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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 6 Chapter 7

Spinifex and Sand - Part 6 Chapter 7

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 June 1st we left the rock-holes on a South-West course, crossing
irregular sandhills with the usual vegetation.

On June 2nd we crossed the last sand-ridge of the great northern desert,
and before us spread the rolling gravel-covered undulations of sand,
treeless except for an occasional beefwood or small clump of mulga,
rolling away before us like a swelling ocean. What a blessed relief it
was after the awful toil of crossing Heaven knows how many sand-ridges day
after day!

Taking into account the country north of lat. 24 degrees 45 minutes
only--for though we had a long spell of sand-ridges between the edge of
the desert and Woodhouse Lagoon, and again between that point and Lake
Wells, yet these were comparatively low and less steep than those further
north, and therefore their extent is not included in this reckoning--we
traversed 420 miles on the upgoing journey, and 451 miles on the return
journey--that is, 871 miles of actual travelling over a desert of sand
blown by the wind into parallel ridges of the height and frequency
already described. It will be readily understood, therefore, that we were
not sorry to see the last of them! Working our way step by step, we had
so husbanded the marvellous powers of endurance of our camels that, in
spite of the most terrible privations and difficulties, these noble
animals had silently carried their loads day by day, up and down, over
the burning sand, maddened by flies, their legs worn bare by
spinifex--carried them not without great sufferings and narrow escapes from
death, but yet without one of their number succumbing to the horrors of
the region. Accident and poison had carried off four. And now, alas!
another was to meet the same fate. Poor Satan, my faithful companion in
good times and bad, whose soft velvet nose had so often rubbed my cheek
in friendship, was laid low by the deadly wallflower. In spite of all we
could do for him, in spite of coaxing him yard by yard, Warri and I--as we
had done to Misery before--for a day's march of over fifteen miles, we
were forced to leave him to die. We could not afford to wait a day,
always onward must it be until another water is found, so, with a bullet
through his head, I left him to find his way to the Happy Hunting-grounds
where there are no native wells nor spinifex, only flowing rivers and
groves of quondongs! All this about a camel--"a devil and an ostrich and
an orphan child in one," as we have been told--but remember that often in
the solitary bush one's animals are one's only companions, that on them
one's life depends. How, then, could one fail to love them as friends and

Shortly after the scene of Satan's death the mulga clumps became greater
in extent, until for half the day, and more, we wound our way through
dense thickets. The further South we went the thicker they became, until
all day long we marched through scrub, seeing no more than forty yards
ahead, with packs, saddles, and clothes torn to pieces by dead and broken
branches. We saw no smokes, no spinifex rats, no natives, no tracks but
old ones, and these led us only to dry rock-holes. Time after time we
followed recent tracks from hole to hole, and met with no success;
sometimes we were just in time to be too late, and to see that the last
drops had been scraped up by the natives!

On June 6th we followed a fresh track, and found a hole containing thirty
gallons. June 7th and 8th, dense scrub. June 9th, open country, lake
country, gum tree flats, and magnificent green feed, the first we had
seen since leaving Sturt Creek. On our right high sandhills, whose
butt-ends in the distance had the appearance of a range of hills; on our
left thickets of mulga, and beyond, a sandstone range. Kangaroo tracks
were numerous, but none very fresh; these and the number of birds gave us
hopes of water. We must find some soon, or not one horse could survive.
Poor ponies! they were as thin as rakes, famished and hollow-eyed, their
ribs standing out like a skeleton's, a hat would almost hang on their
hip-joints--a sorry spectacle! All day we searched in vain, the animals
benefiting at least by the green herbage. Ours was a dismal camp now at
nights. What little water we could spare to the horses was but as a drop
in the ocean. All night long they shuffled about the camp, poking their
noses into every pack, overturning dishes and buckets, and, finding
nothing, stood with sinking heads as if in despair. Our water-casks had
to be guarded, for in their extremity the horses could smell the water,
and even went so far as to pull out the wooden bung, with their teeth!
Warden, the small pony, was a special offender in this respect. It is
quite startling to wake suddenly in the night and find a gaunt,
ghost-like horse standing over one, slowly shaking his head from side to
side, mournfully clanging his bell as if tolling for his own death. Then
at other times one heard the three bells sounding further and further
off. This meant a hasty putting on of boots and wakening a mate to stir
up the fire and make it blaze; then, following the sound through the
darkness, one came up with the deserters, shuffling along in single file,
with heads to the ground, turning neither to right or left, just
travelling straight away in any direction as fast as their hobbles
allowed. Heaven knows how far they might go in a night unless stopped in
time and dragged back to camp. Indeed blankets do not mean sleep, with
dry horses in the camp!

