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5. Part V

5. The Outward Journey

1. Chapter I

Previous Explorers in the Interior of Western Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some 150 miles to the northward, the Colony was traversed from East to West by Giles in 1876, who found it to be a flat, sandy wilderness of scrub, alternating with open limestone plains, covered with saltbush and grass.note Without camels as transport this expedition could not have been carried out, which will be readily understood when we find that a waterless stage of three hundred miles was negotiated. It is of course likely that Giles passed by waters unknowingly, for owing to the number of camels he had (twenty-two) and the supply of water he was enabled to carry, he was able to push on without turning to the right hand or to the left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As to his work, the results remain, even though he keeps no record. Should he find good country or gold, the land is soon occupied—sooner than if some officially recognised expedition had reported it. For in the one case the man is known and trusted by his fellow-prospectors, while in the other there is not only the bushman's dislike of anything official to be overcome, but the curious conviction, which most of them possess, that any one in the position of a geologist, or other scientific calling, must necessarily be an ass! In the same way, if the country met with is useless, the fact soon becomes known amongst the prospectors, who avoid it accordingly—though a few from curiosity may give it a further trial. Slowly but surely the unaided and individual efforts of the prospector, bring nearer to civilisation the unknown parts of Australia. Many are the unrecorded journeys of bushmen, which for pluck and endurance would rank with any of those of recognised explorers.

The distances accomplished by their journeys are certainly of no great length, as, indeed, they hardly could be, seeing their scanty means and inadequate equipment; and yet in the aggregate they do as great an amount of useful work as a man who by a single journey leaves his name on the map of Australia. It has always seemed a shame to me, how little prospectors are encouraged. No inducement is offered them to give information to the Government; they may do so if they like, but they cannot hope to get anything for it in return. My old mate, Luck, not only surveyed, roughly but accurately, a track between Southern Cross and Menzies, a distance of nearly 150 miles, but actually cut the scrub for a part of the way, to allow his camels to pass; shortly after a Government road was to be cut between the two towns, and Luck sent in his map, at the suggestion of the then head official of the Water Supply, with an application for monetary reward for his work. His request was refused, his map never returned, and strangely enough the new road followed his traverse from water to water with startling exactitude. Who was to blame I cannot say; but someone must be in fault when a man, both able and willing to do such useful work is not only neglected, but to all intents and purposes robbed. This is not the only instance of the apathy of the Government in such matters, but is a sufficient example of the lack of encouragement with which prospectors meet.

2. Chapter II

Members and Equipment of Expedition

The most important question in the organisation of an expedition of long duration is the choice of one's companions. Many men are excellent fellows in civilisation and exactly the reverse in the bush, and, similarly, some of the best men for bush work are quite unfitted for civilised life. I was therefore grievously disappointed when I heard the decision of my late partners not to accompany me. Dave Wilson thought it unwise to come because his health was poor and his blood completely out of order, as evinced by the painful sores due to what is termed “the Barcoo Rot.” This disease is very common in the bush, where no vegetables or change of food can be obtained, and must be something akin to scurvy. It is usually accompanied by retching and vomiting following every attempt to eat. The sufferer invariably has a voracious appetite, but what he eats is of little benefit to him. The skin becomes very tender and soft, and the slightest knock or scratch, even a touch sometimes, causes a wound which gradually spreads in all directions. The back of the hand is the usual spot to be first affected, then the arms, and in a bad case the legs also, which become puffy at the joints, and before long the wretched victim will be covered with sores and abrasions. No external application of ointment or anything of that nature seems to do any good, though the wounds are deep and leave but little scar. After a month or two in the bush one is pretty sure to develop this complaint, which in the dusty, hot weather is further aggravated by the swarms of flies, whose poisonous nature is made evident to any one who has killed them. In my own case I have found fine white wood-ashes, preferably of the mulga, to have a healing and drying effect. Ashes are used by the natives for healing wounds, and I found them very efficacious in cases of sore backs amongst camels. Nothing but an entire change of diet and way of living can cure the “Barcoo”; constant washing, an impossibility “out-back,” being essential. Dave, having had his sickness for some long time, was physically unable to form one of the party, to my sorrow, for he was a man in whom I had the greatest confidence, and one whose pluck and endurance were unquestionable.

Alfred Morris joined his brother in a reef the latter had found, and Charlie Stansmore was not at all well. Thus I was for the time stranded. There was no difficulty in getting men—of a sort! but just the right kind of man was not easily found. My old friend Benstead added one more to the many good turns he has done me by recommending Joe Breaden, who had just finished a prospecting journey with Mr. Carr-Boyd and was looking out for a job. Benstead had known him from boyhood, in Central Australia, and gave him the highest character—not higher than he merited, though, as I hope these pages will make clear. Most of us have, I think, an instinct that tells us at once whether to trust another or the reverse. One can say on sight, “I have perfect confidence in that man.” As soon as I saw Breaden I felt a voice within me saying, “That's just the man you were looking for.” I told him my plans and the salary I could afford to give him; he, in his silent way, turned me and my project over in his mind for some few minutes before he said the one word “Right,” which to him was as binding as any agreement.

A fine specimen of Greater Britain was Joe Breaden, weighing fifteen stone and standing over six feet, strong and hard, about thirty-five years of age, though, like most back-blockers, prematurely grey, with the keen eye of the hunter or bushman. His father had been through the Maori War, and then settled in South Australia; Breaden was born and bred in the bush, and had lived his life away up in Central Australia hundreds of miles from a civilised town. And yet a finer gentleman, in the true sense of the word, I have never met with. Such men as he make the backbone of the country, and of them Australia may well be proud. Breaden had with him his black-boy “Warri,” an aboriginal from the McDonnell Ranges of Central Australia, a fine, smart-looking lad of about sixteen years, whom Breaden had trained, from the age of six, to ride and track and do the usual odd jobs required of black-boys on cattle stations. I had intended getting a discharged prisoner from the native jail at Rotnest. These make excellent boys very often, though prison-life is apt to develop all their native cunning and treachery. Warri, therefore, was a distinct acquisition.

Having made so successful a start in the choice of mates, I turned my attention to the purchase of camels. My idea had been to have twelve, for it seemed to me that a big number of camels was more a handicap than an advantage in country where the chances of finding a large supply of water were so small. Another excellent reason for cutting down the caravan was the question of expense. Eventually I decided on nine as being the least we could do with. Nine of the very best they must be, so I spared no pains in the choosing of them. Mr. Stoddart, the manager of a large Carrying Company, from whom I bought them, said that he had never come across any one so hard to please! However, I meant to have none but the best, and I got them—five splendid South Australian bulls, three of mature years and two youngsters—all a proper match for my old train of four. The best camels, unfortunately, are not the cheapest! The average value of our caravan was £72 10s—a tremendous amount when compared with their cost in other countries. In Somaliland, for instance, for the price I paid for my nine, I could get one hundred and sixty-three camels! But the Somali camel from all accounts is a very poor performer, compared to his kinsman in the Antipodes, his load being about 200 lbs. against the Australian's 6 to 9 cwt.

The new camels were christened Krüger, Prempeh, Mahatma Billy (always known as Billy), Redleap, and Stoddy. These, together with my old friends Czar, Satan, and Shiddi, I put under Breaden's charge; and he and Warri camped with them a few miles from the town whilst I completed preparations. Rain was falling at the time, the wet weather lasting nearly a fortnight; the whole country around Coolgardie was transformed from a sea of dust into a “Slough of Despond,” and, seeing that five out of the nine camels were bulling, Breaden had anything but a pleasant time. Amongst camels, it is the male which comes on season, when, for a period of about six weeks annually, he is mad and unmanageable, and in some cases dangerous. Once, however, a camel knows you as his friend, in whatever state of mind he may be, he will not harm you, though a stranger would run considerable risk. The duration of this bulling depends entirely on what work they are doing; camels running in the bush without work will remain perhaps three months on season, and a horrible nuisance they are too, for they fight anything they come across, and will soon turn a peaceful camp of unoffending camels into a pandemonium. When in this state they will neither eat, drink, nor sleep, and unless tied down or carefully watched will wander far away, and sometimes start off full gallop, in the shortest of hobbles, and not stop under five or six miles. The “scotch hobble” prevents this, for by having a chain from a hobble-strap on the foreleg to another on the hind, the least attempt at galloping will bring the beast down on to his knees. I used this arrangement on Satan, but found that the fixing of the chain on the hind leg was a matter of some danger, which could only be accomplished at the expense of being sent flying by a kick in the stomach at least once; for a camel hates anything touching his hind legs, and any attempt to handle them soon affords ample evidence that he can let out with great vigour with any leg in any direction. You have only to watch one flicking flies off his nose with his toe to be convinced of that little point of natural history. Before many weeks “on season” a bull becomes so thin and miserable, that it is hardly credible that he can carry a burden of nearly twice the usual weight; nevertheless it is a fact. I remember a caravan of “season camels” arriving at Lake Darlôt, carrying an average load of nine hundred pounds, exclusive of the saddle. The extra load that they carry hardly compensates for the trouble of looking after them, for when in that state they fight like tigers, especially if they have not been long together. Once, however, the bulls become friendly, they only fight in a more or less half-hearted way amongst themselves; but woe betide any alien who finds himself near them—they will then band themselves together and fall upon that stranger until even his master would not recognise him. There is no fun attached to travelling along a much-frequented track, on which mobs of twenty to fifty camels may be met with; and there is no sleep to be got at night, for if, following the practice of most white men, a man ties down his camels at night, he may be certain that they will be attacked, and from their defenceless position, perhaps seriously injured or killed by the loose camels of some Afghan, who has neither the energy nor sense of fair-play to restrain the bulls under his charge.

In this troublesome state were our camels, and poor Breaden, being a stranger to them, was treated with neither politeness nor respect; Krüger, especially, being so exceedingly ill-behaved as not only to knock Breaden down, but to attempt to kneel on his chest and crush him. This disaster was narrowly averted by the prompt action of Warri, who first dragged his master out of danger, and then chastised Krüger with a heavy stick, across the head and neck. Krüger was equally rough to his fellows, for as in a pioneering party, so in a mob of bull camels, there must be only one boss.

This knotty point was fought out with bitter vehemence, Czar, Shiddi, and Misery being vanquished in turn by the redoubtable Krüger. The others knew their places without fighting; for old Billy, the only one of them not too young to compete, was far too good-tempered and easy-going to dispute anything (except the passage of a salt-lake, as we afterwards discovered). I was naturally sorry to see Misery deposed; but for his age he fought a good fight, and it was gratifying to possess the champion who could beat him. What a magnificent fellow was Krüger—a very tower of strength, and (excepting of course when in the state above described) with a nature like that of an old pet sheep.

In the meantime I was under the sheltering roof of my old foster-mother “Bayley's Reward Claim”—the guest of Tom and Gerald Browne.

Gerald had as his henchman a small boy whom he had taken from a tribe away out to the eastward of Lake Darlôt—a smart little chap, and very intelligent, kept neat and clean by his master, whose pride in his “boy” knew no bounds. He was wonderfully quick in picking up English and could count up to twelve. No doubt by this time he is still more learned. It is rather strange that so much intelligence and aptitude for learning should be found in these children of the wilderness, who in their wild and wandering habits are not far removed from animals—for neither “Wynyeri,” the boy in question, nor any of his tribe, could by any possibility have seen a white man before 1892. And yet this little chap in a few months is as spruce and clever as any white boy of the same size, and, far from showing any fear or respect, evinces a distinct inclination to boss any white children with whom he comes in contact. The Australian aboriginal is indeed a puzzle: he lives like a beast of the field, using neither clothes nor house, and to the casual observer is a savage of the lowest type, without brains, or any senses other than those possessed by animals; yet he has his peculiar laws and customs—laws of which the Mosaic rule of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the foundation.

In some districts, and probably all over the continent, were inquiry made, marriage laws of the most intricate kind are strictly adhered to; and though his ceremonies and rites are unique in their barbarity, yet when properly handled he is capable of becoming a useful and intelligent member of the community. Great tact is necessary in the education of the aboriginals. Neglect turns them into lazy, besotted brutes who are of no use to anybody; too kind treatment makes them insolent and cunning; too harsh treatment makes them treacherous; and yet without a certain amount of bullying they lose all respect for their master, and when they deserve a beating and do not get it, misconstrue tender-heartedness into fear. The “happy medium” is the great thing; the most useful, contented, and best-behaved boys that I have seen are those that receive treatment similar to that a highly valued sporting dog gets from a just master; “to pet” stands for “to spoil.” Like most black races, the native soon develops a love for liquor; but fortunately there exists a stringent law which prohibits the giving of drink to a black-fellow, except at the request of his master.

It is marvellous how soon a tame boy comes to despise his own people, when he far outstrips any white man in his contemptuous manner of speaking about a “—— black fella.”

One visitor to Bayley's Reward Claim, brought with him from Victoria, a highly educated aboriginal who had been born in civilisation, and who afterwards married his master's parlourmaid. Jim was a tremendously smart boy, could ride, shoot, box, bowl, or keep wicket against most white men, and any reference to his colour or family was deeply resented. On his first appearance the cook at Bayley's (the wife of one of the miners) proceeded to converse with him in the sort of pigeon-English commonly used, and handed him a plate of scraps for his dinner, calling out, “Hi, Jacky-Jacky, this one your tucker,” to which Jim replied with stern dignity, “Who the h—— are you calling Jacky-Jacky? Do you think I'm a —— black-fellow?” The cook, a quiet and ladylike little woman, who had been a schoolmistress “at home” was not less astounded by the excellent English, than by the delicate way in which his disapprobation was expressed. This story of Jim reminds me of one about his master. He was a man who liked to have everything about him smart and showy, and was quite willing that every one should look upon him as a tremendous swell with the purse of a Crœsus. I heard some diggers discussing him: one said he had come to buy up all the mines in the place and must be a man of importance. “Oh,” said his mate, “any one could see 'e was a toff—I seed him black 'is boots and brush his teeth.” “Yes, and 'e wears a —— collar too.” Thus was exemplified the old adage “Fine feathers make fine birds.”

Camped near Bayley's was Godfrey Massie, a cousin of the Brownes and brother of the once famous cricketer. He had taken a contract to sink a shaft on the adjoining lease, but, owing to the death of one of his mates and his own incapacity to work, due to a “jarred” hand, he was forced to throw up the job, and quickly agreed to my proposal that he should form one of my party. People get to a very casual way of doing things on the goldfields. There was no formality about my arrangements; Godfrey helping me pack at a store, and during our work I said without preface, “You'd better come too;” “Right,” said he, and the matter was settled. Godfrey, a son of one of the leading Sydney families, had started life in an insurance office, but soon finding that he was not cut out for city life, went on to a Queensland cattle-station, where he gained as varied a knowledge of bush life as any could wish for; tiring of breeding and fattening cattle for somebody else's benefit, he joined the rush to the Tasmanian silver-fields; and there he had the usual ups and downs—now a man of wealth, and now carrying his load of bacon and oatmeal through the jungle on the steep Tasmanian mountains. While a field continues to boom, the up-and-down business does not so much signify, but when the “slump” comes it is distinctly awkward to be in a state of “down.” It is then that the average speculator bemoans his hard fate, can't think how he is to live; and yet manages to do so by borrowing from any more fortunate fellow, and almost invariably omitting to pay him back. A most lively and entertaining class of men when shares are up, but a miserable, chicken-hearted lot when the luck turns.

Some, however, of these wandering speculators, who follow from “boom” to “boom,” are of very different mettle and face their luck like men. Such a one was Godfrey, who, when he found himself “broke” in Tasmania, set to work and burned charcoal until he had saved enough money to pay his passage to Perth; and from there he “humped his bluey” to Coolgardie, and took a job as a miner on his uncle's mine until brighter times should come. The Australian can set us a good example in some matters, and I must confess with sorrow that nine out of every ten young Englishmen on the goldfields, of the same class, would not only be too haughty to work, but would more readily take to billiards, cards, and borrowing when they found themselves in low water—and no man sinks lower than an English “gentlemen” who has gone to the bad, and no one despises him more than an Australian miner, or is more ready to help him when he shows signs of trying to help himself by honest work. I had known Godfrey long enough to be sure that, in the bush, he was as good a man as I could get, hard as nails, and willing to work for other people, as energetically as he would for himself, so long as they treated him fairly.

My party was now complete, and included a little fox terrier, “Val” by name, whose parents belong to Tom and Gerald Browne, and come of the best stock in Australia. I had intended to take another man, but, since I could not get one of the right sort, I had no idea of handicapping the party with one of the wrong. At the last minute, however, Charlie Stansmore changed his mind, greatly to my delight, for I knew him to be as sterling a fellow as one could hope to find. Charlie, too, had knocked about from Queensland to West Australia, now on a station, now a miner, and now engine-driver. His people were amongst the earliest settlers on the Swan River, and could well remember the great massacre of whites by the blacks; subsequently they moved to Victoria, where they have farming land at the present time. A very quiet, reserved man was Charlie, who took a great interest in mechanical work and astronomy, a strong man physically and mentally. Thus at last we were ready to tackle whatever the “great unknown” had in store for us.

With hearty wishes for success from the few friends who knew where we were bound for, we shook the mud of Coolgardie from our feet and took the northern road to Menzies on July 9, 1896. Breaden, Stansmore, Massie, Warri, nine heavily laden camels, and a dog made a fine show, and I confess I was near bursting from pride as I watched them.

Who could foresee that one of us was destined never to return?

Acting on the principle of making mention of matters which I have noticed excite an amount of interest in “Home” people, though to us, who are used to them, their importance hardly seems to warrant it, I subjoin a list of the articles and provisions with which we started:—

The stores were calculated to last six months with care and longer should we encounter good country where game could be shot. Everything that could be was packed in large leather bags, made to order. Other expeditions have carried wooden brass-bound boxes; I do not approve of these—first on account of their own weight and bulk; second, when empty they are equally bulky and awkward; third, unless articles are of certain shapes and dimensions they cannot be packed in the boxes, which do not “give” like bags. Wooden water casks are generally used—my objections to them are that they weigh more than the iron ones, are harder to mend, and when empty are liable to spring or warp from the hot sun.

It will be seen that a great part of our load consisted of tools which, though weighty, were necessary, should we come on auriferous country, or be forced to sink to any depth for water: a great many of these tools were left in the desert.

The average load with which each camel started, counting the water casks (the four large ones) full, was 531 lbs., exclusive of saddle. Krüger and Shiddi carried over 750 lbs. including top loading and saddle.

These loads, though excessive had the season been summer, were not too great to start with in the cooler weather; and every day made some difference in their weight.

The brandy was for medicinal purposes only. Even had we been able to afford the room I should not have carried more; for I am convinced that in the bush a man can keep his health better, and do more work, when he leaves liquor entirely alone.

3. Chapter III

The Journey Begins

The week's rain had made the roads in a terrible state: where dust had been there was now a foot or so of soft mud, and the ground, which had been hard and clayey, was now so sticky and slippery, that it was not easy travelling for the camels. We passed several camps of Afghans, squatting miserably under huge tarpaulins, waiting for the roads to dry before starting their caravans, loaded with stores for some distant district. There are one or two things that camels are quite unable to do, according to an Asiatic driver; one is to travel in wet weather. However, Europeans manage to work camels, wet or fine; the wily Afghan says, “Camel no do this,” “Camel no do that,” because it doesn't suit his book that camel should do so—and a great many people think that he must know and is indispensable in the driving of camels; which seems to me to be no more sensible than to say that a chow-dog can only be managed by a Chinaman.

There is, perhaps, a small amount of risk in travelling in wet weather, for when a camel does slip he does so with a vengeance; each foot seems to take a different direction and thus, spread-eagled under a heavy load, he might suffer a severe strain or even break a bone. Redleap fell once, but, happily, neither hurt himself nor the load.

The winter had caused a transformation in the appearance of the bush; everywhere little patches of green grass or saltbush could be seen, and wherever a teamster had stopped to bait his horses, a miniature field of oats had sprung into life. How we hoped that the rainfall had extended towards the interior!

If only we could have started sooner, we should have benefited by the cool weather for a great part of the journey. But though the days were warm enough, there was no doubt about the coldness of the nights. Our blankets were white with frost in the mornings, and our canvas water-bags frozen into a solid mass. My thermometer registered 17°F. just before dawn on the coldest night. Unhobbling the camels and loading them was freezing work, during which our fingers were quite numbed. Shivering, we walked along until the sun was above the trees, then in a little its rays warmed to their work, and we would peal off now a coat, now a jersey or shirt, until in the middle of the day the heat was too great to be pleasant. Poor little Val hated the cold nights, and, as I always sleep away from a fire, she used to crawl into my blankets and lie up against my back, which was quite pleasant for both of us. Most men like to sleep alongside a roaring fire in the winter, but I have always found that after the fire burns out and the night becomes colder, the change of temperature becomes unbearable. If the fire burned all night it would be a different matter; but to do so it must be replenished, and this entails leaving warm blankets to carry wood. It is amusing to see two men camped by a fire which has burned low, both lying awake, and watching to see if the other will get up and attend to it.

The best recipe for avoiding cold is to sleep soundly; and to sleep soundly one must be tired. As a rule night found us in this state, for we all discovered walking rather trying at first, none of us having done any for some time. We were all pleased, I think, when our stage of seven or eight hours was finished—especially Breaden, who had given himself a nasty strain in loading the camels, and who had a deal more weight to carry than we thin people. Australian bushmen do not, as a rule, make good walkers—their home has been the saddle. It was the more necessary, therefore, that we should start on foot at once and carry out a system of training, in which I am a great believer; thus we never ate or drank between breakfast at daylight and tea at night—from nine to eleven hours afterwards. Stopping in the middle of the day wastes time, and entails the unloading of the camels or putting them down with their burdens on, a very bad plan; the time so spent at midday is far more valuable in the evening, when the camels can employ it by feeding. Then again, a meal, really unnecessary, during the day soon makes an appreciable difference in the amount of provisions used. Breaden and Godfrey consoled themselves with tobacco, but Charlie and I were not smokers. I used to be, but gave up the practice because it made me so dry—an effect that it does not have on every one, some finding that a smoke relieves not only hunger but thirst. I have only one objection to a smoker as a travelling companion, and that is, that if by some horrible mishap he runs out of tobacco, he becomes quite unbearable. The same holds with an excessive tea-drinker. I was specially careful, therefore, to have a sufficient supply of these articles. A large amount of tea was not required, since Godfrey was the only confirmed tea-drinker.

On July 15th we reached Menzies, having followed the telegraph line to that point. And a very badly constructed line this is, the poles being timber and not sunk sufficiently deep into the ground—a contract job. The iron poles which are now used in the Government-constructed lines are a vast improvement. Menzies was the last town we called at, and was not so specially inviting that we regretted leaving it. Niagara, the next city, we avoided, and turned up the old Lake Darlôt road, some fifteen miles to the west of it. Between Menzies and Sandy Creek, close to where we turned, the open, saltbush plain which fringes the salt lake, Lake Prinsep, was looking quite charming, dotted all over with patches of splendid green and yellow herbage, plants like our clover and dandelion, and thousands of pink and white everlastings. There can be no doubt that with a better rainfall or with some means of irrigation, could artesian water be found, a great part of the goldfields would be excellent pastoral land. As it is, however, a few weeks suffice to again alter the face of the country to useless aridity. We camped a day on Sandy Creek, to allow our beasts to enjoy, while they could, the luscious green feed; I embraced the opportunity of taking theodolite observations for practice. The pool, some eighty yards long, and twenty wide, fringed with overhanging bushes and weeping willow with its orange-red berries, made a pretty picture; turkeys evidently came there to water, but we had not the luck to shoot any.

