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12. Chapter XII Passing Years

Sir Winthrop Hackett—Founding a university—Outbreak of the Great War—A major-general's prediction—Soldiers' stories—Andrew Fisher—Trans-Australian Railway—A camel's peculiarities—War talks—Nullarbor Plain—Huge caves and huge owls—Mrs. Daisy Bates amongst the blacks—An aboriginal claims me as a nephew.

I

ONE of the most useful of Western Australia's citizens was the late Sir Winthrop Hackett, the founder and benefactor of the state's university. I saw much of him. He controlled the leading daily newspaper of Perth, the West Australian, and it co-operated with the morning daily I controlled at Kalgoorlie. In addition, he and I were each members of the Legislative Council. There was a long-continued and close relationship between us. The two papers had a joint news service from the eastern states, we received the same cablegrams from London, and there was an exchange of local news. Throughout the long years that that arrangement lasted, there was never any misunderstanding between us, and the association was amicable and satisfactory to both parties. The agreement was verbal, nothing was written, but no difference of opinion as to what was said ever arose. That was as regards our personal and business association. In politics our views were sometimes widely divergent, but we agreed to differ and respected each other's opinions.




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To-day in Western Australia the people do not realise how much they owe to Hackett. They give credit in full measure to Forrest, but Forrest could not have achieved all he did without the aid of Hackett in his newspaper and in his place in Parliament. For sixteen years he was a member of the Legislative Council. His influence there was all-powerful, and for years the Chamber was known as “The House of Hackett.” Forrest was a man of action, plain and blunt; Hackett was a keen classical scholar, the cultured product of Trinity College, Dublin, the university that produced Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Henry Gratton, Tom Moore and Lord Carson.

Natural beauty and learning appealed to Hackett strongly. Perth's parks and gardens, the museum, the art gallery and the zoological gardens were the result of his enthusiasm.

From my first acquaintance with him he talked and worked to establish a university. I shared his desire for a university, but living as I did, not in the capital, but in a mining district, I had continually before my eyes the needs of the men who were pioneering in the back-blocks. They wanted roads and bridges, transport facilities, water supplies, hospitals and children's schools. The various Governments found it impossible to provide money for essential bread-and-butter requirements of the people who were opening up the primary industries on which the prosperity of the state relied.

Pioneers were pleading for the means to live—for the means to carry on work of inestimable service to Western Australia. They had to be told that there was no money available. How could any Government


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spend money on higher education? Was not a university somewhat premature?

Even Hackett felt that the time had not yet come, but he went on making his plans. He recognised the claims for urgently needed requirements throughout Western Australia.

“We cannot afford a university,” was a remark I heard one man make to him.

“The time is coming,” he said, “when we cannot afford to be without a university. It is not only for the education of our young people but also for research work. There are countless problems continually arising in our back country. There are treatment troubles in connection with our ores. Insect pests, poison weeds and stock diseases can only be effectively dealt with when scientifically investigated. A university would be of inestimable service in helping the development of our natural resources.”

Slowly but surely Hackett overcame opposition. In 1904 he persuaded the Government to pass through Parliament an Act for the endowment of a state university. This measure empowered the Government to set apart Crown lands by way of permanent endowment of the university. It was not until seven years later that legislation was passed to establish the present university.

Most universities are named after the town or city in which they are situated. I pointed out to Hackett that the people of the whole state would contribute to the university, for his idea was that it should be a state university maintained by the Government. People living on the eastern goldfields between three hundred and four hundred miles away from Perth or in the


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Kimberleys, one thousand miles distant, would object to contributing towards what they might consider an institution merely for the capital. If it were for Western Australia, why should it not be so named? Hence it is to-day “The University of Western Australia.”

As the result of the insistence of Hackett I became a member of the first Senate, which was appointed in 1912. I remained a member of the Senate for more than twenty years, when pressure of other public duties compelled me to retire.

The first Senate was nominated by the Government. Its eighteen members included men from all classes, occupations, and political parties. Several of them had not been to universities. At the request of the then Government I proposed, and it was unanimously agreed, that Sir Winthrop Hackett be the first Chancellor.

Temporary buildings were secured by the Senate, applications for a staff were called for by advertisements in leading newspapers in Australia and England, professors and lecturers were ultimately appointed and the institution put generally in running order. There had been an understanding with the Government that brought the university into existence that it should be free. Consequently, no fees were charged to students, an arrangement that was so novel as to cause much adverse comment.

