Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 2.1. From the 4th to the 22nd August, 1873.

Leave for the west. Ascend the Alberga. An old building. Rain, thunder, and lightning. Leave Alberga for the north-west. Drenched in the night. Two lords of the soil. Get their congé. Water-holes. Pretty amphitheatre. Scrubs on either side. Watering the horses. A row of saplings. Spinifex and poplars. Dig a tank. Hot wind. A broken limb. Higher hills. Flat-topped hills. Singular cones. Better country. A horse staked. Bluff-faced hills. The Anthony Range. Cool nights. Tent-shaped hills. Fantastic mounds. Romantic valley. Picturesque scene. A gum creek. Beautiful country. Gusts of fragrance. New and independent hills. Large creek. Native well. Jimmy's report. The Krichauff. Cold nights. Shooting blacks. Labor omnia vincit. Thermometer 28°. Dense scrubs. Small creek. Native pheasant's nest. Beautiful open ground. Charming view. Rocks piled on rocks.

On Monday, the 4th August, 1873, my new expedition, under very favourable circumstances, started from Ross's Water-hole in the Alberga. The country through which the Alberga here runs is mostly open and stony, but good country for stock of all kinds. The road and the telegraph line are here thirteen miles apart. At that distance up the creek, nearly west, we reached it. The frame of an old building was convenient for turning into a house, with a tarpaulin for a roof, as there appeared a likelihood of more rain. Some water was got in a clay-pan in the neighbourhood.

A misty and cloudy morning warned us to keep under canvas: rain fell at intervals during the day, and at sundown heavy thunder and bright lightning came from the north-west, with a closing good smart shower. The next morning was fine and clear, though the night had been extremely cold. The bed of this creek proved broad but ill-defined, and cut up into numerous channels. Farther along the creek a more scrubby region was found; the soil was soft after the rain, but no water was seen lying about. The creek seemed to be getting smaller; I did not like its appearance very much, so struck away north-west. The country now was all thick mulga scrub and grassy sandhills; amongst these we found a clay-pan with some water in it. At night we were still in the scrub, without water, but we were not destined to leave it without any, for at ten o'clock a thunderstorm from the north-west came up, and before we could get half our things under canvas, we were thoroughly drenched. Off our tarpaulins we obtained plenty of water for breakfast; but the ground would not retain any. Sixteen miles farther along we came down out of the sandhills on to a creek where we found water, and camped, but the grass was very poor, dry, and innutritious. More rain threatened, but the night was dry, and the morning clear and beautiful. This creek was the Hamilton. Two of its native lords visited the camp this morning, and did not appear at all inclined to leave it. The creek is here broad and sandy: the timber is small and stunted. Towards evening the two Hamiltonians put on airs of great impudence, and became very objectionable; two or three times I had to resist their encroachments into the camp, and at last they greatly annoyed me. I couldn't quite make out what they said to one another; but I gathered they expected more of their tribe, and were anxiously looking out for them in all directions. Finally, as our guns wanted discharging and cleaning after the late showers, we fired them off, and so soon as the natives saw us first handle and then discharge them, off they went, and returned to Balclutha no more.

An Incident of Travel.

