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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 5 Chapter 3

Spinifex and Sand - Part 5 Chapter 3

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



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 degrees 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 Darlot 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 bullock's. 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

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