Part 5 out of 6
worry us at night--have to shift blankets half a dozen times. Val's feet
getting better--she can again walk a little."
The high ground seen from Mount Ernest turned out to be bare rocks of
black ironstone, from which we sighted a very large smoke rising to the
eastward--miles of country must have been burning, a greater extent than
we had yet seen actually alight. Probably the hot weather accounted for
the spread of the flames. Though apparently at no great distance, it took
us all that day and six hours of the next to reach the scene of the fire,
where spinifex and trees were still smouldering and occasionally breaking
into flames, whirlwinds of dust and ashes rising in every direction.
Having camped we set out as usual to find tracks, Breaden and Warri being
successful in finding a pad of some dozen blacks going in the same
direction. This they followed for a few miles, and returned long after
dark, guided by a blazing bank of spinifex; very worn and thirsty they
were too, for tramping about in sand and ashes is a most droughty job.
Having kept the camels in camp, since there was not a scrap of feed, we
were able to be well on our way before sunrise. Luckily the tracks led us
between two ridges, and we had only one to cross, which was fortunate,
for our beasts were famished from hunger, having had no food or water for
five days. At every halt, however short, if whoever was leading them
stopped, even to pull out a piece of spinifex which had found its way
through some hole in his boot, they would take advantage of it and
"plump" down on the sand; and whilst one was being goaded up, down would
go the rest. Poor Prempeh had to be unloaded and dragged behind.
Less than a mile beyond where Breaden had turned back we came on the
biggest camp of natives we had seen--quite a village! Perhaps a dozen
little "wurlies" or branch-shelters were dotted about the foot of a
sandhill. Camped under them we found one buck, several gins, and numerous
picaninnies; it was clear that more were not far off. The first thing
that struck us about the man was his complete assurance, and secondly his
pronounced Jewish cast of features. With an ulster and a few tall hats on
his head he would have made a perfect "old clo'" man. An oldish man
this, with grizzled beard brought to a point, and in the end a tuft of a
rat's tall was twisted, others similarly adorning the ends of his
moustache. His hair was done in a round lump at the back, held in place
by a sort of net of string. His hair in front had been either pulled out
or shaved off, giving him a very fine forehead. His nose and lips were
Jewish to a degree. His womenfolk showed no such characteristics, most
of them being remarkably plain, with the exception of one pretty little
gin, who, poor thing, was suffering from a similar disease to the man we
saw at Family Well. We dressed her wounds with tar and oil, and I think
relieved her sufferings somewhat.
Our next patient was a small boy, who, from his swollen appearance, had
evidently enjoyed a hearty breakfast. He had sore eyes, literally eaten
away at the inner corners into deep holes, prevented from healing by the
myriads of flies that hung in clouds round his head. I made an
application of some eye-lotion, at which he shrieked horribly, poor boy.
I had never used that particular brand before, and did not know its
strength. He was quite a small chap, and the old Jew held him in his arms
whilst I doctored him, and nodded his head in approval. They showed us
their well close by, the usual sort, just at the foot of the sandhill,
and we set to work in the customary style, the buck watching us with
interest. Feeling that there must be more natives about, and not liking a
treacherous look in the old Jew's eyes, we brought a couple of rifles to
the mouth of the well.
Before long we heard the "Yu-u-u" of approaching black-fellows, and in a
minute fifteen naked savages came bounding down the sandhill towards us.
Fortunately for them we saw they had no weapons; even so, it was a
dangerous proceeding on their part, for some white men would have shot
first and inquired about their weapons afterwards! They were all big
men--the finest we saw anywhere excepting the two near Point Massie, and
most of them had a marked Jewish look. [This peculiarity has been
remarked amongst the natives of the McDonnell Ranges, Central
Australia--but nowhere else.] They were very friendly--too much so--for
they crowded round us, patting us, and jabbering so that our work on the
well was much hindered. Presently more women came on the scene, and with
many cries of "white-fella," "womany," their men made it clear that we
might take the whole lot with us if we so desired! This was hospitality,
indeed; but underlying it, I fear, were treacherous designs, for the game
of Samson and Delilah has been played with success more than once by the
We took but little notice of the natives, as obtaining water was of
greater interest at that moment than the prosecution of ethnological
studies. Charlie worked away down the well with perfect unconcern, while
the rest of us were occupied in hauling up the sand from below and
keeping the blacks at a distance. Wonderfully cunning fellows they were!
I was standing close by a Winchester which lay on the ground; one man
came up, patting me all over and grinning in the most friendly way, and
all the time he worked away with his foot to move the rifle to his mate
beside me. However, he did not succeed, nor another who tried the same
trick on Godfrey, and after a time they all retired, for reasons best
known to themselves, leaving only the old man and the children behind.
Godfrey pressed the old man into our service and made him cut bushes for
a shade; it seemed to me that an axe was not just the best thing for a
man who would probably sooner have used it against us than not, so he was
deposed from his office as woodcutter. As soon as the well was ready for
baling I walked off to see if anything of interest could be found, or if
another camp was anywhere near. The instant the old Jew saw me sling a
rifle over my shoulder he ran like a hare, yelling as he went. He was
answered by similar calls not far off. As he ran he picked up his spears
from a bush, and I could see the marks of the weapons of the rest of the
tribe, which had been planted just over the rise of sand. They evidently
knew all about a rifle, yet we were still over a hundred miles in a
bee-line from Hall's Creek. I saw their fleeing figures scattering in all
directions, and followed up some tracks for some distance without finding
anything of interest.
I noticed a considerable change in the country to the East, over which
there spread a forest of desert oak, and near the sandhills thickets of
ti-tree. The well seems to be at the head of an ill-defined watercourse,
which, lower down, runs between an avenue of bloodwoods. Close to the
well are several large ant-heaps, and from the sandhill above it little
can be seen; but north of the well one mile distant is a high ridge of
sand, from which is visible a prominent square hill, bearing 334 degrees
distant eighteen miles; this stands at the Eastern end of a tableland,
is named Mount Bannerman, after my sister-in-law. The well had an
abundant supply, though a little hard to get at, as it was enclosed by
two rocks very close together, necessitating a most cramped position when
baling with a saucepan on the end of a stick.
By daylight we had watered all the camels and were glad to rest under the
shade we had made with boughs. Our rest lasted three days to allow
Prempeh, who was very poorly, to recover. The flies, as usual, worried us
unmercifully, but I was so thankful to regain once more my sense of
hearing that I rather enjoyed their buzzing. I had for some weeks been so
deaf that unless I had my attention fixed on something, I could not hear
at all. I must have been a great bore to my companions very often, for
frequently they talked for a long time to me, only to find that I had not
heard a word!
We were greatly entertained by two small boys, the sole representatives
of the tribe, who showed intense delight and interest in all our doings,
and were soon tremendous chums with Warri. One was quite a child, very
sharp and clever; the other a young warrior, very proud of his spear and
shield--a well-built youngster whose appearance was somewhat spoiled by a
severe squint in one eye. They showed no fear whatever of us, or of the
camels, and were soon on quite friendly terms with the latter, patting
and stroking their noses; they lost confidence before long, when the
small boy inadvertently patted the wrong end of a camel and was kicked
The position of the Jew Well is lat. 19 degrees 41 minutes, long. 127
degrees 17 minutes; from it we steered to Mount Bannerman, over the usual
ridges of sand, now further apart and lower. On some of the flats between
we found splendid little patches of feed [Amongst it GOODENIA RAMELII],
where the spinifex had been burnt and was just sprouting up again. One
plant, new to us, was growing in profusion and resembled nothing so much
as bunches of grapes with the fruit pulled off. We camped early, as such
feed was not to be passed by. The next morning, we found that our axe had
been left behind at the well; so, as it was a most useful article, I sent
Warri back for it, whilst Godfrey and I put in the day by following the
young warrior, who volunteered to show us a very large water--a ten-mile
walk with nothing at the end of it was not at all satisfactory, nor did
we feel very kindly disposed to our small friend. I suppose he wanted to
find his tribe again, for when we stopped we could see a smoke in the
We saw quite a number of spinifex rats, and though Godfrey carried a gun
one way and I carried it coming home, we never bagged one, and only had
one shot, which missed. Every rat got up quite 150 yards off in the most
annoying way. We started burning a patch of spinifex, but since we were
not pressed for food we concluded that the weather was quite hot enough
without making fires! I fancy that only by taking a leaf out of the
blackfellows' book could one have any success in spinifex-rat hunting. I
have read in Giles's book, and Sir John Forrest has told me, that when he
was in the bush the rats were easily secured. Possibly they were more
numerous in the better country that he passed through, or larger and not
so quick. All our efforts were unavailing, the only occasion on which we
slaughtered a rat being when Val caught a young one; the full-grown ones
were far too fast for her and too quick in turning round the hummocks of
Warri returned with the axe in the evening and reported that no natives
had visited the well since our departure. The next day as we approached
the hills the two boys, sitting aloft on the top of the loaded camels,
were much excited and made many signs that water was not far off. The
hills we found to be the usual barren, rocky tablelands, scoured into
gullies and gorges, which, forming small creeks, disappear before many
miles amongst the sandhills.
Mount Bannerman stands at the eastern end of the hills; a little to the
west is a deep and narrow gorge, the bed of which is strewn with great
boulders and slabs of rock. The hill is capped with a conglomerate of
quartz, sandstone and ironstone pebbles, some of the quartz fragments
being as large as hen's eggs and polished quite smooth. From its summit
an apparently high range can be seen to the North; to the East and South
nothing but sand-ridges; to the South-West a prominent square hill, the
highest point in a broken table-range, bears 226 degrees. This hill I
named Mount Erskine, after the Kennedy-Erskines of Dun.
Travelling West from Mount Bannerman, we had five miles of very rough and
jagged rocks to cross, worn away into a regular network of deep little
glens, very awkward to get over. The rocks were burning hot, and the
walking was not at all to the liking of our small guide. The young
warrior led the way, but was continually turning round for instructions
to the little chap riding behind, who directed him with a wave of the
hand in a most lordly manner. It is a most noticeable thing how much the
natives seem to feel the heat, and I am inclined to think that in the hot
weather they hunt only in the morning and evening, and camp during the
day. I was walking with the youth, and whenever we stopped to allow the
camels to catch us up he would crouch right up against me to get the
benefit of my shadow; and he was so fearfully thirsty that I took pity on
him and got him some water, though WE had all walked since sunrise
without a mouthful.
In crossing these small ravines, I noticed again how much easier it is
for camels to step down a steep rock than up--in stepping up they hang
their front foot out, and paw about for a place to put it down upon in a
most silly way.
In the main channel of a number of conjoining glens we came on a nice
little pool under a step in the rocky bed. A few gums shaded the pool,
growing in the sand by its edge. On arrival we found a large eagle-hawk
with a broken wing flapping about; this our two boys soon despatched with
sticks, and I looked forward to getting a handsome bird skin. However,
youngsters had it plucked and on a heap of burning sticks before we had
done looking for a way, down which to lead the camels.
We made camp just above the pool, and were lucky in finding a patch of
camel feed within a couple of miles across the rocks, for around all was
barren excepting a few stunted gums. The next morning I went with Breaden
for the camels, and noticed what I had suspected before, viz., that
Breaden had lately become very thin and weak. This morning he collapsed,
and I was thankful I had seen it; for he is a man who would never
complain, but just go on until he dropped. He could not conceal his
sickness now, and in a very short time was suffering from severe
dysentery. Luckily we had plenty of water close at hand, for he
could not possibly travel. For three days he lay in the recess of a
sheltering rock near the pool, and we nursed him as best we could.
