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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 6 Chapter 4

Spinifex and Sand - Part 6 Chapter 4

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 20th we left our camp on the lake, steering due East to cut a creek
which enters on the North-East corner; the creek was dry, and the nature
of its shingly bed inclined me to think that it has its rise in
auriferous country. Close by the creek we found a shallow clay-pan, and
as the next day would probably see us in the desert I had every available
water-carrying vessel filled. Tiger worked well, but a friend of his, who
had come with us so far, watched the proceedings with suspicion.
On being questioned as to waters to the South-East, he was most
positive as to their non-existence, and evidently frightened Tiger
so much by his dreadful account of the country that he decided on
returning home--for the next morning both he and his friend had
disappeared. I was very sorry, for he was a smart lad, and now we
were a bit short-handed. Pursuit was of course useless, for he had too
great a start, and would soon be lost amongst his tribesmen. He had
worked so well that I never suspected him of wishing to go. I fear he
will spear Mr. Stretch's cattle after all!

Fully loaded with water, we left the lakes, steering towards Mount Wilson
(Gregory); the heat was great, and the flies worse than we had before

Riding ahead steering was most unpleasant; one hand for the compass, one
for the bridle, left nothing with which to frighten the flies from the
corners of my eyes, which became quite raw in consequence. Certainly
riding is a great improvement on walking, and I prayed that the horses
would long be spared to us. Once through the dense scrub surrounding the
lake, and our old friends sand and spinifex lay before us. Crossing an
open plain, we reached Mount Wilson, from which the lake was plainly
visible, at a greatly lower level. This hill is the highest in a little
broken range of barren sandstone hills, peaks, knobs, and cliffs of all
manner of shapes and sizes. To the eastward stony tablelands can be seen,
running from which I noticed what I took to be a creek.

At this point it is interesting to see what Gregory's impressions were of
the country ahead. This was the furthest point he reached in 1856, having
landed an expedition on the Northern coast and travelled up the Victoria
River on to the head-waters of the Sturt Creek, and down that creek to
its end. He says: "From the summit of the hill (Mount Wilson) nothing was
visible but one unbounded waste of sandy ridges and low, rocky hills,
which lay to the South-East of the hill. All was one impenetrable
desert; . . . the vegetation on this part of the country was reduced to a
few stunted gums, hakea bushes, and Triodia (spinifex), the whole
extremely barren in appearance. . . The remaining portion of the horizon
was one even, straight line: not a hill or break of any kind, and except
the narrow line of the creek, was barren and worthless in the extreme, the
red soil of the level portions of the surface being partially clothed
with Triodia and a few small trees, or rather bushes, rendering the long,
straight ridges of fiery-red, drifting sand more conspicuous."

So Gregory retraced his tracks up the Sturt Creek, and when one remembers
that he had horses, one can only say, "And a good judge too."

Leaving Mount Wilson we steered East and cut the creek that I had seen,
and were glad to find feed near it for both horses and camels. I walked
it up to its head, and found a little rocky pool of water, returning
after dark. Breaden and Warri had been out too, but found nothing. Having
watered the animals, next morning, the 22nd, I steered a course to take
us through a piece of country previously traversed by Warburton, with
Lake White (a dry salt-lake) as our goal, for round it I hoped to find
creeks and clay-pans. I depended on none of Warburton's waters, though he
had some marked on his chart, since I knew that doubts existed as to the
accuracy of his positions, and I preferred to rely upon our own methods
of finding water rather than to waste time in hunting for wells that we
might not find. For the next few days we were crossing spinifex plains
and passing distant hills and tablelands of sandstone. The days were very
hot, but since rising from the hollow of the lake the nights had become
very much cooler. We had come so suddenly into desert country that the
animals gave us great trouble, being unable, poor things, to find any
food. Late starts were the order of the day, camels having wandered miles
in one direction followed by Breaden and Warri, and the horses in another
followed by me.