Going farther up the creek, we met some small tributaries with fine little water-holes. Some ridges now approached the creek; from the top of one many sheets of water glittered in stony clay-pans. More westerly the creek ran under a hill. Crossing another tributary where there was plenty of water, we next saw a large clay-hole in the main creek — it was, however, dry. When there was some water in it, the natives had fenced it round to catch any large game that might come to drink; at present they were saved the trouble, for game and water had both alike departed. Mr. Tietkens, my lieutenant and second in command, found a very pretty amphitheatre formed by the hills; we encamped there, at some clay-pans; the grass, however, was very poor; scrubs appeared on the other side of the creek. A junction with another creek occurred near here, beyond which the channel was broad, flat, sandy, and covered indiscriminately with timber; scrubs existed on either bank. We had to cross and recross the bed as the best road. We found a place in it where the natives had dug, and where we got water, but the supply was very unsatisfactory, an enormous quantity of sand having to be shifted before the most willing horse could get down to it. We succeeded at length with the aid of canvas buckets, and by the time the whole twenty four were satisfied, we were also. The grass was dry as usual, but the horses ate it, probably because there is no other for them. Our course to-day was 8° south of west. Close to where we encamped were three or four saplings placed in a row in the bed of the creek, and a diminutive tent-frame, as though some one, if not done by native children, had been playing at erecting a miniature telegraph line. I did not like this creek much more than the Alberga, and decided to try the country still farther north-west. This we did, passing through somewhat thick scrubs for eighteen miles, when we came full upon the creek again, and here for the first time since we started we noticed some bunches of spinifex, the Festuca irritans, and some native poplar trees. These have a straight stem, and are in outline somewhat like a pine-tree, but the foliage is of a fainter green, and different-shaped leaf. They are very pretty to the eye, but generally inhabit the very poorest regions; the botanical name of this tree is Codonocarpus cotinifolius. At five miles farther we dug in the bed of the creek, but only our riding-horses could be watered by night. White pipeclay existed on the bed. The weather was oppressive to-day. Here my latitude was 26° 27´, longitude 134°. It took all next day to water the horses. Thermometer 92° in shade, hot wind blowing. The dead limb of a tree, to which we fixed our tarpaulin as an awning for shade, slipped down while we were at dinner; it first fell on the head of Jimmy Andrews, which broke it in half; it also fell across my back, tearing my waistcoat, shirt, and skin; but as it only fell on Jimmy's head of course it couldn't hurt him. The country still scrubby on both sides: we now travelled about north-north-west, and reached a low stony rise in the scrubs, and from it saw the creek stretching away towards some other ridges nearly on the line we were travelling. We skirted the creek, and in eleven miles we saw other hills of greater elevation than any we had yet seen.

Reaching the first ridge, we got water by digging a few inches into the pipeclay bed of the creek; a more extended view was here obtained, and ranges appeared from west, round by north-west, to north; there were many flat-topped hills and several singular cones, and the country appeared more open. I was much pleased to think I had distanced the scrubs. One cone in the new range bore north 52° west, and for some distance the creek trended that way. On reaching the foot of the new hills, I found the creek had greatly altered its appearance, if indeed it was the same. It is possible the main creek may have turned more to the west, and that this is only a tributary, but as we found some surface water in a clay-hole, we liked it better than having to dig in a larger channel. Here for the first time for many weeks we came upon some green grass, which the horses greedily devoured. The country here is much better and more open. On mustering the horses this morning, one was found to be dead lame, with a mulga stake in his coronet, and as he could not travel we were forced to remain at the camp; at least the camp was not shifted. This horse was called Trew; he was one of the best in the mob, though then I had not found out all his good qualities — he now simply carried a pack. Mr. Tietkens and I mounted our horses and rode farther up the creek. The channel had partly recovered its appearance, and it may be our old one after all. Above the camp its course was nearly north, and a line of low bluff-faced hills formed its eastern bank. The country towards the new ranges looked open and inviting, and we rode to a prominent cone in it, to the west-north-west. The country was excellent, being open and grassy, and having fine cotton and salt bush flats all over it: there was surface water in clay-pans lying about. I called this the Anthony Range. We returned much pleased with our day's ride.

