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Spinifex and Sand - Part 1 Chapter 1

1. Part 1 Chapter 1

2. Part 1 Chapter 2

3. Part 1 Chapter 3

4. Part 2 Chapter 1

5. Part 2 Chapter 2

6. Part 2 Chapter 3

7. Part 3 Chapter 1

8. Part 3 Chapter 2

9. Part 3 Chapter 3

10. Part 3 Chapter 4

11. Part 3 Chapter 5

12. Part 3 Chapter 6

13. Part 3 Chapter 7

14. Part 4 Chapter 1

15. Part 5 Chapter 1

16. Part 5 Chapter 2

17. Part 5 Chapter 3

18. Part 5 Chapter 4

19. Part 5 Chapter 5

20. Part 5 Chapter 6

21. Part 5 Chapter 7

22. Part 5 Chapter 8

23. Part 5 Chapter 9

24. Part 5 Chapter 10

25. Part 5 Chapter 11

26. Part 5 Chapter 12

27. Part 5 Chapter 13

28. Part 5 Chapter 14

29. Part 5 Chapter 15

30. Part 5 Chapter 16

31. Part 5 Chapter 17

32. Part 5 Chapter 18

33. Part 5 Appendix

34. Part 6 Chapter 1

35. Part 6 Chapter 2

36. Part 6 Chapter 3

37. Part 6 Chapter 4

38. Part 6 Chapter 5

39. Part 6 Chapter 6

40. Part 6 Chapter 7

41. Part 6 Chapter 8

42. Part 6 Chapter 9

43. Part 6 Chapter 10

44. Appendix




In the month of September, 1892, Lord Percy Douglas (now Lord Douglas of
Hawick) and I, found ourselves steaming into King George's Sound--that
magnificent harbour on the south-west coast of Western Australia--building
castles in the air, discussing our prospects, and making rapid and vast
imaginary fortunes in the gold-mines of that newly-discovered land of
Ophir. Coolgardie, a district then unnamed, had been discovered, and
Arthur Bayley, a persevering and lucky prospector, had returned to
civilised parts from the "bush," his packhorses loaded with golden
specimens from the famous mine which bears his name. I suppose the
fortunate find of Bayley and his mate, Ford, has turned the course of
events in the lives of many tens of thousands of people, and yet, as he
jogged along the track from Gnarlbine Rock to Southern Cross, I daresay
his thoughts reverted to his own life, and the good time before him,
rather than to moralising on the probable effect of his discovery on

We spent as little time as possible at Albany, or, I should say, made our
stay as short as was permitted, for in those days the convenience of the
passenger was thought little of, in comparison with the encouragement of
local industries, so that mails and travellers alike were forced to remain
at least one night in Albany by the arrangement of the train service,
greatly to the benefit of the hotel-keepers.

We were somewhat surprised to see the landlord's daughters waiting at
table. They were such tremendously smart and icy young ladies that at
first we were likely to mistake them for guests; and even when sure of
their identity we were too nervous to ask for anything so vulgar as a pot
of beer, or to expect them to change our plates.

Between Albany and Perth the country is not at all interesting being for
the most part flat, scrubby, and sandy, though here and there are rich
farming and agricultural districts. Arrived at Perth we found ourselves a
source of great interest to the inhabitants, inasmuch as we announced our
intention of making our way to the goldfields, while we had neither the
means nor apparently the capability of getting there. Though treated with
great hospitality, we found it almost impossible to get any information
or assistance, all our inquiries being answered by some scoffing remark,
such as, "Oh, you'll never get there!"

We attended a rather remarkable dinner--given in honour of the Boot, Shoe,
Harness, and Leather trade, at the invitation of a fellow-countryman in
the trade, and enjoyed ourselves immensely; speech-making and
toast-drinking being carried out in the extensive style so customary in
the West. Picture our surprise on receiving a bill for 10s. 6d. next
morning! Our friend of the dinner, kindly put at our disposal a hansom
cab which he owned, but this luxury we declined with thanks, fearing a
repetition of his "bill-by-invitation."

Owing to the extreme kindness of Mr. Robert Smith we were at last enabled
to get under way for the scene of the "rush." Disregarding the many offers
of men willing to guide us along a self-evident track, we started with one
riding and one packhorse each. These and the contents of the pack-bags
represented all our worldly possessions, but in this we might count
ourselves lucky, for many hundreds had to carry their belongings on their
backs--"humping their bluey," as the expression is.