On the 23rd we found ourselves again amongst the sand ridges, high, red,
and steep; we were now in lat. 20 degrees 30 minutes, and from that date
and point this awful country continued almost without a break, ridge
succeeding ridge with perfect regularity and running, as before, dead
across our route, until we reached lat. 24 degrees 45 minutes on June
2nd--a period of forty one days, during which we travelled 451 miles. Thus
it will be seen that in the far eastern portion of the Colony the ridges
of drift-sand extend over a greater length of country than in the centre;
and consequently our return journey was accomplished with greater
difficulties before us, and with an almost total lack of feed for our
stock--less even than on the first trip but to balance these drawbacks we
had cool nights, lighter equipment, and the advantage of previous
experience--and the incentive of knowing that our rations would not last
out unless we made all speed.

On the 24th we crossed a range of barren hills, which I named the Gordon
Hills, after our friends of Flora Valley. In the neighbourhood Godfrey
picked up a perfectly white egg, somewhat resembling that of an emu,
which lay upon a hummock of spinifex; presumably it had been bleached by
the sun. From the hills to the S.S.W., across high ridges of sand, can be
seen a range apparently of some altitude, distant some twenty-five miles;
this I named the Stretch Range, after our kind host of Denison Downs
Station. From the Gordon Hills we continued on our course for a smoke we
had sighted the day before, and before long picked up two fresh tracks,
which we followed. From some stony rises a large, prominent hill came
into view, as if formed of three great steps of bare rock. This I named
Mount Elphinstone, after my cousin, and towards it we shaped our course,
still on the tracks.

That night we were again forced to camp on a barren spot, and again our
animals wandered far afield. Unless absolutely necessary, I have a great
objection to tying them up at nights, for then they are sure beyond
question of getting nothing to eat; whereas wandering they may find a
patch of herbage or bushes. That night we saw the fire of a native camp
and heard distant screams. In the morning a mob of blacks passed our camp
all unaware of our presence; Breaden and Warri were hunting the camels
and I the horses. As soon as I brought them in we followed and stopped
some of the natives, and they returned with us to camp and presently
decoyed others who were passing.

There was nothing remarkable about these savages except that they were
tall and well-made and fairly friendly. One had the skin disease from
which we had noticed others suffering. An old man, and a young, rather
handsome, buck came with us and went ahead as guides. Their camp had
been, as is the rule, on the top of a sand-ridge--chosen, no doubt, as a
position suitable for watching the approach of others. A four-mile stage
brought us to a nice little oasis--a small area of grass, surrounded by
ti-trees, enclosed by two sand-ridges. In the centre of the grass three
good soaks, in black, sandy soil, yielded sufficient for all our needs at
the expenditure of but little labour. The horses appreciated the change,
and unless we had given them water in instalments would have assuredly
burst themselves. They drank in all sixteen gallons apiece! Seeing that
they had never been in anything but good country all their lives, and
that now we had suddenly come out of it into the howling waste, they
showed satisfactory endurance, having been eighty hours with only six
gallons of water each during that time. What English thoroughbred could
have done this?

The next day Breaden and I rode up to Mount Elphinstone, which we found
to be formed of three great rocky shoulders of sandstone capped with
quartzite, almost bare, and stony on the top, with sheer faces one
hundred feet high on the West side and a gradual slope to the East, where
high sand-ridges run right up to the foot. From the summit a high
tableland [Probably Musgrave Range (Warburton)] and range can be seen to
the North, to the East a bluff-ended tableland, [Probably Philipson Range
(Warburton)] but the horizon from South-East to South-West was a dead

One mile due West of the highest point we found a native well in a sandy
gutter, and about 150 yards from it, to the East, a high wall of bare
rock as regular as if it had been built. This wall, seen edge-on from the
North-West, from which point Breaden sighted it when after the camels,
appears like a chimney-stack.

As the soaks at which we were camped have the appearance of being more
permanent than the usual native well, it may be useful to give directions
for finding them from Mount Elphinstone. Leave hill on bearing 230
degrees, cross one sand-ridge close to hills, then spinifex plain, then
another sand-ridge running East and West, from the crest of which can be
seen three gaps in the next one--steer for most Westerly gap, and seven
miles from the hill the soaks will be found. Having no time for further
investigation, we returned to camp, and to ensure an early start tied the
camels down for the night, since they had been feeding all day. Bluey
again proved to be a vicious brute, and kicked me in the chest, knocking
me down; but the other new camels daily improved in their manners. We had
great trouble in cleaning off from their backs the clay with which they
were smeared, having rolled in some shallow clay-pans near the lakes. It
was most necessary to scrape it off somehow, as otherwise sore backs
would have resulted; and, indeed, Stoddy's sore back started in this way
by the friction of the saddle and the caked mud.