The northern track from Sandy Creek deviated so much on account of watering-places, thick scrub, and broken rocks, that we left it and cut through the bush to some clay-pans south of Cutmore's Well; and successfully negotiated on our way the lake that had given me so much trouble when I and the fever were travelling together. All through the scrub every open spot was covered with grass, that horrible spear-grass (Aristidi), the seeds of which are so troublesome to sheep and horses. I have seen sores in a horse's mouth into which one could put two fingers, the flesh eaten away by these vicious little seeds. When turned out on this kind of grass, horses' mouths should be cleaned every day. Camels do not suffer, as they seldom eat grass unless long, young, and specially succulent. We, however, were rather annoyed by the persistent way in which the seeds worked through our clothes and blankets; and before much walking, our trousers were fringed with a mass of yellow seeds, like those of a carter who has wound wisps of straw round his ankles. Truly rain is a marvellous transformer; not only vegetable but animal life is affected by it; the bush is enlivened by the twittering of small birds, which come from nobody knows where, build their nests, hatch out their young, and disappear! Almost every bush held a nest, usually occupied by a diamond-sparrow. Her nest is round, like a wren's, with one small entrance and is built roughly of grass, lined with soft, small feathers. The eggs, numbering four to five in the few nests we disturbed, are white and of the size and shape of our hedge-sparrow's. I am pretty sure that the nesting season depends entirely on the rain. After rain, the birds nest, however irregular the seasons.

As well as small birds, teal had found their way to the clay-pans, and gave us both sport and food. These water-holes are the tail-end of Wilson's Creek, on which is sunk Cutmore's Well, where splendid water was struck at a depth of about eighty feet. Flood-waters from the creek spread out over these flats, and eventually reach the lake already mentioned, to the South. The caretaker at the Well occupied his spare time by growing vegetables, and our last meal, with white men near us, for many months to come, was accompanied by pumpkins and turnips. Camped here, too, was a mob of cattle, about 130 head. The stockmen told us they had started from the head of the Gascoyne River with 2,000 sheep and 150 bullocks. Leaving the station, some four hundred miles to the N.N.W. of Cutmore's, they travelled by Lake Way, where a fair-sized mining community was then established, and Lawlers, where the advance of civilisation was marked by numerous “pubs.” Their stock had not suffered from want of food or water—in fact, a very general rain seemed to have spread from Coolgardie to the Nor'-West. The cattle and our camels seemed quite friendly; the latter were settling down to work, and could now be allowed to go in their hobbles at night, in place of being tied down. Only an occasional fight disturbed our sleep; but at the the clay-pans two strangers, wild and savage, caused a deal of trouble, necessitating one or other of us being up all night. However, we would soon be beyond such annoyances. At this point our journey might be said to begin, for here we left the last outpost of civilisation, and saw the last white face for some time to come.

4. Chapter IV

We Enter the Desert

Our position was in lat. 28° 35′, long. 120° 57′, and from this point I started to map the country as we went. We left here on July 23rd steering a general N.E. by E. course, my intention being to strike Mount Allott and Mount Worsnop, on Forrest's route of 1874—two very noticeable hills, 280 miles distant. I chose these for the double reason that by hitting them off correctly, as I hoped to do, I should not only give confidence to my companions, but have the opportunity of comparing my amateur work with that of a trained surveyor. Our course would clear the southern end of Lake Wells with which I had no desire to become entangled; and by so avoiding it I should cross a piece of country hitherto untraversed.

Our way lay across a rough range of bare diorite hills, whose stony slopes and steep gullies were not appreciated by the camels. Beyond the hills flat mulga-clad country extended for several days' march, only broken by the occurrence of low cliffs or terraces of sandstone. These are of peculiar formation, running sometimes for five or six miles without a break; abrupt, on one side, and perhaps fifty feet high, with broken boulders strewn about the foot of the cliff from which jut out occasional buttresses. It takes some time to find a break in the cliffs, or a gully, up which one can pass. Once on the top, trouble is over, for the summit is flat though often covered with dense scrub; from it a gradual slope takes one presently down to the same level as the foot of the cliffs. Occasional pines find a footing on the face of the rocks—how they manage to grow or get moisture is hard to tell—showing up fresh and green against the dull grey background of rock. Round the foot of the cliffs a small plain of saltbush is usually found, through which numerous small creeks and watercourses wind their way into the scrub beyond. In any one of these, as we saw them, water could be obtained by sinking in the gravelly bed. From the summit of the cliffs, which is often perforated by caves and holes opening on to the sheer face, square bluffs and walls can be seen, standing up above the sea of scrub, each exactly like its neighbour, and itself when again seen from another point. Doubtless the numberless creeks join and form one larger creek probably running South, as the general trend of the country is in that direction.

We were getting well into the swing of things now, for at first there is always some trouble in the distribution of the loads and in loading up and unloading. On camping at night the camels were always put down in a circle, as near as might be. All top-loading was taken off and placed near the centre; the side loads placed one on either side of the camel, and the saddle by his tail. Thus everything, instead of being scattered about in a long line, was handy, and easily reloaded the next morning. At this time, when the packs were heavy, it took us thirty minutes from the time Breaden and Warri brought the camels in to the time we were ready to start; Breaden, Charlie, Warri, and I loading, whilst Godfrey, who acted as cook, got his pots and pans together and packed the “tucker-bags.” There is little of interest in this scrub; an occasional plant perhaps attracts one's attention. Here and there a vine-like creeper (an Asclepiad) trails upon the ground. With the fruits of this, commonly called cotton-pods, the black-fellows vary their diet of grubs and the very rare emu or kangaroo. The skin, the edible part, is soft, thick, and juicy, and has quite a nice sweet taste. The blacks eat them raw or roasted in wood-ashes. The seeds are of a golden yellow, and are joined on to a silky fibrous core. When bruised the pod exudes a white, milky juice.

Numerous large spiders inhabit the scrubs and build their webs from tree to tree; wonderfully strong they are too, and so frequent as to become a nuisance to whoever is walking first. It is quite unpleasant when one's eyes are fixed on the compass, to find, on looking up, that one's hat has swept off a great web, whose owner runs over one, furious at unprovoked assault. Though I got the full benefit of these insects, I was never bitten; they may or may not be poisonous, but look deadly enough, being from one to four inches from toe to toe. The scrubs for the most part are thick and without a break for many miles. Sometimes open country is met with—not always a welcome change.

July 26th the thickets became more and more open until we came across a narrow salt-lake; by leading each camel separately we reached the other side without mishap, and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune, until the next morning when we found that our camp had been on an island; and the lake stretched North and South as far as the eye could reach, until lake and sky became one in a shimmering mirage. I think it probable that this lake joins the Eastern portion of Lake Darlôt, which lies to the N.N.W., and connects with the narrow lake seen by Luck and myself in 1894, to the S.S.E. Whatever its extent there was no doubt about its nature; from 8.30 until 1.30 we were occupied in hauling, digging out, and dragging our camels, and in humping on our backs some 5,000 lbs. weight of packs, across a channel not half a mile wide. Camels vary very much in their ability to cross bogs. Those which take small steps succeed best; the majority take steps of ordinary length and, in consequence, their hind feet slide into the hole left by the fore, and in an instant they are pinned by the hind leg up to the haunch. Krüger was splendid, and simply went through by main force, though he eventually sank close to the shore. I had carried over some of the loading, amongst it my camera, and was just in time to take a snapshot as he was sinking. Shiddi, the cunning old rogue, could not be persuaded across; he would try the ground with one foot and then draw back like a timid bather. We left him roaring to his mates and yet afraid to join them, until we were ready to start again. As soon as he saw the caravan disappear over the sandhill which abutted on the lake, he took a desperate plunge and came through with ease.

The shores of the lake, as usual, were covered with samphire, having something the appearance of heather. At this season the plant is soft and juicy, and, though salt, makes capital feed for camels. In the summer it withers up to dry sticks and has no moisture. Once out of sight of the lake we were disgusted at coming into a belt of flat spinifex country, and were afraid that already we had reached the confines of the desert, more especially since in 1894 I had placed its edge in that longitude. However, we were agreeably disappointed, for after a few miles the spinifex ceased, and on penetrating a dense thicket we debouched on a fine grassy flat. In the centre ran a line of large white gums (Creek gums, Eucalyptus rostrata>), the sure sign of a creek. We were not mistaken, for down the avenue a watercourse wound its way. The gravelly bed was quite dry. Climbing a tree, from which to follow with my glasses the course of the creek, I could see some hills to the northward; in them the creek evidently rose. Whilst I was climbing, Breaden amused himself by breaking off pieces of the small roots of the gums which the creek had washed here. By breaking these quite an appreciable amount of moisture could be got, enough to save a man's life. But I fancy that these roots only hold water after rain, and that when they are water-bearing, pools also are to be found in the creeks. Numerous emu and turkey tracks led up the watercourse, but, though seeing several emu, we were unable to get a shot. Following the creek upwards, for near the head one is likely to find rocky pools, we soon came on a nice waterhole and made camp. I traced the creek to its source in the evening and found the hills to be granite, and discovered one deep pool in the solid rock under a steep step in the creek bed. Along the banks herbage and green stuff were growing in profusion. Our beasts were content to feed amicably together, and with the exception of a sly bite no longer showed signs of ill-feeling. We were thankful indeed to see them “off season.” Here we gave them a good drink and filled our casks and neckbags, carrying in all sixty-two gallons. We had been so well off for water up to this point, that we had hopes that the rain had penetrated inland.

Leaving the creek on July 29th we again entered the scrub, finding it lower and more open, the ground covered with occasional patches of grass and a little squashy plant straggling along the ground—“Pigweed” is the local name; it belongs, I believe, to the “Portulacaceæ.” It is eaten by the blacks, and would make excellent feed for stock were it higher from the ground.

This day we saw the last auriferous country we were to meet with until Kimberley was reached. These hills, of diorite, with occasional blows of ironstone, I take to be a continuation the Neckersgat Range (Wells, 1892). Many traces of prospectors were visible here—the last to be seen for many a day—shallow dry-blowing holes and little heaps of sieved dirt, and the tracks of camels and horses. This was a piece of country worth trying, had we not had other objects in view.

Two rather curious ironstone dykes, standing square and wall-like above the ground, occur in these hills, some seven miles apart, running nearly North and South and parallel; between them a deep but narrow creek, a saltbush flat, and a ridge of diorite. Standing out prominently to the south of the first dyke are two sugar-loaf hills, and, beyond them, distant ranges are visible. Leaving the range the country to the East underwent a distinct change for the worse; and midday of July 31st found us on the borders of an unmistakable desert, the North-West corner of the Great Victoria Desert. We had so far travelled 110 miles from Cutmore's Well, only some 250 in a direct line from Coolgardie and were already in the desert! Wilderness perhaps would be a better name for this part; for the sand now flat, now blown into dunes, is not bare, but overgrown by the hateful spinifex and timbered pretty thickly with desert gums (Eucalyptus eudesmoides) and low acacia bushes.

I am told that the term “spinifex,” though generally employed by those who have the pleasure of the acquaintance of the plant, is wrongly used. I do not know its right name, and have seen it described as “Spinifex,” “Porcupine Grass,” “Triodia,” “Triodia pungens,” and “Festuca irritans.” Why such a wretched, useless plant should have so many names I cannot say. So often am I bound to refer to it that I might vary the monotony by using each in turn. However, I will stick to the term I have always heard used. “Spinifex” grows in round, isolated hummocks, one to three feet high; these hummocks are a dense mass of needle-like prickles, and from them grow tall blades of very coarse grass to a height of sometimes six feet. Occasionally the hummocks are not round or isolated, but grow in crescent form or almost complete rings, sometimes there is no top growth—however it grows it is most accursed vegetation to walk through, both for men and camels. Whatever form it takes it seems to be so arranged that it cannot be stepped over or circumvented—one must in consequence walk through it and be pricked, unpleasantly. Camels and horses suffer rather severely sometimes, the constant pricking causing sores on their legs. So long, however, as a camel does not drag his hind legs he will be no worse treated than by having all the hair worn off his shins. The side of the foot is an easily affected spot, and a raw there, gives them great pain and is hard to cure.

There are two varieties of spinifex known to bushmen—“spinifex” and “buck” (or “old man”) spinifex. The latter is stronger in the prickle and practically impossible to get through, though it may be avoided by twists and turns. There are a few uses for this horrible plant; for example, it forms a shelter and its roots make food for the kangaroo, or spinifex, rat, from its spikes the natives (in the northern districts) make a very serviceable gum, it burns freely, serves in a measure to bind the sand and protect it from being moved by the wind, and makes a good mattress when dug up and turned over. I should advise no one to try and sleep on the plant as it grows, for “He who sitteth on a thistle riseth up quickly.” But the thistle has one advantage, viz., that it does not leave its points in its victim's flesh. In Northern Australia spinifex is in seed for three weeks, and when in this state, forms most excellent feed for horses, and fattens almost as quickly as oats; for the rest of the year it is useless.

I can imagine any one, on being suddenly placed on rising ground with a vast plain of waving spinifex spreading before him—a plain relieved occasionally by the stately desert oak, solemn, white, and mysterious—saying, “Ah! what a charming view—how beautiful that rolling plain of grass! its level surface broken by that bold sandhill, fiery-red in the blaze of sun!” But when day after day, week after week, and month after month must be passed always surrounded by the hateful plant, one's sense of the picturesque becomes sadly blunted.

This was our first introduction to the desert and, though a little monotonous, it seemed quite pleasant, and indeed was so, when compared to the heartrending country met with later in our journey.

The sand has been formed (blown, I suppose) into irregular ridges, running more or less parallel, but in no one fixed direction. From the edge of the desert to Mount Worsnop, a distance of nearly two hundred miles in a straight line, the country presented the same appearance. First a belt, eight to ten miles wide, of sand-ridges from thirty to fifty feet high, with a general direction of E. by S. and W. by N.; then a broad sand-flat of equal breadth, either timbered with desert gums, or open and covered with spinifex breast-high, looking in the distance like a field of ripe corn; next another series of ridges with a S.E. and N.W. direction; then, with startling suddenness, a small oasis, enclosed or nearly surrounded by sheer broken cliffs of desert sandstone, from which little creeks run out into the sand, winding their way for a mile or two between the ridges. Dry watercourses these, except immediately after rain; in their beds are found native wells five to ten feet in depth, sometimes holding water; on their banks, round the foot of the cliffs, and on the flat where the creeks merge into the sand, grows long grass—kangaroo-grass—and, in the winter magnificent herbage. Next we find a dense thicket, and, this passed, we come again to open plains. And thus sand-ridges now E. and W., now S.E. and N.W., now S.W. and N.E. (as in the vicinity of Empress Spring), and now sandhills heaped up without regularity, alternate with mulga thickets, open plains of spinifex, and flat, timbered country. The most noticeable vegetation is of course spinifex; as well as that, however, are several shrubs which form good camel feed, such as Acacia salicina, with its pretty, scented flower like a little golden powder-puff; the quondong (Fusanus acuminatis), or “native peach tree,” a graceful little black-stemmed tree, against whose fresh, green leaves the fruit, about the size of a cherry and of a brilliant red, shows out with appetising clearness. Alas! it is a fraud and delusion, for the stone forms more than three-quarters of the fruit, leaving only a rather tasteless thick skin, which is invariably perforated by small worms.

Dotted over the open plains the native poplar (Codonocarpus) stands sentry, its head, top-heavy from the mass of seeds, drooping gracefully to the setting sun; the prevalent wind at the present day would seem to be from the E.N.E. Here, too, an occasional grass tree or “black-boy” may be seen, and at intervals little clumps of what is locally termed “mustard bush,” so named from the strong flavour of the leaf; camels eat this with voracity, of which fact one becomes very sensible when they chew their cuds.

This description hardly suits a “desert”; yet, in spite of the trees and shrubs, it is one to all intent. All is sand, and throughout the region no water is to be found, unless immediately after rain in the little creeks, or in some hidden rock-hole. Even a heavy storm of rain would leave no signs in such country; half an hour after the fall no water would be seen, except on the rocky ground, which only occurs at very long intervals. The greedy sand soaks up every drop of water, and from the sand the trees derive their moisture. The winter rain causes such a growth of herbage around the cliffs and on the sandhills—to die, alas! in a few weeks' time—that one is inclined to wonder if by means of bores this wilderness will be made of use to man. What artesian bores have done for parts of Queensland and Algeria they may in the distant future do for this, at present useless, interior, where all is still, and the desert silence unbroken by any animal life, excepting always the ubiquitous spinifex rat. A pretty little fellow this, as he hops along on his long hind legs, bounding over the prickly stools like an animated football with a tail. As he jumps, he hangs one forepaw by his side, while the other is stretched out with the little hand dangling as if the wrist were broken. Everything must be spoken of comparatively in this country; thus the ubiquitous rat may be seen, at the most, a dozen times in a day's march; an oasis may measure no more than thirty yards across; a creek is dry, and may be only half a mile long and a few feet broad; a high range may stand three to four hundred feet above the surrounding country, seldom more; and “good feed” may mean that the camels find something to eat instead of being tied down without a bite.

For instance, to continue our journey, on August 1st we have “…the same miserable country until the evening, when a sudden change brings us into a little oasis enclosed by cliffs, a small creek running through it. Here we made camp, the camels enjoying a great patch of feed—could find no water—saw several small quails—a number of grasshoppers and little bees—flies of course in abundance. Lat. 27° 40′, long. 122° 54′. Cloudy night.”

The next day we sighted a big range to the East across a deep valley, and a broken table-top range to the North. Following down the little creek we came on a shallow native well, quite dry; crossing the grassy flat in which it was dug, winding through a thicket, we again reached open sand. Here we saw for the first time since leaving Coolgardie the tracks of wild aboriginals, and the first tracks of blacks, either wild or tame, since leaving Cutmore's Well. Evidently this part of the world is not overpopulated. Since everything pointed to the rain having been general, since the tracks were leading in a direction nearly opposite to our own, and since at the time we had water enough, we did not waste time in following them up.

That night we were forced to camp on a barren spot, and tied the camels down foodless; one night without feed does them no harm—less harm than if they wandered miles in their hobbles looking for it. The weather was now distinctly hot, unpleasant and stuffy, as if about to thunder; but the nights were still cold. At midday we saw two fine quondong trees; how the camels devoured them, leaves, fruit, stones and all! Emus swallow the stones without inconvenience; apparently a camel has an equally convenient interior, but he brings them up again in his cud and drops them out of his mouth as his jaws move from side to side.

Amongst some broken rocks this day, Breaden found a dingo camped in a cave with a litter of pups. Had we been returning instead of only just starting on our travels, I should certainly have secured one—not, I expect, without some trouble, for the mother showed signs of fierce hostility when Breaden looked into her lair. There were no traces of water anywhere near, and I have no doubt that the mother, having found a suitable spot for her expected family, would think nothing of travelling many miles for her daily drink. Near the rocks I noticed a little blue-flowered plant with the leaf and scent of the geranium.

The appearance of the country now soon began to get less fresh, and drier, and all the next two days we were crossing sandhills, the only variety being afforded by Valerie. She had lately made it evident that she would soon follow the example of the lady dingo. Though I had frequently tried to make her ride on one of the packs, she preferred to trot along at the heels of Czar, receiving from him occasional kicks if by chance she touched him, which did not tend to improve the pups so soon to see the light. Tying her on was no better; she only struggled and nearly hanged herself. She had therefore to walk as she desired. Having made camp, and unrolled our blankets ready to turn into them when the time came, Breaden and I experimented on numerous mallee-roots which we dug up, but in every case failed to find any appreciable moisture, On returning to camp we found our party had been increased by one—a large pup which Val had deposited in her master's blankets. It was dead, which was fortunate, as we could hardly have kept it, and would not have liked to destroy the little animal, born in such unusual surroundings.

No change occurred in the country the next day, but the march was saved from its usual monotony by Warri finding two mallee-hens' nests. Unluckily they had no eggs, though the birds' tracks were fresh and numerous. These nests are hollowed out in the sand, to a depth of perhaps two and a half feet, conical shaped, with a mouth some three feet in diameter; the sand from the centre is scraped up into a ring round the mouth. Several birds help in this operation, and when finished lay their eggs on a layer of leaves at the bottom; they then fill in the hole to the surface with small twigs and more leaves. Presumably the eggs are hatched by spontaneous heat, the green twigs and leaves producing a slightly moist warmth, similar to that of the bird's feathers. I have seen numbers of these nests, never with eggs in, but often with the shells from recently hatched birds lying about. How the little ones force their way through the sticks I do not understand, but Warri and many others who have found the eggs assure me that they do so.

Towards evening we neared a prominent bluff that we had sighted the day before, and got a further insight into the habits of the wild dog. A dingo—a female, and possibly our friend with the pups—had followed us persistently all day. Godfrey, who was walking behind the camels, opened the acquaintance by practising his revolver-shooting upon her. His poor aim seemed to give her confidence, and before long she started to play with Val. By nightfall we had petted and fed her out of our hands, and given her a small drop of water from our fast diminishing supply—this at the earnest request of Godfrey, who offered to give her some of his share; and indeed it seemed rather cruel to refuse a poor famished beast that had come to us in her distress. We all agreed how nice it was to have won the affections of a real wild dog. By daybreak our feelings of love had somewhat abated, as our friend prowled about all night, poking her nose into pots and pans, chewing saddles, pack-bags, straps, and even our blankets as we lay in them, and cared no more for blows than for the violent oaths that were wasted upon her. This strange creature accompanied us for two more days, trotting along ahead of the camels, with an occasional look behind to see if she was on the right course, and then falling at full length in the shade of some bush with her head on her paws, waiting for us to pass. Eventually my irritability got the better of my indulgence, and a shrewd whack over the nose put an end to our acquaintanceship.

Near the bluff were many low, stony hills, with the usual small watercourses; in them we hunted high and low for water until darkness overtook us. To the North other similar hills could be seen, by my reckoning a part of the Ernest Giles Range (Wells, 1892). No doubt from the distance these hills would look more imposing. Our camp was in lat. 27° 9′, long. 123° 59′. August 6th.

On August 7th we continued to search the hills, but had to leave them without finding water. We had now been since July 29th without seeing any, and in consequence of the ease with which we had, up to that date, found water had not husbanded our supply as carefully as we might have done, and now had to put ourselves on a very short allowance indeed. The further we advanced the worse the country became, and the greater the increase in temperature. Shortly after leaving the hills we came again on to sandhills. About midday my hopes were high, as I cut the fresh tracks of two black-fellows.

Warri, after a short examination, said, “Yesterday track water that way,” pointing in the direction in which they were travelling; not that he could possibly tell which way the water lay, and for all we knew they might have just left it. However, we decided that better success would probably attend us if we followed them forward. Soon several equally fresh tracks joined the first ones, and not one of us doubted but that our present discomforts would shortly be over.

“There must be water at the end of them,” was the general opinion, and so on we went gaily; Warri leading, and Charlie, who was an almost equally good tracker, backing him up. After much twisting and turning, crossing and recrossing of our own tracks, the footprints at last took a definite direction, and a pad, beaten by perhaps a dozen feet, led away North-West for two miles and never deviated. Any doubts as to Warri's correct interpretation were now dispelled, and on we hurried, looking forward to at least water for ourselves, and perhaps a drink for the camels. At full speed through mulga scrub, over sand and stones, on which the tracks were hardly visible, we came suddenly to an open patch of rock on the side of a low ridge, and there in the centre of the flat rock lay before us a fair-sized rock-hole—dry as a bone!—and all our visions of luxury for our beasts and ourselves were ended.