A swan just about to rise in flight from the water was chosen as the university's crest.

After much delay a motto was selected. “Therefore seek wisdom” was much favoured. A suggestion to shorten it was adopted. “Seek wisdom” was the motto finally adopted.




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There was considerable controversy over the selection of a site. Hackett strongly favoured Crawley, the picturesque peninsula that juts out between two lake-like expanses of the Swan river, a site that was ultimately agreed to after considerable opposition. Long before the Bill was passed to establish the university he visualised it as it stands to-day—a picture of architectural triumph amidst beautiful surroundings. That splendid building, as well as the university itself, are due entirely to his foresight, his energy and his generosity. In all, he left when he died more than £500,000 to the university. Of this, £200,000 was spent in erecting the present buildings. The balance of the money has been mainly devoted towards providing studentships, bursaries and other financial help for deserving students.

Hackett's monument is the university. Magnificent monument as it is to his memory, it is no more than he deserves. Western Australia has had no one whose zeal was keener in public service.

II

In August, 1914, came the news of the outbreak of war in Europe. Far removed as Australians were from Europe, and having but little knowledge of international complications, they scarcely realised the full extent of the disaster. There was considerable excitement, and patriotic enthusiasm was aroused, but the general feeling was that the war would be of short duration. Little was known in Australia about the relative strength of countries. The fact that Germany and Austria had arrayed against them Britain, France,


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Russia, and Servia caused the belief to be general that the two central Powers of Europe would be speedily crushed.

Within a few weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, the Governor of Western Australia, Major-General Sir Harry Barron, in a public speech, expressed himself as firmly convinced that before Christmas the armies of Britain, France and Russia would be in Berlin.

Meanwhile, recruiting began, training camps were formed and arrangements were made for sending Australian troops to Europe. When saying good-bye to early contingents of soldiers leaving Australia, I found some of them afraid that the war would be over before they reached the front and so would see nothing of the fighting. Alas! Only too many of them never returned. There were none that did not see more of the war than they wanted.

Men returning from Gallipoli told many strange unpublished stories. One was that a gunner who came from Australia was discovered to cut short fuses, with the result that the shells exploded short amongst Australians rather than amongst the Turks. It was discovered that he was a man of German descent and with German sympathies. There was no court-martial. He was shot by his own comrades.

Another was of two kangaroo shooters who were found to be wonderfully good shots. They accordingly became snipers, and operated at a considerable distance from each other with much success. Lord Kitchener when on the Peninsula heard of them and said he would like to meet them. They had to take up their


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position at night, and one of them when coming off duty was told that General Kitchener wished to speak to him. When brought before the General he drew himself up and saluted in proper military style.

The General spoke to him nicely and asked him what luck he had had that day.

“I did well, sir; I got ten Turks.”

“You shot ten Turks?” said Kitchener.

“Yes, sir,” was the answer.

“That's not bad,” remarked the General, “but you did not do as well as your mate. He got twenty-two.”

“Did Bill say that?” answered the sniper indignantly. “Then tell him from me he's a bloody liar.”

Some Turks had good boots which Australians were keen to possess. Men were in the habit of raiding enemy trenches to get a pair. One Australian who disappeared into the Turk's trenches was an inordinately long time away. He eventually turned up with the much prized boots. “We thought you were not coming back. What delayed you?” he was asked. “Oh,” he answered, “I had to kill six before I got a pair to fit.”

An officer when going his rounds thought he heard a call from a partially collapsed dug-out. He told his batman to investigate. Subsequently he said to the batman, “Well, did you find anyone?” “Yes, sir,” came the reply. The officer asked, “Did you get him out?” “No,” was the answer. “And why not?” “Well, sir,” said the batman, “he was the parson, and we won't want him until Sunday.”

I met a Victoria Cross winner who had come back with a great reputation as a courageous fighter, having


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killed single-handed more than half a dozen of the enemy. I congratulated him. When I knew him better he told me the truth of what actually happened to him. “They were coming to kill me,” said he. “I was terribly frightened. I never felt so terrified in my life. Suddenly a wave of rage came over me and I rushed at them. I must have become stark mad with frenzy, for I remember no more until it was all over and I was safe with my mates. Had I not killed them, they would have killed me. I wanted to live, and so I won the Victoria Cross. If people knew how terrified I was they would not call me a hero.”