The country ahead looked so bad that I decided to take the two bucks with
us for as long as they knew the waters, so secured the one to the other
by the neck, with plenty of spare chain between. They marched with us
apparently perfectly happy, and even anxious to point out the directions
of various native wells. My object was to make as much Southing as
possible whilst we could; so having two natives and one hundred gallons
of water (of which the horses were given three gallons each nightly), we
steered due South from the soaks, and had a long day of tremendously steep
sand-ridges, up the North side of which the camels climbed with
difficulty. Riding the camels was out of the question, so we took the
horses in turn, Breaden and I steering hour about. Though crossing fresh
tracks and though the bucks were most anxious to follow them, we did not
turn from our course, for we had only left water the day before, and as
our rations were calculated to just, and only just, last out, no time
could be wasted. For the same reason we were travelling longer hours.

Our camp of the 28th was in lat. 21 degrees 4 minutes long. 128 degrees 33
minutes, and ahead of us to the South-West three miles distant was a range
of barren sandstone hills, for which we steered; the old man, though
contradicted by the young one, promising "gilli nappa," or creek water.
However, he fooled us, and after much climbing we reached a small, dry
well in a narrow gorge, quite inaccessible for camels.

It was now the young man's turn, who, seeing that we were not best
pleased with his mate's efforts, by every sort of sign assured us that
water existed in another range to the East. So turning in that direction
over monstrous high ridges, crossing them obliquely, in five miles we cut
a small watercourse, and following it up to its head found ourselves on
the top of a range of barren sandstone hills, over which were dotted
white-stemmed stunted gums--a most desolate place. The travelling was
very trying to the camels, who were continually missing their footing on
loose boulders and stones, in the bed of the creek. Sheer steps in the
rock on either hand precluded us from marching over the hills, excepting
up the watercourse.

From the summit, other similar hills could be seen to the East--hills of
quite a respectable height, all bare and rocky. Numerous small gorges and
glens head from the East watershed; without any hesitation our guides
started down one, and before long we came to a little pool in the rocky
bed. Here we watered our animals and replenished our tanks and bags;
and a nice job we had to make some of the camels approach the pool; on
either side were steep cliffs, and to reach the water numerous cracks
and gaps in the bed-rock had to be crossed, not wide or deep, but
sufficiently so to scare Bluey and some of the others. The open desert
life seems to make camels, and horses too, very nervous when anything
the least unusual has to be faced. The echoes amongst the rocks, and
the rather gloomy gorges, seemed to make them "jumpy"; a stone
rattling down behind them would be sufficient to cause a panic.
Leaving the pool, we followed the gorge until it ran out as a deep,
sandy channel down the valley formed by the horseshoe of the ranges.
The ranges I named the Erica Ranges, after one of my sisters. All
along the banks of the creek splendid green acacia and grass was
growing, and a most inviting-looking plant standing some six feet
high, with greenish-grey stems and leaves, and a flower not unlike
wallflower. Such a place at once suggested camping, and we were
proceeding to unload when Godfrey remarked that this pretty plant was
very like a most deadly Queensland poison plant; he was not sure; I had
never seen it before, nor had Breaden. The risk, however, was too great;
it might be poison; I could see the camels eyeing its fresh charms, and
it grew in such profusion that all would be devouring it in a few
minutes. So we packed up again and moved further on, much to the disgust
of the blacks and the animals, for all were very tired. I collected some
specimens of this plant; if Godfrey had never been in Queensland we
should have been in a tight corner, for the Government botanist, Perth,
says, "The plant in question is very poisonous. It is scientifically
known as GASTROLOBIUM GRANDIFLORUM, occurs throughout the dry, tropical
portion of Australia, and is commonly known as 'Desert poison,'
'Australian poison,' and 'Wallflower poison bush.'"

