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

Spinifex and Sand - Part 6 Chapter 6

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 the 16th we had breakfast by moonlight, and were well on our way
before daylight. From a ridge higher than the others we got the only
glimpse of the lake that was permitted us by the sandhills. About two
o'clock, the gin, who had been making towards the Davenport Hills
(Tietkens), suddenly turned off and brought us to a little well in the
trough of two ridges--the usual wretched concern, yielding no more than
three bucketsful. We worked far into the night. Having to observe for
latitude I stayed up last, and baled the well before going to rest,
leaving about two gallons in the bottom to allow it to settle before
morning. At daylight we heard loud howls and snarls coming apparently
from the centre of the earth. Further investigation disclosed a lean and
fierce-looking dingo down our well, which, in its frantic struggles to
get out, had covered up our little pool of water and made a horrible mess
of things. I never saw so savage-looking a brute, and, not feeling called
upon to assist it, I ended its troubles with a bullet--a kindly act,
which doubtless, on their return, gave a welcome supply of cheap meat to
the tribe who had only lately retired from the well, and also added to
our small store of dingo-tails, which (at 5 shillings each), so far as we
could see, would be our only means of deriving any profit from our
labours. I think we only got five, and they were lost!

Our position there was lat. 23 degrees 26 minutes, long. 128 degrees 42
minutes. The gin on showing us the well had been at once liberated, a
step which I now rather regretted--but one cannot be unkind to ladies,
even though they are black, naked savages, little better than beasts!
Remembering that she had pointed towards the hills ahead, I steered on
that course, and before long we came on the tracks of a man, woman, and
child, walking in the same direction. Here I saw a pure white spinifex
rat, leaping the tussocks in front of me, but of course had no means of
stopping it.

All that day we followed the tracks, over sandhills, samphire-flats,
through clumps of desert oak, past dry wells, from sunrise until sunset.
Warri and I were ahead for in tracking it is better to be well in
advance--riding and walking in turn until Highlander knocked up and had
to be led. Breaden and Godfrey had awful work behind to get the camels
along. At almost every sandhill one or other of them, usually Bluey,
would drop and refuse to budge an inch until forced by blows. How the
poor brutes strain, and strain again, up the steep, sandy slopes; painful
sight, heart-breaking work--but work done!

We crossed the Davenport Hills shortly before sunset and waited on the
other side for the main party, in case in the bad light and on the hard
rocks our tracks should be missed. As they came up, we heard a distant
call--a gin's--and presently the smoke from a fire was visible. The Monk
had done the least work that day, and was the staunchest horse, indeed
the only one capable of more than walking, so I despatched Godfrey to
surprise the camp, whilst we followed. He rode right on to the tribe, and
was accorded a warmish welcome, one buck casting his spear with great
promptitude. Luckily his aim was poor and the spear passed by Godfrey's

When we arrived on the scene I found Godfrey standing sentinel beneath a
tree, in the branches of which stood at bay a savage of fine proportions.
He had a magnificent beard, dark brown piercing eyes, splendid teeth, a
distinctly Jewish profile, and no decorations or scars on his chest or
body. I shall not forget the colour of his eyes nor their fierce glitter,
for I climbed the tree after him, he trying to prevent my ascent by
blows from a short, heavy stick which I wrested from him, and then with
broken branches of dead mulga, with which he struck my head and hands
unmercifully, alternately beating me and prodding me in the face,
narrowly missing my eyes. If he suffered any inconvenience by being kept
captive afterwards, he well repaid himself beforehand by the unpleasant
time he gave me. And if it was high-handed treatment to capture
unoffending aboriginals, we did not do so without a certain amount of
risk to ourselves; personally I would far sooner lie down all night
chained by the ankle to a tree, than have my head and knuckles laid bare
by blows from dead branches!

After a time I succeeded in securing one end of the chain round the wild
man's ankle, and the other round a lower branch. Then I came down and
left him, whilst we unloaded and had something to eat. We had had a long
day of over ten hours continuous travel, and as the sun had long set we
decided to take no steps for water-getting until morning. Being sure of
soon getting a fresh supply, we gave what water we had to the horses, on
whom the desert was rapidly leaving its mark. As we sat on the packs
round the tree, eating our salt beef, our black friend, with evident
wonder at our want of watchfulness, took the opportunity of coming
quickly to the ground, only to find that he was tethered to the tree. His
anger had now subsided, and, though refusing to make friends, he seemed
grateful when I bound up a place on his arm, where he had been hurt in
his descent from the tree. The spears of his tribe were of better
manufacture than those of the ordinary desert man, having bone barbs
lashed on with sinews. The next morning we moved camp, as, from our
position in a hollow, we should have been at a great disadvantage had the
tribe returned to rescue their mate. We found their well, a deep
rock-hole, half filled in with sand, on the southern slope of a stony
sandhill, situated in a small patch of grass and buck-bush. From the hill
above the rock-hole, a prominent bare range of red rock can be seen to
the South bearing 172 degrees to the highest point (these are probably
the Warman Rocks of Tietkens). We were now within seven miles of the
imaginary line forming the boundary between West and South Australia, the
nearest point to that Colony our journeyings took us.