Not only were we baulked of our water, but nothing but dead scrub surrounded the rock, affording no feed for the camels, who had therefore to be tied down. Leaving the rest to dig out the hole on the chance of getting a drop, though it was evident that the natives had cleaned it out nearly to the bottom, Warri and I started off to follow the tracks yet further. Taking a handful of dried peaches to chew, which give a little moisture, for we were very dry, we walked until darkness overtook us. The tracks (a man, two women, and a child) led us back towards the West; we could see their camps, one close to the namma-hole, another four miles away, with crushed seed lying about, and a few roots pulled up. Warri said they were “tired fella” from the way they walked. All this made us doubtful if they knew where the next water was. In any case we could make no further search that night, and made our best way back through the scrub, to the camp.

Godfrey had unsuccessfully explored the neighbouring hills, while Breaden and Charlie cleaned out the rockhole with like result. A very hot, cloudy night did not make things any more pleasant; we were all a bit done, and poor Charlie was seized with a violent and painful vomiting—a not unusual accompaniment to want of food and water. It seemed useless to follow the tracks any more, since they led us in exactly the wrong direction; and as we loaded the camels in the morning two turkeys (bustards) flew over us to the North-East. We would have given something to have their knowledge! We started, therefore, in this direction, and soon came on other tracks, which after some time we concluded were only those of natives who had been hunting from the rock-hole before the water was finished.

I called a halt, and, sitting on the sand, expounded my views as to the situation. “We had determined on getting through this country—that was the main point. Turning back, even if wise, was not to be considered. The tracks had fooled us once, and though doubtless by following them we would eventually get some water, where would we be at the end of it? No further forward. Therefore, since we had still a drop or two to go on with, let us continue on our course. None of us have any idea where water is, and by travelling North, East, South, or West, we stood an equally good chance of getting it. We would therefore go on in our proper direction, and trust to God, Providence, Fate, or Chance, as each might think. I should feel more satisfied if I knew their opinions agreed with mine, for, whatever the outcome, the responsibility rested on me.”

Breaden answered quietly, “It's a matter of indifference to me; go where you think best.” Godfrey's reply was characteristic, “Don't care a d——n; if we are going to peg out we will, whichever way we turn.” Charlie was inclined at first to question the wisdom of going on, but soon cheerfully agreed to do as the rest. So on I went, much relieved in mind that I was leading no one against his will. Possibly I could not—so far as I know, no occasion arose.

The day was sweltering, the night worse; in any other country one could with safety have backed heavily the fall of a thunderstorm. We had to be content, where we were, with about three drops of rain; and even this, in spite of tents, flys, and mackintosh-sheets spread for the purpose, we were unable to collect! Towards dawn the thermometer went down to 40°F. This sudden change was greatly to our advantage, though the sun soon after rising showed his power. The ridges were now running almost parallel to our course, about North-East, and gave us in consequence little trouble. Up to this point I had walked all day, partly because one can steer better on foot and I wished to do all the steering, until we picked up the point on Forrest's route, and so give my companions confidence; and partly because I looked upon it as the leader's duty to set an example. To-day I took my turn with the rest, each riding for an hour—a great relief. Sand is weary walking and spinifex unpleasant until one's legs get callous to its spines.

We had not gone far before our hopes were again raised, and again dashed, by coming on rocky ground and presently on another rockhole—quite dry! We began to think that there could be no water anywhere; this hole was well protected and should hold water for months. Thinking did little good, nor served to decrease the horrid sticky feeling of lips and mouth. “Better luck next time,” we said, with rather forced cheerfulness, and once more turned our faces to the North-East.

5. Chapter V

Water at Last

Presently a single track caught my eye, fresh apparently, and unmistakably that of a “buck.” We all crowded round to examine it, and as we stooped caught sight of the owner not a hundred yards ahead, engrossed in unearthing an iguana and entirely ignorant of our presence. A hasty consultation; “Catch him,” said someone, Breaden I think, and off we started—I first, and Godfrey near behind. He saw us now and fled, so, shouting to Breaden to stay with the camels, and to Charlie, who was mounted, to cut him off in front, I put my best leg foremost. A hummock of spinifex brought me down, and, exhausted from short rations, I lay, unable to run further. Not so Godfrey, who held on manfully for another fifty yards and grabbed the black-fellow as he turned to avoid Charlie on the camel. The poor chap was shaking with fear, but, after relieving his feelings by making a violent though abortive attack on Godfrey, he soon calmed down and examined us with interest.

Whatever the buck thought of us, close observation could find nothing very remarkable about him. A man of about 5 feet 8 inches, thin but muscular, with very large feet and small hands, very black, very dirty, his only garment consisted of a band of string round his forehead, holding his hair back in a ragged, mop-like mass. On his chest, raised scars; through his nose, a hole ready to hold a bone or stick—such was this child of the wilderness. By signs we made him understand our wants, and the strange procession started, the “buck” (the general term for a male aboriginal) leading the way at a pace too fast for us or our camels. Guarded on one side by Breaden, I on the other, we plied our new friend with salt beef, both to cement our friendship, and promote thirst, in order that for his own sake he should not play us false. For five hours we held on our way, curiously enough almost on our proper course, having often to stop awhile to allow the caravan to overtake us. Buoyed up by the certainty of water so long as we had the buck with us we pushed on, until just after sunset the country changed from sand to stony rises and we felt sure a rock-hole was not far off. A little further, and, by the uncertain light, we could see a fair-sized hole with water in it. I ran ahead, and was the first to realise that the native had deceived us; the hole was dry! and must have been so for months.

No sooner did the buck see that I had found him out than he made a sudden bolt and attempt at escape—very neatly done, but not quick enough to pass Breaden. This was indeed a disappointment! I had thought it probable that our guide would lead us anywhere into the sand and try to escape, but I never guessed that he would tantalise us as he had done. In any case, so long as he was with us, we must some time get water—and we had no intention of letting him escape. With a rope we secured him and watched in turn all through the night.

Never were jailers more vigilant, for that black-fellow meant our lives. He tried all means of escape, and never slept the whole night through. He would lie still with closed eyes for a time, and then make a sudden struggle to wrench the rope away from his captor; then stealthily with his foot he tried to push the rope into the fire; then he started rubbing it on the rock on which we lay; and last of all his teeth were brought into use. When my turn came to watch, I pretended to sleep, to see what he would do, and so discovered all his tricks. I confess that I saw with delight the evident feelings of thirst that before long overcame him—the salt beef had done its duty; he had had no water of course, for we had none to give him, and I felt sure that he would be only too eager in the morning. Nor was I mistaken; long before daylight he showed signs of distress, and anxiety to go on, standing up and stretching out his long, thin arm—“Gabbi” (water), he said, pointing in three different directions, putting his head back and pointing with his chin, making a noise something between a grunt and a puff. To the East, to the North-East, and to the South-West from where we had come, he made it clear that water existed. Evidently we had not been far from his camp when we caught him, and we could hardly blame him for leading us away from his own supply, which he rightly judged we and our camels would exhaust.

Standing by the dry rock-hole we could see for many miles, the country to the North-East being considerably lower than where we were; not a cheerful view—sand-ridges always! Not a hill or range to be seen, and yet people have doubted if this really is a desert!

It may happen that in days to come some other party may be stranded in this region and therefore I will leave out no description that could assist them in finding the water that King Billy (for so had we named the buck) eventually took us to. The dry rock-hole (Mulundella) is situated on a surface outcrop of desert sandstone, about fifty yards across surrounded by thick mulga scrub, enclosed between two sand-ridges running North-East and South-West.

On the North and East side of the outcrop the ground suddenly drops, forming what appears from the distance as a line of sheer cliffs. Down this steep slope, which is covered with scrub, we discovered a passage, and, at the foot, found ourselves in an open spinifex plain with a sand-ridge on either hand. We were steering N.E. by N., and in consequence had now and again to cross a ridge, since they ran due North-East. After three miles low outcrops of limestone appeared at intervals, the scrub in the trough of the ridges became more open with an undergrowth of coarse grass, buck-bush or “Roly-Poly” (Salsola kali) and low acacia. Hugging the ridge on our left, we followed along this belt for another one and a half miles; when, close to the foot of a sandhill, our guide, secured to my belt by a rope round his waist, stopped and excitedly pointed out what seemed on first sight to be three rock-holes, in a small, bare patch of limestone not more than thirty feet across. Twenty yards to the right or left and we would never have seen it; and to this spot King Billy had brought us full speed, only stopping once to examine some rocks at the foot of one ridge, as if to make sure that we were in the right valley. On further investigation the three holes turned out to be entrances, of which two were large enough for a man to pass through, leading perpendicularly to a cave beneath. With the help of a rope Charlie and I descended twenty-five feet to the floor of the chamber, which we found to be covered with sand to a depth of two feet. In the sand we dug holes but did not succeed in getting even moisture. Plunged as we were so suddenly into darkness, our eyes could distinguish no passage leading from the chamber, and it seemed as if we had been tricked again. Further exploration by the light of candles revealed two passages, one leading west and upwards, the other east and downwards. Charlie chose the latter; before long I came to the end of mine, having failed to find anything but bats, bones of birds and dingoes, and old native camp-fires. Following Charlie, I found him crawling on hands and knees down a steep slope—progress was slow, as the floor was rough and the ceiling jagged; presently the passage dropped again, and at the end, below us, we could see our candles reflected, and knew that at last we had water! Who, except those who have had similar experiences, can picture one's feelings of relief! “Thank God! thank God!” is all one can reiterate in one's mind over and over again. The visible supply of water was small, and we had grave doubts as to any soakage existing! Not wasting valuable time in discussion, we crawled back with all speed to the cave, shouted up the joyful news, and called for buckets and billies to bale with. The King was now allowed to descend, but not unguarded, as we must first ascertain the value of our supply. We could understand now why he had insisted on carrying with him from our last camp a burning branch (a “fire-stick”); for he proceeded to make a fire on the floor of the cave from some dead leaves and branches, and others along the passage, to light him; after some hesitation he took a candle instead, and bolted down the passage like a rat. He must have been very dry, judging from the time he stayed below and from his distended appearance on re-ascending. He drank a great deal more than any of us and yet had been a comparatively short time without water, whilst we had been walking and working on starvation rations for a good number of days.

Breaden and I set to work to unload the camels while the others started preparations for water-getting. By 3 p.m. we were ready. King Billy at the bottom, baling water with a meat tin into a bucket, which he handed to Warri, who passed it to Charlie; thence viâ Godfrey it reached Breaden, who on the floor of the cave hitched it on to a rope, and I from above hauled it through the entrance to the surface. Useful as he was below, I soon had to call Warri up to keep off the poor famished camels, who, in their eagerness, nearly jostled me into the hole. First I filled our tanks, doubtful what supply the cave would yield; but when word was passed that “She was good enough, and making as fast as we baled,” I no longer hesitated to give the poor thirsty beasts as much as ever they could drink. What a labour of love that was, and what satisfaction to see them “visibly swelling” before my eyes! Till after sunset we laboured unceasingly, and I fancy none of us felt too strong. The thundery weather still continued; the heat was suffocating—so much so that I took off my hat and shirt, to the evident delight of the flies, whose onslaughts would have driven me mad had I not been too busily engaged to notice them.

Before night all the camels were watered; they drank on an average seventeen gallons apiece, and lay gorged upon the ground too tired or too full of liquid to eat. We had a very different camp that night, and King Billy shared our good spirits. Now that he had his liberty he showed no signs of wishing to leave us, evidently enjoying our food and full of pride in his newly acquired garment, a jersey, which added greatly to his striking appearance. He took great interest in all our belongings, but seemed to value highest the little round piece of metal that is fixed on the inside of a meat-tin! This, hung on a string, made a handsome ornament for him.

That night, in reviewing our affairs, I came to the conclusion that this dry stage at the beginning of our journey had been a good thing for all. We had had a bad time, but had come out of it all right. Although these things always appear worse, when written or read, yet it is no light task to trudge day after day over such horrible country with an empty stomach and dry throat, and with no idea of when the next water will be found, or if any will be found; and through it all to be cheerful and good-tempered, and work away as usual, as if all were right. It had inspired us with complete confidence in the staying powers of the camels, who, in spite of a thirteen and a half days' drought, had shown no signs of giving in. It had afforded each of us an insight into the characters of his companions that otherwise he never would have had. It had given me absolute confidence in Breaden, Godfrey, and Charlie, and I trust had imbued them with a similar faith in me.

August 11th to 15th we rested at the cave, occupying ourselves in the numerous odd jobs that are always to be found, happy in the knowledge that we had an unfailing supply of water beneath us. I have little doubt but that this water is permanent, and do not hesitate to call it a spring. I know well that previous travellers have called places “springs” which in after years have been found dry; but I feel sure that this supply so far, nearly sixty feet, below the surface, must be derived from a permanent source, and even in the hottest season is too well protected to be in any way decreased by evaporation.

As a humble tribute to the world-wide rejoicings over the long reign of our Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, I have honoured this hidden well of water by the name of “The Empress Spring.” A more appropriate name it could not have, for is it not in the Great Victoria Desert? and was it not in that region that another party was saved by the happy finding of Queen Victoria Spring?

The “Empress Spring” would be a hard spot to find. What landmarks there are I will now describe. My position for the Spring is lat. 26° 47′ 21″ S., long. 124° 25′ E. Its probable native name (I say probable because one can never be sure of words taken from a wild aboriginal, who, though pointing out a water, may, instead of repeating its name, be perhaps describing its size or shape) is “Murcoolia Ayah Teenyah.” The entrance is in a low outcrop of magnesian limestone, surrounded by buckbush, a few low quondongs and a low, broom-like shrub; beyond this, mulga scrub. Immediately to the North of the outcrop runs a high sand-ridge, covered sparsely with acacia and spinifex. On the top of the ridge are three conspicuously tall dead mulga trees. From the ridge looking West, North, North-East, and East nothing is visible but parallel sand-ridges running N.E. To the South-West can be seen the high ground on which is the rock-hole (Mulundella).

To the South-East, across a mulga-covered flat, is a high ridge one mile distant, with the crests of others visible beyond it; above them, about twelve miles distant, a prominent bluff (Breaden Bluff), the North end of a red tableland. From the mulga trees the bluff bears 144°. One and a half miles N.E. by N. from the cave is a valley of open spinifex, breaking through the ridges in a West and Southerly direction, on which are clumps of cork-bark trees; these would incline one to think that water cannot be far below the surface in this spot.

Close to the entrance to the cave is erected a mulga pole, on which we carved our initials and the date. There are also some native signs or ornaments in the form of three small pyramids of stones and grass, about eight feet apart, in a line pointing S.W.

Several old native camps were dotted about in the scrub; old fires and very primitive shelters formed of a few branches. Amongst the ashes many bones could be seen, particularly the lower maxillary of some species of rat-kangaroo. To descend to the cave beneath, the natives had made a rough ladder by leaning mulga poles against the edge of the entrance from the floor. All down the passage to the water little heaps of ashes could be seen where their fires had been placed to light them in their work. Warri found some strange carved planks hidden away in the bushes, which unfortunately we were unable to carry. King Billy saw them with evident awe; he had become very useful, carrying wood and so forth with the greatest pleasure. The morning we left this camp, however, he sneaked away before any of us were up. I fancy that his impressions of a white man's character will be favourable; for never in his life before had he been able to gorge himself without having had the trouble of hunting his food. From him I made out the following words, which I consider reliable:—

         
English Aboriginal 
Smoke, fire Warru or wallu 
Wood Taalpa  
Arm Menia  
Hand Murra  
Hair Kuttya  
Nose Wula or Ula  
Water Gabbi  
Dog Pappanote 

August 15th we again watered the camels, who were none the worse for their dry stage. Breaden was suffering some pain from his strain, and on descending to the cave was unable to climb up again; we had some difficulty in hauling him through the small entrance.

6. Chapter VI

Woodhouse Lagoon

But for the flies, which never ceased to annoy us, we had enjoyed a real good rest, and were ready to march on the morning of the 16th, no change occurring in the character of the country until the evening of the 18th, when we sighted a low tableland five miles to the North, and to the West of it a table-topped detached hill. Between us and the hills one or two native smokes were rising, which showed us that water must be somewhere in the neighbourhood. From a high sandhill the next morning, we got a better view, and could see behind the table-top another and similar hill. I had no longer any doubt as to their being Mounts Worsnop and Allott (Forrest, 1874), the points for which I had been steering, though at first they appeared so insignificant that I hesitated to believe that these were the right ones. From the West, from which direction Forrest saw them first, they appear much higher, and are visible some twenty miles off. From the North they are not visible a greater distance than three miles, while from the East one can see them a distance of eight miles.

I altered our course, therefore, towards the hills, and we shortly crossed the narrow arm of a salt-lake; on the far side several tracks of emus and natives caught my eye, and I sent Charlie on Satan to scout. Before long he reported a fine sheet of water just ahead. This, as may be imagined, came as a surprise to us; for a more unlikely thing to find, considering the dry state of the rock-holes we had come upon, could not have been suggested. However, there it was; and very glad we were to see it, and lost no time in making camp and hobbling the camels. What a glorious sight in this parched land!—so resting to the eye after days of sand! How the camels wallowed in the fresh water! how they drank! and what a grand feed they had on the herbage (Trichinium alopecuroideum) on the banks of the lagoon! Charlie and I spent the afternoon in further exploring our surroundings, and on return to camp found our mates busily engaged in plucking some teal and waterhen which they had shot. The latter were numerous, and Godfrey at one shot bagged nine. They are almost identical in size and appearance with our British waterhen, though they seem to have less power of flight, thus enabling us to drive them from one gun to the other, and so secure a fine lot for the pot. I doubt if in civilisation they would be considered good eating, but after tinned horrors they were a perfect delicacy. The teal were as numerous; but though there were several emu tracks we saw none of those queer birds. Our bag for three days was seventeen teal, twelve waterhen, one pigeon. The natives whose smoke we had seen, disappeared shortly after our arrival. Godfrey, whilst shooting, came across their camp; the occupants, a man, woman, and child, fled as soon as they caught sight of him, leaving a shield behind them, and did not appear again. This small oasis deserves particular attention, for it is bound to play an important part in any scheme of a stock route from the cattle-stations of Central Australia to the Murchison or Coolgardie Goldfields.

There are three lagoons (or deep clay-pans) connected by a shallow, sandy channel. They are entirely surrounded by sandhills, excepting at one spot, where a narrow creek breaks through the sand-ridge. Of the three the largest and most South-Westerly one is nearly circular, and has a diameter of 600 yards with a depth varying from 1 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 6 in. It is capable of holding considerably more water than we saw in it. The bottom is of rock, a sort of cement in which ironstone is visible in the middle, and of clay near the edges. From the N.W. a narrow channel enters, traceable for a distance of two miles to a cane-grass swamp; into this, small watercourses, and the tail end of a larger creek lead.

Following up this flat, it will be found to develop into a defined channel running through a grassy flat timbered with bloodwoods (a kind of eucalyptus). This creek rises in the sandstone tablelands to the N. of Mount Allott, and in it at its head, is situated Alexander Spring (Forrest, 1874).

Round the foot of these hills, extending to the lagoon, is a fine little plain of grass, saltbush, and numerous low shrubs, all excellent feed for stock. Mounts Allott and Worsnop are certainly remarkable hills, perhaps 200 feet above the surrounding country, quite flat on the top, which is covered with scrub. From the latter the lagoon is visible, one mile distant on bearing 150°. Our camp at the lagoon was in lat. 26° 10′, long. 124° 48′. This reckoning placed Alexander Spring in a position agreeing very closely with that given it by Forrest, which was very gratifying to me. This water was marked by Forrest as “permanent.” He says in his journal:—July 13th…Fine water at this place. I have no doubt water is always here. I named it Alexander Spring after my brother, who discovered it. Abundance of water also in rock-holes.

This was in 1874. Since that date this spot has been revisited, first and not long after Forrest, by W. W. Mills, who was commissioned to bring over a mob of camels from South Australia. He followed Forrest's track from water to water, at first with no difficulty; depending on Alexander Spring, he made a longish dry stage, reached the spring only to find it dry, and had a bad time in consequence. The second party to follow Forrest's route was that of Carr-Boyd in 1896, whom Breaden accompanied, and who was prospecting for an Adelaide syndicate. They passed by this spot, but having plenty of water, as it was raining at the time, did not visit the spring. From Mount Worsnop, Woodhouse, one of the party, sighted the lagoon; but neither he nor any of the party had troubled to see whether it was salt or fresh, or of what extent it was. I have named it after Woodhouse, who first saw it. Breaden had told me of the fact of his having seen it, but I had supposed that, as rain was falling, Woodhouse was only looking on a shallow pool that could by no possibility hold water for long.

Shortly after Carr-Boyd, there followed Hübbe's party. He was sent out by the South Australian Government to follow Forrest's route, to ascertain its suitability or otherwise for a stock route. Hübbe found the spring dry, or practically so, and was much disappointed. He did not happen to find the lagoon, and had a long stage before he found water. His party arrived at Menzies shortly before we started. I was unable to get any information from him beyond the opinion that the country was worthless and a stock route impracticable. I put more faith, however, in Breaden, whose life has been spent amongst stock and travelling cattle. When with Carr-Boyd he came to the conclusion that as far as the Warburton Range cattle could be taken without much trouble; and indeed in 1873, so I have read, Gosse drove some bullocks as far as that point, which was the furthest west he penetrated when attempting to cross the Colony.

From the Warburton Range to Lake Wells the awkward part came in, but now this lagoon and the Empress Spring go far to bridge it over. I have no doubt that a fortnight's work at both these places would be sufficient to make splendid wells, supposing that the lagoon was found dry and the spring too hard to get at. At the expenditure of no great amount I feel confident that a serviceable stock route could be formed, easily negotiated in the winter months and kept open by wells during the rest of the year. The country through which the route would pass is excellent as far as the border. From there it would be necessary to hit off the small oases which are met with near Mount Squires, Warburton Ranges, Blyth Creek, and Alexander Spring. From this point the route could be taken to Empress Spring, thence to Lake Wells (or direct to Lake Wells) and the Bonython Creek, and from there to Lake Darlôt there would be no difficulty. The only really bad bit of the route would be between Woodhouse Lagoon and Lake Wells, and this is no great distance. Whether the scheme would be worth the expenditure necessary to equip a really serviceable well-sinking party I am unable to judge; but it seems to me that it would be a tremendous advantage to Central Australian cattle owners to be able to drive their bullocks direct to the West Australian goldfields, even though they could only do so in the winter, at which season alone it is probable that the feed would be sufficiently good. The fact that Forrest with his horses traversed this route is evidence enough that at some seasons certain surface waters exist at no great distances apart—in some cases large supplies. For cattle to follow the route that we had come so far would be manifestly absurd, and these remarks, especially where the country between Woodhouse Lagoon and Lake Wells, and between that lake and Lake Darlôt is discussed, are made with the further knowledge of these regions that our return journey gave us.

It seems a remarkable fact that while a spring should be found dry, not five miles from it a fresh-water lagoon with millions of gallons in it should exist. In the first place Alexander Spring is no spring; Sir John Forrest told me himself that at the time of naming it he was very doubtful. Hübbe dug it out to bedrock and proved it to be merely a local soakage in the gravelly bed of a narrow gully. Now a heavy downpour sufficient to run the creek and fill the lagoon must certainly first fill the spring and neighbouring pools. But the water in the spring would soon evaporate, whilst the depth and area of the lagoon would save its contents from diminishing from this cause, for a much longer period. So that after all it is easily understandable that we should find the lagoon full and the so-called spring dry.