Near Mount Bannerman, where our camels were poisoned on the upgoing
journey, this plant was not growing. The suspected plants I collected,
but unfortunately the specimens were mislaid or lost. In such country as
this one has one's whole mind and energies concentrated on how best to
cover the ground; and what with well-digging, writing up field-books,
observing, and so forth, one's time is fully occupied; I was therefore
unable to collect more than a few plants worthy of notice, since
they formed feed for camels, or caused their death. My companions
were of course equally occupied. Besides the map I was able to
make of the country, I set great store by my photographs. Of these I took
over two hundred; owing, however, to defective plates, or rather films,
many were failures, and nearly all that could be printed and reproduced
are to be seen in this book.

On the 30th we followed down the creek until it bore too much to the
West, and so far as we could see shortly ran out into the sand. From a
high sandhill the next morning we got an extensive view. To the East, the
main body of a long salt-lake extending as far as the eye can see to the
S.S.E. Bounding the lake on the East is a high sandstone tableland, with
abrupt cliffs facing the lake. Some eight miles to the North-East appears
to be the extreme point of the lake, but of course from a distance it is
impossible to say for certain. Except where the cliffs occur, the lake is
enclosed by high red sandhills, through which it winds its way like a
strip of sparkling white tinsel. Having no desire to court difficulties,
I turned from this smooth-faced but treacherous bog, and, looking West,
spied a fine bold range, a rugged-looking affair with peaks, bluffs,
and pinnacles, suggesting gorges and water. I have no doubt that this
lake is Lake White, of Warburton's, though my position for it is seventeen
miles East of that assigned to it by him. It is in the same latitude,
and agrees with Warburton's description as to the cliffs and sandhills.

After sighting this lake we turned West to the ranges, therefore had two
lakes existed in this latitude we must have crossed the second, which we
did not do. Many things go to prove that Warburton's positions are
incorrect; I think I can show how, by moving his route bodily on the
chart about eighteen miles to the East, a more accurate map will result.
My own experience alone would not be conclusive, except that my work fits
in with that of Forrest, Gregory, and Tietkens, where my route crosses
theirs; but taken in conjunction with others it proves of value. In
crossing the Colony, Warburton failed to connect with Gregory's traverse
at the end of the Sturt as he intended, and on approaching his
destination (the Oakover River) expressed surprise that he had not
reached it a day or two before. Therefore he was not confident of the
accuracy of his reckoning.

Two parties, one led by Mr. Buchanan, a noted bushman, another by Mr.
Smith, set out from the end of the Sturt to cross the desert, made
several unsuccessful attempts to locate some waters of Warburton's,
though no distance away, and returned satisfied that nothing could be
gained by further travelling. Mr. Smith told me that he had located
"Bishop's Dell," but placed it due south of the Salt Sea instead of
S.S.W, as shown by Warburton.

Mr. Wells eventually found Joanna Spring twenty miles East of Warburton's
position. This correction is of greater value than any, since Mr. Wells
is considered one of the best surveyors in the South Australian Service.

A combination of the above experiences shows, I think conclusively, that
Colonel Warburton's route, at least on the West Australian side of the
boundary, should be shifted bodily eighteen or twenty miles to the

Considering the hard trials that Colonel Warburton and his party went
through, there is small wonder that he found great difficulty in keeping
any sort of reckoning.

From the journal of this traveller I take the following description of
the country round the lake: "We found good feed for the camels here, but
the sandhills appear to be increasing in number and size. We have got
amongst the half-dried salt lagoons, so our further progress North-West
is cut off. . . we are quite amongst the salt-lakes, a large one lies to
the West of us, sending out its arms to every point. We must round the
eastern end of them, as camels and salt-bogs don't agree at all. . . We
tried to cross but had to turn back. . . Country very bad, dense
spinifex, high, steep sand-ridges with timber in flats. Any man
attempting to cross this country with horses must perish. . . A strong
easterly wind prevailed, blowing up clouds of sand and ashes from
the burnt ground. Truly this is a desert!"

This was written when I was two and a half years old. The writer little
thought that an infant was growing up who would have no more sense than
to revisit this ghastly region; nor as far as I remember was the infant
thinking much about sand! Dear me! how easy it was to get a drink in
those days--merely by yelling for it--but the strongest lungs in the world
cannot dig out a native well.

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