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Home -> David W Carnegie -> Spinifex and Sand -> Part 3 Chapter 2

Spinifex and Sand - Part 3 Chapter 2

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



At this point it may not be amiss to give a short description of these
peculiar outcrops of granite, without which the track from York to
Coolgardie could never have been kept open, nor the place discovered, nor
could its early inhabitants have supported life before the condensing
plant came into general use.

The interior of the Colony, between the coast and a point some hundred
miles east of Coolgardie, is traversed by parallel belts of granite,
running in a general direction of north-north-west and south-south-east.
This granite crops out above the surface, at intervals of from ten to
twenty or thirty miles, sometimes in the form of an isolated barren rock,
and sometimes as low ranges and hills several miles in extent. From them
small creeks, and sometimes larger watercourses, run down, to find their
way into the stony and gravelly debris which usually surrounds the rocks.
Much of what little rain does fall is absorbed by the trees and scrub,
and much is taken by the sun's heat, so that a very small proportion can
sink below the surface soil, and only when there is some underground basin
in the rock beneath will water be found by sinking, except immediately
after rain.

Round the granite base a belt of grass of no great extent may be found,
for the most part dry and yellow, but in places green and fresh. It is in
such spots as these that one may hope to tap an underground reservoir in
the rock. To these shallow wells has been given the name of "Soaks."
They seldom exceed fifteen feet in depth, though similar subterranean
basins have been tapped by a well perhaps a hundred feet deep, sunk some
distance from the foot of the outcrop. A good soak will stand a heavy
drain for perhaps months, but not having its origin in a spring the supply
ultimately ceases.

The soil, being alluvial, is in most cases easy to dig, and when the bed
rock is reached it becomes an open question whether to go deeper into the
decomposed rock or to be content with what supply has been struck. Many a
good soak has been ruined by a too ambitious worker, who, after infinite
toil, may see his priceless fluid disappear down some hidden crack
beneath. Native soaks dug out with sticks and wooden "coolimans"--small
troughs used as spades or as a means of carrying seeds, water, or
game--are by no means uncommon, and, when holding water, are easily made
more serviceable by throwing out a few shovelsful of sticks, stones, and
sand, with which they are generally choked. Often the weary traveller has
no such lucky help, and must set to work to dig a soak for himself and his
thirsty beasts--against time, too, in a blazing sun, without the
comforting knowledge that there is any certainty of finding water. I do
not know of any case when a party has actually perished at the mouth of
a waterless soak, but in many instances water has been struck when all
hope had been given up. The skeletons and carcasses of camels and horses
tell a tale of suffering that no man who has travelled can look at
unmoved, and go to show that many a beast of burden has been less
fortunate than his masters.

With what eager anxiety the shovelsful are watched, when the expected
"bottom" is nearly reached, by man and beast alike, who, utterly weary and
absolutely parched, know that they are soon to learn their fate. The
horses snort and plunge in eager and impatient expectation, whilst the
patient camel contents himself with grunts and moans, though, as his knees
are probably strapped beneath him, he cannot protest more forcibly. At
length, perhaps, all are rewarded by the welcome sight of a tiny trickle
in one corner, or perhaps the hole turns out a "duffer," and the weary,
weary work must be commenced again in a fresh spot.

In many cases these granite rocks have been utilised as a catchment area
for tanks, into which the water is led by drains, which encircle the foot
of the outcrop. Before the railway was built, such tanks, sunk by
Government along the Southern Cross-Coolgardie track, enabled teamsters to
bring their horses through with safety, which would otherwise have been
impossible at some seasons of the year.

I append a table showing cost and contents of Government tanks excavated
at the base of granite rocks between Southern Cross and Coolgardie:--

Name of Reservoir. Cost (pounds). Contents in Cost per Million
Gallons. Gallons (pounds).
Reen's Soak 3,246 900,000 3,607
Kararawalgee 2,947 1,250,000 2,858
Boorabbin 3,025 900,000 3,461
Woolgangee 3,825 1,2501000 3,100
Bullabulling 4,118 1,250,000 3,294
Coolgardie (No, 1) 1,167 800,000 1,454
Coolgardie (No. 2) 2,110 1,400,000 1,503
Halgoorlie (half-way) 1,266 500,000 2,532
Kalgoorlie... 1,554 500,000 3,108
Twenty-five Mile Tank 1,881 500,000 3,762
Forty Mile Tank 1,546 500,000 3,092
Colreavy's Tank 2,193 997,000 2,199

The above table will give some idea of the enormous expense entailed by
the opening up of the interior. In addition to these, wells and bores were
put down, many of which failed to strike water.

