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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 5 Chapter 13

Spinifex and Sand - Part 5 Chapter 13

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



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

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 degrees 46 minutes, long. 126 degrees
23 minutes.

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 degrees, 4 degrees, 16 degrees
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 degrees, 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 C96 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 degrees 15
minutes long. 126 degrees 25 minutes.

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. [This peculiarity has been
remarked amongst the natives of the McDonnell Ranges, Central
Australia--but nowhere else.] 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 degrees
distant eighteen miles; this stands at the Eastern end of a tableland,
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

The position of the Jew Well is lat. 19 degrees 41 minutes, long. 127
degrees 17 minutes; 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 feed [Amongst it GOODENIA RAMELII],
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

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

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 degrees. 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,
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
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

The 16th of November was a red-letter day, for on it we crossed the LAST
SAND-RIDGE--in lat. 19 degrees 20 minutes--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 Leichardt 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
Darlot. 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 Mueller 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 degrees 53 minutes long.
127 degrees 3 minutes; 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 Darlot. 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.

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