Condensed milk and brandy, thin cornflour and chlorodyne, I doctored
him with; he was a very obedient patient, whose pangs of hunger were
aggravated by watching us feeding daily on bronzewings, wallabies,
and galahs. This pool was a favourite resort for hundreds of
hawks, galahs, parakeets, pigeons and sparrows--and numerous dingoes.
Of the bronzewings, which at sundown and before sunrise lined the rocks
literally in hundreds, we shot as many as we wanted. How thick they were
can be judged from the result of one barrel, which killed fourteen.
It was a pretty sight to watch the birds drinking, as we sat in Breaden's
sick-room, the cave. By keeping quite still we could watch them all. All
day long the sparrows, diamond and black, are fluttering about the water,
chirping and twittering, until the shadow of a hawk circling above
scatters them in all directions. Then morning and evening flocks of
little budgerigars, or lovebirds, fly round and round, and at last take a
dive through the air and hang in a cloud close over the water; then,
spreading out their wings, they drink, floating on the surface. The
galahs make the most fuss of any, chattering away on the trees, and
sneaking down one by one, as if they hoped by their noise to cover the
advance of their mate. The prettiest of all the birds is a little plump,
quail-like rock-pigeon or spinifex-pigeon, a dear little shiny, brown
fellow with a tuft on his head. They arrive at the water suddenly and
unexpectedly from behind rocks and trees, and stand about considering;
then one, more venturesome than the rest, runs quickly down to drink, and
is followed by a string of others; then they run up again ever so fast,
and strut about cooing and spreading their crests--one seldom sees them
fly; when they do they rise straight up, and then dart away close to the
ground and drop suddenly within a few yards. Of all birds the crow has
most sound common sense; there is no dawdling in his methods; down he
swoops with beautifully polished feathers glistening in the sun, to the
water's edge, stands for a second to look calmly from side to side; then
a long drink and away he goes, thoroughly satisfied to mind his own
business and nobody else's.
The two boys were splendid marksmen with short sticks, which they threw
into the flights of love-birds and sparrows as they passed. Whenever they
killed one they squatted down and heated it on the ashes, and ate it
straight away; and so small bird after small bird went down their throats
all day long, and they never thought to keep them until they had
sufficient for a good square meal. No doubt in their family circle they
have to take what they can get, and only make sure of keeping what they
have, by eating it at once.
Wandering about the hills I saw an emu, the first I had seen since
leaving the Coolgardie districts, though we had found their tracks at
Woodhouse Lagoon. He was too shy for me, and I failed to get a shot
after a lengthy stalk. Godfrey returned late that night with several
wallabies, and many bruises and abrasions, for he had had a nasty fall in
the dark down one of the many ravines.
The next morning was a sad one, for it disclosed the death from
poison-plant of poor old Shiddi, one of the best and noblest of camels--a
fine black, handsome old bull. I declare it was like losing an old
friend, as indeed he was. Where one camel is poisoned all the rest may
be, and since, from Breaden's dysentery, we could not travel, we must
find another camp not far off. So we marched South-West down the creek
and found another pool. Here we saw the first signs of white men for many
a long day, in the shape of old horse-tracks and a marked tree, on which
was carved (F.H. 18.8.96). This I found afterwards stood for Frank
Hann, who penetrated thus far into the desert from Hall's Creek and
returned. On another tree I carved a large C.
Breaden was slowly getting better when poor Charlie went sick, and we had
two in hospital. A most unenviable condition, where no sort of comforts
can be got. By digging into the bank of the creek we made a sort of
couch, and rigged flies over it for a shade. Bad as the days were, the
nights were worse; for myriads of ants followed swarms of flies, and
black, stifling clouds followed a blazing sun--all of which is bearable
to, and passes after a time unnoticed by a man in good health. But poor
fellows, worn to skeletons by unending work and the poorest of food,
unable to move from sickness, are worried almost past endurance by the
insects and heat. Every night we experienced terrific thunderstorms, but
alas! unaccompanied by rain. At sunset the clouds banked up black and
threatening, the heat was suffocating, making sleep impossible, lightning
would rend the sky, and then after all this hope-inspiring prelude,
several large drops of rain would fall and no more, the sky would clear
and the performance be over, only to be repeated the following evening.
Our change of camp made no difference in the feed, for on the 9th another
camel was found dead in the morning--poor Redleap, who had never once
shown a sign of giving in, killed in a matter of a few minutes. We
examined his body, swollen to a tremendous degree, the usual indication
of poison-plant--evidently very virulent and painful, for we could see
how, in his death agony, he had torn up the ground with his teeth, and
turned and bitten himself most cruelly. It was clear we must move again.
As we prepared to load up, Stoddy was suddenly seized with the poison
sickness, and careered at full speed round the camp in circles, falling
down and rolling in agony at intervals. After a lot of trouble we stopped
him, threw him, and roped him down; administered a gallon of very strong
Epsom salts and water, then a dose of soapsuds, and bled him by slitting
both ears. This unquestionably saved his life, for the first two remedies
take too long to act. This scene had a curious effect on the other camels,
and for days after Stoddy was avoided, nor would any bear being tied on
behind him without snapping their nose-lines or breaking their nose-pegs
to get away.
Further down the creek, some six and a half miles from the hills, is a
fine flat of grass and herbage surrounded by large white gums--this is
practically the end of the creek, and to this spot we shifted camp,
packing water from the pool. On the 10th Prempeh died--another victim to
the poison--and I began to dread the morning. Fortunately our new camp
was free from poison, and no more deaths occurred. It was sad to think of
our camels dying thus after so many hundred miles of desert bravely
traversed--yesterday a picture of strength and life, to-day food for
those scavengers of the bush, the dingoes. What satisfied howls they gave
forth all night long; for, like crows or vultures, they seem to collect
from far and wide round the body of any dead thing. From our camp Mount
Erskine was visible, but not of sufficiently inviting appearance to make
a visit worth while.
On the 15th all were off the sick list and ready to march. I felt
sorrowful indeed at the loss of the camels, but thankful that no more had
died, and more thankful still that we had been able to camp whilst poor
Breaden and Charlie regained their health. Such a sickness in the heart
of the desert could have had but one ending.
Our way lay over spinifex plains until just north of the hills a
sand-ridge was crossed, remarkable from its regular shape and wonderfully
straight course, as if it had been built to most careful measurements and
The 16th of November was a red-letter day, for on it we crossed the LAST
SAND-RIDGE--in lat. 19 degrees 20 minutes--leaving the desert behind us.
A feeling of satisfaction filled us that we had conquered its
difficulties not by chance, but by unremitting toil and patience. I am
sure that each in his heart thanked his God that He had been pleased to
bring us through safely. Once across the range we had seen from Mount
Bannerman--a range of quartzite hills which I named Cummins Range, after
the Warden at Hall's Creek--and we had reached the watershed of the
tributaries of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers. From Cummins Range onward
until we struck the Margaret, we had very rough hills and rocks to
cross--this hard travelling after the yielding sand was most painful to
the camels, and their feet were soon sore and cut by the sharp edges of
rock. The country may be roughly described as slate bedded on edge, in
such a way as to leave sharp corners and points of rock sticking up in
all directions. Through the slate run veins of quartz, often rising above
the surface in huge blows, hills, and even small ranges. Innumerable
gullies crossed our path, and occasionally fair-sized creeks. Such a one
is Christmas Creek, which, where we saw it, is made up of three creeks
from fifty to eighty yards across, running almost parallel and not more
than half a mile apart. These soon meet and form a fine creek which joins
the Fitzroy many miles to the Westward. These creeks are fringed with
gums, Bauhinia, and Leichardt trees, all affording splendid shade--and
following the banks on either side is a belt of high grass and shrubs,
from which occasional kangaroos and wallabies bounded, alarmed by the
sound of our advancing caravan.
On the north side of Christmas Creek we crossed the first auriferous
country we had seen since leaving the Neckersgat Range, close to Lake
Darlot. Standing on a high peak of white, sandy-looking quartz, a hill
which I named Mount Hawick after my first mate in West Australia, Lord
Douglas of Hawick, innumerable jagged ranges rose before me in all
directions. To the south could be seen the Cummins Range, bounding the
desert; to the north the black, solid outline of the Mueller Range. And
now we were in surveyed country, and without much difficulty I could
identify such points as Mount Dockrell, the Lubbock Range, McClintock
Range, and others, and was pleased to find that after all our wanderings
we had come out where I had intended, and in a general way had followed
the line I had pencilled on the chart before starting.
Mount Hawick's approximate position is lat. 18 degrees 53 minutes long.
127 degrees 3 minutes; five miles from it, in a N.W. direction, we found
a splendid pool in a deep gorge, whose precipitous sides made it hard to
find a passage down which the camels could reach the water. For fear of a
sudden downpour and consequent flood in the creek, we camped on the flat
rock above the pool. Fish, small and bony, but of excellent flavour,
abounded in the water, and we were soon at work with needles, bent when
redhot into hooks, baited with pieces of cockatoo flesh, and pulled out
scores of the fish; Godfrey, whose skill in such matters is very great,
accounting for over a hundred in a very short time. These were very
welcome, for we had run out of meat for some days past, nor had we been
able to shoot any birds or beasts.
Pigeons and other birds came in small quantities to drink, and kangaroo
tracks were numerous; in spite, however, of braving the mosquitoes near
the water by sitting up all night, we did not even get a shot. Charlie
set some snares with equal ill-success, but the following day Godfrey got
a fine kangaroo, and a carpet-snake over nine feet in length. What we did
not eat of the former at the first sitting, was dried in strips in the
sun and kept for future use.
Here we also made acquaintance with the native bee, and would certainly
have been counted mad by any stranger who could have seen us sitting in
the smoke of a fire in the broiling sun! This was the only way to escape
them; not that they sting, on the contrary they are quite harmless, and
content themselves by slowly crawling all over one, up one's sleeve, down
one's neck, and everywhere in hundreds, sucking up what moisture they
may--what an excellent flavour their honey must have!
On a gum-tree near the pool some initials were carved, and near them a
neatly executed kangaroo. The second name I recognised as that of Billy
Janet, the first to find alluvial gold at Lake Darlot. He was one of the
Kimberley prospectors in the old days of the '87 rush. Keeping north from
the Janet Creek we crossed stony tablelands timbered with gums, and
numerous ravines and small creeks, until, on following down a nicely
grassed gorge with a creek running through it, we struck the dry bed of
the Mary River on November 25th. Henceforth our path lay through pleasant
places; shady trees, long grass, and frequent pools of water in the
shingly beds of the creeks made a welcome change after the awful
desolation of the desert. Indications of white men were now constantly
met with--marked trees, old camps, and horse-tracks. Striking north from
the Mary, over plains of spinifex and grass, passing many queer,
fort-like hills, we reached the Margaret River, a noble creek, even when
dry as we saw it. Nice grass plains extend along its banks, and the
timber and bush is alive with the sounds of birds, whose bright plumage
was indeed good to look upon. Cockatoos and parrots of the most gorgeous
colouring darted here and there amongst the trees, and every now and then
a swamp-pheasant would fly shrieking from the branches above.
DEATH OF STANSMORE
Where the Margaret River forces its way through the Ramsay Range, a fine
pool enclosed between two steep rocks has been formed. This is a
permanent pool, and abounds in fish of various kinds. Above and below it
the river was merely a dry expanse of gravel and shingle; a month later
it was a roaring torrent, in places twenty feet deep. Close to the pool
we noticed an old dray road, the old road to Mount Dockrell. I asked
Warri where he supposed it led to, and he answered "Coolgardie!"