At first we hoped the hole would prove to be a soakage, but in this we
were disappointed, and had to resort to our old methods of box-sinking
and clearing out the sand. Our work at first was comparatively easy, but
as soon as water-level was reached a great wedge of sand fell in, and
nothing remained but to clear out the whole of the cavity, scraping up
the water as we went lower. From 7.30 a.m. on the 18th, until 2 a.m. on
the 19th, then again from 6.30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. on the same day, we
slaved away with no more than one and a half hours' interval.

After digging out the sand and hauling it in buckets to the surface we
had a rock-hole nearly conical in shape, twenty-five feet deep, twenty
feet by fifteen at the mouth, narrowing in on all sides to three feet in
diameter at the bottom. The first day and night we laboured until we
literally could no longer move, from sheer exhaustion. Breaden was so
cramped and cold, from a long spell in the wet sand below, that we had to
haul him out, put him in his blankets, and pile them upon him, though the
night was warm. The result of all this toil--not quite ninety gallons of
far from pure water! What a country! one ceaseless battle for water,
which at whatever cost one is only too thankful to get! Of the ninety
gallons, sixty were distributed amongst the horses and camels, the
remainder we kept for our own use and that of the horses when we
continued our journey. Eight miles of sandhills on the 20th took us,
under the native's guidance, to another rock-hole--full to the brim--its
water protected from the sun by an overhanging ledge of rock.

Here we soon had the thirsty animals satisfied, and had time to consider
the rather comical aspect of affairs from the black-fellow's point of
view. How he must have laughed to himself as he watched us toiling away,
coaxing out water drop by drop the days before, when all the time a
plentiful supply was close at hand! Excellent grass surrounds the
rock-hole, enclosed by mulga thickets, so we rested here a day, shooting
a few pigeons and enjoying the first proper wash since April 25th, when
we last camped at a good water. Whilst travelling, of course no water for
washing could be afforded, as every pint was of some service to the

This rock-hole is in lat. 23 degrees 44 minutes, long. 128 degrees
52 minutes. On May 22nd we continued our journey, marching South over
irregular sandhills, forcing our way through scrubs, until, on the evening
of the 23rd, we were in the latitude of the centre of Lake Amadeus, as it
was formerly marked by Giles. I was anxious to see if Tietkens had perhaps
passed between two lakes, leaving an unnoticed lake on his left. We now
altered our course to the West, sighting a large bare hill some forty
miles distant, which I take to be Mount Skene (Giles). This hill is close
to the high ranges, the Petermann and others, and it would have
simplified our journey to have turned to them, where good waters are
known to exist, but I desired to see what secrets unknown country might
hold, even though it might be only sandhills.

This proved to be the case, and during the next six days we crossed the
most barren wilderness it had been our lot to see, not a bite of food for
camels or horses, who, poor brutes, turned in despair to the spinifex and
munched its prickly spines--not a living thing, no sign of life, except
on two occasions. The first when, at the beginning of the stage, we
captured a young gin, whom I soon released for several reasons, not the
least important of which, was that Warri was inclined to fall a victim to
her charms, for she was by no means ill-looking. The second living thing
we saw was a snake, which we killed; how it came to inhabit so dry a
region I cannot say. Now that our course was Westerly, we had expected to
run between the ridges, but no such luck attended us. True, we marched
between the SAND-ridges, but every now and again a ridge of ROCK running
exactly across our course had to be negotiated. Yet further, and
sandhills thrown up in any irregular order impeded us, then loose sand;
everywhere spinifex, without even its accustomed top-growth, drought, and
desolation! Native tracks were very scarce, even old ones; some of these
we followed, only to find DRY rock-holes and wells at the end of them.

We were all walking again now, ploughing our way through the sand, men
and camels alike exhausted, and the poor ponies bringing up the rear, the
tail-end of a miserable caravan. And they, following behind, were a
useless burden; we could not ride them, and yet for their sakes our
supply of water became less and less; we denied ourselves beef (which
meant at least a bucketful of water to boil out the salt) to keep them
alive; poor faithful things, none but curs could desert them while life
to move was left in their bodies. On the night of the 29th, for our own
safety, I could allow them no water, for so great had been the drain that
our tanks had but a few gallons left. The next was a day of
disappointments. All day we followed the same two tracks, from rock-hole
to rock-hole--all were dry as the sandstone in which Nature had placed
them. We could see where the blacks had scraped out the sand at the
bottom--if THEY could not find water, what chance had we? But every step
took us closer--that is the great consolation in such cases. First, have
perfect faith that water will eventually be found, then each forward move
becomes easy, for you know that you are so much nearer relief. Every dry
hole gives a greater chance that the next will be full.

