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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 3 Chapter 1

Spinifex and Sand - Part 3 Chapter 1

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




November 8, 1894, was a red-letter day in the history of Coolgardie, for
on that date the foundation-stone of the first brick building was laid by
Mr. James Shaw, the mayor. Under the stone was deposited a specimen of
each coin of the realm, and these, by the way, were purloined in the
night. This great day was made the occasion for feasting and jubilation,
the feasting taking the not uncommon form of a gigantic "Champagne Spree,"
to which the whole town was invited.

When once a wave of inebriety swept over the settlement, something a
little out of the ordinary was likely to occur. Fights and rows would be
started with the most bloodthirsty intentions, only to end in peace and
harmony after the swearing of eternal friendships. A good fight in
Coolgardie in those days would attract as much attention as a cab accident
in the streets of London. The well-known cry of "A fight! a fight!" would
bring the greater part of the population from their dwellings--from
stores, banks, offices, bars, an excited and rushing crowd would hurry
to the scene of the fray, all eager to witness a good row; they were not,
as a rule, disappointed, for, as one fight usually breeds several, a fair
afternoon's or morning's entertainment could be safely counted on.
A mining community must have excitement; even a dog-fight would command a
considerable amount of interest.

On the celebrated night of the laying of the foundation stone I had the
pleasure of witnessing a rough-and-tumble fight between two of the most
powerful men in Coolgardie. The excitement was intense as one seized his
antagonist, and, using him as a flail, proceeded to clear the room with
him; he retaliated by overpowering the other man, and finally breaking his
leg as they fell heavily together out through the door on to the hard
street beyond. How much ill-feeling this little incident engendered may be
judged from the fact that the maimed man was employed by his late
adversary as clerk until his limb mended, and subsequently held the billet
for many months.

It was my misfortune to be engaged in organising a prospecting expedition
at this time--misfortune, because of the impossibility of getting any one
to attend to business. Camels had to be bought, and provisions and
equipment attended to. A syndicate had engaged my services and those of
my two companions whom I had chosen in Perth: Jim Conley, a fine, sturdy
American from Kentucky, the one; and Paddy Egan, an Irish-Victorian, the
other. Both had been some time on the fields, and Conley had had previous
experience in South Africa and on the Yukon, where he had negotiated the
now famous Chilcoot Pass without realising that it was the tremendous feat
that present-day travellers represent it to be.

There are few men more entertaining than diggers, when one can get them to
talk; there is hardly a corner of the habitable globe to which they have
not penetrated. Round a camp-fire one will hear tales of Africa, New
Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, America from Alaska to the Horn,
Madagascar, and other strange countries that would be a mine of
information to a writer of books of adventure--tales told in the main with
truth and accuracy, and in the quiet, unostentatious manner of the
habitual digger to whom poverty, riches, and hardships come all in their
turn as a matter of course.

Having chosen my mates, the next thing to be done was to procure beasts of
burden. Of numerous camels submitted for inspection I took three, which
were subsequently christened "Czar," "Satan," and "Misery" respectively;
the first from his noble and king-like mien, the second from his wild and
exceedingly unpleasant habit of kicking and striking--habits due not to
vice but to the nervousness of youth--and the third from his plaintive
remonstrances and sad-eyed looks of reproach as his saddle and load were
placed on his back.

The price of a good pack-camel then varied from 60 pounds to 80
pounds--and such prices as 100 pounds to 130 pounds were given for
first-class riding-camels. For South Australian-bred camels, the
descendants of stock originally imported from India by Sir Thomas Elder
some thirty years ago, a higher price was asked than for those brought
into the Colony direct from Kurrachi; and rightly, for there can be no
doubt but that in size, strength, and endurance, the camel of Australian
birth is far ahead of his old-world cousin. Not only are Indian camels
smaller and less fitted for the heavy work of the interior, but their
liability, until acclimatised, to mange and other diseases makes them most
undesirable acquisitions.

