Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 2.11. From 21st May to 20th July, 1874.

Depart for civilisation. The springs at the pass. Farewell to Sladen Water. The Schwerin Mural Crescent. The return route. Recross the boundary line. Natives and their smokes. A canine telegram. New features. The Sugar-loaf. Mount Olga once more. Ayers' Rock. Cold weather. A flat-topped hill. Abandon a horse. A desert region. A strange feature. Lake Amadeus again. A new smoke-house. Another smoked horse. The glue-pot. An invention. Friendly natives. A fair and fertile tract. The Finke. A white man. A sumptuous repast. Sale of horses and gear. The Charlotte. The Peake. In the mail. Hear of Dick's death. In Adelaide. Concluding remarks.

On the afternoon of Thursday, 21st May, we began our retreat, and finally left Fort McKellar, where my hopes had been as high as my defeat was signal. On arriving at the pass we camped close to the beautiful fresh-water springs, where both Mr. Tietkens and Gibson, had planted a patch of splendid soil, Gibson having done the same at Fort McKellar with all kinds of seeds; but the only thing that came up well here was maize. That looked splendid, and had grown nearly three feet high. The weather was now delightful, and although in full retreat, had there been no gloom upon our feelings, had we had any good food to eat, with such fine horses as Banks, and Diaway, W.A., Trew, Blackie, etc. to ride, and a line of well-watered country before us for hundreds of miles, we might have considered our return a pleasure trip; but gloom covered our retreat, and we travelled along almost in silence. The pass was a place I greatly liked, and it was free from ants. There was a long line of fine eucalyptus timber and an extensive piece of ground covered with rushes, which made it look very pretty; altogether it was a most desirable spot for an explorer's camp, and an excellent place for the horses, as they soon got fat here. It is impossible that I should ever forget Sladen Water or the Pass of the Abencerrages: “Methinks I am as well in this valley as I have been anywhere else in all our journey; the place methinks suits with my spirit. I love to be in such places, where there is no rattling with coaches, nor rumbling with wheels. Methinks here one may, without much molestation, be thinking what he is, and whence he came; what he has done, and to what the king has called him” (Bunyan). On the Queen's birthday we bade it a last farewell, and departed for the east and civilisation, once more. We now had the route that Mr. Tietkens and I had explored in March — that is to say, passing and getting water at all the following places:— Gill's Pinnacle, the Ruined Rampart, Louisa's Creek, and the Chirnside. The country, as I have said before, was excellent and good for travelling over. The crescent-shaped and wall-like range running from the Weld Pass to Gill's Pinnacle, and beyond it, I named the Schwerin Mural Crescent; and a pass through it I named Vladimar Pass, in honour of Prince Vladimar, son of the Emperor of Russia, married to the Princess of Schwerin. When we reached the place where we first surprised the natives hunting, in March, we made a more northerly detour, as our former line had been through and over very rough hills, and in so doing we found on the 1st of June another splendid watering-place, where several creeks joined and ran down through a rocky defile, or glen, to the north. There was plenty of both rock and sand water here, and it was a very pretty and excellent little place. I called it Winter's* Glen, and the main creek of the three in which it lies, Irving Creek. This water may easily be found by a future traveller, from its bearing from a high, long-pointed hill abruptly ending to the west, which I named Mount Phillips. This is a very conspicuous mount in this region, being, like many of the others named on this line, detached to allow watercourses to pass northwards, and yet forming a part of the long northern wall, of which the Petermann Range is formed. This mount can be distinctly seen from Mount Olga, although it is seventy miles away, and from whence it bears 4° north of west. The water gorge at Winter's Glen bears west from the highest point of Mount Phillips, and four miles away. We were now again in the territories of South Australia, having bid farewell to her sister state, and turned our backs upon that peculiar province of the sun, the last of austral lands he shines upon. We next paid a visit to Glen Robertson, of 15th March, as it was a convenient place from which to make a straight line to the Sugar-loaf. To reach it we had to make a circuitous line, under the foot of the farthest east hill, where, it will be remembered, we had been attacked during dinner-time. We reached the glen early. There was yet another detached hill in the northern line, which is the most eastern of the Petermann Range. I named it Mount McCulloch. It can also easily be distinguished from Mount Olga. From Glen Robertson Mount McCulloch bore 3° east of north. We rested here a day, during which several natives made their appearance and lit signal fires for others. There is a great difference between signal and hunting fires; we were perfectly acquainted with both, as my reader may imagine. One aboriginal fiend, of the Homo sapiens genus, while we were sitting down sewing bags as usual, sneaked so close upon us, down the rocks behind the camp, that he could easily have touched or tomahawked — if he had one — either of us, before he was discovered. My little dog was sometimes too lazy to obey, when a little distance off, the command to sit, or stand up; in that case I used to send him a telegram, as I called it — that is to say, throw a little stone at him, and up he would sit immediately. This sneak of a native was having a fine game with us. Cocky was lying down near Mr. Tietkens, when a stone came quietly and roused him, causing him to sit up. Mr. Tietkens patted him, and he lay down again. Immediately after another stone came, and up sat Cocky. This aroused Mr. Tietkens's curiosity, as he didn't hear me speak to the dog, and he said, “Did you send Cocky a telegram?” I said, “No.” “Well then,” said he, “somebody did twice: did you, Jimmy?” “No.” “Oh!” I exclaimed, “it's those blacks!” We jumped up and looked at the low rocks behind us, where we saw about half-a-dozen sidling slowly away behind them. Jimmy ran on top, but they had all mysteriously disappeared. We kept a sharp look out after this, and fired a rifle off two or three times, when we heard some groans and yells in front of us up the creek gorge.