Near one hole we came on a ceremonial or dancing ground--that is, a
cleared space in the mulga scrub, circular in shape, with a cleanly swept
floor, trodden down by many feet. In the centre stood a sort of altar of
branches and twigs. It was evident that the blacks had danced round and
round this, though for what purpose I cannot say.

As the sun set our faith was rewarded; before us in an outcrop surrounded
by mulga lay two fine rock-holes with an ample supply. What a blessed
relief! In a few minutes the horses were gorged, and hard at work on the
rough grass near the holes. Hardy horses, indeed! Eight days from drink
to drink (not counting what we gave them), and hardly a scrap of feed.

We took a two days' rest for the sake of the grass, and varied our daily
fare of salt beef with small, tufted pigeons, which came in large numbers
to drink. We shot nearly one hundred of them, and ate boiled pigeon three
times a day with the voracity of black-fellows. Nor was Devil-devil
forgotten in the feast; he had become an expert rider, and had a far
better time than poor Val.

The curious fact of some rock-holes being full, whilst others a few miles
off are empty, again exemplifies the very local character of such rain as
visits these parts. The "Deep rock-holes," as we called them (in lat. 24
degrees 20 minutes, long. 127 degrees 20 minutes), are peculiar, for one
is perfectly cylindrical, two feet six inches in diameter going down
vertically to a depth of twenty feet; the other goes down straight for
six feet, and then shelves away under the rock to a depth of at least
twelve feet. It will be seen from our last few days' experience, and from
that of the few days soon to follow, that in this region rock-holes are
numerous. They are invariably situated on low surface outcrops of 'desert
sandstone, surrounded by mulga and grass; beyond that, sand. I take it
that they have been formed in the same way as the granite rock-holes in
the south of the Colony--that is, by decay; that the whole country has
been covered by a deposit of sand, borne by the winds, filling in former
valleys and hollows, leaving only occasional patches of rock still
visible. Their frequent occurrence would then be accounted for by the
fact that the deposit of sand is shallower here than elsewhere. That it
is so is pretty evident, for here the sand-ridges are much lower than
further North, and still further South they disappear. Low cliffs are
seen, and when the latitude of Forrest's route is reached, sandstone
hills are numerous and rock-holes abundant. In the course of ages perhaps
the sand will again be shifted until such reservoirs as the "Deep
rock-holes" are filled in and hidden, or partially covered and converted
by the natives into wells. Supposing a layer of sand to a depth of five
or six feet could be thrown over the valley in which the Deep rock-holes
are situated, the holes would at once be transformed into "Native Wells,"
the term "well" being a misnomer, and apt to suggest a copious supply to
any unacquainted with the interior. I suppose that to the uninitiated no
map is so misleading as that of West Australia, where lakes are salt-bogs
without surface water, springs seldom run, and native "wells" are merely
tiny holes in the rock, yielding from 0 to 200 gallons!

From our position at the rock-holes, by skirting, possibly without
sighting, the end of the Rawlinson Range and steering nearly due
South-West, we should hit off Woodhouse Lagoon of our upgoing journey.
For simplicity in steering I chose a due South-West course, which should
take us a few miles to the East of the lagoon, two hundred miles distant
in a bee-line. I was anxious to see what water it held, and check my work
by re-crossing our track of the previous year; and besides this, the
lagoon lay on our most direct course for the nearest settlements, still
450 miles away on the chart.

Whilst resting at the rock-holes I took the opportunity of giving Bluey a
lesson in manners, much to the entertainment of my companions.

Bluey was a brute of a camel, and used to give an immensity of trouble in
the mornings, galloping off at full speed when he should have quietly
waited to have his nose-line adjusted. Added to this, he would kick and
strike with his fore-legs, so much so that none of us cared about
catching him. One morning whilst Breaden was after the horses, I was
helping Warri collect the camels, and tried my hand with Bluey. At the
moment that I was putting the loop of his line on to the nose-peg, he
reared up and struck me on the chest, his hobble-chain adding power to
the blow, which sent me spinning on to my back. For this and other
assaults I meant to punish him, so shortening his hobbles until his
fore-legs were fastened with no more than an inch or two between, I armed
myself with a stout stick. As I had expected, as soon as I started to put
on his nose-line, off he went as hard as he could, jumping like a
kangaroo, and I after him beating him the while. Round and round we
went, the pace getting slower and slower, until, amidst shrieks of
laughter and shouts of "The Leader wins!" "Bluey wins!" "Stick to it!"
and so forth, from want of breath we came to a stop, and gazed at each
other, unable to go further. It was a tough run, and, like a schoolmaster
caning a small boy, I felt inclined to say, "Remember, my dear Bluey, it
pains me as much as it does you."

The lesson had a most salutary effect, and never again did he gallop away
when being caught in the morning, though he was not a well-behaved beast,
and always the first to give in in the sandhills, even though carrying
the lightest load. His good looks, however, were so much in his favour
that subsequently a wily Afghan paid me a big price for him
(comparatively), and winked to some fellow-countrymen as if he had got
the best of "Eengleeshman." If he was satisfied, I am sure that I was.

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