Curious that one impossible to bush in a short distance should be so
ludicrously out of his reckoning. Time now being no object, since the
numerous ducks and fish supplied us with food, we camped for two days at
the pool, enjoying its luxuries to the full. Our larder contained a
bucketful of cold boiled ducks, a turkey, and numerous catfish and
bream--rather a change from the sand-ridges! As to bathing, we felt
inclined to sit all day in the water. I think we enjoyed ourselves more
at that pool than any of us could remember having done for a long time.
The desert was forgotten, and only looked back upon as a hard task
All were as happy and cheerful as could be, speculating as to what sort
of place Hall's Creek was, and in what way our sudden appearance would
affect the inhabitants. Charlie was sure that they would receive us with
open arms and banquet us, the lord mayor and the city band would meet us,
and a lot more chaff of the kind. Only eight miles, I reckoned, lay
between us and the telegraph line and the Derby-to-Hall's-Creek road; and
we made bets in fun whether we should reach the line before or after a
certain hour; as we started our march on the 30th there was no happier
little band in the wide world. Charlie followed one side of the river,
carrying the gun, as we meant to celebrate the arrival at the telegraph
line with a pot of kangaroo-tail soup. To pass the ridge of rock, the end
of the Ramsay Range, it was necessary for us with the camels to keep wide
of the river bank and descend a steep little gorge. As we started to go
down we saw some kangaroos jumping off towards Charlie, and presently
heard a shot. A shout from us elicited no reply, so we concluded he had
missed, and continued on our march.
When we reached the river bank again, I looked out for Charlie, but
somebody said he was across the river-bed in the long grass. After about
an hour's travel it struck me that he should have rejoined us, or else
that he had shot the kangaroo and was delayed by skinning or carrying it.
No thought of any mishap entered my head, for a prolonged absence of one
or other of us was of common occurrence. However, after another half-hour
a nervous feeling came over me, and, stopping the camels, I sent Warri
back to see what Charlie was about. Before very long Warri returned,
hardly able to speak from fear mixed with sorrow.
"What on earth's come over the boy?" I said. Then he blurted out,
"Charlie dead, I think." "Good God! Are you sure?--did you speak to him,
or touch him?" I asked, as we ran back together, the rest with the camels
following behind. "Him dead, lie 'long a rock--quite still," Warri
answered, and he had not spoken or touched him. Panting and
anxious--though even then I thought of nothing worse than a sprained
ankle, and a faint in consequence--we arrived at the foot of the rocks
where Charlie had last been seen, and whence the sound of the gunshot had
come. Right above us, caught by a ledge on the face of the rock, fifty
feet from the ground, I saw Charlie lying, and clambering up somehow at
full speed, reached his side.
Good God! Warri had spoken a true word. There was no spark of life in the
poor old fellow. What a blow! What an awful shock! What a calamity! I sat
dazed, unable to realise what had happened, until roused by a shout from
below: "Is he hurt?--badly?--not DEAD!" "As a stone," I answered; and
that was what we felt in our hearts, a dull weight, pressing all sense or
strength from us.
How to describe that sad scene? Poor old Charlie! one of the best and
truest men that God ever blessed with life; such a fine manly character;
so honest and generous--a man whose life might stand as an example for
any in the land to follow; from whose mouth I never heard an oath or
coarse word, and yet one whose life was spent amongst all classes, in all
corners of Australia; such a true mate, and faithful, loyal
companion--here his body lay, the figure of strength and power, he who had
been most cheerful of us all. It seemed so hard, to die thus, the journey
done, his share in the labour so nobly borne and patiently executed; the
desert crossed, and now to be cut off on the edge of the land of promise!
Ah well, it was better so than a lingering death in the desert, a swift
and sudden call instead of perhaps slow tortures of thirst and
starvation! Poor Charlie! the call of death is one that none of us may
fail to heed; I only pray that when I am summoned to the "great unknown"
I may be as fit to meet my Maker as you were.
It was easy to see how the accident had happened; the marks on the rock
and the gun were soon deciphered. He was carrying the gun by the muzzle
balanced on his shoulder, the stock to the rear; on climbing down a steep
place, his heels--his boots had iron heel plates--slipped, he fell with
his back to the rock; at the same time the gun was canted forward, fell
right over, striking the hammer of one barrel on the rock at his feet--the
cartridge exploded, and the charge entered his body just below the heart.
Death must have been instantaneous and painless, for on his face was a
peaceful smile, and he had never moved, for no blood was showing except
near the wound. An accident that might have happened to any one, not
through carelessness, for the gun was half-cock, but because his time had
We buried him between the rocks and the river at the foot of a large gum
tree. No fine tombstone marked his grave, only a rough cross, and above
him I carved his initials on the tree, C. W. S. 30.11.96.
There we laid him to rest in silence, for who was I that I should read
holy words over him? "Goodbye, Charlie, old man, God bless you!" we
said, as in sorrow we turned away. The tragedy had been so swift, so
unexpected, that we were all unmanned; tears would come, and we wept as
only men can weep. A few months past I heard that a brass plate sent by
Charlie's brothers had arrived, and had been placed on the tree by Warden
Cummins, as he had promised me.
In due course we reached the telegraph line, without enthusiasm or
interest, and turned along the road to Hall's Creek with hardly a word.
Stony hills and grass plains and numerous small creeks followed one
another as our march proceeded, and that night, the first in December, we
experienced a Kimberley storm. The rain started about 2 a.m., and in
twenty minutes the country was a sea of water; our camp was flooded, and
blankets and packs soaked through and through. The next morning every
creek was running a banker and every plain was a bog. However, the camels
behaved well and forded the streams without any fuss. That day we met
some half-civilised natives, who gave us much useful information about
Hall's Creek. With them we bartered a plug of tobacco for a kangaroo
tail, for we wanted meat and they a smoke. They had just killed the
animal, and were roasting it whole, HOLUS-BOLUS, unskinned and undressed.
We saw several mobs of grey kangaroos feeding in the timber--queer,
uncanny beasts, pretty enough when they jump along, but very quaint when
feeding, as they tuck their great hind legs up to try and make them match
On December 4th we arrived at Hall's Creek; the first man we met was
Sergeant Brophy, of the Police--the first white face we had seen since
July 21st. At Hall's Creek at last, after a somewhat prolonged journey of
1,413 miles, counting all deviations.
WELLS EXPLORING EXPEDITION
The first news that we heard was of the disaster that the expedition
under Mr. L. A. Wells had met with. Two of his party were missing, and it
was feared that they had met with some serious mishap. Fortunately Hall's
Creek can boast of telegraphic communication with Derby and Wyndham on
the coast, and from thence to Perth; so that I lost no time in letting
Wells know of our arrival, that we had seen no traces of the lost men,
and that we were ready to do whatever he, who knew all particulars of the
matter, should think best. When I told Breaden that I had put my camels
and party at Wells' disposal, he said at once that he was ready to go,
but that in his opinion the camels were not fit to do another week's
journey; Godfrey, too, was as ready. Indeed it would have been strange if
we, who had so lately come through the desert, and knew its dangers, had
not been eager to help the poor fellows in distress, although from the
first we were morally certain there could be no hope for them; the only
theory compatible with their being still alive, was that they were camped
at some water easy of access, and were waiting for relief, keeping
themselves from starvation by eating camel-flesh.
For many reasons, that need not be gone into, it was thought best by the
promoters of the expedition in Adelaide that we should remain where we
were; and, thanking me very heartily for our proffered assistance, they
assured me they would be very glad to avail themselves of it should the
search-parties already in the field meet with no success. Had we felt any
hope whatever of the men being alive we should certainly have started off
then and there; since, however, the chances of finding any but dead men
were so very infinitesimal, I agreed to wait and to put myself at their
command for a given time. It will be as well to give here a short
account, as gathered from letters from Wells and others to the
newspapers, of the unfortunate expedition.
This expedition, fitted out partly by the Royal Geographical Society,
South Australia, and partly by a Mr. Calvert, was under command of L. A.
Wells, who was surveyor to the Elder Expedition (1891-92). The party,
besides the leader, consisted of his cousin, C. F. Wells, G. A.
Keartland, G. L. Jones, another white man as cook, two Afghans, and one
black-boy, with twenty-five camels. The objects of this expedition were
much the same as those of my own, viz., to ascertain the nature of the
country still unexplored in the central portions of West Australia,
"hopes being entertained of the possibility of opening up a valuable
stock route from the Northern Territory to the West Australian
Goldfields, and of discovering much auriferous country" (vide ADELAIDE
OBSERVER, June 6, 1896). A collection of the flora and fauna was to be
made, as well as a map of the country passed through. The expedition
started from Cue, Murchison district, left civilisation at Lake Way,
and travelled in a North-Easterly direction from there to Lake Augusta,
thence in a Northerly direction past Joanna Springs to the Fitzroy River.
Thus their course was almost parallel to our upgoing journey, and some
150 to 200 miles to the westward, nearer the coast. The class of country
encountered was similar to that already described by me--that is sand,
undulating and in ridges.
A well, since called "Separation Well," was found in long. 123 degrees
53 minutes, lat. 22 degrees 51 minutes. At this point the expedition
split up: Charles Wells and G. L. Jones, with three camels, were to make
a flying trip ninety miles to the Westward; then, turning North-East,
were to cut the tracks of the main party, who were to travel nearly due
The rendezvous was fixed at or near Joanna Springs--which place, however,
the leader failed to find (until some months afterwards, when he proved
them to have been placed on the chart some eighteen miles too far West by
Colonel Warburton in 1873, who in his diary doubts the accuracy of the
position assigned to the spring by himself, and remarks, "What matter in
such country as this?"). When the latitude of the spring was reached,
about a day and a half was spent in searching to the east and west
without result. A native smoke was seen to the eastward, but the leader
failed to reach it.
The camels were on the brink of collapse, many had already collapsed, and
the leader considered that by further search for the spring he would be
bringing almost certain death on the whole party. Therefore, abandoning
all collections, and in fact everything except just enough to keep him
and his companions alive, he pushed on for the Fitzroy River--travelling
by night and camping in the day--a distance of 170 miles. They arrived at
the Fitzroy River after the greatest difficulties, with one bucket of
water left, and only two camels fit to carry even the lightest packs.
The flying party were daily expected, for the arrangement had been that,
failing a meeting at Joanna Springs, both parties were to push on to the
Fitzroy. Days passed, however, and no flying party appeared.
Before long fears as to their safety began to grow, and Mr. Wells made
numerous attempts to return on his tracks. The heat, however, was too
much for his camels, and he was unable to penetrate to any distance. Mr.
Rudall in the meantime, who had been surveying in the Nor'-West, was
despatched by the Western Australia Government to make a search from the
West. He had a good base in the Oakover River, and pushed out as far as
Separation Well. Nothing, however, came of his gallant efforts, for he
was misled, not only by lying natives, but by the tracks of camels and
men, which subsequently turned out to be those of prospectors. His
journey, however, had many useful results, for he discovered a new creek
running out into the desert (Rudall River), and the existence of
auriferous country north of the Ophthalmia Range, besides confirming
Gregory's account of the country East of the Oakover.
It was not until April, 1897, that Mr. Wells found the bodies of his
cousin, Charles Wells, and George Jones. From their diaries (so much of
them at least as was published) the dreadful tale of suffering can be
traced. It appears that on leaving the main party they travelled westward
as directed, and started to turn North-East to cut the tracks of the
others. Before many miles on the fresh course, however, they for some
reason changed their minds and retraced their steps to Separation Well.