General Sir John Monash, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Australian troops towards the close of the war, was a most impressive personality. My first meeting with him was in unusual circumstances. It was several years after peace had been declared. I was travelling in a crowded special train from Melbourne to Canberra. There was not a vacant sleeping berth and my compartment was shared by a total stranger, a man with powerful jaws, well-defined features and a decidedly strong face. He was friendly and communicative. We talked for hours and hours about numerous subjects, but, curiously enough, we never once touched on defence affairs or the war. I knew he must be someone of importance and wondered who he was. It was not until next day when at the Canberra Hotel, where we both stayed and had meals beside each other, that I discovered that my travelling companion was Sir John Monash. That was but the beginning of numerous other meetings between us. The more I knew him, the more impressed I became with his marked qualities for leadership. He was a born leader of men.




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A friend of mine, a member of the Federal Parliament, had an interesting experience with Lord Kitchener when he visited Australia in 1909 to report and advise on Commonwealth military defence. Kitchener went to great pains to learn the views of leading men. He not only consulted Ministers of the Crown, but also arranged to meet Opposition leaders privately. Evidently he clearly realised that Governments are but the creatures of a day and that those on the left of the Speaker usually in time are entrusted with the responsibilities of office. A meeting between Kitchener and the member was arranged by an Australian state Governor. Kitchener said to my friend, “I hear that if there be a change of Government you are likely to be Minister for Defence again, and so I will tell you what I have told the present Minister for Defence but what I will not include in my report.” He then gave him information that was confidential and asked my friend if he had any questions to ask him. The member asked four questions, and the Field-Marshal replied to them. Some time later there was a change of Government, and the member became Minister for Defence. The Minister had to go to London, and whilst there he met Kitchener at a private dinner. After dinner Kitchener asked him to come with him to a room where there was but the two of them. “Now that you are Minister for Defence,” said Kitchener, “what have you done regarding the four questions you put to me in Australia?” The Minister had to admit that he had forgotten what the questions were. Kitchener reminded him of them. The Minister told him what he had done regarding each of them, and apparently the Field-Marshal was pleased, but what


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astonished my friend was Kitchener's amazing memory for even matters of small detail.

III

Andrew Fisher and I were good friends in the House of Representatives, though we differed in politics. He was deputy leader of the Labour Party and I a supporter of Sir George Reid. He had not the brilliancy nor sense of humour of Hughes, but he had great caution and exceptional shrewdness. Born in Scotland, he was decidedly “canny,” also upright and strongly patriotic. A coal miner, he had worked in collieries from the time he was ten years of age, and when twenty-three years old he migrated to Australia, where he worked for years in Queensland as a miner. In 1893 he was returned to the Legislative Assembly. He was a member of the Dawson Ministry, the first Labour Ministry to hold office in Australia, a Ministry that lasted only six days.

Fisher was three times Prime Minister, and during his second term the Government of which he was the head established the Commonwealth Bank, effected the transfer of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth, began the construction of the east-west railway, established an interstate commission, strengthened the Australian navy and instituted compulsory military training. When war was declared his Party was in Opposition, and as Leader he announced that the Australian Labour Party was with the Motherland “to the last man and the last shilling.” In October, 1915, he resigned the Prime Ministership and accepted the position of High Commissioner in London.

Photograph Facing Page 256: The University of Western Australia. The lower view shows the lily pond.






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The Trans-Australian Railway was then in course of construction. Work had been begun at Port Augusta, the eastern end, and at Kalgoorlie, the western end. Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie are over a thousand miles apart. Mr. Fisher decided that on his way to England he would travel overland to Western Australia, where he would board the mail steamer. There was about six hundred miles of the line yet to be completed, and he had to cover that gap, part of it with camels and the remainder in motor-cars. The country he had to traverse was then unknown except to the men who had a few years previously surveyed the route of the railway. It was arid, inhospitable and without people except on its edges, where there were a few wandering tribes of wild half-starved aborigines.

I was at Kalgoorlie and was invited to join a small party to meet Fisher at Ooldea, which is six hundred and twenty-six miles east of Kalgoorlie and four hundred and twenty-seven miles west of Port Augusta.