Near the foot of Mount Allott we found Hübbe's camp, and in it several straps and hobble-chains; two tin-lined packing cases had been left behind, and from them we took the lids, not quite knowing to what use we could put them, but yet feeling they might be serviceable; and indeed they were.

On the summit of the hill Forrest had raised a cairn of stones; this had been pulled down by the natives and subsequently replaced by Hübbe. The blacks had again started to take it to pieces; I rebuilt what they had removed and placed on the cairn a board on which I wrote directions to the lagoon, in case any other traveller should pass.

By the side of the little creek to the North-West of the hill a bloodwood tree has been marked on one side with the number of Mills's camp, and on the other with a record of the objects of Hübbe's expedition, S.R. standing presumably for “Stock Route.”

The flat on which these trees are growing is, in my opinion, a very likely spot for finding water by sinking.

7. Chapter VII

The Great Undulating Desert of Gravel

On August 22nd we left this kindly little oasis and directed our course to the North. We were now nearly in the centre of the Colony, and had made enough easting, a general northerly course being necessary to take us through the heart of the great unknown. It was my intention to steer due North for as long a period as possible, only deviating from it when forced by the exigencies of water-hunting, and when it became necessary, to bear somewhat to the eastward so as to hit off the vicinity of Hall's Creek. Unless absolutely forced to do so, I did not propose to make any deviation to the Westward—for from our small caravan it was incumbent upon us to waste no time, unless we could do so in country where game was procurable. So far, although our actual line of march had been through unmapped country, we had traversed a region already crossed by another party, whose route ran parallel to ours and some forty miles to the north. Not that that was of the least benefit to us any more than if we had been at sea; but it gave us the feeling that we were not in an absolutely terra incognita. From the lagoon, however, our route lay through country untrodden by any white man, with the exception of Ernest Giles, whose track we should cross at right angles, about one hundred miles North of Alexander Spring. But unless we sighted the Alfred and Marie Range, named by him, we should have no guide, excepting our position on the chart, to show us where we crossed the path of a caravan which marched through the wilderness twenty years before.

To give a description of the country that we now encountered, from day to day, would be so deadly monotonous that the kindest reader would hardly forgive me; and even if it could serve any useful purpose I should hesitate to recount the daily scene of solitude. A general account of this country, followed by any incidents or personal adventures worthy of notice, will suffice to give an idea of this dreary region.

From lat. 26°S. to lat. 22° 40′ there stretches a vast desert of rolling sand, not formed in ridges like those already described, nor heaped up with the regularity of those met with further north. “Downs” I think is the only term that describes properly the configuration of the country. “The Great Undulating Desert of Gravel” would meet all requirements should it be thought worthy of a name. In this cheerless and waterless region we marched from August 22nd until September 17th seeing no lakes, nor creeks, nor mountains; no hills even prominent enough to deserve a name, excepting on three occasions. Day after day over open, treeless expanses covered only by the never-ending spinifex and strewn everywhere with pebbles and stones of ferruginous sandstone, as if some mighty giant had sown the ground with seed in the hope of raising a rich crop of hills. The spinifex here cannot grow its coarse, tall blades of grass—the top growth is absent and only round stools of spines remain; well was it named Porcupine Grass!

Occasional clumps of mulga break the even line of the horizon, and, in the valleys, thickets or belts of bloodwood are seen. In these hollows one may hope to find feed for the camels, for here may grow a few quondongs, acacia, and fern-tree shrubs, and in rare cases some herbage. The beefwood tree, the leaves of which camels, when hard pressed, will eat, alone commands the summit of the undulations. As for animal life—well, one forgets that life exists, until occasionally reminded of the fact by a bounding spinifex rat, frightened from his nest. Day after day one or other of us used to walk away from the caravan carrying a gun on the chance of getting a shot; never once did we succeed; the rats invariably got up out of range, and after a time we voted it unnecessary labour. Had they been easily shot their small numbers would hardly have made it worth while to burden one's self with a gun; to see a dozen in a day was counted out of the common. Birds were nowhere numerous—an occasional eagle-hawk, or crow, and once or twice a little flock of long-tailed parrots whose species was unknown to any of us. Unfortunately I was unable to procure a specimen. At any waters pigeons, sparrows, crows, and hawks might be seen in fair quantities; and very rarely a turkey.

From the 22nd to the 24th we saw no signs of natives. On the latter day several smokes rose during the march. So far, we had no certain knowledge of the meaning of these smokes. They might be native signals, or from fires for the purpose of burning off the old spinifex to allow young feed to grow and so attract the rats to a known locality; or it might be that the blacks were burning the country to hunt out the rats and lizards. On the 25th a sudden change took place, and we found ourselves in a small, open thicket with a coarse undergrowth of grass, and scattered about were a few boulders of decomposed granite and occasional low outcrops of rock. Several old native camps put us on the alert, and presently we found a well—a shallow hole, 7 feet deep, and 2 feet 6 inches in diameter, entirely surrounded by high spinifex. Why there should ever be water there, or how the blacks got to know of it, was a problem we could only guess at. Everything looked so dry and parched that we were in no way surprised at finding the well waterless. Prempeh had been very unwell lately, refusing to take what little feed there was to be got. A dose of sulphur and butter was administered, poured warm down his throat by me as Breaden held open his month, grasped firmly by either lip. I believe sulphur is an excellent thing for camels, and used often to treat them to the mixture, some—Satan, for example—being very partial to it. The position of this well I found to be lat. 25° 15′, long. 124° 48′; from the edge of the mulga, one hundred yards or so to the North of it, a range of rough looking hills is visible. This I named the Browne Range, after my old friends at Bayley's Reward, and the two conspicuous points I christened Mount Gordon, after Mr. Gordon Lyon, and Mount Everard, after Mr. Everard Browne, respectively.

Mount Gordon is flat-topped; and Mount Everard a double hill, a peak rising from a flat top, bears 82° from the well. This range stood out boldly from the open country and promised well for hilly country ahead. Nor were we disappointed, for after two hours' travel we sighted an imposing-looking range, and altered our course to the highest point, a queer dome-shaped peak, which we called Charlie's Knob, since he had first seen the hills. On nearer approach the hills lost much of their grandeur. By camping-time we were close to their foot amongst rocky rises, very rough to the feet of our animals. They were rewarded for their discomforts by a small patch of herbage which they quickly demolished. That night we heard the dismal howling of two dingoes, who might either be giving expression to their satisfaction at finding water or to their disappointment at not having done so. Three miles more of rugged ground the next morning brought us to Charlie's Knob, and beyond it the range, which on close examination was not imposing, being a series of detached sandstone hills, their summits flat and slightly sloping to the South, capped with a hard reddish-brown rock (baked shale). On the cap, loose fragments of shale and thick scrub; forming its sides sheer cliffs, at most fifteen feet high, perforated by holes and caves, above rough, stony banks. The whole covered with tufts of spinifex, barren, wretched, and uninviting.

On Charlie's Knob a queer little natural pinnacle of rock stands half-way up the side, and from a hill close by, an excellent view of the Browne Range was obtained, Mount Gordon bearing 148°. With the help of my field-glasses I could make out the character of this range to be similar to that of the Young Range on which I was standing. It is of course necessary to name these hills for future reference, and this range got its name from somebody's remark that it was hardly full grown. From the knob the hills run in a crescent, a line joining the two horns being North-East. In the bend of the crescent I could see some very green-looking bloodwoods and made sure we should find a creek. First we hunted the neighbouring hills without success, and then crossed on to the bloodwood flat which had appeared like a creek. Here for the only time our patience in carrying the gun was rewarded, and Charlie shot two fine turkeys. This welcome occurrence, added to Godfrey's having seen a kangaroo in the hills and the dingoes heard the night before, made us confident that water was not far off. That night Godfrey and I took it in turns to baste the turkeys, as they were baking between two prospecting dishes. Godfrey was an excellent cook, and most particular that everything should be done cleanly and properly. I was quite under his orders in the kitchen, for the cook's art is one that I have not the patience to learn, and cordially hate.

Cold turkey and tea for breakfast, and then I divided the party into two, Breaden with the camels being directed to a prominent hill at the end of the range there to await the arrival of Godfrey and myself, who went off to the hills to make further search for water. All day we hunted in different directions and everywhere found the same barren rocks. We had fixed upon a certain gully as a rendezvous; each gully was exactly like its neighbour. Towards the evening I returned to the gully, which I was sure was the one agreed upon, and there awaited Godfrey. He did the same, only chose another gully, equally sure that he was right. And there we sat, each impatiently blaming the other. At last, to pass the time, I fired some shots at an ant-hill; these had the effect of bringing Godfrey over the rise, and we had a good laugh at each other when we discovered that for nearly half an hour we had sat not two hundred yards apart—and each remained firmly convinced that he was right! Godfrey had shot a kangaroo and carried part of the meat and the tail; he had tracked it a long way, but could see no signs of water.

Still following the hills, we made our way towards the point where the camels should be, and presently cut a deep, rocky gorge, which we followed down. The camels had crossed this; and, as it was getting late, I sent Godfrey along their tracks to rejoin the others, telling him that I should continue down the creek, and return to wherever they made camp; to guide me to it they were to light a fire. I followed the creek, or storm channel as I should rather call it, for some four miles; climbing a tree I could see it apparently continuing for some miles, so, feeling that I had already had a fair tramp, I noted the direction of the smoke from the camp and returned to it. As luck would have it, it was the wrong smoke; Breaden on arriving at the end hill had made a fire, and this the evening breeze had rekindled; and the camp-fire happened to die down at the very time it was most needed. In due course I arrived at the hill, named Mount Colin, after poor Colin Gibson, a Coolgardie friend who had lately died from typhoid. From the summit a noticeable flat-topped hill, Mount Cox, named after Ernest Cox, also of Coolgardie, bears 76° about fifteen miles distant, at the end of a fair-sized range running S.S.W. Between this range and that from which I was observing, I noticed several belts of bloodwoods, which might be creeks, but probably are only flats similar to that crossed by us. Picking up the tracks of the main party, I followed them to camp, not sorry to have a rest; for it was ten hours since Godfrey and I had had anything to eat or drink, and the rocks were rough and the spinifex dense. I mention this, not as illustrating our hardships, but to show what training will do; any one of us would have been quite ready to do the day's tramp over again had any necessity arisen.

That night as I was shooting the stars, by which I found we were in lat. 24° 57′, long. 125° 9′ (dead reckoning), I noticed several bronzewing pigeons flying down the creek which I had followed, and on which we were camped. In the morning others observed them flying up the watercourse. As a bronzewing drinks just after dark, or just before daylight, this was pretty good evidence that water existed in the direction in which the creek ran—and probably an open pool would be found. No such luck! for we followed the channel until it no longer was one, that is to say its banks became further apart, and lower, until its wash was spread out in all directions over a flat whose limits were defined by bloodwoods and grass. Here we found an old blacks' camp and spent some time examining its neighbourhood. Little heaps of the yellow seed of a low plant, swept together on clear spaces on the ground, and the non-existence of any well, led us to suppose that this was merely a travelling camp of some buck who had been sent to collect seed. It was rather aggravating to be morally certain that water existed and yet be unable to find it; we still had hopes of the creek making again, and so followed the direction of its previous course.

Before long the tracks of a buck and a gin crossed our path, and we at once turned to follow them through all their deviations. We saw where the woman had dug out bardies from the roots of a wattle, where the buck had unearthed a rat,note and where together they had chased a lizard. Finally we reached their camp. Several implements lay about, including two bark coolimans. These, the simplest form of cooliman, are made by peeling the bark off the projecting lumps so common on the stems of bloodwoods. The bark so obtained forms a little trough. In some regions they are gouged out of a solid piece of wood, but this requires a knowledge of carpentry, and probably tools, not possessed by the desert black. Another kind more simple than the first mentioned, is made by bending the two sides of a strip of bark together, so as to form the half of a pipe; then, by stuffing up the two ends with clay and grass, a serviceable little trough is made. In those we saw the clay was moist, and we knew that this was no mere travelling camp. However, search as we would we could find no water, until a flock of diamond-sparrows rose in front of Warri, and he discovered a little well hidden in the spinifex—so perfectly hidden that our own tracks had passed half an hour before its discovery within a few paces of it!

What chance has one of finding water, except by the most diligent search and by making use of every sign and indication written on the surface of the ground? This well was similar to the one already described, excepting in one important respect. This one had water. Turning the camels out we started work, and by sundown had the well in order. Tying the others down we proceeded to water each camel in turn. Picture our surprise and joy when each turned from the bucket without drinking more than two gallons. Billy rolled up like a great balloon, and one would have sworn that he had just had a long drink. What was this miracle? Here were camels, after an eight days' drought, travelling eight to ten hours daily in hot weather, over rough stones and gravel, actually turning away from water!

The answer to this riddle was “Parakeelia.” This is a local, presumably native, name in Central Australia for a most wonderful and useful plant. A specimen brought back by me from this locality was identified at Kew as Calandrinia balonensis. This plant grows close to the ground in little bunches; in place of leaves it has long, fleshy projections, like fingers, of a yellowish-green colour. From the centre grows a pretty little lilac flower at the end of a single thin stalk. The fingers are full of watery juice and by no means unpalatable. We tried them raw, and also fried in butter, when they were quite good eating. The plant is greedily devoured by stock of all kinds, and in dry tracts in Central Australia has been the means of saving many head of cattle. As we found it, it was not easily got hold of, for invariably it grew right in the centre of a hummock of spinifex. At first the camels, not knowing its properties, would not risk pricking themselves, but after we had shown them, by clearing away the spinifex, how nice it was, they did not hesitate to plunge their soft noses into the spiny mass, with what good effect I have already described. Indeed, this plant is a wonderful provision of nature, and compensates a little for the hideous sterility of the country. I am not wide of the mark when I say that given “parakeelia” every second night or so a camel would never want to drink at all, though it is not really as serviceable as water—not having the same lasting effect. A similar plant, also found in Central Australia, is “Munyeru.” In the centre of this a little bag of black seeds grows; these seeds are crushed and eaten by the natives. Munyeru, Breaden tells me, is quite a good vegetable for human consumption. Why the locality of this well, “Warri Well,” should be specially favoured by the growth of parakeelia I cannot guess.

The well itself was sufficiently remarkable. Our work took us some twelve feet from the surface, and in the well we had nearly five feet of water and the probability of a deal more, as we had not reached “bottom.” The question that presented itself to my mind was whether the natives had sunk the well on a likely looking spot and been fortunate in finding a supply, or whether, from tradition, they knew that this well, possibly only a rock-hole covered by surface soil, existed. The depression in which the well is situated must after rain receive the drainage, not only from the channel we followed, but from the stony rise to the north of it. After a heavy storm—and from the way in which this creek has been torn through the sand, scouring a channel down to bedrock, it is clear that occasionally violent storms visit this region—a large volume of water would collect in this depression. Some of it would be sucked up by the trees and shrubs, some would evaporate, but the greater part would soak into the ground where, so long as the bed-rock (which in this particular case is a hard sandstone and iron conglomerate) is impervious, it would remain. I should think it likely, therefore, that on this and similar flats, not far from hills or tablelands, water by sinking could be obtained at no great depth. A good guide to this well is a bare patch of rock on Mount Colin, which bears 138° three miles distant.

This hill is visible from ten miles due North of the well, from which point it shows up prominently. Continuing a northerly march from that point we found that the gravel and stones for the next few miles became much rougher, and made walking tiring work. Occasionally mulga thickets free from stones had to be passed through; in these there often occurred very shallow depressions overgrown with grass and floored with clay. From the floors rose high, pinnacled ant-heaps, built by the white ant; these hills, grouped into little colonies, sometimes attained a height of eleven feet, and had in the distance a weird appearance, reminding me in shape, at least, of the picture of Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. Around these clay flats large white gum-trees were growing, a different species from the desert gum, having a quite smooth bark.

On September 1st we sighted the Alfred and Marie Range due East of us. I had expected to find this almost on our course; however, my reckoning differs from Giles's by eight miles, my position for the range being to the East of his. As we approached the range the country improved greatly, and had every appearance of having experienced recent rains, for green herbagenote was in places abundant—that is to say, little patches of it, perhaps twenty paces across. These we saw were feeding-grounds for kangaroos and wallabies. Turkey tracks were fairly numerous; of the latter we saw six, and shot one. They are very wary birds and not easily stalked. A very good plan for shooting them is for one man to hide in a bush or behind a tree whilst the other circles round a good way off, and very slowly advances, and so drives the turkey past the hidden sportsman. He, if he is wise, will let the turkey rise before firing, as their wings are easily broken, whilst the thick breast-feathers readily turn shot.

We made camp one mile from the foot of the hills, and Charlie and I walked over to see what was to be seen. This range is of sandstone, and made up of a series of flat-topped hills of peculiar shapes, standing on the usual rough, stony slopes. The hills are traceable in a broken line for a considerable distance, perhaps twenty miles, in a North-Easterly direction. No doubt some good water-hole exists amongst these hills, judging from the tracks of kangaroos, turkeys, and dingoes. I fancy that animals and birds follow up rain-storms from place to place to take advantage of the good feed which springs into life, and it is most probable that for ten months in the year these hills are undisturbed by animal or bird life. Certainly Giles found that to be the case when he crossed them in 1876; so disgusted was he with their appearance that he did not trouble to investigate them at all. Indeed, he could have no other than sad remembrances of this range, for he first sighted it from the East, when attempting to cross the interior from East to West—an attempt that failed, owing to the impossibility of traversing this desert of rolling sand and gravel with horses only as a means of transport. Baffled, he was forced to return, leaving behind him, lost for ever, his companion Gibson. After him this desert is named, and how he lost his life is related in Giles's journals.

In 1874 Giles, Tietkens, Gibson, and Andrews, with twenty-four horses, left the overland Central Australian telegraph line, to push out to the West as far as possible. Keeping to the South of the already discovered Lake Amadeus, they found the Rawlinson and neighbouring ranges just within the Colony of West Australia. Water was plentiful, and a depôt camp was formed, Giles and Gibson making a flying trip ahead to the westward. The furthest point was reached on April 23, 1874, from which the Alfred and Marie was visible some twenty-five miles distant. At this point Gibson's horse “knocked up,” and shortly afterwards died. Giles thereupon gave up his own horse, the Fair Maid of Perth, and sent his companion back to the depôt for relief; for it was clear that only one could ride the horse, and he who did so, by hurrying on, could return and save his companion. With a wave of his hat, he shouted goodbye to his generous leader and rode off. “This was the last ever seen of Gibson.” It appears that the poor fellow failed to follow back the outgoing tracks, got lost in the night, became hopelessly “bushed,” and perished, alone in the desert. Giles meanwhile struggled on and on, every hour expecting relief, which of course never came. At last he staggered into camp, nearly dead.

No time was lost in saddling fresh horses, and Tietkens and his exhausted companion set out in search of the missing man. Picking up the Fair Maid's tracks, they followed them until they were four days out from camp, and it became clear that to go further meant sacrificing not only their own lives but that of their mate left behind at the depôt, as well as that of all the horses. Gibson's tracks when last seen were leading in a direction exactly opposite to that of the camp. Luckily the cold weather (April) stood their horses in good stead; but in spite of this and of the water they packed for them, the horses only managed to crawl into camp. It was manifestly impossible to make further search, for seventy miles of desert intervened between the depôt-camp and the tracks when last seen; and the mare was evidently still untired. So, sorrowfully they retraced their steps to the East, and the place of Gibson's death remains a secret still. I have heard that months after Giles's return, Gibson's mare came back to her home, thin and miserable, and showing on her belly and back the marks of a saddle and girth, which as she wasted away had become slack and so turned over. Her tracks were followed back for some distance without result. Poor thing! she had a long journey, and Giles must have spoken truly when he said, “The Fair Maid was the gamest horse I ever rode.”

Giles's account of this desert shows that the last twenty years have done little to improve it! He says:— “The flies were still about us in persecuting myriads;… the country was quite open, rolling along in ceaseless undulations of sand, the only vegetation besides the ever-abounding spinifex was a few bloodwood trees. The region is so desolate that it is horrifying even to describe. The eye of God looking down on the solitary caravan as it presents the only living object around must have contemplated its appearance with pitying admiration, as it forced its way continually onwards without pausing over this vast sandy region, avoiding death only by motion and distance, until some oasis can be found”.

Not a cheerful description certainly! Every day's Northing, however, would take us further in or out of this region, as the case might be, and fervently we hoped for the latter. Whatever country was before us we were firmly determined to push on, and by the grace of God to overcome its difficulties. Again referring to Giles's journal I find that during this part of his journey—viz., near the range where we were now camped—the change of temperature during night and day was very excessive. At night the thermometer registered 18°F., whilst the heat in the daytime was most oppressive. This, in a less degree, was our experience, for the month being September the days were hotter and the nights less cold. No doubt this extreme change in temperature, combined with the dry atmosphere and the tremendous heat of the sun, has caused the hills to be weathered away in the remarkable shapes of which McPherson's Pillar is a good example. The pillar is formed of a huge square block of red rock, planted on the top of a conical mound, perhaps fifty feet in height, whose slopes are covered with broken slabs and boulders. This remarkable landmark, which, from the North, is visible from twenty-four miles distant, I named after Mr. McPherson, a well-known and respected prospector, who, though leaving no record of his journey, crossed the Colony from West to East, visiting the hills and waters on Forrest's route as far East as the Parker Ranges, and thence striking Giles's route at the Alfred and Marie, and so viâ the Rawlinson into Alice Springs, on the overland telegraph line. Though little of his journey was through new country, yet it had the valuable result of proving the non-existence of auriferous country in the belt traversed.

Due West of the Pillar, distant two and a half miles, situated in a scrub-covered rocky gorge, is a fair-sized rockhole. Breaden and Godfrey managed to get about two gallons of filth from it; I have swallowed all kinds of water, but this was really too powerful. Had we been hard pressed it would undoubtedly have been used, but since we had not long left water, we discarded this mixture, after trying it on Czar, whose indignation was great. In the branches of the mulga round the rock-hole I noticed what I have seen in several other places, viz., stones wedged in the forks—dozens of stones of all sizes and shapes. I have no knowledge of their true significance. It may be, and this is merely a guess, that they indicate the presence of poison in the rock-hole; for by means of a certain plant which is bruised and thrown into the hole, the water is given a not actually poisonous but stupefying property. Thus birds or beasts coming to drink fall senseless and an easy prey to the ambushed native. This is a common plan in many parts of Australia, and was described to me by a tame boy from the Murchison. Here, too, were more little pyramids, similar to those at Empress Spring. Some quaint black-fellows' custom, but what it signifies even Warri cannot explain. Breaden has a theory that they point to the next water-hole. This may be, but, unless for a stranger's benefit, quite unnecessary, as every black knows his waters; and if for a stranger it is equally peculiar, for his welcome is usually a bang on the head! It may be that messengers or those who, wishing to trade from tribe to tribe, get the free passage of the district, are thus guided on their way. The number of pyramids may represent so many days' march.

There must have been some open water besides this dirty rock-hole, but having sufficient for present requirements we did not waste time in further search, and on September 2nd turned again to the North. On this course we continued until September 6th, the country showing no change whatever, which constrained me to say of it, so I find in my diary, “Surely the most God-forsaken on the face of the earth”; and yet we had worse to follow!

