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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 6 Chapter 3

Spinifex and Sand - Part 6 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



April 2nd to 7th we were the guests of Mr. Stretch, and whilst resting
here Godfrey's eyes soon became well enough to allow him to travel. On
the 7th, therefore, we set forth on our journey and bade adieu to the
last outpost of civilisation in the North. Our party was further
increased by a Sturt Creek boy, Tiger by name--a very smart and
intelligent fellow of whom Mr. Stretch was very glad to see the last, for
smart boys are nearly always the most mischievous amongst the cattle.
Warri and Tiger were great friends, and the new boy's presence put Warri
on his mettle, and no amount of work was too hard for him whilst he had
Tiger to show off to. After I had cut his hair and shampooed his head
with kerosene and soap, dressed him in trousers, shirt, and cap, he
looked a most presentable youth.

Mr. Stretch accompanied us down the creek for the first few days, during
which we passed some of his cattle and horses. The flies and mosquitoes
worry the poor beasts terribly, and all day long the horses stand in the
water in pairs, or in a line, with head to tail, each one flicking the
flies from his neighbour's face with his tail. This habit of standing up
to the girth in water has given rise to a horse sickness known as
"swamp-cancer." The skin under the belly becomes so soft that at last a
raw place is formed, and this, aggravated by the flies, spreads until it
becomes a serious disease. Another horse-sickness common in the North is
called the "Puffs." A horse suffering from this pants and blows after the
least exertion, and in the hot weather his skin becomes puffy, and any
violent exercise would be fatal. The Monk, one of our horses, suffered
from this slightly; as soon, however, as we had left the Kimberley
district and entered the desert he recovered entirely. Numerous small
families of natives were camped along the creek, all accompanied by dogs,
which gave us some annoyance at night; for salt meat, at first, should be
hung out during the night to get the benefit of the fresh air, and this
roused their hungry instincts. A few miles below the Wolf, Mr. Stretch
left us, and we parted from our kind host with regret--he to return to
his cattle, and we to the task of laying bare the richness (we hoped) or
the nakedness (we expected) of the untrodden land before us.

At first we did very small stages, for the joy of travelling alongside
running water was too great to be quickly passed over. The camels and
horses became good chums very soon, and played about together without any
signs of fear or surprise on the part of the horses, although they had
never seen camels before--a different state of affairs from that in
Coolgardie, where horses as a rule snort and plunge with terror on first
acquaintance with an "emu-brother," as the black-fellow calls the camel.
As we neared the lakes we had some difficulty in finding water fit to
drink, and camped about nine miles above the lakes, whilst Godfrey and I
scouted ahead to see if fresh water could be found lower down. We
surprised two camps of natives, most of whom ran into the scrub as we
approached--several gins and a boy remaining. One of the women had a most
remarkable baby, quite a small thing, but with a tremendous growth of
black hair, shiny and straight, altogether different from the ordinary
coarse hair of the aboriginal. They came with us, walking beside us as we
rode, jabbering and gesticulating in their usual excited manner, and
inviting us to their camp, pointing to the rising smoke. Water, however,
was our requirement, so we continued on our way down the creek, the boy
coming with us. We shot a few ducks which our young friend retrieved, and
having found a reach of fresh water just above the first and smaller
lake, returned campwards, surprising a hunting-party on our way; they
retired quickly, the boy following them, taking with him the ducks which
we had been at such pains to stalk!