Having got some rock water at the Sugar-loaf or Stevenson's Peak in coming out, we went there again. On the road, at nine miles, we crossed another large wide creek running north. I called it the Armstrong*; there was no water where we crossed it. At twenty miles I found another fine little glen, with a large rock-hole, and water in the sand of the creek-bed. I called this Wyselaski's* Glen, and the creek the Hopkins. It was a very fine and pretty spot, and the grass excellent. On reaching the Peak or Sugar-loaf, without troubling the old rocky shelf, so difficult for horses to approach, and where there was very little water, we found another spot, a kind of native well, half a mile west of the gorge, and over a rise. We pushed on now for Mount Olga, and camped in casuarina and triodia sandhills without water. The night of the 5th June was very cold and windy; my only remaining thermometer is not graduated below 36°. The mercury was down in the bulb this morning. Two horses straying delayed us, and it was quite late at night when Mount Olga was reached. I was very much pleased to see the little purling brook gurgling along its rocky bed, and all the little basins full. The water, as when I last saw it, ended where the solid rock fell off. The country all around was excessively dry, and the grass withered, except in the channel of the creek, where there was some a trifle green. From here I had a desire to penetrate straight east to the Finke, as a considerable distance upon that line was yet quite unknown. One of our horses, Formby, was unwell, and very troublesome to drive. We are nearly at the end of our stock of Tommy, and Formby is a candidate for the smoke-house that will evidently be elected, though we have yet enough Tommy for another week. While here, I rode round northward to inspect that side of this singular and utterly unclimbable mountain. Our camp was at the south face, under a mound which lay up against the highest mound of the whole. On the west side I found another running spring, with some much larger rock-basins than at our camp. Of course the water ceased running where the rock ended. Round on the north side I found a still stronger spring, in a larger channel. I rode completely round the mass of this wonderful feature; its extraordinary appearance will never be out of my remembrance. It is no doubt of volcanic origin, belched out of the bowels, and on to the surface, of the earth, by the sulphurous upheavings of subterraneous and subaqueous fires, and cooled and solidified into monstrous masses by the gelid currents of the deepmost waves of the most ancient of former oceans. As I before remarked, it is composed of mixed and rounded stones, formed into rounded shapes, but some upon the eastern side are turreted, and some almost pillars, except that their thickness is rather out of proportion to their height. The highest point of the whole, as given before, is 1500 feet above the ground, while it is 2800 feet above the sea-level. Could I be buried at Mount Olga, I should certainly borrow Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph, Circumspice si monumentum requiris. To the eastward from here, as mentioned in my first expedition, and not very far off, lay another strange and singular-looking mound, similar perhaps to this. Beyond that, and still further to the east, and a very long way off, was another mount or hill or range, but very indistinct from distance.