Our rate of travel over the gravel was a small fraction more than two miles per hour. This I carefully reckoned by timing, taking into account every halt of ever so small a duration in our march in a due North line between two latitudes.

In lat. 23° 34′, long. 125° 16′, there rose before us, visible for several miles, high banks of stones, such as one sees on either side of the old bed of a river which has altered its course. The slopes were covered with spinifex and on the top red and weeping mulga—the latter a graceful little tree, whose bowed head adds little to the gaiety of one's surroundings. I cannot offer any explanation of these curious banks, except that, from the appearance of one or two large flat boulders on the summit, it may be that they were formed by the entire disintegration of a sandstone cliff, to which decay has come sooner than to its neighbours further South. Future experience showed us that further North the gravel becomes small and smaller until it disappears, the rolling sandhills giving place to regular ridges. If this is the case viz., that the hills and ranges are gradually rotting away until they disappear, leaving only gravel behind, which, in its turn, decays and decays until only sand remains, then in the course of ages the whole of this region will be covered with ridge upon ridge of sand formed by the wind, whose powers so far have been checked by the weight of the gravel. For the sake of future generations I hope my reasoning is incorrect.

As I stood on the stony bank, I could see several native smokes to the eastward. Determined to take advantage of any help extended to us by Nature, to spare no pains in the all-important matter of finding water, to let nothing pass that might assist us on our way, so that if it was our fate to go under in the struggle I should not be assailed by the thought that I had neglected opportunities, determined, in fact, always to act for the best, so far as I could see it, I decided to make use of this sign of the presence of natives, and altered our course in consequence. We started due East and held on that course for eight miles, Godfrey and Charlie lighting the spinifex at intervals. Some men have a theory that the blacks signal by smokes, the appearance of which they vary by using different grasses, branches, or leaves. That may be the case in some parts; here, anyway, they are no more than hunting-fires, as we later proved. If the desert blacks do go in for smoke-telegraphy they must on this occasion have thought that the operator at our end of the wire was mad! Perhaps unknowingly we sent up smokes which appeared to them to be rational messages! If such was the case our signals could not have meant “Please stay at home,” for when eventually we did find their camp they had left. Taking the bearing of the most northerly smoke we travelled for the rest of the day in its direction. The next morning, though the smoke had long since died down, we continued on our course and in a few miles reached a large area of still smouldering spinifex. Around this we searched for fresh tracks, and, having discovered some, made camp. And now I have to chronicle the only occasion on which any one disputed my orders. And this goes far to show that all I have said in praise of the loyalty and untiring energy of my companions, is not meant in empty compliment, but falls short of what they merit.

It was necessary for one to stay in camp and watch our belongings and the camels, while the rest were engaged in tracking the natives. Our zeal was so great that the camels were hardly unloaded and hobbled before each one had set out, and it followed that one must be sent back. For no particular reason I fixed on Godfrey, who, instead of hailing with joy the prospective rest, was most mutinous! The mutiny, however, was short-lived, and ended in laughter when I pointed out how ridiculous his objection was.

Charlie and I went in one direction, whilst Breaden and Warri took another. Before long, so complicated were the tracks, we separated. A more annoying job it is hard to imagine: round and round one goes following a track in all its eccentric windings, running off at right angles or turning back when its owner had chased a rat or a lizard; at length there is a long stretch of straight walking and one thinks, “Now, at last, he's done hunting and is making for home”; another disappointment follows as one wheels round and finds one's self close to the starting-point. Such was the experience this day of Breaden, Charlie, and myself, and disgusted we returned to camp at sundown. Warri was so late that I began to think he must have come upon the natives themselves, who had given him too warm a welcome. Presently he appeared, slouching along with an expressionless face, save for a twinkle in his eye (literally eye, for one was wall-eyed). My supposition was more or less correct; he had been fortunate in getting on the home-going tracks of some gins; following these for several miles he came on their camp—so suddenly that they nearly saw him. Luckily, he beat a hasty retreat, doubtful of his reception, and hurried home.

8. Chapter VIII

A Desert Tribe

The next morning we were up betimes and ready to start as soon as ever the tracks were visible; presently a smoke, their first hunting-smoke of the day, rose close to us. Despatching Charlie on Satan, and Godfrey on foot, with instructions to catch a native if possible, I hastened along the tracks followed by the rest of the party. We reached their camp just in time to see the late inmates disappear into a thicket of mulga close by. Neither Charlie nor Godfrey was able to come up with the lighters of the fire unseen, and these, too, fled into the scrub, where chase was almost impossible. Their camp deserves description, as it was the first (excepting travelling camps) we had seen of the desert black-fellow.

Facing the belt of mulga, was a low wall of uprooted tussocks of spinifex built in a half circle and some two feet high. On the leeward side of this breakwind, inside the semi-circle, half a dozen little hollows were scraped out in the sand. Between each of these nests lay a little heap of ashes, the remains of a fire which burns all night, replenished from time to time from a bundle of sticks kept handy for the purpose. The nest in the sand is the bed, a double one, and not only double but treble, and more; for in it, coiled up snugly, may lie several of the tribe, higgledy-piggledy, like pups in a basket. The fire takes the place of nightshirt, pyjamas, or blanket—a poor substitute on a cold night! Scattered about were several utensils, two wooden coolimans full of water and grass—this showing that the owners contemplated a journey, for the grass floating on the surface is used to prevent the water from spilling. Two more coolimans were filled with seed—a fine yellow seed from a plant like groundsel. Close by these were the flat stones (of granite, evidently traded from tribe to tribe) used for grinding the seed. In the spinifex wall were stuck numerous spears, varying from eight to ten feet in length, straight, thin, and light, hardened by fire, fined down and scraped to a sharp point. Near these was a gin's yam-stick—a stout stick with a sharp, flat point on one end and charred at the other, used for digging up roots, stirring the fire, or chastising a dog or child. They serve, too, as a weapon of defence. Quaintest of all these articles were the native “portmanteaus,” that is to say, bundles of treasures rolled up in bark, wound round and round with string—string made from human hair or from that of dingoes and opossums. In these “portmanteaus” are found carved sticks, pieces of quartz, red ochre, feathers, and a number of odds and ends. Of several that were in this camp I took two—my curiosity and desire to further knowledge of human beings, so unknown and so interesting, overcame my honesty, and since the owners had retired so rudely I could not barter with them. Without doubt the meat-tins and odds and ends that we left behind us have more than repaid them. One of these portmanteaus may be seen in the British Museum, the other I have still, unopened.

Between the camp and the well, which we easily found, there ran a well-beaten foot-pad, showing that this had been a favoured spot for some time past. The well itself was situated in a belt of mulga-scrub, and surrounded by a little patch of grass; growing near by, a few good camel bushes, such as acacia and fern-tree (quondongs, by the way, were not seen by us north of Alexander Spring, with the exception of one near McPherson's Pillar); enclosing the scrub two parallel banks of sand and stones, with the well in the valley between. Above the well, to the, North, high anthills and tussocks of coarse grass appeared. The whole oasis covered no more than three acres. The well itself resembled those already described, and appeared to have a good supply, so much so that we started at once to water the camels, which had had no drink since August 21st, a period of seventeen days, with the exception of two gallons apiece at Warri Well, where the parakeelia grew.

By midnight all but three—Satan, Redleap, and Misery—had drunk as much as they could hold. These three had to be content with a small amount, for we could not get more without digging out the well, and this we proceeded to do. The night was hot and cloudy, and constant puffs of wind made work by the light of candles so impossible that we had perforce to bear the extra heat of a blazing fire. The native well, as we found it, had been scooped out with hand and cooliman, just large enough to allow one to descend to a depth of fifteen feet, and the sides of the hole plastered back with mud, which had baked hard. To follow this hole further was not feasible, for going down on a slope as it did, any further deepening would cause the sand to fall in; we had therefore to start a new vertical shaft from the surface. After a considerable amount of digging we reached water level, and were preparing to bail the water, when with a thud the whole thing caved in, and our labour had to be recommenced. At the time the wedge of ground fell in Godfrey was working below and narrowly escaped being buried. A timely rope fortunately saved him. I never saw a man come quicker out of a hole! Now we were a bit puzzled. Our position was this: six camels were watered, three were not, our tanks were empty (my fault, for I should have first filled them and then the camels; but yet if we had water and the camels had none, would we have been better off?); our well, containing X, an unknown quantity of water, had fallen in. Query, whether to recommence digging, or to pack up and follow the blacks? Now, the well might contain a good supply, or yield no more than a gallon or two; and the blacks might or might not have gone on to a good water. It was a puzzle. Finally we compromised, and I sent Breaden and Warri to hunt up the tracks, whilst we started work again. On one side of the well was rock, and by strengthening the other by timber we hoped for success. Luckily plenty of good mulga trees were handy, and we soon had the timber ready for use. This was the second night without rest or food, and no more than a mouthful of water each, for on arrival we had given what our tanks contained to the thirsty camels.

By putting in crosspieces from side to side of the hole, which we soon discovered to be an underground rock-hole, and by backing these with twigs and grass, we managed to make the walls of sand secure, and at last reached water level, and lost no time, as may well be imagined, in raising a billyful and having the very best drink we had encountered for a long time. At the moment almost Breaden and Warri returned, having done their job admirably. They had followed the tracks to the next camp, away to the North—a dry camp this—and, noticing the direction the blacks had taken, returned home. After a feed and a rest we again set to work, and again the well fell in, but with less danger this time. It was clear that we could go no further without some sort of caisson to hold back the fine sand.

Charlie, with his usual ingenuity, constructed a rough but serviceable one out of the wooden guards on the faces of our water-casks and the tin-lined box lids that we had taken from Hübbe's camp at Mount Allott. Instinct had told us right—they were of use!

By this means we reached a depth of thirty feet, first sinking the caisson, then bailing the water, then continuing the timber and backing.

The hole so narrowed at the bottom that the water could only be obtained by stretching out a stick at arm's length, on which was lashed a small saucepan. It soon became clear that, labour as we would, the hole would yield but little, so, leaving the rest to work, I took Warri, and continued the search for the natives from the point where Breaden had left their tracks. After a long, tedious day of tracking, we found ourselves back at our own camp. The natives—two bucks, two gins, and three picaninnies—travelled North to a dry well, and there split, the men going one way and the rest another. We chose the bucks to follow, and presently the rest joined in, and the whole family swung round until close to our camp. We could, by their tracks, see where they had herded together in fear under a beefwood tree not one hundred yards from us. Just before sunset we again set forth, taking Czar and Satan as riding-camels, and were lucky in picking up tracks going in a fresh direction before night fell.

We camped on the tracks, and ran them in the morning, noticing two interesting things on the way: the first, several wooden sticks on which were skewered dried fruits, not unlike gooseberries; these were hidden in a bush, and are remarkable, for they not only show that the natives have some forethought, but that they trade in edible goods as well as in weapons and ornaments. These fruits are from the Solanum sodomeum, and were only seen by us near the Sturt Creek (three hundred miles away). The second, little heaps of the roots of a tree (known to me only as pine-mulganote) stacked together, which had been sucked for water; we tried some, but without result, and the tree the natives had made use of did not seem to be different from others of its kind. This showed us, too, that they must be dry, and probably had had no water since our arrival at their well. About midday we rode right on to their camp without warning. Again the scrub befriended them, but in spite of this I could have got ahead of them on Satan had his nose-line not snapped. Determined not to be baulked, I jumped down and gave chase, old Czar lumbering along behind, and Warri shouting with glee and excitement, “Chase 'em—we catch 'em,” as if we were going through all this trouble for pleasure. Happy Warri! he never seemed to see gravity in anything. It is almost incredible how quickly and completely a black-fellow can disappear; as if in a moment the whole family was out of sight. One black spot remained visible, and on it I centred my energies. Quickly overhauling, I overtook it, and found it to be an old and hideous gin, who, poor thing! had stopped behind to pick up some dingo puppies.

Sorry as I was to be rude to a lady, I had to make her prisoner, but not without a deal of trouble. “Dah, dah, dah!” she shouted, scratching, biting, spitting, and tearing me with her horrid long nails, and using, I feel sure, the worst language that her tongue could command. I had to carry this unsavoury object back to her camp, she clutching at every bush we passed, when her hands were not engaged in clawing and scratching me. After her anger had somewhat abated she pointed out a rock-hole from which they had got their water. Securing the woman with a light rope, I put her in Warri's charge, who kept watch above, lest the natives should return and surprise us, whilst I descended the rock-hole to see what supply was there. A little water was visible, which I quickly baled into the canvas bags we had brought for the purpose. The bottom of the hole was filled in with dead sticks, leaves, the rotting bodies of birds and lizards, bones of rats and dingoes. Into this ghastly mass of filth I sunk up to my middle, and never shall I forget the awful odour that arose as my feet stirred up the mess. Nevertheless water was there, and thankful I was to find it, even to drink it as it was. After half an hour's work in this stinking pit, sick from the combination of smells—distinguishable above every other being the all-pervading perfume of aboriginals—I was rewarded by some twelve gallons of water, or, more properly speaking, liquid.

I decided to take the gin back with us, as it had been clear to me for some time past that without the aid of natives we could not hope to find water. With our small caravan it was impossible to push on and trust to chance, or hope to reach the settled country still nearly five hundred miles ahead in a bee-line. Even supposing the camels could do this enormous stage, it was beyond our power to carry sufficient water for ourselves. The country might improve or might get worse; in such weather as we now experienced no camel could go for more than a few days without water. I felt myself justified, therefore, in unceremoniously making captives from what wandering tribes we might fall in with. And in light of after events I say unhesitatingly that, without having done so, and without having to a small extent used rough treatment to some natives so caught, we could not by any possibility have succeeded in crossing the desert, and should not only have lost our own lives, but possibly those of others who would have made search for us after. “A man arms himself where his armour is weakest,” so I have read; that, however, is not my case. I am not justifying myself to myself, or defending a line of action not yet assailed. I write this in answer to some who have unfavourably criticised my methods, and to those I would say, “Put yourselves in our position, and when sitting in a comfortable armchair at home, in the centre of civilisation, do not, you who have never known want or suffered hardship, be so ready to judge others who, hundreds of miles from their fellow-men, threatened every day with possible death from thirst, were doing their best to lay bare the hidden secrets of an unknown region, as arid and desolate as any the world can show.”

On starting back for camp the gin refused to walk or move in any way, so we had to pack her on Czar, making her as comfortable as possible on Warri's blankets, with disastrous results thereto. Arrived at camp, I found that the rock-hole was bottomed, and now quite dry. Straining the putrid water brought by me through a flannel shirt, boiling it, adding ashes and Epsom salts, we concocted a serviceable beverage. This, blended with the few gallons of muddy water from the well, formed our supply, which we looked to augment under the guidance of the gin. After completing our work the well presented the appearance of a large rock-hole, thirty feet deep, conical in shape, of which one-half the contents had been dug out. This confirmed my opinion that the native wells of these regions are nothing more than holes in the bed-rock, which have been covered over and in by the general deposit of sand. I had no time to observe for latitude at this spot, the position of which is fixed merely by dead reckoning. The rock-hole lies eight miles from it to the S.E. by E., and has no guide whatever to its situation. I christened the well “Patience Well,” and I think it was well named.

From September 8th, 9 a.m., until September 12th, 12.30 a.m., we had worked almost continuously, only taking in turn what sleep we could snatch when one could be spared; and the result, 140 gallons as sum total, inclusive of mud and other matter.

We left Patience Well on the 12th, at 10 a.m., taking the woman with us. Breaden was the only one in whose charge she would consent to be at all calm; to him therefore was allotted the duty of looking after her. At eleven we reached the dry well to which Warri and I had tracked the natives. The water we were forced to use was so uninviting that I decided to make another effort to find a supply in this locality. The gin was of no use whatever, and would only repeat whatever we said to her—“Gabbi,” which King Billy had understood, was wasted on her. “Gabbi, gabbi,” she repeated, waving her arm all round the horizon. Leaving the rest to bottom the dry well, which might have water lower down, Warri and I again started off on the tracks of a buck, and these we followed due North on foot for four and a half hours, hoping every moment to come on a well. Soon after starting an apparently old track joined the other, and together they marched still North. Presently the old tracks changed into fresh ones, and close by I found two rough sandals made of strips of bark. One I kept, the other was too nearly worn out. There was no change in the dreary appearance of the country; through scrubs, over stones and sand we held our way, until Warri, who was now a little way behind, called, “No good, no more walk!” I could see the poor boy was knocked up, and felt little better myself; to go on did not guarantee water, and might end in disaster, so after a short rest we retraced our steps. The night was now dark and oppressive, so hatless and shirtless we floundered through the spinifex, nearly exhausted from the walk, following so close on the last few days' work. I believe that but for Warri I should have been “bushed ”; my head was muddled, and the stars not too clear. What a joyful sight met our eyes as we crested a rise of sand—a sight almost as reviving as the food and water we so anxiously looked forward to. Tongues of flame shot up in the air, a fire lit by our mates, but showing that, in spite of Warri's instinct, we had not been walking in quite the right direction. No welcome news greeted our arrival—the well was dry, and the native obdurate. We all agreed she was useless, and since she refused all forms of nutriment I feared she would die on our hands, so she regained her liberty, and fled away with a rapidity not expected in one of her years.

My companions had felt some anxiety at our continued absence, and again I had evidence of the cordial friendship existing between us.

With reference to the bark sandals, the use of which is not so far known, I append an extract from The Horn Scientific Expedition, Part IV., where we read the following:—

“SANDALS

“Arunta Tribe

Kurdaitcha Shoes.—When a native for some reason desired to kill a member of another camp or tribe, he consulted the medicine man of his camp, and arrangements were made for a ‘Kurdaitcha Luma.’… Both medicine man and Kurdaitcha wore remarkable shoes. These had the form of a long pad made of human hair, with numberless emu feathers intertwined, and with a certain amount of human blood to act as a cementing substance.

“…Both ends of the shoes were rounded off, and were exactly similar to one another, which has given rise to the erroneous idea that their object was to prevent the wearer being tracked…”

But no other explanation is offered.

Breaden says tracks of a man wearing these emu-feather shoes are very indistinct, but has no certain knowledge of their use. Warri, looking at the bark sandals, said, “Black-fella wear 'em 'long a hot sand.” Questioned about the emu-feather shoes, he gave the usual answer, “I dunno,” and then added, probably to please me, as I had suggested the explanation, “Black-fella no more see 'em track, I think.”

It was clear that no good results were likely to follow further search in this locality, for the tracks were so numerous, and crossed and recrossed so often, that nothing could be made out of them. The country to the North being so uninviting, I altered our course to North-East, and again to North, when we sighted a smoke, and, following tracks, camped on them.

“Mud and oatmeal for breakfast,” September 14th; truly the sage spoke who remarked, “What does not fatten will fill.” Such was our fare, and the only doubt we had was lest the compound should be turned into brick by the sun's heat! However, it was sustaining enough to last us all day, occupied in tracking. Two dry wells, connected by a well-trodden pad half a mile long, rewarded our labours; and here we had the conviction forced upon us that the blacks themselves were hard pressed: we could see where dust and dirt had been recently removed from the bottom of the wells, both of which were over fifteen feet in depth, and one over twenty. Were the natives hard pressed for water, or had they heard of our coming, and were by smokes guiding us to empty wells? Unpleasant speculation, when one's tanks contain nothing but a nasty brown liquid, and the country looks as if it had not known rain for years!

September 15th. Another smoke to the North-East; again we steer for it, as if following a will-o'-the-wisp. The continued semi-starvation, hard work, and heat was beginning to leave its mark. None of our friends or relatives would have recognised us now! Clothed in filthy rags, with unkempt hair and beards, begrimed with mud, and burnt black by the sun wherever its rays could penetrate our armour of dirt, we were indeed a pretty lot. That night we tied the camels down—there was no feed for them; besides, I wished them handy in the morning, for we could not be far from natives now unless the smoke had deceived us. The next day the desolation of the country was increased by vast areas of burnt ground, from which rose clouds of dust and ashes—no gravel was here to arrest the onslaught of the wind upon the sand. Towards evening we were doomed to experience fresh discouragement, for in front of us, seen from rising ground, there stretched ridge upon ridge of barren sand, black from the charred remains of spinifex. To tackle those ridges in our then plight meant grave risks to be run, and that night the responsibility of my position weighed heavily upon my thoughts. I prayed for strength and determination—for to each one of us must have come the thought of what our fate might be. I feel sure that all were ready to face boldly whatever was in store, and were resolved to do their utmost—and what more can man do?

To go forward was our only course, since we meant to get through. Before sunrise, black and weary we started, having fed on tinned vegetables, the only article amongst our provisions possessing any moisture.

Before long we were amongst the ridges. What a desolate scene! Ridge upon ridge of sand, black from the ashes of burnt spinifex. Not a sound or sign of life, except the grunts of the camels as they strained up the sandy slopes. Presently we sighted a newly lighted hunting smoke, not a mile from us; with my field-glasses I could see the flames of the fiercely burning spinifex lapping the crest of a high sand-ridge. Leaving the tracks I was following I rejoined the main party, and, calling to Charlie to accompany me, and to the others to follow us as fast as they could, I set off for the fire. Having anticipated reaching the scene of the smoke early this morning, we had divided up Czar's load amongst the remainder of the caravan, and for the time transformed him into a riding-camel, and so two of us were mounted. On nearer approach we pulled up to give our steeds a blow, and, unseen ourselves, we watched the natives hunting, all unsuspicious of the near presence of beings and animals so strange in colour and form.

Advancing slowly from opposite directions, we were able to get within a hundred yards of them before our silent approach was noticed. No words can describe the look of terror and amazement on the faces of those wild savages. Spellbound they crouched in the black and smouldering ashes of the spinifex, mouths open and eyes staring, and then with one terrific yell away they ran, dodging and doubling until a somewhat bushy beefwood tree seemed to offer them means of escape. How many there had been I do not know, but the tree harboured three, the man, woman, and child, that we had first singled out. All kept up a ceaseless screaming and gesticulating, reminding me of the monkey-house at the “Zoo”; but above the others could be distinguished the voice of the old gin who, with frantic haste, tried to screen the man with branches broken from their tree of refuge, and who in the intervals between this occupation and that of shaking a stick at us, set a light to the surrounding spinifex either as a signal or with the hope of keeping us at a distance; for with all her fear she had not let drop her firestick. Thinking that they would be completely overawed by the appearance of the rest of the caravan, and so make no further attempt to escape, we sat sentinel on our camels and awaited the arrival of the main party. Presently they appeared, and the trembling fear of the natives was painful to witness—never by any possibility could they have seen camels or white men, though considering the extent to which articles are passed from tribe to tribe, it is probable they had heard of the “white-fella.” Even to European eyes a camel is not the canniest of beasts, and since these people had never seen an animal larger than a dingo, and, indeed, no animal save this and the spinifex rat, their surprise may well be imagined on seeing a thing as large as their whole camp marching solemnly along.

Putting down the caravan we approached them, and from a mad, incoherent yelling their protestations gradually died down to an occasional gulp like that of a naughty child. Making soothing sounds and patting their breasts and our own in turn, in sign of friendship, we had plenty of time to inspect them. An old lady, with grizzled hair, toothless and distorted in countenance, with legs and arms mere bones, and skin shrunken and parched; a girl-child, perhaps six years old, by no means an ugly little thing, and a youngish man made up the trio; all stark-naked, and unadorned by artificial means, unless one excepts a powerfully scented mixture of grease and ashes, with which their bodies were smeared. The buck—poor fellow!—was suffering from some horrible skin disease, which spread over his chest and back. He seemed to have but little power in his arms, and a pitiful object he was, as we uncovered him from his screen of branches. Having apparently satisfied them that it was not our intention to eat them, by signs we showed them our pressing need for water—these they readily understood—doubtless because their own daily experience is one constant hunt for food or water. Evidently we had the former with us in the shape of camels, therefore we could only want the latter. The little child very soon showed great confidence, and, taking my hand, led us over a neighbouring sand-ridge. The old lady took a great fancy to Godfrey, and convinced us that flirting is by no means confined to civilisation.