From this point they started to follow the main party, but before long
they seem to have become sick and exhausted, and the camels to show signs
of collapse. Later we read that, exhausted from heat, hardship, and
thirst, they lay down, each in the scanty shade of a gum tree; that the
camels wandered away too far for them to follow; efforts to recover the
stragglers only ended in their falling faint to the ground, and so,
deserted by their means of transport, without water, without hope, these
two poor fellows laid down to die, and added their names to the long roll
of brave but unfortunate men whose lives have been claimed by the wild
bush of Australia.
What a death! Alone in that vast sea of sand--hundreds of miles from
family or friends--alone absolutely! not a sign of life around them--no
bird or beast to tell them that life existed for any--no sound to break
the stillness of that ghastly wilderness--no green grass or trees to
relieve the monotony of the sand--nothing but the eternal spinifex and a
few shrunken stems of trees that have been--no shade from the burning
sun--above them the clear sky only clouded by death! slow, cruel death,
and yet in their stout hearts love and courage! Poor fellows! they died
like men, with a message written by dying fingers for those they left to
mourn them--a message full of affection, expressing no fear of death, but
perfect faith in God. So might all mothers be content to see their sons
die--when their time comes.
They had died, it appears, too soon for any aid to have reached them.
Even had Mr. Wells been able to turn back on his tracks at once on
arrival at the Fitzroy, it is doubtful if he could have been in time to
give any help to his suffering comrades.
The bodies were taken to Adelaide, where the whole country joined in
doing honour to the dead.
Since we were not to retackle the sand forthwith, we laid ourselves out
to rest and do nothing to the very best of our ability. This resolve was
made easy of execution, for no sooner had the Warden, Mr. Cummins, heard
of our arrival, than he invited us to his house, where we remained during
our stay in Hall's Creek, and met with so much kindness and hospitality
that we felt more than ever pleased that we had arrived at this
out-of-the-way spot by a rather novel route.
Since Kimberley (excepting the South African district) must be an unknown
name to the majority of English readers, and since it is one of the most
valuable portions of West Australia, it deserves more than passing
Hall's Creek, named after the first prospector who found payable gold in
the district, is the official centre of the once populous Kimberley
goldfields, and the seat of justice, law, and order for the East
Attention was first drawn to this part of the Colony by the report of
Alexander Forrest, who discovered the Fitzroy, Margaret, and other
rivers; but it was not the pastoral land described by him that caused any
influx of population. Gold was the lure. The existence of gold was
discovered by Mr. Hardman, geologist, attached to a Government
survey-party under Mr. Johnston (now Surveyor-General), and, though he
found no more than colours, it is a remarkable fact that gold has since
been discovered in few places that were not mentioned by him. Numerous
"overlanders" and prospectors soon followed; indeed some preceded this
expedition, for Mr. Johnston has told me that he found marked trees in
more than one place. Who marked them was never ascertained, but it was
supposed that a party of overlanders from Queensland, who were known to
have perished, were responsible for them.
In 1886 payable gold was found, and during that and the following year
one of the largest and most unprofitable "rushes" known in Australia set
in for the newly discovered alluvial field. The sinking being shallow,
what ground there was, was soon worked out, and before long the rush set
back again as rapidly as it had come, the goldfield was condemned as a
duffer, and left to the few faithful fossickers who have made a living
there to this day. The alluvial gold was the great bait; of this but
little was found, and to reefing no attention to speak of was given, so
that at the present time miles upon miles of quartz reefs, blows,
leaders, and veins are untouched and untested as they were before the
rush of 1886. No one can say what systematic prospecting might disclose
in this neglected corner of the Colony. There are many countries less
favoured for cheap mining; Kimberley is blessed with an abundant
rainfall, and the district contains some of the finest pasture-lands in
A scarcity of good mining timber, the remoteness of the district from
settled parts, and the bad name that has been bestowed upon it, are the
disadvantages under which the goldfield labours. Nevertheless two
batteries are working at the present day, and a good find by some old
fossicker is not so rare.
Setting aside the question of gold-discoveries, which may or may not be
made, this district has a great future before it to be derived from the
raising of stock, cattle, sheep, and horses. So far only a limited area
of country has been taken up--that is to say, the country in the valleys
of the Ord, Margaret, and Fitzroy Rivers and their tributaries. There
still remains, however, a large tract lying between those rivers and the
most Northerly point of the Colony as yet unoccupied, and some of it even
unexplored. One or two prospectors have passed through a portion of it,
and they speak well of its pastoral and, possibly, auriferous value.
Cut off, as it is, by the desert, the district has the disadvantage of
none but sea communication with the rest of the Colony. This necessitates
the double shipment of live stock, once at either port, Derby or Wyndham,
after they have been driven so far from the stations, and once again at
Fremantle. A coastal stock route is debarred by the poverty of the
country between Derby and the De Grey River, and a direct stock route
through the desert is manifestly impracticable. It seems to me that too
little attention has been given to horse-breeding, and that a
remunerative trade might be carried on between Kimberley and India, to
which this district is nearer than any other part of Australia.
What horses are bred, though otherwise excellent, are small--a defect
that should easily be remedied. The cattle, too, are rather on the small
side, and this again, by more careful attention to breeding, could be
Hall's Creek is by no means a large town; in fact, it consists of exactly
nine buildings--post and telegraph office and Warden's office and court,
Warden's house, hospital, gaol, police-station, sergeant's house,
butcher's shop and house, store, and hotel.
Besides these there are several nomadic dwellings, such as tents, bush
humpies, and drays.
A house is a luxury, and some of the oldest residents have never built
one. "Here to-day and gone to-morrow, what's the good of a house?"
was the answer I got from one who had only been there for ten years!
Mud-brick walls and corrugated-iron roofs is the style of architecture in
general vogue. The inhabitants are not many, as may be supposed, but
those there are simply overflow with hospitality and good spirits. One
and all were as pleased to see us, and have us live amongst them, as if
we had been old friends. The population is very variable; the surrounding
district contains some fifty or sixty fossickers, who come into town at
intervals to get fresh supplies of flour and salt beef--the one and only
diet of the bushmen in these parts, who, though very rarely seeing
vegetables, are for the most part strong and healthy. Sometimes cases of
scurvy, or a kindred disease, occur; one poor chap was brought in whilst
we were there, very ill indeed. I happened to be up at the hospital, and
asked the orderly (there was no doctor) what he would do for him in the
way of nourishing food. "Well," said he, looking very wise, "I think a
little salt beef will meet the case." And such would indeed have been his
diet if I had not luckily had some Liebig's Extract; for the town was in
a state verging on famine, dependent as it is on the whims of "packers"
and teamsters, who bring provisions from the coast, nearly three
hundred miles, by road. Twice a year waggons arrive; for the rest
everything is brought per horseback, and when the rains are on, and the
rivers running, their load is as often as not considerably damaged by
immersion in the water.
A monthly mail, however, and the telegraph line places the community much
nearer civilised parts than its geographical position would lead one to
suppose. The arrival of the mail, or of the packers, is a great event,
more especially since no one knows what they may bring. Thus a train of
pack-horses arrived at a time when flour was badly needed, but each load
consisted of either sugar or lager-beer--both excellent articles but
hardly adaptable to bread-making. The climate, situation, surroundings,
and want of means of recreation all combine to make the publican's
business a lucrative one. When, as sometimes happens, a fossicker comes
in with a "shammy" full of gold, and lays himself out to make himself
and every one else happy, then indeed the hotel-keeper's harvest is a
rich one. And since nobody cares much whether he buys his liquor, or
makes it of red-pepper, kerosene, tobacco, methylated spirits, and what
not, the publican's outlay in "only the best brands" need not be
Christmas and New Year's Day were, of course, great days of revel;
athletic sports were held, and horse-races. The latter were not quite a
success; the entries were very few, and the meeting was nearly resolving
itself into a prize-fight when one owner lodged a complaint against the
winner. As a rule the race-meetings are better attended; every bush
township has its meetings throughout the continent, and, in remote
districts, there are men who entirely "live on the game." That is to
say, they travel from place to place with a mob of pack-horses, amongst
which, more or less disguised by their packs, are some fast ones, with
which they surprise the community. These men, though great scoundrels,
are considered to be earning a legitimate living, since no man need
gamble with them unless he likes; if he is taken in by them he has
himself to thank.
Christmas Eve is celebrated by a performance known as "tin-kettling," in
which all join. Each arms himself with a dish, or empty tin, which he
beats violently with a stick. To the tune of this lovely music the party
marches from house to house, and at each demands drink of some kind,
which is always forthcoming. Thus the old institution of Christmas-waits
is supported, even in this far corner of the world.
ABORIGINALS AT HALL'S CREEK
It may not at first be very clear what the gaol and police force are used
for, since the white population numbers so few. However, the aboriginals
are pretty numerous throughout Kimberley, and are a constant source of
vexation and annoyance to the squatters, whose cattle are frequently
killed and driven wild by native depredators. A squatter, far from being
allowed to take the law into his own hands, even when he catches the
blacks in the act of slaying his cattle--not only for food but as often
as not for mere devilment--has to ride into Hall's Creek and report to the
police, and so gives time for the offenders to disappear. The troopers,
when they do make a capture of the culprits, bring them in on chains,
to the police quarters. By the Warden, through a tame boy as interpreter,
they are tried, and either acquitted and sent back to their country or
sentenced to a turn of imprisonment and handed over to the gaoler. In
gaol they have a remarkably good time, fed upon beef, bread, jam, and
water, and made to do useful work, such as drawing and carrying water,
making roads, &c. They work in small chain-gangs--a necessary precaution
since there is only one gaoler to perhaps fifteen prisoners--are clothed
in felt hats and short canvas kilts, and except that they are deprived of
their freedom have probably as comfortable a time as they ever had during
From time to time there have been grave accusations of cruelty made by
well-meaning busybodies against the squatters of the North and
North-West. Occasional cases have been proved beyond all question, cases
of the most revolting brutality. But from these exceptional instances it
is hardly fair to class the whole squatting population as savage.
ruffians. Since I have had the opportunity of seeing what treatment is
meted out I feel it is a duty to give every prominence to what has come
under my notice. First of all, let us take it for granted that the white
men's civilisation must advance; that, I suppose, most will admit. This
being the case, what becomes of the aboriginal? He is driven from his
hunting-grounds and retaliates by slaughtering the invading cattle. What
steps is the white pioneer, who may have no more than one companion, to
take to protect his own? If he quietly submits his herd will be wiped
out, and he and his mate afterwards. By inspiring fear alone is he able
to hold his position. He must therefore either use his rifle and say
nothing about it, or send perhaps 150 miles for the troopers. After a
time, during which he carries his life in his hands--for a couple of
hundred natives, savage and treacherous, are not the pleasantest
neighbours--he succeeds in convincing the natives that he intends to stop
where he is. What then do they do? Do they move to fresh hunting-grounds?
They might, for there is ample room. No, they prefer to live round
about the station, a source of constant anxiety and annoyance.
Consequently we find to-day a large number of natives permanently camped
round every homestead, living on the squatter's bounty. Too lazy to hunt,
too idle and useless to work, they loaf about the place, living on the
meat that is given them on killing-days, and on figs and seeds, when in
season, between times. Thus, though the squatter takes their country he
feeds them for ever after. A smart boy may be trained and partially
educated, and becomes useful amongst the horses and so forth, and some
few are always employed about the station--the rest just lie about and
gorge themselves at the slaughter-yards, and then wait until they can
again do so.
It has been suggested that reserves should be set apart for the
dispossessed natives. This would, in the opinion of those best able to
express one, never succeed, for once the white man is established the
blacks will collect round him, and though, as I have mentioned, there
remains more than half the Kimberley division untouched by whites,
forming a reserve ready to hand, yet the natives prefer to live a
hand-to-mouth existence where food can be obtained without trouble,
rather than retreat into another region where game abounds, and there
continue their existence as wandering savages. Round Hall's Creek there
is always a camp of blacks, varying from twenty to fifty or one hundred,
who live as best they can without hunting.