The near approach of midsummer, and the known scarcity of water, had
induced me to include in my equipment a portable condenser, by means of
which we should convert the brine of the salt lakes into water fit to
drink. It seemed an excellent plan and so simple, for lakes abound--on
the maps; and wherever a lake is, there, by digging, will water be found,
and thus we should be independent of rock-holes and other precarious
sources of supply. Plans so simple on paper do not always "pan out" as
confidently expected and a more odious job, or one which entailed more
hard work, than prospecting with condensers I have not had to undertake.
"Prospecting" is generally taken to mean searching for gold. In Western
Australia in the hot weather it resolves itself into a continual battle
for water, with the very unlikely contingency that, in the hunt for a
drink, one may fall up against a nugget of gold or a gold-bearing quartz

On November 10th we made a start from Coolgardie, and, travelling along
the Twenty-five Mile road for some fifteen miles, we branched off in an
easterly direction, to try some country where I had previously found
"colours" of gold, when journeying from Kurnalpi to the Twenty-five Mile.
Finding that in the meantime others had been there and pegged out leases
and claims, we passed on and set up our condensers on the "Wind and Water"
lake, and began to get an inkling that our job was not to be of the

More than one hole six to fifteen feet deep had to be sunk before we
struck any water. To lessen the labour we at first dug our shafts near the
margin of the lake; this proving unsuccessful we were forced further and
further out, until our efforts were rewarded by a plentiful supply, but
alas! some three hundred yards from the shore. This necessitated the
carrying of wood from the margin of the lake to the condensers. The
boilers required constant attention day and night, the fires had to be
stoked, and the water stored as it slowly trickled from the cooling tray.
Thus the duties of the twenty-four hours consisted in chopping and
carrying wood, watching the condensers, attending to the camels,
occasionally sleeping and eating, and prospecting for gold in spare time.
I think my readers will readily understand that it was hard indeed to find
much time to devote to the proper object of the expedition, however
willing we were to do so.

There were one or two others engaged on the same job at that lake, and
from one party Czar sneaked a cheap drink by thrusting his head through
the opening in the lid of a large two-hundred-gallon tank. His peculiar
position was specially adapted to the administration of a sound beating,
nor did the infuriated owner of the water fail to take advantage of the

With our tanks filled and our camels watered, we set forth from the lake
on November 21st, having prospected what country there was in its
immediate neighbourhood. The heat was intense, and walking, out of
training as we were, was dry work; our iron casks being new, gave a most
unpleasant zinc taste to the water, which made us all feel sick.
Unpleasant as this was, yet it served the useful purpose of checking the
consumption of water. Our route lay past the "Broad Arrow" to a hill that
I took to be Mount Yule, and from there almost due east to Giles'
Pinnacles. Our camels were most troublesome; young, nervous, and unused
to us or to each other, they would wander miles during the night, and give
two of us a walk of three or four miles in the morning; before the day's
work began. Two were not content with merely wandering, but persisted in
going in one direction, the third in another.

One morning Conley and Egan were following their tracks each in a
different quarter. I meanwhile climbed a neighbouring hill to spy out the
land ahead, hoping to see the white glitter of a salt lake, for we were in
likely country, ironstone blows, quartz, and diorite giving evidence of
its probable auriferous nature; we were therefore anxious to find water to
enable us to test it. On return to camp, after an absence of not more than
half an hour, I was astonished to see it surrounded by the tracks of
numerous "black-fellows." I guessed they had paid us a visit for no good
purpose, and was hardly surprised when I found that they had not only
stolen all our flour, but added insult to injury by scattering it about
the ground. Not daring to leave the camp, lest in my absence they should
return and take all our provisions, I was unable to follow the thieves,
and had to wait in patience the return of the camels.

So far had they wandered in their hobbles, that by the time we were ready
to start the blacks must have gained too great an advantage in distance to
make it worth our while to follow them; nor, since they started off in the
direction from which we had come, was it any use tracking them with the
hope of getting water. So we pushed on eastwards, through open forest of
gums, scrubs, and thickets, broken by occasional small plains of saltbush,
seeing no signs of water or lake, when presently we entered a belt of
sandy desert--rolling sandhills, spinifex-clad, with occasional thickets
of mulga and mallee.