Our road lay through Northam, and the several small farms and settlements
which extend some distance eastward. Very few used this track, the more
popular and direct route being through York, and thence along the
telegraph line to Southern Cross; and indeed we did pass through York,
which thriving little town we left at dusk, and, carrying out our
directions, rode along the telegraph line. Unfortunately we had not been
told that the line split up, one branch going to Northam and the other to
Southern Cross; as often happens in such cases, we took the wrong branch
and travelled well into the night before finding any habitation at which
we could get food and water.

The owner of the house where we finally stopped did not look upon our
visit with pleasure, as we had literally to break into the house before we
could attract any attention. Finding we were not burglars, and having
relieved himself by most vigorous and pictorial language (in the use of
which the teamsters and small farmers are almost without rivals) the owner
showed us his well, and did what he could to make us comfortable. I shall
never forget the great hospitality here along this road, though no doubt
as time went on the settlers could not afford to house hungry travellers
free of cost, and probably made a fair amount of money by selling
provisions and horse-feed to the hundreds of gold-fever patients who were
continually passing.

Southern Cross, which came into existence about the year '90, was a pretty
busy place, being the last outpost of civilisation at the time of our
first acquaintance with it. The now familiar corrugated-iron-built town,
with its streets inches deep in dust under a blazing sun, its incessant
swarms of flies, the clashing of the "stamps" on the mines, and the
general "never-never" appearance of the place, impressed us with feelings
the reverse of pleasant. The building that struck me most was the bank--a
small iron shanty with a hession partition dividing it into office and
living room, the latter a hopeless chaos of cards, candle ends, whiskey
bottles, blankets, safe keys, gold specimens, and cooking utensils. The
bank manager had evidently been entertaining a little party of friends the
previous night, and though its hours had passed, and a new day had dawned,
the party still continued. Since that time it has been my lot to witness
more than one such evening of festivity!

On leaving Southern Cross we travelled with another company of
adventurers, one of whom, Mr. Davies, an old Queensland squatter, was our
partner in several subsequent undertakings.

The monotony of the flat timber-clad country was occasionally relieved by
the occurrence of large isolated hills of bare granite. But for these the
road, except for camels, could never have been kept open; for they
represented our sources of water supply. On the surface of the rocks
numerous holes and indentations are found, which after rain, hold water,
and besides these, around the foot of the outcrops, "soaks," or shallow
wells, are to be found.

What scenes of bitter quarrels these watering-places have witnessed!
The selfish striving, each to help himself, the awful sufferings of man
and beast, horses and camels mad with thirst, and men cursing the country
and themselves, for wasting their lives and strength in it; but they have
witnessed many an act of kindness and self-denial too.

Where the now prosperous and busy town of Coolgardie stands, with its
stone and brick buildings, banks, hotels, and streets of shops, offices,
and dwelling-houses, with a population of some 15,000, at the time of
which I write there stood an open forest of eucalyptus dotted here and
there with the white tents and camps of diggers. A part of the timber had
already been cleared to admit of "dry-blowing" operations--a process
adopted for the separation of gold from alluvial soil in the waterless
parts of Australia.

Desperate hard work this, with the thermometer at 100 degrees in the
shade, with the "dishes" so hot that they had often to be put aside to
cool, with clouds of choking dust, a burning throat, and water at a
shilling to half a crown a gallon! Right enough for the lucky ones
"on gold," and for them not a life of ease! The poor devil with neither
money nor luck, who looked into each dishful of dirt for the wherewithal
to live, and found it not, was indeed scarcely to be envied.

Water at this time was carted by horse-teams in waggons with large tanks
on board, or by camel caravans, from a distance of thirty-six miles, drawn
from a well near a large granite rock. The supply was daily failing, and
washing was out of the question; enough to drink was all one thought of;
two lines of eager men on either side of the track could daily be seen
waiting for these water-carts. What a wild rush ensued when they were
sighted! In a moment they were surrounded and taken by storm, men swarming
on to them like an army of ants. As a rule, eager as we were for water,
a sort of order prevailed, and every man got his gallon water-bag filled
until the supply was exhausted. And generally the owner of the water
received due payment.

About Christmas-time the water-famine was at its height. Notices were
posted by order of the Warden, proclaiming that the road to or from
Coolgardie would soon be closed, as all wells were failing, and advising
men to go down in small parties, and not to rush the waters in a great
crowd. This advice was not taken, and daily scores of men left the
"field," and many were hard put to it to reach Southern Cross. It was a
cruel sight in those thirsty days to see the poor horses wandering about,
mere walking skeletons, deserted by their owners, for strangers were both
unable to give them water, and afraid to put them out of their misery lest
damages should be claimed against them. How long our own supplies would
last was eagerly discussed, as we gathered round the butcher's shop, the
great meeting-place, to which, in the evenings, most of the camp would
come to talk over the affairs of the day.

