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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 5 Chapter 1

Spinifex and Sand - Part 5 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




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

[* These plains, first crossed by Giles, have every appearance of being
splendid pasture-lands. Unfortunately no surface water can be obtained.
The formation is limestone, in which are found "blowholes"--that is to
say, circular holes two to four feet in diameter, which go down vertically
to a depth never yet ascertained. They derive their name from the curious
booming noise which they emit, probably caused by the wind. Judging from
the growth of saltbush and other herbage it would seem likely that the
rainfall on these elevated plains is considerable, and apparently runs to
waste down blow-holes and cracks in the limestone. No doubt when other
parts of the Colony become occupied and civilisation advances, settlers
will turn their attention to this part, and possibly, by means of bores,
find a plentiful supply of water, as on the Nullarbor Plains across the
border. It seems likely that a most undesirable class of colonists will
forestall the "back blockers" from the west, for to the northward of Eucla
rabbits have been seen slowly advancing to the westward. The Government
fortunately realises the importance of checking the incursion. To my mind
the safest plan would be to run a fence, at whatever cost, north from
Eucla, for some 150 miles, until the desert was reached, and so force the
rabbits into a part of the country where, supposing they could live
(which is doubtful), they could do no harm, and might come as a welcome
addition to the diet of the wandering blacks, or might serve to break the
monotony of "tinned dog" for the weary prospector.]

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, Hubbe, 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 Darlot, 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

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