The nights were now agreeably cool, sometimes very dewy. The lame horse was still very bad, but we lightened his load, and after the first mile he travelled pretty well. We steered for the singular cone in advance. Most of the hills, however, of the Anthony Range were flat-topped, though many tent-shaped ones exist also. I ascended the cone in ten miles, west of north-west from camp. The view displayed hills for miles in all directions, amongst which were many bare rocks of red colour heaped into the most fantastically tossed mounds imaginable, with here and there an odd shrub growing from the interstices of the rocks; some small miniature creeks, with only myal and mulga growing in them, ran through the valleys — all of these had recently been running. We camped a mile or two beyond the cone in an extremely pretty and romantic valley; the grass was green, and Nature appeared in one of her smiling moods, throwing a gleam of sunshine on the minds of the adventurers who had sought her in one of her wilderness recesses. The only miserable creature in our party was the lame horse, but now indeed he had a mate in misfortune, for we found that another horse, Giant Despair, had staked himself during our day's march, though he did not appear lame until we stopped, and his hobbles were about to be put on. Mr. Tietkens extracted a long mulga stick from his fetlock: neither of the two staked horses ever became sound again, although they worked well enough. In the night, or rather by morning (daylight), the thermometer had fallen to 30°, and though there was a heavy dew there was neither frost nor ice.

We now passed up to the head of the picturesque valley, and from there wound round some of the mounds of bare rocks previously mentioned. They are composed of a kind of a red conglomerate granite. We turned in and out amongst the hills till we arrived at the banks of a small creek lined with eucalyptus or gum-trees, and finding some water we encamped on a piece of beautiful-looking country, splendidly grassed and ornamented with the fantastic mounds, and the creek timber as back and fore grounds for the picture. Small birds twittered on each bough, sang their little songs of love or hate, and gleefully fled or pursued each other from tree to tree. The atmosphere seemed cleared of all grossness or impurities, a few sunlit clouds floated in space, and a perfume from Nature's own laboratory was exhaled from the flowers and vegetation around. It might well be said that here were

“Gusts of fragrance on the grasses,

In the skies a softened splendour;

Through the copse and woodland passes

Songs of birds in cadence tender.”

The country was so agreeable here we had no desire to traverse it at railway speed; it was delightful to loll and lie upon the land, in abandoned languishment beneath the solar ray. Thirty or forty miles farther away, west-north-westward, other and independent hills or ranges stood, though I was grieved to remark that the intermediate region seemed entirely filled with scrub. How soon the scenery changes! Travelling now for the new hills, we soon entered scrubs, where some plots of the dreaded triodia were avoided. In the scrubs, at ten miles we came upon the banks of a large gum-timbered creek, whose trees were fine and vigorous. In the bed we found a native well, with water at no great depth; the course of this creek where we struck it, was south-south-east, and we travelled along its banks in an opposite, that is to say, north-north-west direction. That line, however, took us immediately into the thick scrubs, so at four miles on this bearing I climbed a tree, and saw that I must turn north to cut it again; this I did, and in three miles we came at right angles upon a creek which I felt sure was not the one we had left, the scrub being so thick one could hardly see a yard ahead. Here I sent Jimmy Andrews up a tree; having been a sailor boy, he is well skilled in that kind of performance, but I am not. I told him to discover the whereabouts of the main creek, and say how far off it appeared. That brilliant genius informed me that it lay across the course we were steering, north, and it was only a mile away; so we went on to it, as we supposed, but having gone more than two miles and not reaching it, I asked Jimmy whether he had not made some mistake. I said, “We have already come two miles, and you said it was scarcely one.” He then kindly informed me that I was going all wrong, and ought not to go that way at all; but upon my questioning him as to which way I should go he replied, “Oh, I don't know now.” My only plan was to turn east, when we soon struck the creek. Then Jimmy declared if we had kept north long enough, we would have come to it agin.

Though Jimmy was certainly a bit of a fool, he was not perhaps quite a fool of the greatest size. Little fools and young fools somehow seem to pass muster in this peculiar world, but to be old and a fool is a mistake which is difficult, if not impossible, to remedy. It was too late to go any farther; we couldn't get any water, but we had to camp. I intended to return in the morning to where we first struck this creek, and where we saw water in the native well. I called this the Krichauff. The mercury went down to 28° by daylight the next morning, but neither ice nor frost appeared. This morning Mr. Tietkens, when out after the horses, found a rather deep native well some distance up the creek, and we shifted the camp to it. On the way there I was behind the party, and before I overtook them I heard the report of firearms. On reaching the horses, Jimmy Andrews had his revolver in his hand, Mr. Tietkens and Gibson being away. On inquiring of Jimmy the cause of the reports and the reason of his having his revolver in his hand, he replied that he thought Mr. Tietkens was shooting the blacks, and he had determined to slaughter his share if they attacked him. Mr. Tietkens had fired at some wallabies, which, however, did not appear at dinner. On arrival at the new well, we had a vast amount of work to perform, and only three or four horses got water by night.