Monotonous work it was, dragging the wretched camels for eight to ten
hours at a stretch, inciting them to fresh exertions by curses and
beatings, kindness and caresses, in turn. In some respects a camel
resembles a bullock; not only does he chew his cud, but he loves to be
sworn at; no self-respecting ox will do an ounce of work until his
driver has flung over him a cloud of the most lurid and hair-raising
language. Now, a camel draws the line at blasphemy, but rejoices in the
ordinary oaths and swear-words of every-day life in much the same way as a
retriever. There is no animal more susceptible to kindness than a camel;
but in a sandy sea of scrub with the blazing sun almost boiling the water,
milk-like from zinc, in the tanks, loads dragged this way and that,
boilers and pipes of condensers rolling, now forward, now back, eventually
to slip clattering down, bearing camel and all to the ground--with these
and other trials kindness was not in us.

Soon after sunset on the 27th, from the branches of a high gum tree we
sighted the Pinnacles almost dead on our course; and late that night we
reached the lake, and found to our joy a condenser already established, by
means of which two men earned a precarious livelihood by selling water to
travellers--for these lakes were on the direct track from Kurnalpi to the
Mount Margaret district. Thus enabled to assuage the seven days' thirst of
the camels forthwith, at the cost of a shilling per gallon, we lost no
time in setting up our own plant, and were fortunate in finding water
and wood easy of access. The next four days were spent in prospecting the
surrounding country, but no gold rewarded our efforts, though numerous
reefs and blows of quartz were to be seen in the hills which the lake
nearly surrounds.

Whilst camped here, I took the opportunity of breaking in Satan as a
riding-camel, and found him at first a most untameable customer, trying
all sorts of dodges to get the better of me. Twisting round his neck he
would grab at my leg; then, rolling, he would unseat and endeavour to roll
on me; finally tiring of these tricks he would gallop off at full speed,
and run my leg against a tree, or do his best to sweep me off by an
overhanging branch, until I felt satisfied that he had been rightly named.
At last he realised that I was master, and after that I hardly remember
one occasion on which he gave any trouble; for the three years that I
afterwards possessed him, we were the best of friends, and he the most
gentle and biddable of beasts. Alas! that I should have had to end his
days with a bullet, and leave his bones to be picked by the dingoes of the
Great Sandy Desert.

Failing to find any gold, and being in need of flour, we made south to
Kurnalpi, through country flat and uninteresting, and arrived at that camp
just in time to secure the last two bags of flour. The town was almost
deserted, and had none of the lively and busy appearance that it presented
when I had last seen it. All who saw us praised our equipment and
forethought in having portable condensers. I am not quite sure that we
agreed with them.

Hearing that some promising country existed near Lake Roe, I decided to
make for that place, and more particularly for a small rock-hole named
Beri, at the west end of the lake. Very rough, stony hills covered with
dense scrub surround Kurnalpi on the south; once across these, flat, open
country of saltbush and samphire, rapidly changing into salt-swamp, made
travelling easy; passing over another low range of diorite, from which we
got an extensive view of Lake Lapage to the west and Lake Roe to the east,
we reached Beri, hitting off the rock with so much accuracy that even
Paddy Egan was surprised into praise of the compass. For some bushmen, be
it known, can neither understand nor appreciate the use of a compass, and,
being quite capable of finding their way back, are content to wander forth
into the bush with no guide but the sun, taking no notes of the country,
no record of their day's march, and making no observations to help either
themselves or anybody else; unable to say where they have been, how they
got there, or how they got home again. Some men have a natural instinct
for direction, and I know some who could start, say from Coolgardie, to
ride seventy miles east and return, then perhaps sixty to the north, and
from that point ride across to their seventy-mile point with great
ease and certainty, having no notion of the distance or point of the