We travelled in motor-cars along the track made by the surveyors. Our course lay over the Nullarbor Plain, that curious flat limestone country covered with a low growth of blue bush and salt bush. The leaves of these bushes retain moisture from rain and dew, and salt bush especially is a valuable fodder plant, especially for sheep.

The Nullarbor Plain was well named No-Tree Plain. There is but a foot or so of red soil to cover the limestone. To all appearance it is a dead level, but we are told that it is not exactly so. Our journey traversed the full length of the Plain, some four hundred miles.

To the person on the Plain the impression created is


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of the immensity of space. As at sea, the horizon makes a perfect circle in the far distance.

Ooldea is at the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain. When we reached it there was no sign of Mr. Fisher or his party. We camped to await his arrival. East of us was a sandhill belt through which he had to travel on his way from Port Augusta. It would be impossible for our motor-cars to proceed further. A couple of days passed. Fortunately, we had abundance of food. Water was procurable a few miles away.

We began to be concerned about the non-arrival of the Fisher party. They were overdue, and we had a consultation. Wireless was not available. A mishap may have occurred.

An aboriginal with a couple of camels had just arrived at our camp from Fowler's Bay, about one hundred and thirty miles south of Ooldea. He had a message for Mr. Fisher's party, and we had become so tired of waiting that early one morning another member of our party, the black fellow, and I mounted the camels. Saying au revoir to our friends we left the Ooldea camp and travelled directly eastward. Up and down interminable sandhills, covered fairly thickly with small trees, bushes and scrub, there was a faint track.

My knowledge of camels was limited, but I knew some of their peculiarities. Mild in appearance and demeanour, they can at times become wildly and dangerously savage. The camel I was riding was not making much pace. After a couple of miles and there was no improvement, I asked the black whether the beast ever woke up.

“My word he does, boss,” was the reply. “No


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one in Fowler's Bay will ride him. That camel's savage.”

“He doesn't seem savage now,” I remarked.

“He can be awful savage, boss. He killed one man and bit the leg off the last man who rode him. He's an outlaw.”

I had noticed that when I struck the camel with a stick the head and long neck came ominously round. I had heard of camels chewing people's legs. I decided to treat the beast with more respect, allow him to choose his own pace and watch for his head coming round.

After a couple of hours steady travelling the aboriginal suddenly remarked, “I hear them, boss.”

The camels were pulled up. We remained still and listened. Neither my friend nor I could hear a sound. The black was convinced he was right.

The journey was resumed. To the aboriginal it was plain we were getting near the party.

After we had covered a couple of miles my friend and I heard them also. Both of us prided ourselves on our acute hearing, but no European has hearing as acute as the average aboriginal. Generations of training have sharpened natives' hearing and sight. It was by their ears and eyes that they outwitted their enemies and got the food by which they lived. Both senses had to be keen to survive.

From the top of a sandhill I looked down and saw a man with a long stick that he used as an alpenstock to help him through the heavy sand. He was tall and thin and wearing a motor-coat that was once white, but was now soiled. He looked up—it was Fisher.




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I was on a tall camel, towering above him. He was astonished, almost startled.

“Hello, Fisher,” I remarked. “How are things?”

“Good heavens, Kirwan!” he answered. “Where did you come from?”

“Another case of Dr. Livingstone and Mr. Stanley, I presume?” I remarked.

When I said “hoosta” the camel appeared well pleased to get down, but not more pleased than I was to get off.

“You look tired, you must take the camel,” I said to Fisher, and I added, “Take my stick and hit him with it hard on the nose if he turns his head and neck. He has a nasty habit of biting people's legs off. Come, you get up.”

“I'm not going on that camel,” said Fisher; “I'd rather walk.”

The Fisher party had a couple of buggies drawn by camels. They also had some riding camels, but their progress through the sandhills was much slower than was expected. Fisher walked many miles.

I was interested to notice that no one rode the outlaw camel on the way back to Ooldea.

We lunched with the Fisher party.

As Fisher and I walked together to Ooldea most of our talk was of the war. Hostilities had been then in progress more than fifteen months. Most of the Australian ships had been transferred to the British Navy; German possessions in the Pacific had been seized by Australian expeditionary forces; the Emden had been destroyed by the Sydney at the Cocos Islands; British and Australian troops had landed at Gallipoli and


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were gallantly endeavouring to wrest the peninsula from the Turks.