On the 9th we went away to the near bare-looking mountain to the east; it was twenty miles. We found a very fine deep pool of water lying in sand under the abrupt and rocky face of the mount upon its southern side. There was also a fine, deep, shady, and roomy cave here, ornamented in the usual aboriginal fashion. There were two marks upon the walls, three or four feet long, in parallel lines with spots between them.

Mr. Gosse had been here from the Gill's Range of my former expedition, and must have crossed the extremity of Lake Amadeus. He named this Ayers' Rock. Its appearance and outline is most imposing, for it is simply a mammoth monolith that rises out of the sandy desert soil around, and stands with a perpendicular and totally inaccessible face at all points, except one slope near the north-west end, and that at least is but a precarious climbing ground to a height of more than 1100 feet. Down its furrowed and corrugated sides the trickling of water for untold ages has descended in times of rain, and for long periods after, until the drainage ceased, into sandy basins at its feet. The dimensions of this vast slab are over two miles long, over one mile through, and nearly a quarter of a mile high. The great difference between it and Mount Olga is in the rock formation, for this is one solid granite stone, and is part and parcel of the original rock, which, having been formed after its state of fusion in the beginning, has there remained, while the aged Mount Olga has been thrown up subsequently from below. Mount Olga is the more wonderful and grotesque; Mount Ayers the more ancient and sublime. There is permanent water here, but, unlike the Mount Olga springs, it lies all in standing pools. There is excellent grazing ground around this rock, though now the grass is very dry. It might almost be said of this, as of the Pyramids or the Sphinx, round the decay of that colossal rock, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away. This certainly was a fine place for a camp. The water was icy cold; a plunge into its sunless deeps was a frigid tonic that, further west in the summer heats, would have been almost paradisiacal, while now it was almost a penalty. The hill or range further east seems farther away now than it did from Mount Olga. It is flat on the summit, and no doubt is the same high and flat-topped mount I saw from the Sentinel in August last. We are encamped in the roomy cave, for we find it much warmer than in the outer atmosphere, warmth being as great a consideration now, as shade had formerly been.

We started for the flat-topped hill on the 11th of June. The country was all extremely heavy sandhills, with casuarina and triodia; we had to encamp among them at twenty-three miles, without water. The next morning Formby knocked up, and lay down, and we had to leave him in the scrub. To-day we got over thirty miles, the hill being yet seven or eight miles off. It looks most repulsive, so far as any likelihoods of obtaining water is concerned. The region was a perfect desert, worse for travelling, indeed, than Gibson's Desert itself. Leaving Jimmy with the horses, Mr. Tietkens and I rode over to the mount, and reached it in seven miles. At a mile and a half from it we came to an outer escarpment of rocks; but between that and the mount more sandhills and thick scrub exist. We rode all round this strange feature; it was many hundreds of feet high, and for half its height its sides sloped; the crown rested upon a perpendicular wall. It was almost circular, and perfectly flat upon the top, apparently having the same kind of vegetation and timber upon its summit as that upon the ground below. I don't know that it is accessible; it seemed not; I saw no place, and did not attempt to ascend it.

To the north, and about fifteen miles away, the not yet ended Amadeus Lake was visible. To the east timbered ridges bounded the view. There were a few dry clay-pans here, but no water. We were sixty miles from the rock, and to all appearance we might have to go sixty, or a hundred, or more miles before we should reach water. The only water I knew on this line of latitude was at the Finke itself, nearly 200 miles away.