Leading us obliquely across the ridges we had just passed over, some two miles from the scene of their hunting, they halted at their well. To the North of it an almost barren ridge of sand rising to a height of perhaps sixty feet, and running away East and West for possibly ten miles without a break, from the crest of which we could see a limitless sea of ridges as far as the eye could reach to the Northward (a cheerful prospect!), to the South the undulating treeless desert of gravel we had just crossed. Between the foot of the ridge and a stony slope the well was situated—the usual little round hole in the sand—a small patch of roly-poly grass making a slight difference in the appearance of the country immediately surrounding the hole. As well as this roly-poly, we were delighted to see a few scattered plants of parakeelia, and lost no time in unloading and hobbling the camels, who in their turn made all haste to devour this life-giving vegetation.

Camp made, we set to work on the well, sinking our boxes as before, our black friends watching us with evident interest. Presently we heard a shrill call, and, looking up, saw the rest of the family hesitating between curiosity and fear. The old gin reassured them and they approached—a man, a young mother with a baby at the breast, and two more children. There were evidently more not far off who were too timid to come on, as we heard calls from beyond the ridge. This buck was a fine, upstanding fellow, very lithe and strong, though thin and small of bone. Dressed in the fashionable desert costume of nothing at all, excepting a band of string round his forehead, and a similar belt round his waist, from which hung all round him the spoils of the chase, with a spear in one hand and throwing-sticks in the other he looked a queer figure in the setting sun—iguanas and lizards dangling head down from his hair and his waist-string—indeed a novel way of carrying game. His lady followed him with a cooliman under her arm, with a further supply of reptiles and rats.

The whole family established themselves close to us. Their camp had been near the crest of the ridge, but, apparently liking our company, they shifted their household goods, and, starting a fire within twenty yards of us, were soon engaged in cooking and eating their supper. The process of preparing a meal is simple in the extreme. The rats are plucked (for they do not skin the animal, but pluck the hair as we do feathers from a chicken), and thrown on to a pile of hot wood-ashes with no further preparation, and are greedily devoured red and bloody, and but barely warm. A lizard or iguana calls for a further exercise of culinary knowledge. First, a crooked twig is forced down the throat and the inside pulled out, which dainty is thrown to any dog or child that happens to be near; the reptile is then placed on hot coals until distended to the utmost limit that the skin will bear without bursting, then it is placed on ashes less hot, and covered with the same, and after a few minutes is pronounced cooked and ready for the table. The old lady did the cooking, and kept up an incessant chattering and swearing the while. We noticed how kind they were to the poor diseased buck, giving him little tit-bits of half-raw rat's flesh, which he greatly preferred to any food we fed him. They were strange, primitive people, and yet kind and grateful. We anointed the sick man's wounds with tar and oil (a mixture used for mange in camels), and were well rewarded for our unsavoury task by his dog-like looks of satisfaction and thanks. We had ample opportunity to watch them at night, as our well-sinking operations kept us up. They seemed afraid to sleep or lie down, and remained crouching together in their little hollows in the sand until morning. To break the force of the wind, which blew rather chilly, they had set up the usual spinifex fence, and between each little hollow a small fire burnt. The stillness of the night was only broken by the occasional cry of the baby, and this was immediately suppressed by the mother in a novel manner, viz., by biting the infant's ear—a remedy followed by almost immediate success. I beg to recommend this exceedingly effective plan to any of my lady readers whose night's rest is troubled by a teething child—doubtless the husband's bite would have an equally good effect, but the poor baby's ears might suffer from a combination of a strong jaw and a ruffled temper.

What a strange sound—that little picaninny's cry; surrounded as we were by a boundless sea of sand, it made one think how small a speck our party was on the face of the earth; it somehow took one's thoughts back to civilisation and crowded cities, and one felt that it was not just very certain if one would see such things again; and how little it would take to wipe us out, like gnats squashed on a vast window-pane! In the morning we sent the able-bodied man away to hunt, but his interest in us soon overcame his desire for game, and he returned, and presently made himself useful by carrying roots of bushes for our fire, for wood was hard to get, and the nearest tree hardly in sight. I presented the buck with an old pyjama jacket, and a great swell he thought himself too, strutting about and showing himself off to the others. In exchange for numerous articles they gave us, we attached coins round their necks, and on a small round plate, which I cut out of a meat-tin, I stamped my initial and the date, C. 1896. This I fixed on a light nickel chain and hung round the neck of the good-looking young gin, to her intense gratification. It will be interesting to know if ever this ornament is seen again. I only hope some envious tribesman will not be tempted to knock the poor thing on the head to possess himself of this shining necklace.

Amongst their treasures which they carried, wrapped up in bundles of bark and hair, one of the most curious was a pearl oyster-shell, which was worn by the buck as a sporran. Now this shell (which I have in my possession) could only have come from the coast, a distance of nearly five hundred miles, and must have been passed from hand to hand, and from tribe to tribe. Other articles they had which I suppose were similarly traded for, viz., an old iron tent-peg, the lid of a tin matchbox, and a part of the ironwork of a saddle on which the stirrup-leathers hang. This piece of iron was stamped A1; this, I fear, is hardly a sufficient clue from which to trace its origin. Their weapons consisted of spears, barbed and plain, brought to a sharp or broad point; woommeras, throwing-sticks, and boomerangs of several shapes, also a bundle of fire-making implements, consisting of two sticks about two feet long, the one hard and pointed, the other softer, and near one end a round hollow, into which the hard point fits. By giving a rapid rotary movement to the hard stick held upright between the palms of the hands, a spark will before long be generated in the hole in the other stick, which is kept in place on the ground by the feet. By blowing on the spark, a little piece of dried grass, stuck in a nick in the edge of the hollow, will be set alight and the fire obtained.

As a matter of fact this method is not often used, since, when travelling from camp to camp, a firestick or burning brand is carried and replaced when nearly consumed. The gins sometimes carry two of these, one in front and one behind, the flames pointing inwards; and with a baby sitting straddle-legs over their neck and a cooliman under their arms make quite a pretty picture.

Amongst the ornaments and decorations were several sporrans of curious manufacture. Some were made up of tassels formed of the tufts of boody's tails; other tassels were made from narrow strips of dog's skin (with the hair left on) wound round short sticks; others were made in a similar way, of what we conjectured to be bullock's hair. All the tassels were hung on string of opossum or human hair, and two neat articles were fashioned by stringing together red beansnote set in spinifex gum, and other seeds from trees growing in a more Northerly latitude. This again shows their trading habits. Here, too, were portmanteaus, holding carved sticks of various shapes and patterns, emu-plumes, nose-bones and nose-sticks, plaited bands of hair string, and numerous other odds and ends.

In the evening we watered the camels, and lucky it was that the parakeelia existed, and so satisfied them with its watery juice that they were contented with very little, Satan and Misery not swallowing more than two gallons each. Lucky indeed, because even with another night's work we were only just able to get a sufficient supply to carry us on for a few days, and but for the parakeelia either we or the camels would have had to go short.

We did not completely exhaust the water in the well—not, I fear, because we studied the convenience of the natives, but because our makeshift appliances did not enable us to sink deeper. So we bade adieu to our simple black friends, and set our faces to the sand-ridges. On leaving camp in the morning I found a piece of candle lying on the ground. I threw it to the buck, and he, evidently thinking it good to eat, put it in his mouth, holding the wick in his fingers, and, drawing off the tallow with his teeth, swallowed it with evident relish.

9. Chapter IX

Dr. Leichhardt's Lost Expedition

At this point I must ask pardon of the courteous reader for a seeming digression, and interpolate a short account of Dr. Leichhardt's lost expedition—as to the fate of which nothing is known; and although no apparent connection exists between it and this narrative, it may be that in our journey we have happened on traces, and that the pieces of iron mentioned in the last chapter may serve as some clue to its fate. On arrival in civilisation I sent these iron relics, with some native curios, to Mr. Panton, Police Magistrate, of Melbourne, Victoria, a gentleman whose knowledge, and ability to speak with authority on matters concerning Australian exploration is recognised as the highest.

When, therefore, Mr. Panton expresses the opinion that the tent-peg was the property of Dr. Leichhardt, one may be sure that he has good grounds for his supposition. Whether Leichhardt lost his life in the heart of this wilderness or not, the complete mystery hiding his fate makes his history sufficiently remarkable; and though I consider that there is little to show that he ever reached a point so far across the continent, there is no reason that he should not have done so, and I leave it for my readers to form their own opinion.

Ludwig Leichhardt, after carrying out successfully several journeys in Queensland and the Northern Territory, undertook the gigantic task of crossing Australia from East to West, viz., from Moreton Bay to the Swan River Settlements.

Towards the end of 1847, accompanied by eight white men, two black-boys, and provisions to last two years, he started, taking with him one hundred and eighty sheep, two hundred and seventy goats, forty bullocks, fifteen horses, and thirty mules. After travelling with little or no progress for seven months, during which time the whole stock of cattle and sheep were lost, the party returned. Not discouraged by this disastrous termination to his scheme, Leichhardt resolved on another expedition with the same object in view.

Before many months he, with the same number of companions but with fewer animals, set out again. On the 3rd of April, 1848, he wrote from Fitzroy Downs, expressing hope and confidence as to the ultimate success of the expedition. Since that date, neither tidings nor traces have been found of the lost explorer, nor of any of his men or belongings. Several search-parties were organised and a large reward offered, but all in vain—and the scene of his disaster remains undiscovered to this day. Many and various are the theories propounded with regard to his fate. It is held by some that the whole party were caught in the floods of the Cooper. This creek is now known to spread out, after heavy rains at its source, to a width of between forty and fifty miles. So heavy and sudden is the rain in semi-tropical Australia, that a traveller may be surrounded by flood-waters, while not a drop of local rain may fall. Leichhardt, in those early days, would labour under the disadvantage of knowing neither the seasons, nor the rainfall, and in all likelihood would choose the valley of a creek to travel along, since it would afford feed for his stock. It seems reasonable to suppose that a flood alone could make so clean a sweep of men, cattle, and equipment that even keen-eyed aboriginals have failed (so far as is known) to discover any relics.

Another theory, and that held by Mr. Panton, is that the deserts of Central and Western Australia hold the secret of his death. This theory is based, I believe, on the fact that Gregory, in the fifties, found on the Elsey Creek (North Australia) what he supposed to be the camp of a white man. This in conjunction with some vague reports by natives would point to Leichhardt having travelled for the first part of his journey considerably further north than was his original intention, with a view to making use of the northern rivers. Supposing that his was the camp seen on the Elsey, a tributary of the Victoria River, it would have been necessary for him to alter his course to nearly due South-West to enable him to reach the Swan River. This course would have taken him through the heart of the desert, through the very country we now were in. For my part I think that trade from tribe to tribe sufficiently accounts for the presence of such articles as tent-pegs and pieces of iron, though strangely enough an iron tent-peg is not commonly used nowadays, stakes of wood being as serviceable, and none but a large expedition would be burdened with the unnecessary weight of iron pegs.

10. Chapter X

The Desert of Parallel Sand-Ridges

My position for Family Well is lat. 22° 40′, long. 125° 54′. The well, as already stated, is situated at the foot of the southern slope of a high sand-ridge. This ridge is the first of a series of parallel banks of sand which extend, with occasional breaks, from lat. 22° 40′ to 19° 20′—a distance of nearly 250 miles in a straight line. From September 16th to November 16th we were never out of sight of a sand ridge, and during that time travelled 420 miles, taking into account all deviations consequent upon steering for smokes and tracking up natives, giving an average of not quite seven miles a day, including stoppages. This ghastly desert is somewhat broken in its northern portion by the occurrence of sandstone tablelands, the Southesk Tablelands; the southern part, however, viz., from lat. 22° 40′ to lat. 20° 45′ presents nothing to the eye but ridge upon ridge of sand, running with the regularity of the drills in a ploughed field. A vast, howling wilderness of high, spinifex-clad ridges of red sand, so close together that in a day's march we crossed from sixty to eighty ridges, so steep that often the camels had to crest them on their knees, and so barren and destitute of vegetation (saving spinifex) that one marvels how even camels could pick up a living. I estimate their average vertical height from trough to crest at fifty to sixty feet. Some were mere rises, whilst others reached a height of considerably over one hundred feet. Sometimes the ridges would be a quarter of a mile apart, and sometimes ridge succeeded ridge like the waves of the sea. On October 3rd, for instance, I find that we were crossing them at a rate of ten in forty minutes. This gives a result of 105 ridges to be negotiated in a day's march of seven hours. Riding was almost impossible in such country as this, for all our energies were required to urge on the poor camels. All through, we adhered to the same plan as before, viz., doing our day's march without a halt (excepting of course the numerous stoppages entailed by broken nose-lines, the disarrangement of a pack, or the collapse of a camel), having no food or water from daylight until camping-time. This, without our previous training, would have been an almost impossible task, for each ridge had to be climbed—there was no going round them or picking out a low place, no tacking up the slope—straight ahead, up one side, near the top a wrench and a snap, down goes a camel, away go the nose-lines, a blow for the first and a knot for the second, over the crest and down, then a few paces of flat going, then up again and down again, and so on day after day. The heat was excessive—practically there was no shade.

The difficulties of our journey were increased by the necessity of crossing the ridges almost at right angles. With almost heart-breaking regularity they kept their general trend of E. by N. and W. by S., causing us from our Northerly course to travel day after day against the grain of the country. An Easterly or Westerly course would have been infinitely less laborious, as in that case we could have travelled along the bottom of the trough between two ridges for a great distance before having to cross over any. The troughs and waves seem to be corrugations in the surface of greater undulations; for during a day's march or so, on reaching the top of one ridge, our view forwards was limited to the next ridge, until a certain point was reached, from which we could see in either direction; and from this point onwards the ridges sank before us for a nearly equal distance, and then again they rose, each ridge higher than the last. Words can give no conception of the ghastly desolation and hopeless dreariness of the scene which meets one's eyes from the crest of a high ridge. The barren appearance of the sand is only intensified by the few sickly and shrunken gums that are dotted over it. In the troughs occasional clumps of shrubs, or scrubs,note or small trees are met with, and everywhere are scattered tussocks of spinifex. True it is, though, that even this poverty-stricken plant has its uses, for it serves to bind the sand and keep the ridges, for the most part, compact. Where spinifex does not grow, for instance on the tops of the ridges, one realises how impossible a task it would be to travel for long over banks of loose sand.

I find that my estimate for the average height of the sand-ridges is considerably lower than that of Colonel Warburton. It is interesting, therefore, to compare his account of these ridges, though it must be remembered that Colonel Warburton was travelling on a westerly course, and we from our northerly direction only traversed country previously seen by him, for the short distance that our sight would command, at the point of intersection of our two tracks. In an editorial note in his book we read:—

They varied considerably both in their size and in their distance from each other, but eighty feet may be regarded as an average in the former respect and three hundred yards in the latter.

They ran parallel to each other in an East and West direction, so that while pursuing either of these courses the travellers kept in the valleys, formed by two of them, and got along without much exertion. It was when it became necessary to cross them at a great angle that the strain on the camels proved severe, for on the slopes their feet sank deeply into the sand, and their labours were most distressing to witness.

11. Chapter XI

From Family Well to Helena Spring

On leaving Family Well it was suggested by Charlie and Godfrey that we should take one of our native friends with us. No doubt this would have been the most sensible plan, and would have saved us much trouble. However, I did not care to take either of the females, the sick man was evidently of no use to us, and it was pretty evident that the sound buck was the chief hunter, and that without him, the little tribe would be hard pressed to find food. As we were not in absolute need of water for a few days to come, I decided to leave the family in quiet enjoyment of their accustomed surroundings. I had now given up all hope of finding any other than desert country ahead of us, and had no longer any other purpose than that of traversing the region that lay between us and “white settlements” with as little harm to ourselves and our camels as care and caution could command. Our course was now North-East, as it was necessary to make more easting to bring us near the longitude of Hall's Creek. We continued for three days on this course, the ridges running due East and West. The usual vegetation was to be seen, relieved by occasional patches of a low, white plant having the scent of lavender. This little plant grew chiefly on the southern slope of the ridges, and was seen by us in no other locality. A specimen brought home by me was identified at Kew Gardens as a new variety of Dicrastylis, and has been named Dicrastylis Carnegiei.

Large tracts of burnt country had to be crossed from which clouds of dust and ashes were continually rising, blown up by “Willy-Willies” (spiral winds). These were most deceptive, it being very hard to distinguish between them and hunting-smokes. After one or two disappointments we were able to determine, from a distance, the nature of these clouds of black dust. On the 22nd we turned due East towards some smokes and what appeared to be a range of hills beyond them. The smokes, however, turned out to be dust-storms, and the range to be immense sandhills. Here we saw the first desert oak, standing solitary sentinel on the crest of a ridge. Around the burnt ground several old tracks were visible, some of which we followed, but with no better result than two dry rock-holes and a dry native well one mile from them. Near the latter was an old native camp, in which we found several small, pointed sticks, so planed as to leave a bunch of shavings on the end. I have seen similar sticks stuck up on native graves near Coolgardie, but have no idea of their proper significance. Probably they are merely ornaments.

A line of cliffs next met our view, and to them we turned. These were higher rocks or hills than we had seen for some time, and presented rather a remarkable appearance. Formed of a conglomerate of sandstone and round ironstone pebbles, they stood up like a wall on the top of a long slope of easy grade, covered with gravel and loose pebbles. At the foot lay boulders great and small, in detached heaps like so many pieces broken from a giant plum-pudding. In the face of the cliffs were numerous holes and caves, the floors of which gave ample evidence of the presence of bats and wallabies. Of these latter we saw several, but could not get a shot; careful exploration of these caves, on hands and knees, led to the finding of a fair-sized rock-hole, unfortunately quite dry. I have no doubt that these wallabies, like the spinifex rats, are so constituted that water is not to them a necessity, and that the spinifex roots afford sufficient moisture to keep them alive. We saw no traces of spinifex rats at any of the wells we found, nor did we see any water which they could reach or from which, having reached it, they could climb up again to the surface. From the top of the cliffs an extensive view to the South and North was obtained. But such a view! With powerful field-glasses nothing could be seen but ridge succeeding ridge, as if the whole country had been combed with a mammoth comb. From these points of the compass the cliffs must be visible for a considerable distance. Their rather remarkable appearance made me think them worth naming, so they were christened “Wilson's Cliffs,” after my old friend and partner.

The entry in my diary for the 25th would stand for many other days. It runs:— “Most wretched sand-ridge country, ridges East and West, and timbered with very occasional stunted gums—extensive patches of bare, burnt country with clouds of dust. Absolutely no feed for camels—or for any other animal for that matter.”

Such miserable country beggars description. Nothing is more heartrending than to be forced to camp night after night with the knowledge that one's poor animals are wandering vainly in search of feed. To tie them down would have given them some rest, but at the same time it entailed their certain starvation; whilst, wandering about, they stood some chance of picking up a mouthful or two. How anxiously each ridge was scanned when camping-time drew near—no feed—on again another ridge or two, no feed—just one more ridge, and, alas! “no feed” is again the cry. So we camped perforce without it, and often the famished camels would wander two or three miles in the night in search of it, and this meant an extra walk to recover them in the morning.

On the morning of the 27th Warri brought in all the camels but one, with a message from Breaden that Misery was dying. Small wonder if all had been in the same state, for we were now eight days from the last water, and tough as camels are they cannot go waterless and foodless for very many days in such trying country as this. Poor old Misery! This was sad news indeed, but all that could be done to save him should be done.

This morning a smoke rose due West of us. We had seen so few signs of natives lately that we could not afford to neglect this, even though it was so far from our proper course.

By the time we had loaded the camels and distributed his load amongst the rest, Breaden brought Misery into camp, and when we started, followed with him behind us, coaxing him along as best he could. Eight miles brought us into the region of the burning spinifex and fresh tracks; despatching Charlie on Satan, and Godfrey and Warri on foot, to track up and catch a native if possible, I unloaded the camels and awaited Breaden's arrival. Presently he came alone, saying that poor Misery was done for and could move no further, so he had left him. I felt sure that that was the case, since Breaden would not have come without him if there had been any possibility of getting him further. Nevertheless, I could not bear to leave my faithful and favourite camel to die by slow degrees, and returned on Breaden's tracks. I took with me a brandy-bottle full of Epsom salts and water, for from Breaden's account of his way of going on I felt sure that poor Misery had eaten some poisonous plant. Four miles back I found him lying apparently dead in the shade of a tree, or where the shade would have been had there been any foliage; he knew me and looked up when I spoke to and patted him, and rested his head in my lap as I sat down beside him; but no amount of coaxing could get him on his legs. Having administered the salts, which he evidently enjoyed, I proceeded to bleed him by slitting his ear; my knife, however, was not sharp enough, (for everything becomes dulled in this sand) to do the job properly, and he bled but little. I could do nothing but wait, so taking a diminutive edition of Thackeray from my pocket, for I had foreseen this long wait, I read a chapter from Vanity Fair. Presently I got him on his legs and he walked for about thirty yards, then down he went in a heap on the ground; another wait, and more Vanity Fair. Then on again, and down again, and so on hour after hour. Soon nothing but brutal treatment would make him stir, so I hardened my heart and used a stick without mercy. What a brute I felt as he turned his great eyes reproachfully upon me! “Never mind, Misery, old chap, it must be done to save your life!” At last I reached a ridge within one hundred yards of the camp, and here Breaden met me, bringing with him four gallons of water and the welcome news that the others had captured two bucks who had shown a well three miles north.

This water saved Misery's life, and was just in time. We reached camp as the camels were reloaded and ready to start for the well under the guidance of the two bucks. Both of these were fair-sized men, and one stood six feet at least, though from the method of doing the hair in a bunch at the top of the head they appear taller than they really are. Godfrey and Warri had tracked them right into their camp and surprised a family of numerous gins, young and old, several picaninnies, and three bucks, one of whom was stone blind. They were preparing their evening meal, and amongst the spoils of the chase there were opossums, whose tracks on one of two large gum-trees not far off we afterwards saw. I had always associated opossums with good country; however, here they were. Of the natives, some fled as soon as Godfrey and Warri approached, whilst the men were uncommonly anxious to dispute this unceremonious visit to their camp. They were on the point of active hostilities when Charlie rode up on Satan, and they then thought better of it. Even so they were not persuaded to accompany the white men back to camp without considerable difficulty. The smaller man managed to escape; the other we afterwards christened Sir John, because he was so anxious to make us dig out old dry wells, so that presumably they should be ready for the next rain. There seemed to us to exist a certain similarity between his views and those of the Government, which is ever ready to make use of the pioneer's labours where it might be justly expected to expend its own.

This fellow was most entertaining, and took a great interest in all our belongings. I, coming last, seemed to excite keen delight, though he was naturally a little shy of his captors; he patted me on the chest, felt my shirt and arms, and was greatly taken by a tattoo on one of them. Grinning like any two Cheshire cats, he showed his approval by “clicking” his tongue with a side shake of the head, at the same time snapping his thumb and finger. Breaden, too, came in for Sir John's approval, and was similarly patted and pulled about.