All these events we discussed, and felt confident that the Gallipoli expedition would soon result in victory.

Fisher had just resigned the office of Prime Minister of Australia, but so little did he know that he talked hopefully of the victorious end of the war in the spring of 1916, if not several months earlier.

Little did either of us realise the long-drawn-out struggle that was to follow. We did not expect the evacuation of Gallipoli; the surrender of Kut to the Turks; the drowning of Lord Kitchener; the Russian revolution with the withdrawal of Russia from the war; the collapse of Serbia and Roumania; the menace of German submarines and Zeppelins; and the awful loss of life before the ultimate surrender of the German armies and the German fleet. Victory would be achieved, of that we were certain, but the price we had to pay was far beyond our wildest expectations. Neither of us thought of the aftermath—repudiation of national debts, demoralisation of youth, and trade depression creating world-wide unemployment.

When I said good-bye to Fisher at Kalgoorlie we were full of hope of the speedy and successful termination of the war. I met him in London not long after peace was declared, and he reminded me of our talk in the sandhills, and said, “How ignorant we both were of the terrific fighting strength of Germany.” He went on, “And yet we were not more ignorant than certain men in high positions who were close to the conflict.”




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“I know,” he added, “there were a few who were convinced that the war would be spread over many years and that there was no certainty as to who the victors would be. In public they spoke differently in order not to dishearten the Allies, but the great majority of British leaders kept saying and believing all through the war years that victory was close at hand. It was perhaps that conviction that won the war. As Napoleon said, ‘The English never know when they are beaten.’ ”

IV

My journey across the Nullarbor Plain and the few days I spent at Ooldea aroused my interest in that part of Australia. Subsequently opportunities arose to allow of my gaining further experience of the country. To those who know the Nullarbor Plain, notwithstanding its weird, almost forbidding appearance, it has somewhat of a fascination.

In the comfortable trains with a five-foot two-inch gauge that to-day pass between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta, the passenger's view from the carriage windows of the Nullarbor Plain is novel but not attractive. It shows a flat expanse—one of the world's greatest flat expanses—extending all round as far as the eye can reach. It has a thin covering of bushes a couple of feet high. The official booklet gives an accurate description:

“For over three hundred miles the line runs without a curve. You look back and the shining rails run on towards infinity until they seem to meet in the dim distance. You look forward and


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see the same twin threads drawn out until they melt into one another. Elsewhere there is nothing but the plain and sky. The plain rolls away to a circular horizon. By day the sun shines in a heaven of cloudless blue or flecked at most by a few white clouds. Beneath it is the circle of earth unbroken by hill or valley, by tree or house, or by any of the things we look for in an ordinary landscape. By night the moon and stars come forth with a brightness not seen in moist climates. Under the moonlight the bluish-white and grey-green of the blue bush and salt bush are unearthly and ghostlike.”

During daytime occasionally overhead may be seen circling in wide sweeps that largest bird of the eagle family, known generally as the eagle hawk. It is the wedge-tailed eagle, and specimens of immense size are common on the Nullarbor Plain. Some have measured twelve feet from tip to tip of the wings. The bird, graceful and beautiful as it floats aloft, suddenly swoops down. One wonders what it has seen. The plain is devoid of life, or, rather, so it seems to the passenger, who, rushing by in the train, does not know of the wild life, lizards, bandicoots, mice, rabbits, foxes and dingoes that scurry out of sight at the roar of the steam monster.

Neither does the passenger know that the ground beneath the flat surface is honeycombed with caves—a vast dark underground world. They are approached by “blow-holes” through which wind comes with varying forces, sometimes with a hissing sound, sometimes like a whistle and sometimes with a roar. These


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“blow-holes” range from a few inches to yards in diameter. Usually the descent is not easy. One investigator had to use 100 feet of rope before the cave bottom was reached. A huge cavern with a ceiling 180 feet high was 600 yards from the entrance. Lengthy galleries abound, also deep pools of water, mostly salt. There are several extensive underground lakes. Comparatively little exploration work has been done in the caves, and there is ample scope for the energies of enterprising spirits eager to venture into the depths of the unknown. The Rev. Mr. G. C. Woolf, describing his experiences when in one of the caves, writes:

“I must confess that a strange fear gripped me as I stood gazing into the unexplored depths below. The dim light of our lamp, our shadows thrown so grotesquely against the rough walls and ceiling of the cave, the clink, clink of the hard, flinty limestone as we warily made our way downwards, and the otherwise sepulchral silence, all combined to give a most eerie effect. Down, down we climbed over great heaps of fallen limestone, until we beheld before us a ledge, over which appeared to be a drop into nothingness. Not a word passed between us. Each kept his own thoughts—and fears—to himself. Suddenly we were almost startled out of our wits as one of the party uttered a cry and threw up his arms. He had stepped on to a piece of loose stone, which gave way under him, and down he went, but, fortunately, only a short distance. This incident was quickly erased from our minds as we gazed


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over the ledge before us, for there, spread out for our view, was a large chamber, the floor of which was studded with beautiful stalagmites, while innumerable stalactites were suspended from the ceiling. In the dim light of our hurricane lamp the whole scene suggested an old English churchyard with the tombstones bathed in moonlight. There and then we gave the name “The Churchyard” to this wonderful cave, which is unique amongst all that I have ever seen on the Nullarbor. It was with an awe almost reverent that we moved amongst Nature's monuments.”

A couple of men on a raft explored an underground waterway for hundreds of yards, when, fearing they might lose their way, they returned.

The caves are not devoid of life. Spiders and beetles are found in many of them. Most remarkable are the immense cave owls that make their homes and nest in the darkness. They leave the caves only at night. They are big birds with white feathers; the face is ringed with brown feathers and there is brown on the wings.

Mr. Woolf mentions caves near the edge of the plain that are open to the daylight, have flat roofs and, in his opinion, were used in times past by the blacks for sacred purposes. He thinks they were storing places for sacred objects and instruments used in their ceremonies. Possibly the initiation of youths into manhood may have been carried out in the caves, as these ceremonies always took place in secret and far removed from women. There is a cavern known by the native equivalent of “The Cave of the Bloody


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Hands.” The sides of the entrance are marked by hands traced in red ochre.

“Just what is the significance of hands remains a mystery,” writes Mr. Woolf, “for it is a matter of regret to record that the tribe responsible for them has passed completely out of existence.” Some have thought that they are the work of idle moments, but he does not think so.

Symbolic hands appear on the walls of certain caves from the north to the south of Western Australia. Various theories have been advanced regarding them, but their real meaning remains obscure.

To the natives the Nullarbor Plain, devoid as it was of fresh water, was viewed as uncanny and mysterious, desolate and forsaken. To them death from thirst lurked on it. Their superstitious fears of it were aroused by the legend that it was the home of a huge snake that was ever ready to destroy any native who ventured far beyond its edge.

Photograph Facing Page 266: A Corroboree of Aborigines.



Wild turkeys are in abundance on the plain at certain seasons, feeding on grasshoppers, caterpillars and other insects. Their walk is stately; their flight slow and heavy. Emus roam near the edges of the plain, also that wonderful bird the mallee hen, the eggs of which are laid in huge mounds and covered with vegetation. The heat of the sun and the heat of the decaying vegetation hatches the eggs and the young birds emerge. Great varieties of other birds visit the plain. Mr. Bolam, a railway official who for years was stationed at Ooldea, in a little booklet on “The Trans-Australian Wonderland” relates how on one


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occasion a flock of several hundred travelling cockatoos settled on the telegraph wire and engaged in gymnastics, turning somersaults with the wire gripped in their beaks. Suddenly, amid a fearful screeching, the line snapped. The birds transferred their attention to another wire, but, as another “fault” would have resulted, they had to be dispersed. The sharp beaks of the birds had partly cut the wire, and the weight of so many on it had caused it to break. Quail, curlew and plover can be found in great numbers on the plain in good seasons, also parrots and numerous small birds. Rabbits and dingoes abound. I often came across meadows of that most beautiful of desert flowers, the brilliant scarlet flower with a jet-black spot in its centre known as the Sturt pea.

I picked up on the plain curious jet-black stones, varying from an inch to a quarter of an inch in diameter. They are somewhat circular in shape and hard enough to scratch glass. Scientists differ as to their origin. Many who believe they are meteorites call them sky stones. Some authorities consider they are a kind of natural glass. To the blacks they are “magic stones.”