On Christmas Day a hundred or so rolled up to receive the Aboriginal
Board's liberal bounty--a Board fortunately now reconstructed, for it was
continually the cause of much friction between the squatters, the
Government, and itself, in the days when it was not controlled by the
Government, as it now is. Six pounds sterling was set aside for the
Warden to provide food and raiment for the natives under his
jurisdiction. Six pounds per annum per two thousand aboriginals--for such
is their reputed number--seems hardly adequate. Perhaps if the gentlemen
responsible for this state of affairs had concerned themselves more about
the aboriginals, and less about the supposed barbaric cruelty of the
squatters, the objects of their mission would have been better served.
However, whilst the black-fellow must remain content with his scanty
allowance, it is found expedient to send an inexperienced youth, fresh
from England, from place to place to make a report on the treatment of
the aboriginals, at a salary of 500 pounds a year. And a fine collection
of yarns he produced--for naturally no one could resist "pulling his leg"
to the last degree! However, this question has at last been put into the
hands of those best calculated to know something about it; for though the
Government is neither perfect nor infallible, yet the colonists are
likely to understand a purely local matter better than a Board of
gentlemen lately from home.
They were a merry lot of people, the blacks round Hall's Creek, and
appeared to see the best sides of a deadly dull existence. Their ways and
habits are now so mingled with ideas gathered from the whites that they
are not worth much attention. Dancing is their great amusement, and
though on Christmas Day we made them compete in running, jumping, and
spear-throwing, they take but little interest in such recreations. Though
known to Australian readers, a description of such a dance may prove of
interest to some in the old country.
"A CORROBOREE," OR NATIVE DANCE.
The entertainment begins after sundown, and on special occasions may be
kept up for two or three days and nights in succession. A moonlit night
is nearly always made the occasion for a corroboree, to which no
significance is attached, and which may be simply held for the amusement
the actual performance affords.
Descriptions of the great dances attendant on the initiation of a boy
into manhood, and its accompanying brutal rites, find a more suitable
place in scientific works than in a book intended for the general reader.
I will therefore merely describe some of the dances which are performed
The word corroboree is applied equally to the dance, the whole festival,
or the actual chant which accompanies the dancing.
Men and women, the men especially, deck themselves out with tufts of emu
feathers, fastened in the hair or tied round the arm, or stuck in the
waist-belt of plaited hair; paint their bodies with a white paint or wash
made from "Kopi" (gypsum similar to that found by the shores of salt
lakes), with an occasional dab of red ochre (paint made from a sandstone
impregnated with iron), and fix up their hair into a sort of mop bound
back by bands of string. Thus bedecked and painted, and carrying their
spears and boomerangs, they present a rather weird appearance.
A flat, clear space being chosen, the audience seat themselves, men and
women, who, unless the moon is bright, light fires, which they replenish
from time to time. The dancers are all men, young warriors and older men,
but no greybeards. The orchestra consists of some half-dozen men, who
clap together two sticks or boomerangs; in time to this "music" a
wailing dirge is chanted over and over again, now rising in spasmodic
jerks and yelled forth with fierce vehemence, now falling to a prolonged
mumbled plaint. Keeping time to the sticks, the women smack their thighs
with great energy. The monotonous chant may have little or no sense, and
may be merely the repetition of one sentence, such as "Good fella,
white fella, sit down 'longa Hall's Creek," or something with an equally
silly meaning. The dancers in the meantime go through all sorts of queer
movements and pantomimes. First, we may have the kangaroo corroboree, in
which a man hops towards the musicians and back again, to be followed in
turn by every other dancer and finally by the whole lot, who advance
hopping together, ending up with a wild yell, in which all join.
Then we may have the emu-corroboree, where each in his turn stalks
solemnly around with the right arm raised, with elbow bent, wrist and
hand horizontal and poked backwards and forwards, to represent the emu's
neck and head. The left hand held behind the back, like that of a shy
official expecting a tip, stands for the emu's tail. Thus they advance
slowly and jerkily with back bent and arm pointing now this way, now
that, like an inquisitive emu who is not sure of his ground.
Next the mallee-hen builds her nest, and each dancer comes forward at a
mincing trot, in his hands a few twigs and leaves, which he deposits in
front of the "orchestra," and, having built his nest, retires. And so
they go on mimicking with laughable accuracy the more common beasts and
The most comical dance in which they all joined--that is all the
dancers--was one in which they stood on tiptoe, with knees bent and
shaking together as if with fear, then giving forth a sort of hissing
noise, through fiercely clenched teeth, they quickly advanced in three or
four lines and retired trotting backwards. This ended with a prolonged
howl and shrieks of laughter. The energy with which they dance is
extraordinary--shaking their spears and grunting, they advance with knees
raised, like high-stepping horses, until the thigh is almost horizontal,
now one leg now the other, with a will, and then one, two, down come the
feet together with a thud, the dancers striking their spears in the
ground, growling out savagely a sound that I can only express as "woomph,
woomph"--with what a smack their flat feet meet the ground, and what a
shrieking yell goes up from all throats as they stop!
To enliven the performance they use flat carved sticks, some eight inches
long, and of a pointed oval shape. Through a hole in one point they
thread a string, with which the stick is rapidly swung round, making a
booming noise--"Bull-roarers" is the general white-fellows' name for
them. Amongst some native prisoners brought in from the Sturt I saw a
primitive wooden horn, on which a sort of blast could be blown. No doubt
this, too, has its place in their performances.
I am told they keep up these corroborees as long as three days and
nights, though certainly not dancing all the time. Probably the stick
clapping is kept up by relays of performers. I have heard the chant go on
all one night and well into the next day, with hardly a break.
Hall's Creek is a great place for corroborees, for there are gathered
together boys from all parts of Central Australia, Northern Territory,
and Queensland, brought by coastal overlanders. These boys all know
different chants and dances, and are consequently in great request at the
local black-fellows' evening parties. Warri told me he had learnt several
new songs; however, they appeared to my evidently untrained ear to be all
We were to have had a very swell festival at Christmas, but it somehow
fell through. I fancy the blacks were not given sufficient notice.
The blacks, in addition to these simple festive gatherings, have solemn
dances for the purpose of promoting the growth of edible seeds and roots,
of increasing the rainfall, or the numbers of the animals and reptiles on
which they feed. But more important still are those connected with their
barbarous, but sacred, rites and ceremonials.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE RETURN JOURNEY
Had I known how long our stay in the North was to be, I should have taken
the opportunity of further studying the natives and their habits, and
should certainly have visited them in their wild homes in the unknown
portion of Kimberley. As it was I daily expected a message asking me to
start in search of the missing men, and held myself in readiness
accordingly. Our small caravan, now further reduced by the death of
Czar--a sad loss, for he was one of my old friends, and one of the
staunchest camels I have known (together we had seen many a tough bit of
work); he fell down a steep gully at night, poor old beast, and so
injured himself that he died almost immediately--was increased by the
purchase of three horses, with which I intended to carry out my plan of
search; since, however, it was never instituted, I need not explain its
nature. It sufficiently accounts for the presence of horses in the
caravan with which the return journey was made.
As time dragged on it became clear that the missing men could no longer
be living, and since there were two search parties already in the field,
I felt that I was only wasting time by staying longer in idleness. We
were too far off to make any search except by a protracted expedition,
and, since I was morally sure of the men's death, I did not feel called
upon to expose my party to the risks of the desert when no useful object
could be accomplished. Had the intervening country been unknown I should
have been quite ready to start forth, for in that case, whatever the
result of the search, I should have felt rewarded for any losses
incurred, by the knowledge that we had been the means of opening up a
further tract of an unexplored region. As it was we should only have
followed a route previously traversed by Warburton, from which, unless
we achieved the melancholy satisfaction of finding the scene of the
disaster, no useful results could follow. I determined, therefore, to
leave the search to those who could best afford the time and expense, and
set about planning our return to Coolgardie. We had four routes open to
us--either the road to Derby and thence by steamer: the road to Derby and
thence along the coastal telegraph line: the way we had come: and an
entirely new route, taking our chances of the desert. The first was
dismissed as feeble, the second as useless, and the third as idiotic.
Therefore the fourth remained, and though it was natural enough for me to
wish to win distinction in the world of travel (and I daresay this was
the motive that inspired me), surely it speaks well for them indeed, that
Breaden and Massie were willing to accompany me.
Without the slightest hesitation, though knowing full well what lay
before us, that we might even encounter worse difficulties than before,
without any thought of prospective gain--for their salary was no
fortune--they signified their readiness to return by whatever route I
proposed. This is a point that I should like to make clear to all who may
read this, for it is indicative of a trait often lost sight of by those
accustomed to having, in novels and so forth, the more mercenary side of
the Australian's character pointed out to them. A common subject of
speculation is whether or no Australians would make good soldiers; as to
that my belief is, that once they felt confidence in their officers none
could make more loyal or willing troops; without that confidence they
would be ill to manage, for the Australian is not the man to obey
another, merely because he is in authority--first he must prove himself
fit to have that authority.
If, therefore, we are deserving of any credit for again tackling the
sand, let it be remembered that my companions are more worthy of it than
their leader--for they had nothing to gain, whilst I had at least the
distinction of leaving my name upon the map--and though I made plans,
without good and true men I could not have carried them out. There seemed
to me to be a slight chance of finding better country to the eastward of
our first route, and, besides the geographical interest, there would
result the proof of the practicability or otherwise of a stock route to
the southern goldfields--a route which would be such a boon to the
Kimberley squatters. I may as well state at once that such a route is
quite out of the question, and that I would hesitate to undertake the
journey with a mob of more than twenty camels, let alone cattle.
Fortunately I was able to purchase three more camels, the property of the
South Australian Government, which Mr. Buchanan had brought from the
Northern Territory for the purpose of looking for a stock route. However,
a day or two beyond the end of Sturt Creek satisfied him as to the
impracticability of the scheme, and he returned to Flora Valley, a cattle
station close to Hall's Creek, that is to say, twenty-five miles away. At
the time of our arrival Mr. Buchanan was out with Mr. Wells, and did most
valuable service in the search for the missing men. After his return he
was very glad to get the camels, which he neither liked nor understood,
off his hands.
With eight camels and three horses our caravan was brought up to
strength. In the matter of provisioning, equipment, and way of
travelling, I made some alteration. Everything was considered with a view
to lightness, therefore only absolute necessaries were carried. All
tools, except those used in "soak-sucking," and so forth, were discarded;
the provisions consisted of salt beef (tinned meat being unprocurable),
flour, tea, sugar, and a few tins of condensed milk (damaged and unfit
for use in the ordinary way). All possible room was given to
water-carrying appliances, so that we could carry in all about one
hundred gallons. Had it not been for my former plans I should not have
taken horses; but they are animals easier to buy than to sell, and would
certainly be most useful if only we could find food and water to keep
them alive. With sorrow and regret I had to part with Val, for only a few
days before our departure she gave birth to a litter of pups, and had of
course to be left behind. However, the Warden, to whom I gave her,
promised to be kind to her, as indeed I am sure he has been--nevertheless
it was a sad wrench. In her place I took a small mongrel which belonged
to the Warden, an "Italian greyhound," as some one suggested, though I
never saw a like breed! He rejoiced in the name of "Devil-devil,"
because, I suppose, he was quite black.