Godfrey had taken a rather handy-looking tomahawk from the buck, made from the half of a horseshoe, one point of which was ground to a pretty sharp edge—a primitive weapon, but distinctly serviceable. Unlike our friend at Family Well, this man had not even a shell to wear, and beyond an unpleasantly scented mixture of fat and ashes, with which he was smeared, was hampered by no sort of clothing whatever. As usual, he was scarred on the chest and forehead, and wore his hair in a mop, held back by a band of string. His teeth were a picture, not only clean and white, which is usual, but uncommonly small and sharp, as one of us found! Leaving him to the main party to take on to the well, I and Warri remained behind to bring Misery on—and a nice job we had too. I thought of waiting and packing water back to him, but in that case he would have fallen an easy victim to the natives, who were bound to be prowling about, nor could one of us be spared to watch him. So he had to be beaten and hauled and dragged, by stages of twenty yards at a time, over the ridges. After darkness fell we had to follow the tracks with a firestick until we had the fire at camp to guide us. This we reached about 9.30 p.m., fairly tired out, but satisfied that the poor, patient sufferer's life was saved. The others had already started work on the well, but knocked off when I got back, and we had a good feed and a short rest. Sir John was much distressed at his party having taken away all their food when they retreated, and was hardly consoled by what we gave him. Tethered to a ti-tree, with a little fire to cheer him, he was apparently happy enough.

The rest of the night we worked at the well in shifts, and Charlie and I, the first shift, started off soon after daybreak with the buck to find more water, for it was evident that our present supply was insufficient. We felt pretty certain from the way the tribe had left that another well existed close by; the question was, would our captive show it? He started in great glee and at a great pace, carrying behind him, like a “back-board,” a light stick. This will be found to open the lungs and make a long walk less fatiguing, except for the strain on the arms. Occasionally he would stop and bind strips of bark round his ankles and below the knee. “Gabbi” was just over the next ridge, he assured us by signs—it was always “the next ridge”—until when nearly ten miles from camp we saw a smoke rise ahead of us, but so far away that we could do no good by going on. However, we had gained something by locating a fresh camp, so started homewards, the buck becoming most obstreperous when he saw our change of plan, for he made it clear by signs that the gins (indicating their breasts by covering his own with his hands) and the blind man (pointing to his own closed eyes and making a crooked track in the sand) and the rest, had circled round and gone to the camp from which we could see the smoke rising. However, he could not escape and soon gave in, and followed reluctantly behind, dragging at the rope.

Walking was bad enough, but this extra exertion was rather too much. Besides, we were sadly in need of sleep; so, taking advantage of what little shade we could find by following round the shadow of a gum tree as the sun moved, Charlie slept whilst I watched our black friend, and then I did the same. On arrival at camp we found that our companions had been so successful in “soak-sucking,” i.e., baling and scraping up the miserable trickle of water as it soaks into the “caisson,” that by sunset we were able to give the camels eight gallons each, and two gallons extra to Misery, who was showing signs of a rapid recovery. Luckily there was a little patch of dry herbage not far from the well, and a few acacias over the ridge. All the next day we were occupied in “soak-sucking,” and Warri went back for Misery's saddle, which had been thrown off. I took the opportunity of writing up my diary—anything but a pleasant job, for shade there was none, except in a reclining position under our solitary ti-tree bush. The native's close proximity and the swarm of flies, made the task quite hateful, for under the most favourable conditions there are few things I dislike more than writing. On September 28th I chronicled a most remarkable fact, viz., that the two camels Satan and Redleap had had no more than thirteen gallons of water in the preceding thirty-eight days—a wonderful exhibition of endurance and pluck in this burning weather and barren country. It came about in this way:—

August 22nd. At Woodhouse Lagoon they had a full drink in the morning.

August 29th. At Warri Well, where the parakeelia grew, two gallons in the evening.

September 8th. At Patience Well they were the last to be watered, eight gallons in the evening.

September 18th. At Family Well, parakeelia again, three gallons at night.

September 28th. Half a drink.

Therefore between the 22nd of August and the 28th of September they had no more than thirteen gallons.

Satan had more travelling, though carrying a less load, than any of the rest, being used for scouting and finding natives.

On the evening of the 29th I left my work down the well to take some observations; unluckily I was just too late for the stars I wanted, and had to wait up for some long time. We had divided the night into five shifts for baling; when my turn came my companions did not wake me, but did my shift for me. I am sure I appreciated their kindly thought, and felt thankful indeed, and not for the first time, that I had managed to choose such excellent mates—for I had long realised that without peace and unanimity in such a party, our chances of getting through the desert would be greatly minimised.

I found our position to be lat. 21° 49′, long. 126° 33′.

By morning we had given the camels another five gallons apiece and had some to go on with in our tanks, having, by working for two days and three nights, scraped together 140 gallons in all. On the 30th we travelled again Westwards, though making some Northerly progress towards the smoke which Charlie and I had located. We had a long talk about our methods of travelling, and Charlie thought that I was inclined to spare the camels at the expense of ourselves. We travelled all day without a break so that they should have the longer to look for feed at night, then we always hunted for tracks and water on foot, and when we found water, gave it to the camels before looking after our own wants, and he thought we might do longer stages straight ahead so long as we had a native. I held, and I think the outcome of the journey proved me correct, that our own well-being was a secondary consideration to that of our animals, for without them we should be lost. “Slow but sure” was my motto.

Though anxious to make as much northing as possible I did not feel justified in passing by almost certain water for the sake of a few hours. I felt always that we might come into an even more waterless region ahead, and perhaps be unable to find any natives. Some twelve miles brought us to the well—the smoke had been beyond it—and a more wretched spot I never saw. Absolutely barren, even of spinifex, were the high ridges of sand between which was the well—merely a small, round hole, with no signs of moisture or plant life about it, not a tree “within cooee.” We had to go far to collect enough wood for a fire, and cut two sticks with which to rig up a fly to shade us from the sun—a purely imaginary shade, for light duck is of little use against the power of such a burning sun; but even the shadow cast by the fly gave an appearance of comfort.

At this camp we made two new caissons, as our old tin-lined boxes were no longer strong enough. Amongst our gear were two galvanised-iron boxes, made to order, with lids which completely covered the boxes and were held on by straps. “Concertina-made boxes” they were called by the tinsmith—a name which gave rise to a curious mis-statement in a Perth paper which published a letter I wrote to Sir John Forrest. The letter read: “…We made boxes out of concertinas!!” I fear any who read this must have thought me fairly good at “romancing.” I had them made that shape so that they might be filled to nearly double the capacity of the boxes and still have serviceable lids. I had hoped to have filled them with specimens of plants and birds. Unfortunately we had neither the time to, nor the opportunity of making any such collection, though we might easily have filled them with specimens of the desert house-fly which swarm at every well! By sawing off the ends of these lids we had two useful boxes, with neither top nor bottom, and by screwing them on to a framework of wood we manufactured a most useful caisson, 2 feet deep by 1½ long and 1 foot wide. By forcing this into the sand in the well and digging out the sand contained in it, and then patiently waiting with a pannikin for the small trickle of water creeping in from between the outside of the caisson and the sides of the rock-hole, then again forcing the box lower, and clearing out the sand above, now drained of its moisture, and repeating the baling process, we were enabled to drain the well of almost every drop it contained. On first acquaintance with these wells a novice's impulse would be to dig out the sand until the bottom was reached; but as the sand holds the water he would find himself with a nicely cleared hole, but cleared of sand and water alike. Therefore, without some such makeshift as that already described one would be in the most unsatisfactory position of knowing that water existed, and yet of being unable to obtain any but a very small supply. The natives use comparatively little water, since it is only for drinking purposes, washing being unknown, and as the water sinks in the well the sand is scooped out gradually and carefully and plastered round the sides of the hole, so preventing the inrush of sand. Very often when they require a drink they bend down and suck up the water through a bunch of grass, which prevents the sand from getting into the mouth.

The water from the wells was always bad, and on first being brought to the surface was hardly fit to use; the camels would not, unless really dry, drink it until it had been exposed in our canvas troughs to the air for some time. Lying stagnant perhaps for a year or more, protected by the sand, it is not to be wondered at that its flavour is not of the best. Digging in the sand discloses all sorts of odds and ends that could not fail to contaminate the water. It contains also—derived, I suppose, from the sandstone—a certain amount of iron, which I believe to have acted as a sort of tonic to us. A many-tinted, bluish scum always floated on the surface and tea made with it turned as black as ink—nevertheless it was quite good drinking.

October 1st and 2nd we spent at the well, working as above described, whilst Warri tended the camels a couple of miles away on a patch of weeds he discovered. This weed which I have mentioned is the only available feed in this region—without it the camels must have starved long since. The plant somewhat resembles a thistle, but has a small blue flower, and when fresh forms the best feed. So far, however, we had only seen it dry and shrivelled. It is known to science as Trichodesma zeylanicum. This camp was the scene of a vicious onslaught on Charlie, made by the buck, whilst away looking for the plant from which to make a chewing-ball. Taking Charlie unawares he nearly accomplished his escape. Charlie, as it happened, was the very worst to try such tricks on, for he was the strongest of the party, and a very powerful man. During the struggle the black-fellow grabbed Charlie's revolver pouch, and somehow the revolver exploded, the bullet narrowly missing them both. It had the useful effect of attracting our attention, and we were in time to save Charlie some nasty wounds, as the buck was using his powerful jaws to great advantage. Of course we could not blame him for trying to escape—that was only natural—but it made us more cautious in the future. Excepting the inconvenience of being unable to get away, he had nothing to complain of, and had the advantage of plenty to eat and drink without the trouble of looking for it. The manufacture of the “quid” mentioned above is interesting. Cleaning and smoothing a place in the sand, a small branch from a silvery-leafed ti-tree (a grevillea, I think), is set alight and held up; from it as it burns a light, white, very fine ash falls on to the prepared ground. Now the stems of a small plant already chewed are mixed with the ashes. The compound so formed is squeezed and pressed and kneaded into a small, oval-shaped ball, of sticky and stringy consistency. The ball when in use is chewed and sucked but not swallowed, and is passed round from mouth to mouth; when not in use it is placed behind the ear, where it is carried. Nearly every tribe we saw had such “quids.” No doubt they derive some sustenance from them. Sir John preferred his “chew” to any food we gave him; though he did not care about tobacco.

For the next two days the sand-ridges seemed to vie with each other in their height and steepness, between them there was hardly any flat ground at all; mile after mile we travelled, up one and down and over the next without ceasing. First came the native and his guard, then in a long, broken line the string of camels. What a labour it was! Often each camel had to be urged in turn over the ridge whilst those behind were continually breaking their nose-lines to lie down or hurry off to the nearest shade, however scanty, and there await the blows and exhortations of their driver; those which remained in their places were continually lifting their feet, for they could not stay still on the burning sand; then their packs were always being jolted about and thrown out of place, necessitating reloading, and when at last we had them again in line the whole performance had to be repeated a few ridges further on.

Sometimes our caravan would cover half a mile or more, the guide and guardian waiting far in advance whilst the broken line was rejoined and the stragglers brought in, and away far behind the last camel would appear alone, with his nose-line dangling and tripping him up. Usually Billy brought up the rear—nothing would induce him to follow close behind; a jerk of his head and away went the nose-line, and Billy was left behind to follow when so inclined. The heat was really tremendous. It can be fairly sultry around Coolgardie, but never before have I experienced such scorching heat; the sun rose like a ball of fire, and in two hours' time had as great power as at any period during the day. How one prayed for it to set, and how thankful one was when in due course it did so, sinking below the horizon as suddenly as it had risen!

I am not sure which felt the heat most, poor little Val or the buck. He, curiously enough, seemed more affected by it than we were. At night he drank more than we did, and then was not satisfied. Sometimes when waiting on ahead he used to squat down and scoop out a hole in the ground to reach the cool sand beneath; with this he would anoint himself. Sometimes he would make a mixture of sand and urine, with which he would smear his head or body. Poor Val was in a pitiable state; the soles of her paws were worn off by the hot sand; it was worse or as bad for her to be knocked about on the top of one of the loads, and although by careful judgment she could often trot along in the shade of one of the camels, she was as near going mad as I imagine it possible for a dog to go. Poor little thing! She used to yell and howl most agonisingly, with her eyes staring and tongue hanging. We had, of course, to pack her on a camel when her feet gave out, and by applying vaseline alleviated her pain.

Our guide took us to two dry wells and watched our disgust with evident satisfaction, and I had to resort to the unfailing argument of allowing him no water at all. He pleaded hard by sounds and gesture and no doubt suffered to some extent, but all was treated as if unnoticed by us. Thirst is a terrible thing; it is also a great quickener of the wits, and the result of this harsh treatment, which reduced the poor buck to tears (a most uncommon thing amongst natives), was that before very long we were enabled to unload and make camp in one of the most charming little spots I have ever seen. A veritable oasis, though diminutive in size; but not so in importance, for without its life-giving aid it is hard to say how things would have gone with us. The weather, as I have said, was scorching, the country destitute of feed, almost waterless, most toilsome to cross, and our camels were worn to skeletons from starvation and incessant work, and had they not been fine specimens of an exceptionally fine breed must have long since succumbed. Surely this is one of the noblest of creatures and most marvellous works of the Creator!

Brave, dumb heroes, with what patience and undaunted courage do they struggle on with their heavy loads, carrying what no other animal could carry in country where no other could live, never complaining or giving in until they drop from sheer exhaustion! I think there are few animals endowed with more good qualities than the much-abused camel—abused not only by the ignorant, which is excusable, but by travellers and writers who should know better. Patience, perseverance, intelligence, docility, and good temper under the most trying conditions, stand out pre-eminently amongst his virtues. Not that all camels are perfect—some are vicious and bad tempered; so far as my experience goes these are the exceptions. Some few are vicious naturally, but the majority of bad-tempered camels are made so by ill-treatment. If a camel is constantly bullied, he will patiently wait his chance and take his revenge—and pick the right man too. “Vice or bad temper,” says the indignant victim; “Intelligence,” say I. In matters of loading and saddling, ignorance causes great suffering to camels. I can imagine few things more uncomfortable than having to carry 150 pounds on one side of the saddle and perhaps 250 pounds on the other, and yet if the poor beast lies down and complains, in nine cases out of ten his intelligent master will beat him unmercifully as a useless brute! Nearly every sore back amongst a mob of camels is the result of carelessness. It is hard to avoid, I am well aware, but it can be done; and I speak as an authority, for during our journey to Kimberley and the journey back again, over such country as I have endeavoured faithfully to describe, there were only two cases of camels with sore backs—one was Billy, who had an improperly healed wound when we started, which, however, we soon cured; the other Stoddy, on the return journey. This state of affairs was not brought about except by bestowing great care and attention on the saddles, which we were continually altering, as they were worn out of shape, or as the camels became thinner—and thin they were, poor things, tucked up like greyhounds! A few days' rest and feed, fortunately soon puts a camel right, and such they could have at the little oasis we had reached on October 5th. In the centre of it lay a splendid little spring, in many ways the most remarkable feature we had encountered, and therefore I christened it after one whose love and helpful sympathy in all my work, has given me strength and courage—my sister Helena.

12. Chapter XII

Helena Spring

“My native valley hath a thousand springs, but not to one of them shall I attach hereafter, such precious recollections as to this solitary fount, which bestows its liquid treasures where they are not only delightful, but nearly indispensable.”

So spake Sir Kenneth of Scotland in The Talisman.

Surely the Christian knight, dragging his way across the sands of Palestine, was not more pleased to reach the “Diamond of the Desert” than we were to light upon this charming little oasis, hidden away in the dreary solitude of the surrounding sandhills; the one spot of green on which one's eyes may rest with pleasure in all this naked wilderness. At the bottom of a hollow enclosed between two sand-ridges is a small surface outcrop of limestone of similar character to that in which Empress Spring is situated. In this is a little basin, nearly circular, about 2 feet 6 inches in diameter and 3 feet deep, with a capacity of about seventy gallons. This is the spring, fed at the bottom of the basin from some subterranean source by a narrow tunnel in the rock, a natural drain, not six inches in diameter. Through this passage, from the West, the water rises, filling the rocky basin, and evidently at some seasons bubbling over and filling the clay-pan which abuts on it on the Western side. On the East side of the spring is an open space of sand; surrounding it and the clay-pan is a luxuriant growth of pig-face—a finger-like plant, soft, squashy, and full of moisture, but salt; it is commonly seen on the margin of salt-lakes. Beyond the pig-face, tussocks of grass and buck-bush, beyond that again a mass of ti-tree scrub extending to the foot of the sandhills. On the inner slopes of these can be seen the crowning glory of the spot viz., an abundance of splendid green thistle (Trichodesma zeylanicum), tall and juicy, growing amongst acacia and other bushes. Outside this, beyond this area of perhaps four hundred yards in diameter, stretching away to the horizon, ridge upon ridge of desolate sand, black and begrimed by the ashes of recently burnt spinifex, from which the charred stumps of occasional gum trees point branchless to the sky. What chance of finding such a place without the help of those natives to whom alone its existence was known?

The winds and storms of past years had filled in the basin with sand and leaves, and except for the extraordinary freshness and abundance of vegetation around it, its peculiar situation, and the absence of the usual accompaniments to rock-holes, such as heaps of sticks and stones which, having served their purpose of protecting the water from evaporation, have been removed and thrown aside by the natives, there was nothing at first sight to lead one to suppose that any further supply existed than was visible in this natural reservoir. This small amount soon vanished down the throats of the thirsty camels; it was then that, having cleared out the sand and leaves, we discovered the small passage through which the spring rises. By continual baling until all the camels were satisfied (and of this splendid spring water they drank a more than ordinary amount) we kept the water back to the mouth of the passage. Within an hour or so of the watering of the last camel, the hole was again full to the brim, of the most crystal-clear water. How we revelled in it! What baths we had—the first since we left Woodhouse Lagoon over seven weeks back! What a joy this was, those only can understand who, like us, have been for weeks with no better wash than a mouthful of water squirted into the hands and so rubbed over the face. Whenever possible Godfrey, who made our damper (bread), washed his hands in the corner of a dish, which was used by each in turn afterwards—and at our work in the wells, a certain amount of dirt was washed off. But to splash about with an unlimited number of buckets of water ready to hand, to be got by the simple dipping of a billy-can—this was joy indeed! This luxury we enjoyed from October 5th to October 10th, and every day the camels were brought to water, and with this and the green feed visibly fattened before our eyes.

So soon as we had proved the supply of our new watering-place, I had intended giving our guide his liberty. However, he forestalled this by cleverly making his escape. For want of a tree, his chain had been secured to the iron ring of a heavy pack-bag. His food and water were given him in empty meat-tins. With the sharp edge of one of these he had worked so industriously during the night that by morning he had a neat little circle of leather cut out of the bag round the ring.

With a blanket on which he had been lying, he covered his cunning trick and awaited his opportunity. It soon came; when our attention was fixed on the building of a shade, and, in broad daylight, he sneaked away from us without a sign or sound, taking with him some three feet of light chain on his ankle. What a hero he must be thought by his fellow-tribesmen! and doubtless that chain, which he could easily break on a stone with an iron tomahawk, will be treasured for many years to come. Had he not been in such a hurry he would have returned to his family laden with presents, for we had set aside several articles designed for him.

Our camp was specially built to protect us from the flies, and consisted of a framework of ti-tree poles and branches, roofed with grass and pig-face; under this we slung our mosquito-nets and enjoyed perfect peace. A few days in camp are by no means idle ones, for numerous are the jobs to be done—washing and mending clothes, patching up boots and hats, hair cutting, diary writing, plotting our course, arranging photograph plates (the majority of which were, alas! spoilt by the heat), mending a camera cracked by the sun, making hobble-straps, mending and stuffing saddles, rearranging packs, cleaning firearms, and other like occupations. The heat was extreme; too great for my little thermometer which registered up to 140°F., and intensified by hot winds and “Willy-Willies” (sometimes of great violence), which greatly endangered our camp. Godfrey excelled himself in the cooking department, and our usual diet of “tinned dog” was agreeably varied by small pigeons, which came in numbers to drink—pretty little slate-grey birds with tufts on their heads, common enough in Australia. Of these we shot over fifty, and, as well, a few of the larger bronzewing pigeons. The tufted birds come to water just after daylight and just before sundown, and so are more easily shot than the bronzewing. Throughout the day, galahs, wee-jugglers, parakeets, diamond-sparrows, and an occasional hawk or crow, came to the spring, evidently a favourite resort. Curiously enough, but few native camps were to be seen, nor is this the first time that I have noticed that the best waters are least used. The Australian aboriginal is not usually credited with much thought for the morrow. These desert people, however, have some provident habits, for first the small native wells are used, and only when these are exhausted are the more permanent waters resorted to. As an instance of their powers of following a “spoor,” it may be mentioned that on several occasions our captive suddenly darted off at a tangent with eyes to ground, and then started digging his heel in the sand to find where a lizard or iguana was that he had tracked to his hole. Warri, amongst his other accomplishments, was most useful as a retriever of any wounded pigeon; he would hunt about until he spotted a fresh track, and before long had captured the bird. Any one who has noticed the number of hen-tracks in a poultry yard will appreciate this delicate performance. Warri, I am sure, would have been invaluable to Sherlock Holmes.

Pleasant as our camp was we could not stay too long, for we still had a considerable tract of unknown country before us. As the result of numerous observations I make the position of Helena Spring to be lat. 21°, 20′ 30″ South, and (by dead reckoning) long. 126° 20′ East.

From the native I extracted the following words, which I consider reliable:—

        
English Aboriginal  
Eagle Hawk Gunderu  
Gum tree Waaldi  
Sand Nuah  
Spinifex Godadyuda,  
note Fire or Smoke Warru  
note Water  Gabbi  
note Dog Pappa  

13. Chapter XIII

From Helena Spring to the Southesk Tablelands.

On October 11th we reluctantly left the “Diamond of the Desert” behind us, travelling in a N.E. by N. direction over the interminable sand-ridges, crossing a greater extent of burnt country than we had yet seen, and finally camping on the top of a high ridge so as to catch any breeze that the night might favour us with.

We made a long march that day of eighteen miles—a very creditable stage in such peculiarly configurated country. The camels had so benefited by their rest and feed that it made little difference to them that they had nothing to eat that night; they were well content to lie round the camp all night and chew the cud. I have often noticed how much camels like society; under favourable conditions—that is to say when travelling in good camel-country like the Southern goldfields—they will feed for an hour or so before dark, then slowly make their way with clattering hobble-chains and clanging bells back to the camp-fire, and there, with many grunts of satisfaction, lie peacefully until just before daylight, when they go off for another feed. On moonlight nights they like to roam about and pick choice morsels of bush on and off until daylight. In this waste corner of the earth where now we battled our way, the poor brutes wandered aimlessly about, now trying a mouthful of sharp spinifex and now the leaves of a eucalyptus; turning from these in disgust, a little patch of weed might be discovered by one lucky camel; no sooner would he hurry towards it than the others would notice it, and then a great scramble ensued and the weakest went without—though I have seen the strong help the weak, as in the case of Czar, who, with his powerful jaws, would break down branches for Misery, then quite young and without the requisite teeth. How fine they look with their long necks stretched upwards with the heads thrown back and the sensitive lips extended to catch some extra fresh bunch of leaves! How cunningly they go to work to break a branch that is out of reach; first the lowest leaf is gently taken in the lips and pulled down until the mouth can catch hold of some hanging twig—along this it is worked, and so from twig to branch, a greater strain being exerted as the branches increase in size, until finally the main limb of the branch is seized, and bent and twisted until broken. Often they try for one branch time after time, for having set their minds on a particular morsel, nothing will satisfy them until they have it.