At Ooldea I failed to see specimens of that pretty animal the kangaroo mouse. It is a marsupial and no bigger than an ordinary mouse. It is a miniature kangaroo, can hop three feet at each bound, travel faster than a dog and lives in burrows.

I also missed seeing the marsupial mole or blind sand burrower of which Mr. Bolam writes. It carries its young in a pouch, is about six inches long, has a beautiful, soft, fine fur of a creamy colour, and, what


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is most remarkable, it has neither eyes nor ears, and so is blind and deaf. It is also dumb and will never emit a sound of any kind, but has an acute sense of smell and is exceptionally active in its movements. It can burrow vertically and so quickly that it will disappear into the ground in a few seconds. It lives on insects.

The permanent fresh-water supply at Ooldea I found specially worthy of examination. The extremely heavy fall of rain that sometimes occurs in the interior of the continent quickly disappears, and is mostly carried to the sea in underground rivers; it comes to the surface in places in the form of springs. At Ooldea the supply was called “The Soak,” and in an area where fresh water was rare and precious it was greatly prized. As Mr. Bolam writes:

“For century upon century it has been the gathering ground of blacks from north, east, south and west. They went there to perform their sacred ceremonies, their corroborees and their tribal customs. They congregated to barter their spears, boomerangs, wommerahs, shields and clay for goods or weapons of other tribes. The sick and the injured made a pilgrimage to Ooldea to bathe in its wonderful waters. The armourers of the tribes for hundreds, probably thousands of years, brought their flints, grinding stones and other materials to the Soak to employ the intervals between the ceremonies. Each wind that blows uncovers their relics, but covers others. In the days before the arrival of Europeans two soaks only were known, one being fresh water and the


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other bitter. It was the water from the latter that had the reputation as the great cure-all for skin diseases, internal complaints and wounds. The bitter well is only two chains away in a north-easterly direction from the fresh water. The two waters are separated by a slight rise, and the bitter water is surrounded by a green weed that grows thickly to a height of about five feet. The fresh water is situated in the middle of a hollow. It is overlooked by a barren sandhill. It is in the centre of salt and bitter water country and in a spot where one would least expect to find fresh water. The Great Architect in His infinite wisdom so ordained that a permanent water supply should be located in the midst of desolation and barrenness.”

It was at Ooldea that Mrs. Daisy Bates, O.B.E., a charming, cultured Irish lady, camped for sixteen years amongst the blacks, not as a religious missionary, but rather as a sympathiser with a race she regarded as dying and towards whom she felt Europeans owed an obligation. She tended the sick, did all in her power to help those of the race she came in contact with, prepared written vocabularies of their various languages and made a collection of their legends. The aborigines almost worshipped her. She also earned and has received the respect and admiration of all who knew her life of self-sacrifice.

Relating her experiences, she said, “For eight months at one camp I had sole charge of three blind natives, one of whom was demented, and one diseased.


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The demented man ran away at night, and I tracked him for six days before finding him. He was on the verge of starvation and unable to walk back to camp. I had no conveyance and no messenger to send to the settlement, so I had to carry him on my back. At times I had to rest, and meantime amuse the demented man. In the course of my journey I thought of the effect on my city friends were they to see me in the bush with the naked native on my back. I stand in the relation of grandmother to these tribes, and I talked to this man as if he were my grandson, making him tell me of his adventures. I carried him about a mile and a half at the outside, but it took me five or six hours to get back to the camp, and one result of the strain was that I suffered from hæmorrhage of the lungs.”

A grave-digger's work was later done by Mrs. Bates, following the death of the native in her charge. For the man she carried in from the bush she had to dig a grave seven feet long.

“Being a woman,” she continued, “makes me doubly welcome to the native women, and the reason will be understood when it is known that the native man only looks upon the white man as a source of income, no matter what his position. The women are absolutely subject to their husbands. As for religion, I act it in feeding and nursing them when they are sick, never offending their sensibilities nor having my own offended. I dress as the women of towns dress, and the natives see me as you see me now except that I work with my coat off. On the hottest day in summer I wear my collar and tie in the bush; it brings respect from the native. They bring their sick and their blind to me. I am known among them all as ‘kabbarli’


  ― 271 ―
(grandmother). They believe that I am the reincarnation of some wise native of long ago, and it is only in that way that all the tribes can account for my familiarity with their secret and sacred ceremonies.”