I made no attempt to replace poor Charlie Stansmore, since there were no
men willing to come whom I should have cared to take. I cannot say enough
in gratitude for the hospitality that we met with at Hall's Creek, from
the Warden, whose guests we were the whole time, and every member of the
small community. I shall look back with pleasure to our stay in that
APPENDIX TO PART V
SOME NATIVE WEAPONS AND CEREMONIAL IMPLEMENTS
[Refer to list of illustrations at the beginning of the text,
(illustrations not included in text). Letters (A to O) refer to the
1. SPEARS.--A. Of Desert native; B. Of Kimberley native; C. Method of
A. The spear of the desert man is either sharp pointed, spatulate
pointed, or barbed. They vary in length from 8 feet to 10 feet, and in
diameter, at the head (the thickest portion), from 1/2 inch to 1 inch. As
a rule, a man carries a sheaf of half a dozen or more.
B. In the Kimberley District the spears are of superior manufacture and
much more deadly. The heads are made of quartz, or glass, or insulators
from the telegraph line. Before the advent of the white man quartz only
was used, and from it most delicately shaped spear-heads were made, the
stone being either chipped or pressed. I fancy the former method is the
one employed--so I have been told, though I never saw any spear-heads in
process of manufacture.
Since the white man has settled a portion of Kimberley, glass bottles
have come into great request amongst the natives, and most deadly weapons
are made--spears that, I am told, will penetrate right through a
cattle-beast, and which are themselves unimpaired unless they strike on a
bone. When first the telegraph line from Derby to Hall's Creek and thence
to Wyndham was constructed, constant damage used to be done to it by the
natives who climbed the poles and smashed the insulators for spear-head
making. So great a nuisance did this become that the Warden actually
recommended the Government to place heaps of broken bottles at the foot
of each pole, hoping by this means to save the insulators by supplying
the natives with glass!
The stone or glass heads are firmly fixed in a lump of spinifex gum, and
this is held firm on the shaft by kangaroo tail sinews. The shaft is of
cane for half its length, the upper part being of bamboo, which is found
on the banks of the northern rivers.
Up to a distance of eighty to one hundred yards the spears can be thrown
with fair accuracy and great velocity.
The length of these spears varies from 10 feet to 15 feet. The one shown
in sketch is of glass, and is one-half actual size.
In the Nor'-West (that is, the country lying between the Gascoyne and
Oakover rivers), wooden spear-heads with enormous barbs are used.
Sometimes the barbs are placed back to back, so that on entering a body
they can be pulled neither forward nor back.
C. THE WOOMERA (or Wommera)--the throwing-board--held in the hand as in
sketch. The spears rest on the board, and are kept in place by the first
finger and thumb and by the bone point A, which fits into a little hollow
on the end of the shaft. The action of throwing resembles that of
slinging a stone from a handkerchief. As the hand moves forward the spear
is released by uplifting the forefinger, and the woomera remains in the
hand. These boards vary in size and shape considerably; that shown in the
sketch is from the northern portion of the desert. In the central
portion the weapons are more crude and unfinished. In the handle end of
the woomera a sharp flint is often set, forming a sort of chisel.
In Kimberley the long spears are thrown with narrow and light boards
varying from 2 feet 6 inches to 3 feet 6 inches in length.
I believe that the method of holding the spear varies somewhat, some
natives placing the handle of the woomera between the first and remaining
2. TOMAHAWKS.--D. Iron-headed; E. Stone-headed.
D. Pieces of iron, such as horseshoes, fragments of the tyres of wheels,
and so forth, are traded from tribe to tribe for many hundreds of miles.
Those shown in sketch were found about lat. 21 degrees 50 minutes, long.
126 degrees 30 minutes.
E. STONE TOMAHAWK--from Sturt Creek--given to me by Mr. Stretch.
The head is of a very dark and hard green stone, ground to a fine edge,
and is set between the two arms of the handle and held in place with
The handle is formed by bending round (probably by means of fire) a
single strip of wood.
The two arms of the handle are sometimes held together by a band of
The iron tomahawks are similarly made.
3. BOOMERANGS.--These weapons are now so well known that a description of
the ordinary pattern would be superfluous. However, near Dwarf Well we
found one of uncommon shape; and until reading a book on a Queensland
tribe I was unaware of its use, nor could I find any one who had seen one
of like shape. The weapon in question is the BEAKED or HOOKED boomerang
Mr. W. Roth, in his "Ethnological Studies Among the North-West Central
Queensland Aborigines," says:--
"It appears that when warding off a blow from a boomerang of any
description the defence consists in holding forwards and vertically any
stick or shield that comes to hand, and moving it more or less outwards,
right or left as the case may be, thus causing the missile on contact to
glance to one or the other side. The hook is intended to counteract the
movement of defence by catching on the defending stick around which it
swings and, with the increased impetus so produced, making sure of
striking the one attacked."
4. CLUBS AND THROWING-STICKS (G).
1. The uses of these are sufficiently obvious to make a description
2. The throwing-sticks are used chiefly in hunting, and for guarding a
blow from a boomerang. Most that I have seen were made of mulga (acacia)
hardened by fire.
5. SHIELDS.--H. Of hard wood (Mulga); I. Of soft wood (Cork bark).
H. The hard-wood shields are carved from a solid piece of mulga, are
grooved to turn spears, and slightly curved for the same purpose. The
handles stand out from the back. These were found as far North as lat. 25
I. The soft-wood shields found North of lat. 25 degrees are of about the
same size, but are not grooved. Their faces are rounded; the handles are
gouged out. It is interesting to notice how in each example the most
serviceable shield has been made in the easiest way. The mulga splits
into boards, and so cannot be obtained of any thickness, so flat shields
are made; whereas the cork wood is a soft and very readily worked tree
and can be carved and hacked into shape with the rudest implements, such
as that shown in sketch (J).
6. QUARTZ KNIFE (K).
With this exceedingly rough implement self-inflicted gashes on the chest
and arms (presumably for ornamentation) are made. The rites of
circumcision, and other initiatory operations, for the proper performance
of which one would suppose the skill of a trained surgeon necessary, are
carried out by means of this crude blade.
7. CEREMONIAL STICKS (L).
In almost every camp flat sticks of various sizes, shapes, and carvings,
similar to those shown above, were found. They were always carefully
wrapped up in bark secured by hair-string. They are said to be used by
the blacks in their several initiation ceremonies, but what their use or
significance is, is not known. No tame boy (i.e., native who can speak
English) will divulge their mysterious meaning. I have repeatedly asked
about them, but have never succeeded in getting any answer beyond "I
dunno, gin (or lubra) no more see 'em; gin see 'em, she tumble down quick
fella." There must be some very queer superstition connected with them,
since the ladies die on seeing them. Indeed, the black fellow has a
somewhat arbitrary method of dealing with his gins, and should they be
ill-advised enough to attempt to argue with him, does not wait to produce
a flat stick, but silences them with a club.
8. RAIN-MAKING BOARDS.
M. Three of similar pattern found at Alexander Spring.
N. Found at Empress Spring hidden away with two similar to M.
With reference to these queer and rudely carved boards I received a
letter from Mr. W. H. Cusack, of Roebourne, North-West Australia, in
which he says: ". . .The implement you allude to is used by the
"Mopongullera," or Rain-doctor, at their ceremony which they hold annually
when they are making the rain. They are very rare, as there is only one
every two hundred miles or so in the country. They are generally left at
the rain ground, where you found yours, or placed in a cave, where the
only one I have seen IN TWENTY-FIVE YEARS was found. They are the most
sacred implements they possess. . ."
It would seem from the foregoing that we were specially lucky in seeing
so many of these boards--viz., six within a distance of fifty
miles--though it is possible that of the three found at Alexander Spring
(on the occasion of our second visit) two might be identical with two of
the three found at Empress Spring. Between our two visits to Alexander
Spring there had evidently been a considerable gathering of blacks, and,
considering the droughty appearance of the country, it seems feasible
that on this occasion every available rain-making board was brought into
We were unfortunately unable to carry the Empress Spring boards, owing to
their bulk and unwieldy shape.
From the other spot, however, seeing that we were nearing our journey's
end, I brought one board--the only one unbroken--into civilisation. This
I gave to Sir John Forrest, who in his journey across the Colony in 1874
found a similar board at the same place. In his journal he writes:
". . .I named it Alexander Spring, after my brother. . . . We also found
about a dozen pieces of wood, some 6 feet long and 3 to 7 inches wide,
and carved and trimmed up. All around were stones put up in forked trees.
I believe it is the place where the right of circumcision is
performed." Mr. Cusack's statement as to their extreme rarity in the
Nor'-West, taken in conjunction with Sir John's experience and ours,
would point to the strong reliance the natives must place on their
Rain-doctor's abilities, for where the rainfall is comparatively great
these boards are rare, while in the almost waterless interior, at a spot
almost exactly in the centre of the Colony, nearly a dozen have been
found. I would respectfully point out to the black-fellows how little
their efforts have been successful, and would suggest the importation of
several gross of boards, for the climate at present falls a long way
short of perfection!
In the McDonnell Ranges (Central Australia) performers in the rain-dance
wear on their heads a "long, erect, and ornamented structure of wood"
("Horn Scientific Expedition," part iv.). This structure is not carved,
but picked out with down made to adhere by blood, and is apparently some
3 to 4 feet long. From the length of the boards we found (one being 10
feet), I should say that some other method of using them must be in vogue
amongst the desert tribes.
9. MESSAGE STICKS (O).
These little sticks, rounded, carved, and painted with grease and red
ochre, are known as either letter sticks or message sticks, and are
common all over the continent. The carvings are supposed by some to
represent the actual words of the message; by others it is held--and to
this view I am inclined--that the sticks are tokens carried by a
messenger to show that his words are authentic, and each stick belongs to
one tribe or individual whose identity is shown by the carvings. They
vary in length from 2 1/2 to 8 inches.
The sketch (O) shows the same stick turned three times.
THE JOURNEY HOME
RETURN JOURNEY BEGINS
We left Hall's Creek, on our return journey, on March 22, 1897. Taking
the road to Flora Valley we passed Brockman--where, by the way, lives a
famous person, known by the unique title of "Mother Deadfinish." This
good lady is the most curious of her sex that I have ever seen; now a
little dried-up, wizened old woman of Heaven knows what age, she was in
her younger days a lady of wonderful energy. She came overland from
Queensland, accompanying her husband who, in the early days of the rush,
sought to turn an honest penny by the sale of "sly grog." However, he
died on the road, so his mourning widow carried through the job without
him, and successfully withstood the trials of the journey, including
heat, fever, and blacks. The latter were very numerous, and gave great
trouble to the early diggers, spearing their horses and very often the
men themselves. Many skirmishes ensued, and, so it is said, "Mother
Deadfinish" handled her Winchester with the best of them! Eventually
she arrived at the diggings, and has been there ever since, making a
living by the sale of goat's milk, fowls, eggs, and a few vegetables. She
is quite a character and worth talking to, but not always worth listening
to; for her language is notorious; indeed, it is a recognised form of
amusement for the diggers to bring into their conversation certain
topics, such as the Warden, or the Police, who are so especially
distasteful to her that ordinary language cannot express her feelings. In
the same way that a boy delights to stir up a monkey and hear him
chatter, the fossicker bent on recreation rouses the old lady to feats of
swearing far beyond the scope of most people. No man has yet been found
who could withstand her onslaught. I saw her angry once! She positively
alarmed me; the three witches in Macbeth thrown into one would be of no
account in comparison. Had she lived a century or two ago she would
infallibly have been burnt.
