ALONE IN THE BUSH
By March 4th we were satisfied that the appearance of the mine was good
enough to warrant our applying for a lease of the area already marked out.
So leaving Czar behind, to enable Paddy and Jim to pack water, I, riding
Satan and leading Misery, loaded with specimens from the reef, set forth
for Coolgardie, to apply for the lease, and get a fresh supply of
provisions, of which we were sadly in need. My departure for Coolgardie
was taken advantage of by several who wished to bank their gold, and thus
I became an escort.
Coolgardie lay almost due south, 220 miles on the chart, but nearly 300
miles by the track, which deviated from water to water. Speed being an
object, I decided to strike through the bush to George Withers' hole.
Here, by the way, poor Alec Kellis had just been murdered by the
blacks--not the pleasantest of news to hear, as I started on my solitary
journey. I followed a horse pad for fifty-five miles, mostly through thick
scrub, to Cutmore's Well, where several parties were camped, who eagerly
questioned me as to the richness of the new field.
Leaving Cutmore's, I struck through the bush, and before long the sickness
I had had on me for some time past, developed into a raging fever. Every
bone in my body ached and shot with pain. I could neither ride nor walk
for more than a few minutes at a stretch; I was unable to eat, nor cared
to drink the hot water in my canteen. I struggled on, now riding, now
walking, and now resting under a bush, travelling in this fashion as long
as daylight lasted, from five in the morning until six at night. Afraid to
let the camels go at night lest they should wander too far, or, while I
was following them in the morning, my packs should be raided by the
blacks, I tied them down, one on either side of my blankets; and thus I
had not only a protection against the wind, but the pleasure of their
companionship--no slight blessing in that solitude.
How lonely I felt, in that vast uninhabited bush! Racked by pain, I tossed
from side to side, until sheer weariness kept me still; so still that the
silence of death seemed to have fallen upon us; there was not a sound in
all that sea of scrub, save the occasional sleepy grunt of one of the
camels, until the quiet night re-echoed with the hoarse call of the
"Mopoke," which seemed to be vainly trying to imitate the cheerful notes
of the cuckoo. How could any note be true in such a spot! or how could a
dry-throated bird he anything but hoarse! At last morning came, heralded
by the restless shuffling of the camels, and another day's journey began.
Tying the camels down at nights necessitated the cutting of scrub and
bushes for them to feed upon, and I doubt they got little enough to eat.
Before long I was too weak to lift the saddles off, and could only with
difficulty load and unload the bags of quartz, and, weakened as I was by
illness, my labours were not light. Yet further trouble was in store for
me, for presently a salt lake barred my way. Then I began to understand
the meaning of the word despair. Neither kindness or cruelty would induce
my camels to cross; I was therefore forced to follow the banks of the
lake, hoping to get round it, as I could see what I supposed was its end.
Here I was again baffled by a narrow channel not ten yards wide. It might
as well have been half a mile, for all the chance I had of crossing it.
The trend of the lake was north-west by south-east, and I was now at the
north-west end, but stopped, as I say, by a narrow channel connecting
evidently with another lake further to the north-west.
There was nothing for it but to retrace my steps, and follow along the
margin of the lake to the south-east, and eventually I got round, having
been forced some ten miles out of my course.
I was fortunate in finding water without difficulty, in a small rock-hole
amongst some granite hills in which "Granite Creek" takes its rise.
From these I had still eighty miles to travel before I could reach a
settlement, Coongarrie (the 90 mile) being the nearest point. Could I do
it? I had to succeed or perish miserably, and a man fights hard for his
life. So I struggled on day and night, stopping at frequent intervals from
sheer exhaustion, cursing the pitiless sun, and praying for it to sink
below the horizon. Some twenty miles from Coongarrie I was relieved by
striking a track, which did away with the necessity of thinking where I
A few miles more, and--joy unspeakable--I found a condenser and a camp.
The hospitable proprietor, whose name I never learned, did all he could to
make me comfortable, and I felt inclined to stay, but despatch was
imperative, for not only must the lease be applied for forthwith, but
Conley and Egan must be provisioned. At Coongarrie I gave a swagman a
lift, and he helped me with the camels and loads, until at last Coolgardie
Giving my camels in charge of the first man I could find willing to look
after them, an Afghan, Neel Bas by name, I finished my business at the
Warden's office. Then, yielding to the persuasion of my friends in Asken
and Nicolson's store, I retired to the hospital, for indeed I could fight
against my sickness no longer. Here I remained some three weeks under the
kind care of Miss O'Brien (now Mrs. Castieau) and Miss Millar, the pioneer
nurses on the goldfields. No words can express the admiration I, and all
of us, felt for the pluck and goodness of these two gently nurtured
ladies, who had braved the discomforts and hardships of the road from York
to Coolgardie--discomforts that many of the so-called stronger sex had
found too much for them--to set up their hospital tent, and soothe the
sufferings of poor fever-stricken fellows.
The services of these kind ladies, and of many that subsequently followed
their example, were badly needed, for the typhoid fiend was
rampant--carrying off the young, and apparently strong, men at a rate too
tremendous to be credible. Funerals were too common to call for even
passing notice. "Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung," they went to a nameless
My chief anxiety was for my mates. How could I send them relief,
incapacitated as I was? Fortunately, my friend David Wilson offered to go
for me, in consideration of a certain interest in the mine we had found.
This was a great help, and now I could rest contented; not altogether
though, for Neel Bas had some hesitation in giving up the camels, and had
a violent row with Dave Wilson, all of which he would insist on explaining
to me in broken English, as he sat cross-legs on the floor of my tent. The
doctor happily arrived and kicked him out, and I was left in peace. In
less than three weeks I was able to go by coach to Southern Cross, and
thence by train to Perth, where, under the kind roof of Colonel Fleming,
the Commandant, I soon regained my health.
When I mention that my syndicate never even offered to defray the cost of
my illness, my readers will understand that my statements as to the
ingratitude of those who benefit by the prospectors' toil are not
unfounded. Unfortunately for me, my old mate, Lord Douglas, was absent
in England, and, in consequence, much misunderstanding resulted between
the syndicate and myself.