On the 10th The Monk, our best horse, fell, and was dead in a minute--run
down like a clock. The other two followed slowly behind. Presently. a
salt-lake [This I named Lake Breaden], enclosed by sandhills, barred our
way--a cheerful sight indeed! Hung up in its treacherous bogs, with
nearly empty tanks, dying horses and tired camels, what chance had we?
Speculation of this kind must not be indulged in; time enough to cry out
when the troubles come. Providence was with us as guide, and across the
lake we dodged from sand-spit to sand-spit until we had beaten it, and not
one animal was bogged.

The night of the 10th our supply was down to three gallons. None could be
spared for the horses now, none could be spared for beef-boiling, only a
little for bread, and a drop each to drink. Every rock-hole we had
seen--but one--was dry. Alexander Spring would be dry. We should have to
make for the Empress Spring, fifty miles beyond. Every thing pointed to
the probability of this sequence of events, therefore the greatest care
must be exercised. The horses would die within a few miles, but the
camels were still staunch in spite of the weakening effect of the
sand-ridges, so there was no need for anxiety. Yet we could not help
feeling anxious; one's nerves get shaky from constant wear and tear, from
want of food and rest. We had been in infinitely worse positions than
this; in fact, with health and strength and fresh camels no thought of
danger would have been entertained, but it is a very different matter
after months of constant strain on body and mind. Faith--that is the
great thing, to possess--faith that all is for the best, and that all
will "pan out" right in the end.

The days were closing in now, the nights were cold, so we were away
before sunrise, and, leaving the rolling sand, came again into mulga
thickets, with here and there a grassy flat, timbered with bloodwoods--the
tail end of a creek no doubt rising in the sandstone cliffs we had seen
ahead of us. Shortly after one o'clock a sight, that brought more joy to
us than to any Robinson Crusoe, met our eyes--a track, a fresh footprint
of a gin. Whether to follow it forward or back? That was the question. On
this might hang more than the lives of the horses. In nine cases out of
ten it is safer to follow them forward--this was the tenth! "Which way?"
said Godfrey, who was steering. "Back," said I, for what reason I cannot
say. So back we followed the lady to see where she had camped, twisting
and turning, now losing her tracks, and, casting, finding them again,
until we were ready to stamp with impatience and shout D--n the woman!
why couldn't she walk straight? Two hours brought us our reward, when an
opening in the scrub disclosed a deep-banked creek, fringed with
white-stemmed gums, and, beyond, a fire and natives camped. They all ran,
nor did we care, for water must be there. Glorious sight! a small and
green-scummed puddle, nestling beneath the bank, enclosed by a bar of
rock and the bed of shingle. Before many minutes we had the shovels at
work, and, clearing away the shingle and sand, found a plentiful supply.
All HAD ended well, and just in time to save the horses. Considering the
want of feed, and the hardships they had already suffered, they had done
a remarkable stage. A stage of eleven days (from the evening of May 31st
to the evening of June 11th)--a distance of 160 miles on the map, and a
good many more allowing for deviations, during which they had but little
water. We had brought them through safely, but at the cost of how much
trouble to ourselves may be judged from previous pages and the following
figures. We left the Deep rock-holes with exactly 102 gallons of water;
decrease by breaking through the scrub must have been considerable, as we
had nearly thirty gallons of this amount in canvas bags.

Added to this must be the 30 gallons we got from the small rock-hole--that
is, 132 gallons in all. Of this supply the horses had 6 gallons each the
first night, 3 gallons each subsequently until the day The Monk died and
their ration was stopped. From 132, we take 90 (the horses' share).
This leaves 42 gallons for four men and a dog (which drinks as much as
a man) for eleven days; this supply was used for washing (an item hardly
appreciable), bread-making, drinking, and beef-boiling, the last the most
ruinous item; for dry-salted beef is very salt indeed, and unless boiled
thoroughly (it should be boiled in two waters) makes one fearfully
thirsty. What would otherwise have been an easy task was made difficult
and uncomfortable by the presence of the horses, but we were well
rewarded by the satisfaction of seeing them alive at the finish.

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