A few miles past the Brockman the auriferous country is cut off by what
is locally known as the "Sandstone"--a sheer, wall-like range named the
Just below the gorge where the Elvire River (a tributary of the Ord
River) breaks through the range is situated Flora Valley Cattle Station,
the property of the brothers Gordon. A charming little place, after the
rains; the homestead stands on a high bank above the river, here fringed
with high, shady trees. Beyond the homestead and the yards, a fine plain
of grass stretches out, surrounded by rough and rocky hills. As charming
as their little place were the owners, the most kind-hearted and
hospitable folk it is possible to imagine. Here we stayed a few days to
get some meat salted for our journey; nothing would satisfy the two
brothers but that they must find the finest bullock on their run, kill
it, and give it to us. Flora Valley is a great place for the blacks, who
live there in scores, camped by the river, and fed by the kind-hearted
squatters. Leaving the station and travelling South-East, our route lay
through a few low hills, and then we came out upon the Denison Downs,
most magnificent plains of grass.
The first few days of a journey are most unsettled, saddles do not fit,
packs will not ride, the animals will not agree, and dozens of like
annoyances. Our three new camels, Bluey, Hughie, and Wattie, were almost
unmanageable; for not only had they been running loose for some time, but
had never been well behaved or well looked after. Bluey was a dreadfully
wild brute, and all but brought Warri, who was riding him, to grief;
after bucking and plunging and trying all manner of tricks, he stampeded
at his fullest speed, with his head towards some overhanging branches,
under which he might have passed with impunity, but they must have
crushed Warri EN ROUTE.
Luckily I was just in time to get Highlander between the tree and the
camel, and so saved a nasty accident. Besides these small troubles,
Breaden and Godfrey were suffering agonies from "sandy blight," a sort of
ophthalmia, which is made almost unbearable by the clouds of flies, the
heat, the glare, and the dust. Breaden luckily was able to rest in a dark
room at Flora Valley and recovered, or at least sufficiently so to be
able to travel; Godfrey was very bad indeed, quite blind and helpless. At
night we pitched his mosquito-net for him--for these insects are simply
ravenous, and would eat one alive or send one mad in this part of the
country--and made him as comfortable as possible; in the morning, until I
had bathed his eyes with warm water he was blinded by the matter running
from them: then during the day he sat blindfolded on The Monk, one of the
horses--a most unpleasant condition for travelling.
Fortunately it was not for long, for soon we cut the Sturt Creek, and,
following it, reached the Denison Downs Homestead--the last settlement to
the southward, and I should say the most out-of-the-way habitation in
Australia of to-day. The nearest neighbours are nearly one hundred miles
by road, at Flora Valley; in every other direction there is a blank,
hundreds of miles in extent. A solitary enough spot in all conscience!
Yet for the last ten years two men have lived here, taking their chances
of sickness, drought, floods, and natives; raising cattle in peace and
contentment. Terribly rough, uncouth chaps, of course? Not a bit of
it!--two men, gentlemen by birth and education, one the brother of a
bishop, the other a man who started life as an artist in Paris. A rough
life does not necessarily make a rough man, and here we have the proof,
for Messrs. Stretch and Weekes are as fine a pair of gentlemen as need
be. How they came to migrate to such a spot is soon told; they brought
cattle over during the rush, hoping to make a large fortune; however, the
rush "petered out," half their cattle died, and with the remainder they
formed their station, and have remained there ever since, year by year
increasing their herd, now numbering some four thousand head, and looking
forward to the time when they hope to be well repaid for their labours. A
large, single-roomed iron shed, on the bank of a fine big pool, is their
home, and there with their flocks and herds they live, like the
patriarchs of old, happy and contented. In fact, the only people I have
ever come across, who seemed really satisfied with life are some of these
Numerous natives were collected round the station, and about them Mr.
Stretch told me many interesting things. Their marriage laws were
expounded to me over and over again, but without pencil and paper nothing
can be learned, so confusing are they.
It was not until my return that I worked out the following relationships,
but I feel confident of their accuracy:--
The aboriginals of Northern and Central Australia are governed in their
social life by marriage laws and class systems of the most intricate
kind. It is generally supposed that these laws have for their object
prevention of consanguinity and incest. The laws are strictly adhered to,
any offender against them being punished by death. I owe the information
on this subject to Mr. Stretch, who took great pains to make clear to me
the fundamental principles, from which I have worked out the various
combinations. I have tried to arrange these laws and the relationships
resulting from them in an intelligible form, and have been greatly aided
by a paper by Mr. Gillen, published in the "Horn Scientific Expedition,"
on the McDonnell Range tribes. I was unable to get the tribal names, but
this, for the purposes of explanation only, is unnecessary.
The aboriginals in question belong to the Eastern district of Kimberley
generally, and more particularly to the Sturt Creek. These natives are
descended from eight original couples, who have given their names to the
eight classes into which the tribe is now divided.
For simplicity's sake I will assume that in place of eight there were
four original classes. This will illustrate the principle equally well,
and be far less involved.
Let A, B, C, and D represent the names of the four classes--to one of
which every native belongs.
1. The first law is that--Natives belonging to class A may only
intermarry with class B, and natives belonging to C may only intermarry
with class D.
2. The progeny of a man and woman of intermarrying classes is of a
different class from either father or mother.
Thus a man of class B marries a woman of class A, but their offspring
(male or female) is of class D.
Let Am represent a male of class A.
Let Af represent a female of class A, and similarly Bm, Bf, &c.
Let Ap represent progeny who belong to class A, and similarly Bp, Cp,
Law 2 may now be set down as under--
Af + Bm Am + Bf Cf + Dm Cm + Df
------- ------- ------- -------
Dp Cp Bp Ap
3. The first law holds good with the progeny of these combinations, i.e.,
Dp can only marry one of class C--though neither the father nor mother of
Dp could marry into class C; similarly for Cp, &c.
4. Dp recognises as father or mother all members of classes A and B;
similarly Cp, &c.
This explains the seeming absurdity of the answer one receives from
natives to questions concerning their relationships to others. An old man,
for instance, may point out a young girl and say, "That one my mother,"
for the girl belongs to the same class as his actual father or mother.
5. All the progeny of classes A and B are brothers and sisters; similarly
C and D.
Thus taking Dp2 to represent the progeny of an Ap and a Bp
Af + Bm Ap + Bp
All of class Dp recognise class Dp2 (though of another generation) as
brothers and sisters. For this reason there is no absurdity in a small
boy pointing out a very aged woman as his sister.
6. A man may have as many wives as he can get, so long as these laws are
Let us now see what degrees of kindred are prohibited by these laws.
Let us take the case of a man of class A. He can only marry a woman of
class B, whose parents must therefore have belonged to classes C and D her
mother being a C and her father a D.
Therefore his wife's mother and father belong to classes with which he
may not intermarry.
Therefore a man may not marry--
1. His mother-in-law.
2. The sister of his wife's mother.
3. The sister of his wife's father.
4. Nor the sister of any one of the three.
5. Nor can he marry his sister.
But he may marry--
His wife's sisters (sisters by blood or tribal class).
And as far as I can see, no law prevents a man from marrying his
grandmother should he so desire.
STURT CREEK AND "GREGORY'S SALT SEA"
The Sturt Creek presents many points of interest. It rises in the
Northern Territory, runs for nearly three hundred miles in a
South-Westerly direction, and comes to an end in a large salt-lake, across
the border, in the desert. It runs throughout its entire length once in
every three or four years, though each yearly rainy season floods it in
certain parts. In the dry season one might in many places ride right
across its course without being aware of it. In the wet season such parts
of it are swamps and marshes, over which its waters spread to a width of
five and six miles. Permanent pools are numerous, and occur wherever a
ridge of sandstone rock runs across the course of the creek. On either
side of the creek fine grass-plains spread East and West. The further
South the creek goes, the less good is the country on the East side;
presently there is no grass country except on the West side. Not far
below the station the creek is joined by the Wolf, which, like all
Kimberley creeks, is fringed with gums, Bauhinia, and Leichardt-trees.
From the confluence downwards a war between the grass-lands and the
desert is waged for the supremacy of the river-banks. For miles the sandy
channel, cut out like a large drain through the country, less than one
chain wide in places, is hemmed in on either side by desert gums and
spinifex, and once out of sight of the creek the surrounding land
receives no benefit from the water.
But lower down again, about the latitude of Mount Mueller, the grass plains
gain the day; and a very pretty bit of country they form too, especially
when the creek is running, as it was when we were there. In many places
its waters had overflowed the banks, expanding into clay-pans and lagoons
of beautiful clear water where teal and whistling duck disported
The Wolf rises on the opposite slope of the watershed to Christmas Creek
and the Mary River, and floods twice or thrice a year. Below its junction
with the Sturt the combined creek takes on itself the character of the
Wolf, and at the point of confluence the Sturt may be said to end. Seeing
how seldom the Sturt runs its entire length and how small its channel is
at this point, smaller than that of the Wolf, I think that it is to the
latter that the lakes (Gregory's "Salt Sea") chiefly owe their existence.
However that may be, the combined waters fill but an insignificant
channel and one can hardly credit that this creek has a length of nearly
three hundred miles.
On nearing the lakes the creek assumes so dismal an appearance, and so
funereal is the aspect of the dead scrub and dark tops of the "boree" (a
kind of mulga), that one wonders that Gregory did not choose the name of
"Dead" instead of merely "Salt Sea." A curious point about this lower
part of the creek is, that stretches of fresh and salt water alternate.
The stream, as we saw it, was only just running in the lower reaches; in
places it ran under the sandy bed, and in this part the salt pools
occurred. First we passed a stretch of clear, brackish water, then a
nearly dry reach of sand, then a trickle of fresh water lasting for a
hundred yards or so; this would again disappear, and be seen lower down
as another salt pool.
The creek enters the first lake in a broad estuary; this lake is some
four miles long by two miles wide, lying North and South. At the southern
end a narrow channel, 150 yards wide, winds its way into the large lake
beyond, a fine sheet of water, eight miles in diameter. A narrow belt of
open country, overgrown with succulent herbage, fringes the margin of the
lake; beyond it is dense scrub, with occasional patches of grass; beyond
that, sand, sandhills, and spinifex. In the distance can be seen
flat-topped hills and bluffs, and rising ground which encloses the hollow
of the lake. The lake has no outlet; of this Gregory satisfied himself by
making a complete circuit of it. At the time of his discovery the lakes
were dry, or nearly so, and doubtless had the appearance of being shallow
depressions, such as the salt lakes in the southern part of the Colony;
so that having followed the Sturt for so many miles--a creek which showed
every appearance of occasionally flooding to a width of five or six
miles--he must have been somewhat uncertain as to what happened to so
great a volume of water. However, the lake is nearly thirty feet deep in
the middle, and, from its area, is capable of holding a vast amount of
water. The creek, below its confluence with the Wolf, is continually
losing its waters, throwing off arms and billabongs, especially to the
west, which form swamps, clay-pans, and lagoons. So much water is wasted
in this manner that near the entrance into the lake the creek is of a
most insignificant size. The fall, too, is so gradual that the water runs
sluggishly and has time to soak away into the enclosing sand.
Mr. Stretch tells me that it takes eight days for the water from rain
falling at the head of the Sturt to pass his homestead, which gives it a
rate of one mile per hour. Heavy rains had fallen at its source about a
month before our arrival, and the water was still flowing. We therefore
saw the lakes as full as they are ever likely to be, except in abnormal
seasons. North of the lake are numerous large clay-pans which had not
been flooded, and the lakes could evidently hold more water, and had done
so in time past, so that it is pretty clear that the lakes are large
enough for ordinary flood waters, and, with the outlying clay-pans, can
accommodate the waters of an extraordinary flood.
I feel confident, therefore, that no outlet exists, and that beyond doubt
the Sturt ends at the Salt Sea, and does not "make" again further
South, as some have suggested. Standing on any of the hills which
surround the lake, some distance (ten miles or so) from it, one can look
down upon the water, certainly five hundred feet below the level of the
hills, which rise no more than eighty feet above the surrounding plain.