Ever-thoughtful Nature has provided, on the surface of the "granites,"
small reservoirs which, after rain, may, in some cases, hold many hundred
gallons of water. The Rock--or Namma-holes (I presume "Namma" is a native
name, but of this I am uncertain) are usually more or less conical in
shape, and vary in depth from a few inches to twenty feet, and in diameter
from half a foot to several. Their sides are smooth, and slope down to a
rounded bottom, where stones are often found which would suggest that they
have had something to do with the formation of these peculiar holes.
Beneath a hard surface layer the rock becomes decomposed and comparatively
soft; and doubtless the rain of countless ages collecting round the
stones, once on the surface and now found at the bottom of the holes, has
at length weathered away the rock, and so by slow degrees the stone
has ground out an ever-increasing hollow. I am neither geologist nor
dentist, but I have often likened in my mind the formation of the
Namma-holes to the gradual hollow formed by decay in a tooth. Whatever
their history, their use is unquestionable--not so the flavour of their
contents; for every bird or beast coming to water will leave some traces
behind, and the natives, to prevent evaporation, throw in sticks, stones,
and grass. Such a collection of rubbish and filth might naturally be
supposed to render the water unhealthy, but apparently this is not the
case, for we have often been forced to drink water, which, in
civilisation would be thought only fit to be used as manure for the
garden, without any injury to health or digestion. Patient search over the
whole surface of the rock is the usual method for finding rock-holes,
though sometimes the pads of wallabies, kangaroos, or emus, may serve as a
guide to them, but game is so scarce that a man must usually trust to his
own observation. Sometimes their existence may be detected from a distance
by the patch of rock round the mouth showing white, owing to its being
worn by the feet of birds and animals.

A typical rock was the high, barren "Cowarna," and one that after rain
would store in its depressions a plentiful supply of the life-giving
water. Thankful for small mercies, I made the best of a bad job, and,
having no dish or bucket from which to give Satan a drink, I was obliged
to make him lie down close to the narrow hole, whilst into his willing
throat I poured the water which at arm's length I scooped up with my
quart pot. This tedious process finished, I still had a potful at my
disposal, so, taking a long drink myself, I stripped off my clothes and
indulged in a shower bath, Not a luxurious bathe certainly, and a larger
supply would have been acceptable, but every little helps, and even a few
drops of fresh water have a pleasant effect on one's body made sticky by
the salt of the water from the lakes, and serve to remind the traveller
that he has once been clean.

Leaving the rock at sundown I travelled well into the night, for progress
was slow through the scrub and trees in the darkness, but little relieved
by the light of a waning moon. Feeling sure that I had gone far enough,
I was preparing to rest awhile and find our camp in the morning, when the
welcome glow of a fire shot up through the branches. Jim and Paddy, with
characteristic thought and resource, had climbed to the top of two tall
and dead gum trees and there built fires, fanned by the fierce draught
through the hollow trunks, knowing well at what a short distance a fire on
the ground is visible in this flat country. During my absence they had
found no gold, but, as they liked the look of the country, we decided to
return to our condensers for a fresh supply of water. Having obtained
this, Egan and I revisited our previous prospecting ground, leaving Jim
behind to "cook" water against our return; and a more uninteresting
occupation I cannot well picture. Camped alone on a spit of sand,
surrounded by a flat expanse of mud, broiled by the sun, half blinded by
the glare of the salt, with no shade but a blanket thrown over a rough
screen of branches, and nothing to do but to stoke up the fires, change
the water in the cooling-trough, and blow off the salt from the bottom of
the boilers, he was hardly to be envied. Yet Jim cheerfully undertook the
job and greeted us on our return, after four days, with the smiling remark
that his work had been varied by the necessity of plugging up the bottom
of one of the boilers which had burned through, with a compound (a patent
of his own) formed from strips of his shirt soaked in a stiff paste of
flour. That night we were astonished by the passage of a flight of ducks
over our heads, which Egan saw, and I and Conley heard distinctly.

A detailed account of our wanderings would be as wearying to the reader as
they were to ourselves, a mere monotonous repetition of cooking water and
hunting for "colours" which we never found. Christmas Eve, 1894, saw us in
the vicinity of Mount Monger, where a few men were working on an alluvial
patch and getting a little gold. A lucky storm had filled a deep clay-hole
on the flat running north-west from the hills, and here we were at last
enabled to give the camels a cheap drink; for over six weeks we had not
seen a drop of fresh water beyond what, with infinite labour, we had
condensed, with the one exception of the small rock-hole I found at
Cowarna. My entry in my journal for Christmas Day is short and sweet:
"Xmas Day, 1894. Wash clothes. Write diary. Plot course." We had no
Christmas fare to make our hearts glad and but for the fortunate arrival
of my old friend David Wilson, who gave us a couple of packets of
cornflour, would have had a scanty feast indeed.

Even in the remote little mining camp Santa Claus did not forget us, and
spread his presents, in the form of a deluge of rain, on all alike. What a
pleasant change to get thoroughly wet through! The storm hardly lasted
twenty minutes, but such was its violence that every little creek and
watercourse was soon running, and water for weeks to come was secured and
plentiful in all directions; but so local is a summer storm that five
miles from the camp, no water or signs of rain were to be seen. Our
provisions being finished, nothing remained but to make all speed for
Coolgardie, some fifty miles distant by road. Unencumbered by the
condensers, which were abandoned as useless since the bottom of both
boilers had burned through, we made fair time, reaching a good
camping-ground two miles from the town on the evening of the second day,
the 30th of December.

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