Postmaster, as well as butcher and storekeeper, was Mr. Benstead,
a kind-hearted, hard-working man, and a good friend to us in our early
struggles. What a wonderful post-office it was too! A proper match for the
so-called coach that brought the mails. A very dilapidated buckboard-buggy
drawn by equally dilapidated horses, used to do the journey from the
Southern Cross to the new fields very nearly as quickly as a loaded waggon
with eight or ten horses! The mail-coach used to carry not only letters,
papers, and gold on the return journey, but passengers, who served the
useful purposes of dragging the carriage through the sand and dust when
the horses collapsed, of hunting up the team in the mornings, and of
lightening the load by walking. For this exceedingly comfortable journey
they had the pleasure of paying at least five pounds. It was no uncommon
sight at some tank or rock on the road, to see the mail-coach standing
alone in its glory, deserted by driver and passengers alike. Of these some
would be horse-hunting, and the rest tramping ahead in hope of being
caught up by the coach. There would often be on board many hundred pounds'
worth of gold, sent down by the diggers to be banked, or forwarded to
their families; yet no instance of robbing the mail occurred. The sort of
gentry from whom bushrangers and thieves are made, had not yet found their
way to the rush.

Many banks were failing at that time, and men anxiously awaited the
arrival of news. The teamsters, with their heavy drays, would be eagerly
questioned as to where they had passed Her Majesty's mail, and as to the
probability of its arrival within the next week or so! The distribution of
letters did not follow this happy event with great rapidity. Volunteers
had to be called in to sort the delivery, the papers were thrown into a
heap in the road, and all anxious for news were politely requested to help
themselves. Several illustrated periodicals were regularly sent me from
home, as I learnt afterwards, but I never had the luck to drop across my
own paper!

On mail day, the date of which was most uncertain as the coach journeys
soon overlapped, there was always a lengthy, well-attended "roll-up" at
the Store. Here we first made acquaintance with Messrs. Browne and Lyon,
then negotiating for the purchase of Bayley's fabulous mine of gold.
No account of the richness of this claim at that time could be too
extravagant to be true; for surely such a solid mass of gold was never
seen before, as met the eye in the surface workings.

Messrs. Browne and Lyon had at their camp a small black-boy whom they
tried in vain to tame. He stood a good deal of misplaced kindness, and
even wore clothes without complaint; but he could not bear having his hair
cut, and so ran away to the bush. He belonged to the wandering tribe that
daily visited the camp--a tribe of wretched famine-stricken "blacks,"
whose natural hideousness and filthy appearance were intensified by the
dirty rags with which they made shift to cover their bodies. I should
never have conceived it possible that such living skeletons could exist.
Without begging from the diggers I fail to see how they could have lived,
for not a living thing was to be found in the bush, save an occasional
iguana and "bardies,*" and, as I have said, all known waters within
available distance of Coolgardie were dry, or nearly so.

[* "Bardies" are large white grubs--three or four inches long--which the
natives dig out from the roots of a certain shrub. When baked on
wood-ashes they are said to be excellent eating. The natives, however,
prefer them raw, and, having twisted off the heads, eat them with evident

Benstead had managed to bring up a few sheep from the coast, which the
"gins," or women, used to tend. The native camp was near the
slaughter-yard, and it used to be an interesting and charming sight to see
these wild children of the wilderness, fighting with their mongrel dogs
for the possession of the offal thrown away by the butcher. If successful
in gaining this prize they were not long in disposing of it, cooking
evidently being considered a waste of time. A famished "black-fellow"
after a heavy meal used to remind me of pictures of the boa-constrictor
who has swallowed an ox, and is resting in satisfied peace to gorge.

The appeal of "Gib it damper" or "Gib it gabbi" (water), was seldom made
in vain, and hardly a day passed but what one was visited by these silent,
starving shadows. In appreciation no doubt of the kindness shown them,
some of the tribe volunteered to find "gabbi" for the white-fellow in the
roots of a certain gum-tree. Their offer was accepted, and soon a band of
unhappy-looking miners was seen returning. In their hands they carried
short pieces of the root, which they sucked vigorously; some got a little
moisture, and some did not, but however unequal their success in this
respect they were all alike in another, for every man vomited freely. This
means of obtaining a water supply never became popular. No doubt a little
moisture can be coaxed from the roots of certain gums, but it would seem
that it needs the stomach of a black-fellow to derive any benefit from it.

Though I cannot say that I studied the manners and customs of the
aboriginals at that time, the description, none the worse for being old,
given to savages of another land would fit them admirably--"Manners none,
customs beastly."

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