The next day we moved camp to the fresh-water reach, and had not been
travelling long before a small tribe of blacks came round us, quickly
followed by our friends of the day before, and presently by more, until
we were marching along with a wild escort of nearly a hundred, mostly
men; they were fearfully excited, though quite friendly, and with yells
and shouts danced alongside, waving their spears and other weapons. I
never heard such a babel, or saw such frantic excitement about nothing,
or at least nothing that we could understand. Their wildness was tempered
with some fear of the camels, though with the horses they were quite
familiar, even going so far as to hit poor old Highlander, that I was
riding, on the rump with their spears, a proceeding that he did not
approve of. "Womany," "Womany," "White-fella," "Womany," "White-fella,"
they kept on shouting; if they meant to call our attention to the
beauties of their gins they might well have spared themselves the
trouble, for a more hideous lot of females I never set eyes on. Presently
another wild yell heralded the approach of a large band of "womany" who
waded breast deep across the creek, followed by their dogs swimming
behind. These were no improvement on the first lot; all the old and ugly
ladies of the neighbouring tribes must have been gathered together. Their
dogs however, were worthy of notice, for they were Manx-dogs, if such a
word may be coined! Closer inspection showed that they were not as
nature made them. For the tails of the dingoes the Government pays five
shillings apiece; as their destructive habits amongst sheep make them
better liked dead than alive. A black fellow's dog is much the same as a
dingo--in fact must have descended from the wild dog--and has the same
value in his owner's eyes with or without a tail. A stick of tobacco is
fair payment for a dog's tail. Thus all parties are satisfied except the
dog; and the Government is content to pay, not dreaming that
"dog-stiffeners" (i.e., men who make a living by poisoning dingoes) carry
on so base a trade as bartering tobacco for live dogs' tails!

Our cavalcade still further increased by women and dogs, we proceeded on
our way, until choosing a high sandy bank overlooking the estuary of the
small lake on the South, the creek to the North-West, and a backwater to
the North, we halted and prepared to make camp. This was attended by some
difficulty, for our native friends, now in considerable numbers,
evidently wished to look upon it as their camp too. They soon became so
tiresome that I had to tell them through Tiger, as interpreter, that
unless they retired forthwith and kept to the other side of the creek, we
should take strong measures to remove them. Before long they had all done
as they were bid, and made their camp about a mile away across the
water--and the bulk of them we did not see again. Small parties were
continually visiting us, and we were the best of friends.

Our camp was in lat. 20 degrees 11 minutes long. 127 degrees 31 minutes,
and here we stayed five days to give our stock a final rest, and regale
on luscious food and abundant water, before tackling the dreary country
that we knew to be before us. For our own sakes we were by no means keen
on leaving this delightful spot; the very thought of those sand-ridges
seemed to make one's heart sink to one's boots! Our camp consisted of a
bough-shade, and mosquito-nets, of course. Barring the constant torment
of flies and the extreme heat, we had a most enjoyable time. The lakes
and creek abounded in wild-fowl of all kinds, and fish by the hundred
could be caught below our camp. Seen from our camp the estuary had so
much the appearance of a low-lying arm of the sea, with the tide out,
that we could easily understand why Gregory called it a "sea" rather than
a lake. Numerous sandspits stand out in the middle, on which, in early
morning, so dense was the crowd of shags, pelicans, snipe, small gulls,
whistling duck, teal, and other birds, that to say that there was acre
upon acre of wild-fowl would not be wide of the mark; but in spite of
their abundance they were not easily shot; for not only did their numbers
insure the watchfulness of some of the flocks, but after the first shot
the whole lot rose in a cloud and settled away out in the middle of the
lake, beyond reach.

Our larder was well filled here, and the natives took great interest in
our shooting and fishing. I used to take Tiger as retriever when I went
duck shooting, and an excellent boy he was too, simply loving the water,
and able to swim like any duck; to see him after a wounded bird was most
exciting; as soon as he reached it, it would dive until he would be
almost exhausted. At last he hit upon a similar plan, and, diving, came
up beneath the duck, seized it by the leg and brought it to shore,
grinning with delight. A shot-gun would indeed be a treasure to these
natives, who manage to kill pelicans and ducks only after hours of
waiting, hidden in a hide of bushes until a bird comes near enough to be
killed by a throwing-stick.