It seems most improbable, therefore, that a creek should break its way
through country of so much greater altitude without being seen by Colonel
Warburton or myself, or that any connection should exist between the Salt
Sea and Warburton's Salt Lakes to the South-East.
Had, however, the intervening country been of the same level as the lake,
and flat instead of formed into high sand ridges and hills, there might
have been a possibility of crossing a connecting creek of the same
character as the Sturt without noticing it. This question has been much
discussed by gentlemen interested in the geography of interior Australia,
and therefore I have dealt with it at some length.
OUR CAMP ON THE "SALT SEA"
April 2nd to 7th we were the guests of Mr. Stretch, and whilst resting
here Godfrey's eyes soon became well enough to allow him to travel. On
the 7th, therefore, we set forth on our journey and bade adieu to the
last outpost of civilisation in the North. Our party was further
increased by a Sturt Creek boy, Tiger by name--a very smart and
intelligent fellow of whom Mr. Stretch was very glad to see the last, for
smart boys are nearly always the most mischievous amongst the cattle.
Warri and Tiger were great friends, and the new boy's presence put Warri
on his mettle, and no amount of work was too hard for him whilst he had
Tiger to show off to. After I had cut his hair and shampooed his head
with kerosene and soap, dressed him in trousers, shirt, and cap, he
looked a most presentable youth.
Mr. Stretch accompanied us down the creek for the first few days, during
which we passed some of his cattle and horses. The flies and mosquitoes
worry the poor beasts terribly, and all day long the horses stand in the
water in pairs, or in a line, with head to tail, each one flicking the
flies from his neighbour's face with his tail. This habit of standing up
to the girth in water has given rise to a horse sickness known as
"swamp-cancer." The skin under the belly becomes so soft that at last a
raw place is formed, and this, aggravated by the flies, spreads until it
becomes a serious disease. Another horse-sickness common in the North is
called the "Puffs." A horse suffering from this pants and blows after the
least exertion, and in the hot weather his skin becomes puffy, and any
violent exercise would be fatal. The Monk, one of our horses, suffered
from this slightly; as soon, however, as we had left the Kimberley
district and entered the desert he recovered entirely. Numerous small
families of natives were camped along the creek, all accompanied by dogs,
which gave us some annoyance at night; for salt meat, at first, should be
hung out during the night to get the benefit of the fresh air, and this
roused their hungry instincts. A few miles below the Wolf, Mr. Stretch
left us, and we parted from our kind host with regret--he to return to
his cattle, and we to the task of laying bare the richness (we hoped) or
the nakedness (we expected) of the untrodden land before us.
At first we did very small stages, for the joy of travelling alongside
running water was too great to be quickly passed over. The camels and
horses became good chums very soon, and played about together without any
signs of fear or surprise on the part of the horses, although they had
never seen camels before--a different state of affairs from that in
Coolgardie, where horses as a rule snort and plunge with terror on first
acquaintance with an "emu-brother," as the black-fellow calls the camel.
As we neared the lakes we had some difficulty in finding water fit to
drink, and camped about nine miles above the lakes, whilst Godfrey and I
scouted ahead to see if fresh water could be found lower down. We
surprised two camps of natives, most of whom ran into the scrub as we
approached--several gins and a boy remaining. One of the women had a most
remarkable baby, quite a small thing, but with a tremendous growth of
black hair, shiny and straight, altogether different from the ordinary
coarse hair of the aboriginal. They came with us, walking beside us as we
rode, jabbering and gesticulating in their usual excited manner, and
inviting us to their camp, pointing to the rising smoke. Water, however,
was our requirement, so we continued on our way down the creek, the boy
coming with us. We shot a few ducks which our young friend retrieved, and
having found a reach of fresh water just above the first and smaller
lake, returned campwards, surprising a hunting-party on our way; they
retired quickly, the boy following them, taking with him the ducks which
we had been at such pains to stalk!
The next day we moved camp to the fresh-water reach, and had not been
travelling long before a small tribe of blacks came round us, quickly
followed by our friends of the day before, and presently by more, until
we were marching along with a wild escort of nearly a hundred, mostly
men; they were fearfully excited, though quite friendly, and with yells
and shouts danced alongside, waving their spears and other weapons. I
never heard such a babel, or saw such frantic excitement about nothing,
or at least nothing that we could understand. Their wildness was tempered
with some fear of the camels, though with the horses they were quite
familiar, even going so far as to hit poor old Highlander, that I was
riding, on the rump with their spears, a proceeding that he did not
approve of. "Womany," "Womany," "White-fella," "Womany," "White-fella,"
they kept on shouting; if they meant to call our attention to the
beauties of their gins they might well have spared themselves the
trouble, for a more hideous lot of females I never set eyes on. Presently
another wild yell heralded the approach of a large band of "womany" who
waded breast deep across the creek, followed by their dogs swimming
behind. These were no improvement on the first lot; all the old and ugly
ladies of the neighbouring tribes must have been gathered together. Their
dogs however, were worthy of notice, for they were Manx-dogs, if such a
word may be coined! Closer inspection showed that they were not as
nature made them. For the tails of the dingoes the Government pays five
shillings apiece; as their destructive habits amongst sheep make them
better liked dead than alive. A black fellow's dog is much the same as a
dingo--in fact must have descended from the wild dog--and has the same
value in his owner's eyes with or without a tail. A stick of tobacco is
fair payment for a dog's tail. Thus all parties are satisfied except the
dog; and the Government is content to pay, not dreaming that
"dog-stiffeners" (i.e., men who make a living by poisoning dingoes) carry
on so base a trade as bartering tobacco for live dogs' tails!
Our cavalcade still further increased by women and dogs, we proceeded on
our way, until choosing a high sandy bank overlooking the estuary of the
small lake on the South, the creek to the North-West, and a backwater to
the North, we halted and prepared to make camp. This was attended by some
difficulty, for our native friends, now in considerable numbers,
evidently wished to look upon it as their camp too. They soon became so
tiresome that I had to tell them through Tiger, as interpreter, that
unless they retired forthwith and kept to the other side of the creek, we
should take strong measures to remove them. Before long they had all done
as they were bid, and made their camp about a mile away across the
water--and the bulk of them we did not see again. Small parties were
continually visiting us, and we were the best of friends.
Our camp was in lat. 20 degrees 11 minutes long. 127 degrees 31 minutes,
and here we stayed five days to give our stock a final rest, and regale
on luscious food and abundant water, before tackling the dreary country
that we knew to be before us. For our own sakes we were by no means keen
on leaving this delightful spot; the very thought of those sand-ridges
seemed to make one's heart sink to one's boots! Our camp consisted of a
bough-shade, and mosquito-nets, of course. Barring the constant torment
of flies and the extreme heat, we had a most enjoyable time. The lakes
and creek abounded in wild-fowl of all kinds, and fish by the hundred
could be caught below our camp. Seen from our camp the estuary had so
much the appearance of a low-lying arm of the sea, with the tide out,
that we could easily understand why Gregory called it a "sea" rather than
a lake. Numerous sandspits stand out in the middle, on which, in early
morning, so dense was the crowd of shags, pelicans, snipe, small gulls,
whistling duck, teal, and other birds, that to say that there was acre
upon acre of wild-fowl would not be wide of the mark; but in spite of
their abundance they were not easily shot; for not only did their numbers
insure the watchfulness of some of the flocks, but after the first shot
the whole lot rose in a cloud and settled away out in the middle of the
lake, beyond reach.
Our larder was well filled here, and the natives took great interest in
our shooting and fishing. I used to take Tiger as retriever when I went
duck shooting, and an excellent boy he was too, simply loving the water,
and able to swim like any duck; to see him after a wounded bird was most
exciting; as soon as he reached it, it would dive until he would be
almost exhausted. At last he hit upon a similar plan, and, diving, came
up beneath the duck, seized it by the leg and brought it to shore,
grinning with delight. A shot-gun would indeed be a treasure to these
natives, who manage to kill pelicans and ducks only after hours of
waiting, hidden in a hide of bushes until a bird comes near enough to be
killed by a throwing-stick.
In some parts of Australia the natives swim out to ducks, concealing
themselves under a bunch of rushes and moving very slowly; the ducks are
not scared by the rushes, and fall a comparatively easy prey. From what
Tiger told me the Sturt natives seem to rely solely upon waiting and
stalking. They catch fish in a rather ingenious way, only practicable
when the fish are in shallow water; from this they sweep them with a sort
of dredge of branches, which they drag through the pools on to the banks;
the water runs back through the sticks, leaving the fish high and dry on
the sand. The pelican is considered a great delicacy amongst the natives,
and every day deputations waited upon us, asking us to shoot the "Coyas"
for them, which of course we were very glad to do. They did not repay our
kindness very nicely, for they tried to inveigle Warri into their camp
for the purpose of killing him, as a stranger meets with no great
hospitality! I had sent Warri and Tiger out with a gun to stalk some
ducks when a number of blacks tried to get possession of the gun, first
by telling Tiger that they wanted to shoot an old man who had annoyed
them, then by tempting him with descriptions of the beauties of their
wives; but Warri was proof against all these blandishments--nor could
they get the gun by force. I think Master Warri was quite glad to come
quickly home, for he stood in some awe of the Kimberley natives; "Sulky
fella," he called them.
One day a fresh mob of blacks came in; amongst them we recognised our old
friends from Jew's Well. They as soon recognised us, and appeared
tremendously pleased. The old Jew patted me, and grinned, and squirmed
in a most ludicrous way; I discovered that he was thanking me for having
cured his son's eyes--so the lotion had done its work well. As he and his
friends sat round I made a sketch of the old man and gave it to him; it
was evidently a good likeness, for his friends went into shrieks of
laughter and delight. He was equally pleased, and more so still when I
let him know that he could keep it.
Shortly afterwards several men came up with great mystery and secrecy,
and many looks behind them to see that they were not watched, and a
greybeard amongst them presented me with a flat stick carved all over
into rough patterns; this was carefully wrapped between two sheets of
bark, and was evidently highly treasured, and given as a mark of respect
or gratitude for curing the boy's eyes. They also gave me throwing sticks,
balls of hair string, a shield and tomahawk; and received numerous costly
presents from us--one or two old shirts, strips of coloured handkerchief
to make sporrans of, a knife or two, and so forth, and were perfectly
satisfied. A curious thing about the old Jew was that he had no name. I
questioned him most closely through Tiger--but no! he had never had a
name. He was promptly christened "Jacob," which he repeated over and over
again, and seemed pleased with his new acquisition. Godfrey soon had some
of the tribe trained in the art of fishing, and this amused them
immensely; the man to whom we gave the line and hooks, which we got in
Hall's Creek, will be much envied by his mates. There were quantities of
mussels in the creek, which the blacks devour greedily; we thought them
most disgusting in taste. Larger fish were reported in the big lake, but
we did not trouble them. The water of the big lake was far too salt for
use, though the natives were camped near it and drink it. It makes them
sick, but they use it all the same, so we were told. What happens to all
the natives when the lake dries I cannot say; no doubt they scatter far
and wide, and meet when the floods come down, for ceremonies,
corroborees, and such-like amusements.
I collected a few words which I look upon as reliable. Nothing would be
easier than to make a whole dictionary, for the natives are always ready
to talk, but I have only taken words which I got from one and tested with
others with good results.
Gregory's "Salt Sea." Burro.
Fresh water. Nappa or Yui.
Salt water. Murraba.*
Fire. Warru or Wallu.**
Whistling duck. Chibilu.***