of the impossibility of getting any one
to attend to business. Camels had to be bought, and provisions and
equipment attended to. A syndicate had engaged my services and those of
my two companions whom I had chosen in Perth: Jim Conley, a fine, sturdy
American from Kentucky, the one; and Paddy Egan, an Irish-Victorian, the
other. Both had been some time on the fields, and Conley had had previous
experience in South Africa and on the Yukon, where he had negotiated the
now famous Chilcoot Pass without realising that it was the tremendous feat
that present-day travellers represent it to be.
There are few men more entertaining than diggers, when one can get them to
talk; there is hardly a corner of the habitable globe to which they have
not penetrated. Round a camp-fire one will hear tales of Africa, New
Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, America from Alaska to the Horn,
Madagascar, and other strange countries that would be a mine of
information to a writer of books of adventure--tales told in the main with
truth and accuracy, and in the quiet, unostentatious manner of the
habitual digger to whom poverty, riches, and hardships come all in their
turn as a matter of course.
Having chosen my mates, the next thing to be done was to procure beasts of
burden. Of numerous camels submitted for inspection I took three, which
were subsequently christened "Czar," "Satan," and "Misery" respectively;
the first from his noble and king-like mien, the second from his wild and
exceedingly unpleasant habit of kicking and striking--habits due not to
vice but to the nervousness of youth--and the third from his plaintive
remonstrances and sad-eyed looks of reproach as his saddle and load were
placed on his back.
The price of a good pack-camel then varied from 60 pounds to 80
pounds--and such prices as 100 pounds to 130 pounds were given for
first-class riding-camels. For South Australian-bred camels, the
descendants of stock originally imported from India by Sir Thomas Elder
some thirty years ago, a higher price was asked than for those brought
into the Colony direct from Kurrachi; and rightly, for there can be no
doubt but that in size, strength, and endurance, the camel of Australian
birth is far ahead of his old-world cousin. Not only are Indian camels
smaller and less fitted for the heavy work of the interior, but their
liability, until acclimatised, to mange and other diseases makes them most
The near approach of midsummer, and the known scarcity of water, had
induced me to include in my equipment a portable condenser, by means of
which we should convert the brine of the salt lakes into water fit to
drink. It seemed an excellent plan and so simple, for lakes abound--on
the maps; and wherever a lake is, there, by digging, will water be found,
and thus we should be independent of rock-holes and other precarious
sources of supply. Plans so simple on paper do not always "pan out" as
confidently expected and a more odious job, or one which entailed more
hard work, than prospecting with condensers I have not had to undertake.
"Prospecting" is generally taken to mean searching for gold. In Western
Australia in the hot weather it resolves itself into a continual battle
for water, with the very unlikely contingency that, in the hunt for a
drink, one may fall up against a nugget of gold or a gold-bearing quartz
On November 10th we made a start from Coolgardie, and, travelling along
the Twenty-five Mile road for some fifteen miles, we branched off in an
easterly direction, to try some country where I had previously found
"colours" of gold, when journeying from Kurnalpi to the Twenty-five Mile.
Finding that in the meantime others had been there and pegged out leases
and claims, we passed on and set up our condensers on the "Wind and Water"
lake, and began to get an inkling that our job was not to be of the
More than one hole six to fifteen feet deep had to be sunk before we
struck any water. To lessen the labour we at first dug our shafts near the
margin of the lake; this proving unsuccessful we were forced further and
further out, until our efforts were rewarded by a plentiful supply, but
alas! some three hundred yards from the shore. This necessitated the
carrying of wood from the margin of the lake to the condensers. The
boilers required constant attention day and night, the fires had to be
stoked, and the water stored as it slowly trickled from the cooling tray.
Thus the duties of the twenty-four hours consisted in chopping and
carrying wood, watching the condensers, attending to the camels,
occasionally sleeping and eating, and prospecting for gold in spare time.
I think my readers will readily understand that it was hard indeed to find
much time to devote to the proper object of the expedition, however
willing we were to do so.
There were one or two others engaged on the same job at that lake, and
from one party Czar sneaked a cheap drink by thrusting his head through
the opening in the lid of a large two-hundred-gallon tank. His peculiar
position was specially adapted to the administration of a sound beating,
nor did the infuriated owner of the water fail to take advantage of the
With our tanks filled and our camels watered, we set forth from the lake
on November 21st, having prospected what country there was in its
immediate neighbourhood. The heat was intense, and walking, out of
training as we were, was dry work; our iron casks being new, gave a most
unpleasant zinc taste to the water, which made us all feel sick.
Unpleasant as this was, yet it served the useful purpose of checking the
consumption of water. Our route lay past the "Broad Arrow" to a hill that
I took to be Mount Yule, and from there almost due east to Giles'
Pinnacles. Our camels were most troublesome; young, nervous, and unused
to us or to each other, they would wander miles during the night, and give
two of us a walk of three or four miles in the morning; before the day's
work began. Two were not content with merely wandering, but persisted in
going in one direction, the third in another.
One morning Conley and Egan were following their tracks each in a
different quarter. I meanwhile climbed a neighbouring hill to spy out the