In some parts of Australia the natives swim out to ducks, concealing
themselves under a bunch of rushes and moving very slowly; the ducks are
not scared by the rushes, and fall a comparatively easy prey. From what
Tiger told me the Sturt natives seem to rely solely upon waiting and
stalking. They catch fish in a rather ingenious way, only practicable
when the fish are in shallow water; from this they sweep them with a sort
of dredge of branches, which they drag through the pools on to the banks;
the water runs back through the sticks, leaving the fish high and dry on
the sand. The pelican is considered a great delicacy amongst the natives,
and every day deputations waited upon us, asking us to shoot the "Coyas"
for them, which of course we were very glad to do. They did not repay our
kindness very nicely, for they tried to inveigle Warri into their camp
for the purpose of killing him, as a stranger meets with no great
hospitality! I had sent Warri and Tiger out with a gun to stalk some
ducks when a number of blacks tried to get possession of the gun, first
by telling Tiger that they wanted to shoot an old man who had annoyed
them, then by tempting him with descriptions of the beauties of their
wives; but Warri was proof against all these blandishments--nor could
they get the gun by force. I think Master Warri was quite glad to come
quickly home, for he stood in some awe of the Kimberley natives; "Sulky
fella," he called them.

One day a fresh mob of blacks came in; amongst them we recognised our old
friends from Jew's Well. They as soon recognised us, and appeared
tremendously pleased. The old Jew patted me, and grinned, and squirmed
in a most ludicrous way; I discovered that he was thanking me for having
cured his son's eyes--so the lotion had done its work well. As he and his
friends sat round I made a sketch of the old man and gave it to him; it
was evidently a good likeness, for his friends went into shrieks of
laughter and delight. He was equally pleased, and more so still when I
let him know that he could keep it.

Shortly afterwards several men came up with great mystery and secrecy,
and many looks behind them to see that they were not watched, and a
greybeard amongst them presented me with a flat stick carved all over
into rough patterns; this was carefully wrapped between two sheets of
bark, and was evidently highly treasured, and given as a mark of respect
or gratitude for curing the boy's eyes. They also gave me throwing sticks,
balls of hair string, a shield and tomahawk; and received numerous costly
presents from us--one or two old shirts, strips of coloured handkerchief
to make sporrans of, a knife or two, and so forth, and were perfectly
satisfied. A curious thing about the old Jew was that he had no name. I
questioned him most closely through Tiger--but no! he had never had a
name. He was promptly christened "Jacob," which he repeated over and over
again, and seemed pleased with his new acquisition. Godfrey soon had some
of the tribe trained in the art of fishing, and this amused them
immensely; the man to whom we gave the line and hooks, which we got in
Hall's Creek, will be much envied by his mates. There were quantities of
mussels in the creek, which the blacks devour greedily; we thought them
most disgusting in taste. Larger fish were reported in the big lake, but
we did not trouble them. The water of the big lake was far too salt for
use, though the natives were camped near it and drink it. It makes them
sick, but they use it all the same, so we were told. What happens to all
the natives when the lake dries I cannot say; no doubt they scatter far
and wide, and meet when the floods come down, for ceremonies,
corroborees, and such-like amusements.

I collected a few words which I look upon as reliable. Nothing would be
easier than to make a whole dictionary, for the natives are always ready
to talk, but I have only taken words which I got from one and tested with
others with good results.


Gregory's "Salt Sea." Burro.
Fresh water. Nappa or Yui.
Salt water. Murraba.*
Creek. Gilli.
Fire. Warru or Wallu.**
Fish. Yagu.
Mussel. Bimbirri.
Pelican. Coya.
Whistling duck. Chibilu.***
Moon. Yungun.
Star. Gigi.
Southern Cross. Wun-num.

* Hunt's Slate Well, near Lake Lefroy, Coolgardie Goldfield, which is
sometimes salt, is called by the natives Murrabi.
** Same as at Empress Spring and throughout desert.
*** In imitation of the bird's cry.

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