No such scene could be watched from our camp on the ridge. But still we had something out of the common to look upon in the shape of hills ahead, and my hopes were high that we should soon see the last of the desert. Away to the North high points and bold headlands stood out black and clear above the sea of sand, tablelands and square-edged hills with some high peaks rising from them—the most imposing hills we had seen since passing Mount Burgess, near Coolgardie. From this point little could be determined as to their character even with glasses, for they were, as we afterwards found, over thirty miles distant.

Between them and our camp numerous low detached, table-top hills and conical mounds could be seen—none of any size, but remarkable in shape and appearance. These I named the Forebank Hills, after a hill near my home. These hills gave promise of better country, and, choosing a prominent headland, I altered our course towards it the following morning. We had not been travelling long before a smoke rose quite close to us, and we had another opportunity of seeing native hunting operations without being seen ourselves. A fine upstanding buck was dodging about amongst the blazing spinifex and was too engrossed to notice us; presently his occupation led him over the ridge and we saw him no more. From the earliness of the hour—for the smokes as a rule do not rise before 9 a.m.—it was clear that he could not have come far, so, picking up his tracks, we followed them back to his camp. Though we were not in great want of water, I considered it always advisable to let no chance of getting some slip by, since one never can tell how long the next may be in coming.

The tracks led us along the foot of one ridge; along the next, some three hundred yards distant, the ladies of the tribe could be seen marching along, laughing and chattering, and occasionally giving forth the peculiar shrill yell which only the gins can produce. It is impossible to describe a noise in writing, but the sound is not unlike a rather shrill siren, and the word shouted is a long-drawn “Yu-u-u.” There is no mistaking the women's voices, the men's cry is somewhat deeper. Both are rather weird sounds, more especially when heard in thick scrub where one can see no natives, though one hears them all round. In the spinifex they were easily seen, and to their cry an answering yell came over the ridge and other women and children appeared. Presently they saw our caravan, and the “Yu-u-u” became fainter and fainter as the group scattered in all directions, and was lost to view. At the end of the tracks we found a camp, and in it the only attempt at a roofed shelter that we saw in the desert, and this merely a few branches leant against a small tree. The camp-fire had spread and burnt the spinifex close by, which gave the spot anything but an inviting appearance.

Under the shelter were huddled together, asleep, two gins and a young man. I have never seen more intense astonishment expressed in any one's face than that shown by these three when we roused them. All in their way were peculiar and deserving of description. The young gin was by no means uncomely; well-shaped and healthy-looking, with a skin black and shining as a well smoked meerschaum, with beautiful teeth which were shown off to advantage by an extensive smile, when she found that we had no murderous intentions. The other gin was the most repulsive object I have ever seen—like a hideous toad with wrinkled, baggy skin, with legs and arms so thin as to be no more than skin stretched tight over very meagre shinbones; and the face of this wretched being was a mass of festering wounds, on which no one could look without pity and horror. The man, too, was remarkable; an exceedingly smart young buck with an air of irresponsibility about him that suggested madness—a suspicion amply confirmed by his subsequent behaviour. His decorations added to his queer appearance; scarred by deep gashes on chest and arms, his body was daubed with red ochre, and his ribs picked out with white; on his head a kind of chignon formed of grass, hair, and string held his matted locks in place, like a bird's nest on his crown; he had neither beard nor whiskers, and was not blessed with any article of clothing whatever.

He showed us their well, which was nearly dry, and then volunteered to lead us to others; and away he went, swaggering along and clicking his tongue in great glee, occasionally breaking out into shrieks of laughter. When we arrived at one dry rock-hole and then another, it dawned upon me what the secret joke had been that so amused our friend; and I determined that he should be of some use to us before we parted company.

Of these dry rock-holes, one would, after rain, hold a fair amount of water, and is situated on the shoulder between two low table-tops. To the South, about two miles distant, are three conspicuous conical hills, close together, and about the same distance to the North-West a hill that at once calls to mind an old fort or castle. On camping, our native friend became a most intolerable nuisance, and proved himself a cunning wrestler, suddenly bending down and diving between Breaden's legs, which he seized at the ankle, nearly succeeding in throwing him to the ground. With a chain formed of spare hobbles held together by wire, we tethered him to a tree, scraped out a nest in the sand for him to sleep in, and lit a fire to cheer him. There he lay quiet until, on making signs that he was thirsty, one of us went to give him his food and water, when he darted at his benefactor and fought most viciously. After that, all through the night, at intervals, he was yelling and dancing, now upright and now on hands and knees circling his tree and barking like a dog, now tearing his headgear and stamping it in the sand, threatening us with hands raised, and finally subsiding into his sandy nest, crying and whining most piteously. It was an act of some danger to unloose him in the morning, but before long he was laughing away as heartily as before. There is no doubt he was as mad as could be. During the day's march he was up to all kinds of pranks, going through all sorts of antics, idiotic, sorrowful, angry, and vulgar in turn. The space between the ridges was greater now, and on them were numerous pointed ant-hills some two or three feet high. One favourite trick of this lunatic was to rush towards one of these, and sit perched on the top with his knees up and feet resting on the side of the heap, a most uncomfortable position. Another dodge he tried with indifferent success was that of throwing himself under a camel as he passed, with the object, I suppose, of diving out on the other side. The camel, however, did not understand the game and kicked him severely. He was a most extraordinary person, and indeed I can understand any one going mad in this dreary region; and to think that these black folk have never known anything different!

I could enumerate a score of strange tricks that our friend exhibited. What surprised me most was to see him make use, in unmistakable pantomime, of a vulgar expression that I thought was only known to English schoolboys!

Between the Forebank Hills and the tablelands we were now approaching is an open plain of spinifex some ten miles wide, bounded on North and South by sand-ridges. From these in the morning the long line of broken tablelands could be seen ahead of us, and running for a considerable distance to the eastward. The highest point of those more immediately to our front I named Mount Fothringham, after my cousin. The headland for which we were steering was too far off to be reached that night, so we camped on a ridge, and during the night noticed a small fire in the hills ahead. It could only be a camp-fire of some natives, so, noting its direction, and being unable to see anything further, we retired to rest.

The next morning, with the help of the glasses, we could see several black figures moving about on the sloping foot of the cliffs, and therefore steered in their direction. Our mad friend had to be accommodated on the top of a camel, as he refused to walk or move, and I wished to leave him with friends, or at any rate with fellow-countrymen, though we no longer required his services as guide, in which capacity he had been singularly useless. Five miles brought us to the hills, and close on to the natives' camp whose fire we had seen, before they discovered us; when they did so they fled, seven or eight of them, and hid in caves in the sandstone. We had now been only four days since the last water, but the weather was so hot, feed so scarce, and so much ground burnt and dusty, that it was time we gave the camels another drink if we wished to keep them in any sort of condition. From the native camp a few tracks led round a corner of rock; these I followed, with the camels coming behind, and soon saw two small native wells sunk in the sand and debris, held in a cleft in the rock. Nothing but bare rock rose all round, and on this we made camp, turning the camels out at the foot of the cliffs where a few bushes grew.

Godfrey and Warri meanwhile had followed the blacks into the caves, and now returned with two of the finest men I have seen in the interior. One, a boy, apparently about eighteen years old, splendidly formed and strongly built, standing nearly six feet high; the other a man of mature years, not so tall but very broad and well-made. The boy had no hair on his face, the man a short beard and moustaches, and both had a far better cast of features than any I have seen further south. Their skin, too, instead of being black, was a shining reddish-brown colour; this was perhaps produced by red ochre and grease rubbed in, but in any case it gave them a finer appearance. Both were quite without clothing or ornament, nor did I notice any of the usual scars upon their bodies; their well-fed frames made us hope that a change in the country was close at hand.

These natives showed no fear or surprise when once in the camp, and, examining our packs and saddles, sat “jabbering” away quite contented, until Breaden struck a match to light his pipe. This so alarmed them that they bolted. We did not attempt to stop the boy, but detained the man, as I wished for further information about waters, and was also anxious to study his habits. He had evidently been in touch with blacks from settled parts, for he knew the words, “white-fella” and “womany,” and had certainly heard of a rifle, for on my picking one up and holding it towards him he trembled with fear, and it was some time before his confidence in us was restored. He really was a most intelligent man, both amusing and interesting, and by signs and pantomime, repeated over and over again until he saw that we guessed his meaning, he told us many things. Plenty of women, old and young, were camped in one direction, and were specially worth a visit; he knew of several watering-places, in one of which we could bathe and stand waist-deep. So I made a compact that as soon as he showed us this wonderful “Yowie” (his word for water) he should go free. He seemed perfectly to understand this. Our mad friend he hardly deigned to notice, and pointed at him in a most contemptuous way.

Now that he, the lunatic, was free to go where he liked, nothing would induce him to leave us—he would start to go, and after a few paces return and take up a crouching position close to the mouth of the well where we were working, and as each bucketful of mud or moist sand was hauled to the surface he eagerly watched it being emptied, and then proceeded to cover himself with its contents, until at last he was hardly distinguishable from a pyramid of mud—and a stranger object I never saw! Towards dusk he slunk off and sat on a rock below the cliffs, where he ate the food we had given him; and for all I know he may be there yet.

Work was carried on all night, which was divided as usual into shifts, and this I have no doubt saved us from attack. Before sunset we had seen several bucks sneaking about the rocks, and during the night they came round us and held a whispered conversation with their fellow in our camp. Between them a sort of telegraphy seemed to be going on by tapping stones on the rocks. They may have been merely showing their position in the darkness, or it is possible that they have a “Morse code” of their own. I was on shift when they came, and as the well wanted baling only every twenty minutes, I was lying awake and watching the whole performance, and could now and then see a shadowy figure in the darkness. As soon as I rose to work, our buck lay down and snored heavily, and his friends of course were silent. I awoke Breaden on my way, as it would have been far too much in their favour should the blacks have attacked us and found me down the well and the rest of the party asleep. They were quite right in wishing to rescue their friend, since they could not tell what his fate was to be, but we could not risk a wounded companion or possibly worse, and lay watching for the remainder of the night. Evidently they were inclined to take no risks either, for they left us in peace.

The wells, situated as they are in the bed of a rocky gully, would after rain hold plenty of water, though we extracted no more than thirty-five gallons. Their position is lat. 20° 46′, long. 126° 23′.

From the rocks above the wells the tablelands to the East have quite a grand appearance, running in a curve with an abrupt cliff on the Western side, and many conical and peaked hills rising from their summit. These tablelands, which in a broken line were seen by us to extend Northwards for over forty miles, and certainly extend Eastwards for twenty miles and possibly a great deal further, are of sandstone. Looking Westwards, a few detached blocks may be seen, but we seemed to have struck the Western limit of these hills. I have named them the Southesk Tablelands, after my father. Between the curved line of cliffs and the wells are several isolated blocks. Seven and a half miles to the Westward a remarkable headland (Point Massie) can be seen at the Northern end of a detached tableland. Again to the West, one mile, at the head of a deep little rocky gorge, whose entrance is guarded by a large fig tree, is a very fine rock-hole. This was the promised water, and our native friend was free to return to his family; he was greatly pleased at the bargain being carried out, and had evidently not expected it. Possibly what he has heard of the white-fella is not much to his credit! The fig tree afforded a splendid shade from the burning sun, and in a recess in the rock close by we could sit in comparative coolness. Here the native artist had been at work, his favourite subject being snakes and concentric rings.

A steep gorge, not very easy for camels to pass along, led up to the rock-hole, which lies under a sheltering projection of rock. From the rock above a good view is obtained; sand-ridges to the West, to the North and East tablelands. Most noticeable are Mounts Elgin, Romilly, and Stewart, bearing from here 346°, 4°, 16° respectively. These hills are named after three of my brothers-in-law. They are of the usual form—that is to say, flat-topped with steep sides—Mount Elgin especially appearing like an enormous squared block above the horizon. To the South-East of Mount Stewart are two smaller table-tops close together.

As I walked over the rocks I noticed numerous wallabies, of which Godfrey shot several later; they were excellent eating, not unlike rabbit. Leaving the rock-hole, we steered for Mount Romilly, first following down the little creek from the gorge until it ran out into the sand in a clump of bloodwoods. Then crossing a plain where some grass grew as well as spinifex, we came again into sand-ridges, then another plain, then a large, dry clay-pan West of Mount Stewart, then more ridges up to the foot of Mount Romilly. It was here that we must have crossed the route of Colonel Warburton in 1873, though at the time I could not quite make out the relative positions of our two routes on the map.

Colonel Warburton, travelling from East to West, would be more or less always between two ridges of sand, and his view would therefore be very limited, and this would account for his not having marked hills on his chart, which are as large as any in the far interior of the Colony. In his journal, under date of September 2nd, we read:— “…There are hills in sight; those towards the North look high and hopeful, but they are quite out of our course. Other detached, broken hills lie to the West, so our intention is to go towards them”. Then, on September 3rd: “N.W. by W. to a sandstone hill” (probably Mount Romilly). “North of us there is a rather good-looking range running East and West with a hopeful bluff at its Western end” (probably Twin Head). From the top of Mount Romilly a very prominent headland can be seen bearing 7°, and beyond it two others so exactly similar in shape and size that we called them the Twins. For these we steered over the usual sand-ridges and small plains, on which a tree (Ventilago viminalis) new to us was noticed; here, too, was growing the Hibiscus Sturtii, whose pretty flowers reminded us that there were some things in the country nice to look upon.

Near the foot of the second headland we made camp. Leaving Charlie behind, the rest of us set out in different directions to explore the hills. There are four distinct headlands jutting out from the tableland, which extends for many miles to the Eastward and in a broken line to the Southward, the face of the cliffs on the Western shore, so to speak, being indented with many bays and gulfs, and, to complete the simile, the waves of sand break upon the cliffs, while in the bays and gulfs there is smooth water—that is to say, flat sand. Grass and other herbage and bushes grow in a narrow belt around the foot of the cliffs, but everywhere else is spinifex.

The hills present a most desolate appearance, though somewhat remarkable; sheer cliffs stand on steep slopes of broken slabs and boulders of sandstone, reminding one of a quarry dump; from the flat summit of the cliffs rise conical peaks and round hills of most peculiar shape. The whole is covered with spinifex, a plant which seems to thrive in any kind of soil; this rock-spinifex, I noticed, contains much more resinous matter than the sand-spinifex, every spine being covered with a sticky juice. From our camp I walked up the valley between the first and second head, and, ascending the latter, which is crowned with cliffs some thirty feet high, sat down and examined the hills with my glasses. Two black objects moving about caught my eye, and as they approached I saw them to be two fine bucks decked out in most extravagant manner. From my point of vantage some three hundred feet above them, I could watch them, myself unseen. Each carried a sheaf of spears, woommera, and shield, and in their girdle of string a number of short throwing-sticks. Round their waists were hanging sporrans formed from tufts of hair, probably similar to those we found at Family Well that were made from the tufts from the ends of bandicoots' tails; their bodies were painted in fantastic patterns with white. Their hair was arranged in a bunch on the top of their heads, and in it were stuck bunches of emu feathers. Seen in those barren, dull-red hills, they looked strange and almost fiendish. They were evidently going to pay a visit to some neighbours either to hold festival or to fight—probably the latter.

When almost directly below they looked up and saw me; I remained quite still, watching all the time through the glasses. After the first surprise they held a hurried consultation and then fled; then another consultation, and back they came again, this time very warlike. With shouts and grunts they danced round in a circle, shaking their spears at me, and digging them into the ground, as much as to say, “That is what we would do to you if we could!” I rose from my hiding place and started to go down towards them, when they again retired, dancing and spear-waving at intervals. At the end of the valley, that is the third valley, there is a sheer cliff to a plateau running back to the foot of some round hills; across this plateau they ran until, on coming to some thick bushes, they hid, hoping, I have no doubt, to take me unawares. However, I was not their prospective victim, for no sooner had they planted themselves than I saw Godfrey, all unconscious, sauntering along towards them.

The whole scene was so clear to me from my lofty position that its laughable side could not help striking me, but this did not prevent my forestalling the blacks' murderous designs by a shot from my rifle, which was sufficiently well aimed to scare the bucks and attract Godfrey's attention. As soon as possible I joined him and explained my seemingly strange action. We tracked up the natives, and found they had been following a regular pad, which before long led us to a fine big rock-hole in the bed of a deep and rocky gully. A great flight of crows circling about a little distance off, made us sure that another pool existed; following down the first gully and turning to the left up another, deeper and broader, we found our surmise had been correct. Before us, at the foot of an overhanging rock, was a beautiful clear pool. What a glorious sight! We wasted no time in admiring it from a distance, and each in turn plunged into the cool water, whilst the other kept watch on the rocks above. Sheltered as it was from the sun, except for a short time during the day, this pool was as ice compared to the blazing, broiling heat overhead, and was indeed a luxury. By the side of the pool, under the overhanging rock, some natives had been camped, probably our friends the warriors; the ashes were still hot, and scattered about were the remains of a meal, feathers and bones of hawks and crows. Above the overhanging rock, in the middle of the gully, is a small rock-hole with most perfectly smooth sides, so situated that rain water running down the gully would first fill the rock-hole, and, overflowing, would fall some twenty feet into the pool below. The rock is of soft, yellowish-white sandstone. Close to the water edge I carved

image
and Godfrey scratched the initials of all of us. The pool, which when full would hold some forty thousand gallons, I named “Godfrey's Tank,” as he was the first white man to set eyes upon it.

Having finished our bathe, we set about looking for a path by which to bring the camels for a drink; the gorge was too rocky and full of huge boulders to make its passage practicable, and it seemed as if we should have to make a detour of a good many miles before reaching the water. Fortunately this was unnecessary, for on meeting Breaden he told us he had found a small pool at the head of the first valley which was easy of access. This was good news, so we returned to camp, and, as it was now dark, did not move that night. And what a night it was!—so hot and oppressive that sleep was impossible. It was unpleasant enough to be roasted by day, but to be afterwards baked by night was still more so! A fierce fire, round which perhaps the warriors were dancing, lit up the rocks away beyond the headlands, the glow showing all the more brilliantly from the blackness of the sky.

The next morning we packed up and moved camp to the pool, passing up the first valley—Breaden Valley—with the first promontory on our left. At the mouth of the valley, on the south side, are three very noticeable points, the centre one being conical with a chimney-like block on one side, and flanking it on either hand table-topped hills.

Down the valley runs a deep but narrow creek which eventually finds its way round the foot of the headlands into a ti-tree-encircled red lagoon enclosed by sand-ridges. Near the head of the valley the creek splits; near the head of the left-hand branch is Godfrey's Tank; in the other, just before it emerges from the cliffs, is the small pool found by Breaden. Several kinds of trees new to me were growing in the valleys, one, a very pretty crimson-blossomed tree, not unlike a kurrajong in size, shape, and character of the wood, but with this difference, in leaf, that its leaves were divided into two points, whilst the kurrajong has three. One of these trees had been recently chopped down with a blunt implement, probably a stone tomahawk, and a half-finished piece of work—I think a shield—was lying close by. The wood is soft, and must be easily shaped. It is rather curious that the natives, of whom, judging from the smoke seen in all directions, there must be a fair number, should not have been camped at such a splendid water as Godfrey's Tank, the reason of their absence being, I suppose, that camping in the barren hills would entail a longish walk every day to any hunting grounds. To the native “enough is as good as a feast,” and a wretched little well as serviceable as a large pool. The nights were so cloudy that I was unable to see any stars, but by dead reckoning only the position of the pool is lat. 20° 15′, long. 126° 25′.

From the top of the highest headland, which is divided into two nipple-like peaks, an extensive view can be obtained. To the South and the South-East, the Southesk Tablelands; to the East, broken tablelands and sandhills; to the North, the same; to the North-West, nothing but hopeless ridge upon ridge of sand as far as the horizon. To the West, some ten miles distant, a line of cliffs running North and South, with sand-ridges beyond, and a plain of spinifex between; to the North of the cliffs an isolated table-top hill, showing out prominently—this I named Mount Cornish, after my old friend and tutor in days gone by.

Leaving the hills on the 21st, we soon reached a little colony of detached hills of queer shapes, one, as Breaden said, looking “like a clown's cap.” From the top of the highest, which I named Mount Ernest, after my brother-in-law, a dismal scene stretched before us, nothing but the interminable sand-ridges, the horizon as level as that of the ocean. What heartbreaking country, monotonous, lifeless, without interest, without excitement save when the stern necessity of finding water forced us to seek out the natives in their primitive camps! Every day, however, might bring forth some change, and, dismal as the country is, one was buoyed up by the thought of difficulties overcome, and that each day's march disclosed so much more of the nature of a region hitherto untraversed. It would have been preferable to have found good country, for not only would that have been of some practical benefit to the world at large, but would have been more pleasant to travel through. So far we had had nothing but hard work, and as the only result the clear proof that a howling wilderness of sand occupies the greater area of the Colony's interior

By going due East from Mount Ernest I could have cut the Sturt Creek in less than one hundred miles' travel, which would have simplified our journey. But taking into consideration that an equal distance would probably take us beyond the northern boundary of the desert, I determined to continue on a Northerly course, as by doing so we should be still traversing unknown country, until we reached the Margaret River or some tributary of it; whereas by cutting and then following up the Sturt, we should merely be going over ground already covered by Gregory's and subsequent parties.

Careful scanning of the horizon from Mount Ernest resulted in sighting some hills or rocks to the North-East. Excepting that higher ground existed, nothing could be seen as to its nature, for it was ever moving this way and that in the shimmering haze of heat and glare of the sun, which, intensified by powerful field-glasses, made one's eyes ache. I find it hard indeed to render this narrative interesting, for every page of my diary shows an entry no less monotonous than the following:—

Same miserable country—roasting sun—no feed for camels—camp on crest of high ridge in hopes of getting a breath of air—thousands of small ants 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.note 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 wily aboriginal.

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° distant eighteen miles; this stands at the Eastern end of a tableland, and 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 violently.

The position of the Jew Well is lat. 19° 41′, long. 127° 17′; 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 feednote, 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 distance.

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 spinifex.

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°. 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, the 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 birds—crows, 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 alignment.

The 16th of November was a red-letter day, for on it we crossed the last sand-ridge—in lat. 19° 20′—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 Leichhardt 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 Darlôt. 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 Müller 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° 53′, long. 127° 3′; 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 Darlôt. 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.

14. Chapter XIV

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 finished.

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 come.

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 the fore.

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.

15. Chapter XV

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° 53′, lat. 22° 51′. 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 North.

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.

16. Chapter XVI

Kimberley

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 mention.

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 Kimberley division.

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 Australia.

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 improved upon.

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 excessive.

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.

17. Chapter XVII

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 their lives.

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 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 for entertainment.

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 birds.

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 exactly alike.

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.

18. Chapter XVIII

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 faraway spot.

Appendix to Part V

Some Native Weapons and Ceremonial Implements

(Letters (A to O) refer to the illustrations)

1. SPEARS.

—A. Of Desert native; B. Of Kimberley native; C. Method of throwing.



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 ½ 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 fingers.

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° 50′, long. 126° 30′.

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 spinifex gum.

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 hair-string.

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 (F).





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 unnecessary.

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°S.

I. The soft-wood shields found North of lat. 25° 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 use.

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 rite 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 2½ to 8 inches.

The sketch (O) shows the same stick turned three times.

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