I told Mr. Tietkens not to work himself to death, as I would retreat in the morning to where there was water, but he persisted in working away by himself in the night, and was actually able to water all the horses in the morning. Labor omnia vincit. Last night there was a heavy fall of dew, thermometer 28°, but no frost or ice. I was delighted to turn my back upon this wretched place.

The object of our present line was to reach the new hills seen from the Anthony Range. Three of them appeared higher than, and isolated from, the others. They now bore west of us — at least they should have done so, and I hoped they did, for in such thick scrubs it was quite impossible to see them. No matter for that, we steered west for them and traversed a region of dense scrubs. I was compelled to ride in advance with a bell on my stirrup to enable the others to hear which way to come. In seventeen miles we struck a small gum creek without water, but there was good herbage. In the scrubs to-day we saw a native pheasant's nest, the Leipoa ocellata of Gould, but there were no eggs in it. This bird is known by different names in different parts of Australia. On the eastern half of the continent it is usually called the Lowan, while in Western Australia it is known as the Gnow; both I believe are native names. Another cold night, thermometer 26°, with a slight hoar frost. Moving on still west through scrubs, but not so thick as yesterday, some beautiful and open ground was met till we reached the foot of some low ridges.

From the top of one of these, we had before us a most charming view, red ridges of extraordinary shapes and appearance being tossed up in all directions, with the slopes of the soil, from whence they seemed to spring, rising gently, and with verdure clad in a garment of grass whose skirts were fringed with flowers to their feet. These slopes were beautifully bedecked with flowers of the most varied hues, throwing a magic charm over the entire scene. Vast bare red

“Rocks piled on rocks stupendous hurled,

Like fragments of an earlier world,”

appeared everywhere, but the main tier of ranges for which I had been steering was still several miles farther away to the west. Thinking that water, the scarcest here of Nature's gifts, must surely exist in such a lovely region as this, it was more with the keen and critical eye of the explorer in search of that element, than of the admirer of Nature in her wildest grace, that I surveyed the scene. A small gum creek lay to the south, to which Mr. Tietkens went. I sent Gibson to a spot about two miles off to the west, as straight before us in that direction lay a huge mass of rocks and bare slabs of stone, which might have rock reservoirs amongst them. To the north lay a longer jumble of hills, with overhanging ledges and bare precipices, which I undertook to search, leaving Jimmy to mind the horses until some of us returned. Neither Mr. Tietkens nor Gibson could find any water, and I was returning quite disappointed, after wandering over hills and rocks, through gullies and under ledges, when at length I espied a small and very fertile little glen whose brighter green attracted my notice. Here a small gully came down between two hills, and in the bed of the little channel I saw a patch of blacker soil, and on reaching it I found a small but deep native well with a little water at the bottom. It was an extraordinary little spot, and being funnel shaped, I doubted whether any animal but a bird or a black man could get down to it, and I also expected it would prove a hideous bog; but my little friend (W.A.) seemed so determined to test its nature, and though it was nearly four feet to the water, he quietly let his forefeet slip down into it, and though his hindquarters were high and dry above his head he got a good drink, which he told me in his language he was very thankful for. I brought the whole party to the spot, and we had immediately to set to work to enlarge the well. We found the water supply by no means abundant, as, though we all worked hard at it in turns with the shovel, it did not drain in as fast as one horse could drink; but by making a large hole, we expected sufficient would drain in during the night for the remainder of the horses. We did not cease from our work until it was quite dark, when we retired to our encampment, quite sufficiently tired to make us sleep without the aid of any lullaby.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14