A good many prospectors, depending on their black-boys almost entirely,
wander from one range of hills to another, dodge here and there for water,
keep no count or reckoning, and only return by the help of their guide
when the "tucker-bags" are empty; others make a practice of standing two
sticks in the ground on camping at night, to remind them of the course
they have travelled during the day and must resume in the morning. To such
men as these a map or compass is useless and therefore of no value; and
yet they are often spoken of by the ignorant as "best bushmen in

In my time I have seen and mixed with most prospectors in the West, and as
far as my experience goes the best bushmen not only use the compass, but
keep a reckoning, rough though it may be, of their day's travel. Such a
man is Billy Frost, to quote a well-known name on the goldfields, a man
who has had no chance to learn any of the rudiments of surveying, and who
started life as a boundary rider on a cattle station. He has shown me a
note-book in which he has jotted down directions and distances from water.

In mountainous country where landmarks are numerous the traveller may
manage it; but no man could travel for any length of time without keeping
some sort of reckoning, in a flat country like the interior of Western
Australia, where for days together one sees no hill or rise, without
before long becoming hopelessly lost.

Paddy Egan had been content to travel in this haphazard way, and it was
long before he would acknowledge the benefits of a compass and map. That
he could travel straight there was no gainsaying, for if, as I sometimes
did, I pointed out our line and sent him ahead, he would go as straight as
a die, with now and then a glance at the sun, and a slight alteration in
his course to allow for its altered position, and require but little
correction. Indeed, even when using a compass, one instinctively pays as
much and more attention to the sun or the stars, as the case may be.

The rock-hole at Beri was dry, so we pushed on for Lake Roe, and, though
we worked sinking holes until past midnight, and nearly the whole of the
next day, we were unable to find water. It was only salt water we
expected, but a stiff pipeclay, continuing to a depth too great for our
limited means of sinking, baffled all our efforts. I followed the lake
some six miles to the eastward, carrying a shovel and digging trial holes
at intervals, but this pipeclay foiled me everywhere.

I do not know how far this lake runs east, and fancy its limits have never
been laid down on the map; not that there is anything sufficiently
inviting in its appearance--the usual flat expanse of mud, with banks of
sand fringed with low straggling mallee and spinifex--to warrant further

Lake Roe having failed us, we turned on our tracks for the nearest point
of Lake Lapage, some nine miles distant. Here we were more fortunate, and
obtained a splendid supply of salt water at a depth of only three feet.
Timber was not easily got--that would have been too much joy! It had to
be carried nearly half a mile on our shoulders, for the camels, having
travelled all day, deserved a rest. The condensers worked well, now that
we had had some experience, and produced water at the rate of four gallons
an hour. With our casks replenished and our camels filled, leaving the
condenser standing, we turned south to some hills that were visible; we
intended to be absent for four days, at the end of which the camels would
again require water, as the weather was exceedingly hot.

Nothing of interest was met with until we came upon a huge wall-like reef,
standing some fifteen or twenty feet above the ground, from ten to twenty
feet wide, and running almost due north and south for nearly five miles,
without a break of appreciable extent, as we subsequently found. Breaking
the quartz at intervals, hoping at each blow of the pick to see the
longed-for colours, we followed this curious natural wall, and finally
camped, sheltered by it from the wind. A violent storm of dust, wind,
thunder, and lightning swept over us that night, tearing the "fly" we had
pitched, in the vain expectation of rain, into ribbons.

Leaving the others to continue prospecting, I turned my steps, or rather
those of Satan, whom I was riding, towards Cowarna, a large granite rock,
some fourteen miles distant, and due south from our camp, if I had
reckoned our position on the map correctly. Twelve miles of open forest,
alternating with scrubby thickets, brought me to the edge of a fine little
plain of saltbush and grass, from the centre of which a bare rock of
granite stood out. Arrived at the rock, I hunted long and diligently for
water. Numerous rock-holes were to be seen, but all were dry, and my hopes
of making this our base from which to prospect in various directions were
at first short-lived; but before long I was overjoyed to hear the
twittering of a little flock of Diamond sparrows--a nearly certain sign
that water must be handy; and sure enough I found their supply at the
bottom of a narrow, round hole, down which I could just stretch my arm.

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