Natives' views on morality in many localities are extraordinary from the European viewpoint. Tragedies result from white men's ignorance of them. Mrs. Bates has explained that a European man may take a native woman and live with her without incurring the natives' hostility, but if he then took a woman bearing relationship other than that of sister to her he would risk death. “A native,” she added, “when he took a woman might beg, borrow or steal the woman's sisters, but if he tried to take a woman of any other relationship he would be killed. In certain tribes the children of a brother and the children of a sister could intermarry, and of the tribal brothers and sisters in all tribes, but the children of brother and brother or of sister and sister could not intermarry in any tribe.” Native marriage laws are most complicated, and dire punishment awaits any who offend against them.

Once after the completion of the Trans-Australian Railway I sent word to Mrs. Bates to meet me at Ooldea, where the train I was travelling in made a stay of about ten minutes. I invited her to come into my compartment, where we talked. When she got out of the train, a minute or so before it left, I too got out. A hideous old black man with only one eye, his face and body covered with scars, came to us and, addressing me, said:

“Me your uncle.”




  ― 272 ―

I was surprised to hear that, and evidently looked it. The native then, in an insistent voice, said, “You my nephew.”

Meanwhile Mrs. Bates made a strategic movement to the blind side of the native. The poor lady looked at me in an appealing way.

“Yes, quite right,” I said.

Mrs. Bates's face looked as if she were relieved.

The elderly ruffian at once took advantage of the relationship, and, in a mandatory voice, demanded:

“Gib me a bob.”

I handed him a shilling, and he disappeared.

I must have looked as if I wanted an explanation, for Mrs. Bates remarked, “Poor Bob. He thinks you are his nephew. You see, this is what happened. I was admitted a member of his tribe. According to tribal law he became my uncle. When I heard you would be at Ooldea, I knew you would ask me to come into your compartment. It is contrary to the natives' code of ideas for any woman to be under the same roof as a man unless he be a relative, so I told a white lie. As Christians we are all brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God, and so I said you were my brother. Hence, Bob thought that as I am his tribal niece, so you must be his nephew. Thanks for not repudiating the relationship. I was frightened you would, and thus lose caste amongst them. That would never do.”

Photograph Facing Page 272: Dance of Natives, Alice Springs.



According to Mrs. Bates, all the Australian tribes that practise circumcision are cannibals of a most revolting kind. In her opinion there is a distinct connection between cannibalism and circumcision. The


  ― 273 ―
drinking of human blood after the operation, and at other periods during boys' initiation, is most significant. Boys are told that blood is meat and that human blood is human meat. Mrs. Bates relates the following about an aboriginal gin at Ooldea:

“In spite of the closest attention, abundance of ‘white’ food and water, and every encouragement to induce her to rear her baby, she ran away into the bush, doubled on her tracks and gave birth to a little baby girl, which she choked and cooked and ate, sharing the meat with her little two-year-old child. Guided to the fire by the brother, father, and mother's brother (uncle) of the baby, I myself dug up the few charred bones of the baby from beneath the ashes. The skull had been broken into several pieces, and of the soft bones only a few cinders remained. It was not hunger but custom which incited the deed, coupled with the over-whelming desire for soft flesh and fat of the little baby. Just before, and for some time after, giving birth to a child a woman has to be kept aloof from her husband, for, according to native law, she is unclean at the time; and when she has given birth to her baby it rests entirely with herself whether she eats the baby or allows it to live, her husband having no voice whatever in the matter. The sharers of the meat may be a brother or sister of the baby's mother, but no other man appears to partake of the food of the new-born baby, as, the mother being then ‘unclean,’ the same stigma attaches to the baby. Among the tribes whose remnants roam round the edge of the Nullarbor


  ― 274 ―
Plain nowadays there is scarcely one who has not at one time partaken of the flesh of a baby sister or brother, several amongst them having eaten of four or more of their own tribal mothers' newborn babies. In every circumcised tribe between these two places—Kimberley and Eucla areas—and along the edge of the great plain, infant cannibalism is the ordinary custom; yet when the babies are allowed to live the mothers are most devoted to them, and nurse and tend them unceasingly; husband and father also taking a delight in the little ones.”
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