We must return to our Rock of Ages, for we must smoke another horse, and we have no water to push any farther here. We returned to Jimmy and the horses, and pushed back for the rock as fast as we could. When we reached the spot where we had left Formby he had wandered away. We went some distance on his tracks, but could not delay for a further search. No doubt he had lain down and died not far off. I was sorry now I had not smoked him before we started, though he was scarcely fit even for explorers' food. We got back to the rock on the 15th, very late at night, hungry and thirsty. The next day we worked at a new smoke-house, and had to shift the camp to it, so as to be near, to keep a perpetual cloud rising, till the meat is safe. The smoke-house is formed of four main stakes stuck into the ground and coming nearly together at the top, with cross sticks all the way down, and covered over with tarpaulins, so that no smoke can escape except through the top. The meat is cut into thin strips, and becomes perfectly permeated with smoke. So soon as all was ready, down went poor Hollow Back. He was in what is called good working condition, but he had not a vestige of fat about him. The only adipose matter we could obtain from him was by boiling his bones, and the small quantity of oil thus obtained would only fry a few meals of steaks. When that was done we had to fry or parboil them in water. Our favourite method of cooking the horseflesh after the fresh meat was eaten, was by first boiling and then pounding with the axe, tomahawk head, and shoeing hammer, then cutting it into small pieces, wetting the mass, and binding it with a pannikin of flour, putting it into the coals in the frying-pan, and covering the whole with hot ashes. But the flour would not last, and those delicious horse-dampers, though now but things of the past, were by no means relegated to the limbo of forgotten things. The boiled-up bones, hoofs, shanks, skull, etc., of each horse, though they failed to produce a sufficient quantity of oil to please us, yet in the cool of the night resolved themselves into a consistent jelly that stank like rotten glue, and at breakfast at least, when this disgusting stuff was in a measure coagulated, we would request one another with the greatest politeness to pass the glue-pot. Had it not been that I was an inventor of transcendent genius, even this last luxury would have been debarred us. We had been absent from civilisation, so long, that our tin billies, the only boiling utensils we had, got completely worn or burnt out at the bottoms, and as the boilings for glue and oil must still go on, what were we to do with billies with no bottoms? Although as an inventor I can allow no one to depreciate my genius, I will admit there was but one thing that could be done, and those muffs Tietkens and Jimmy actually advised me to do what I had invented, which was simply — all great inventions are simple — to cover the bottoms with canvas, and embed the billies half-way up their sides in cold ashes, and boil from the top instead of the bottom, which of course we did, and these were our glue- and flesh-pots. The tongue, brains, kidneys, and other titbits of course were eaten first.

On the 19th some natives began to yell near the camp, but three only made their appearance. They were not only the least offensive and most civil we had met on any of our travels, but they were almost endearing in their welcome to us. We gave them some of the bones and odd pieces of horse-meat, which seemed to give them great satisfaction, and they ate some pieces raw. They were in undress uniform, and “free as Nature first made man, ere the vile laws of servitude began, when, wild in the woods, the noble savage ran.” They were rather good, though extremely wild-looking young men. One of them had splendid long black curls waving in the wind, hanging down nearly to his middle; the other two had chignons. They remained with us only about three hours. The day was windy, sand-dusty, and disagreeable. One blast of wind blew my last thermometer, which was hanging on a sapling, so violently to the ground that it broke.

Mr. Tietkens had been using a small pair of bright steel plyers. When the endearing natives were gone it was discovered that the plyers had departed also; it was only Christian charity to hope that they had not gone together. It was evident that Mr. Gosse must have crossed an eastern part of Lake Amadeus to get here from Gill's Range, and as he had a wagon, I thought I would be so far beholden to him as to make use of his crossing-place.

We left the Rock on the 23rd, but only going four miles for a start, we let the horses go back without hobbles to feed for the night. Where the lake was crossed Mr. Gosse had laid down a broad streak of bushes and boughs, and we crossed without much difficulty, the crossing-place being very narrow. Leaving the dray track at the lower end of King's Creek of my former journey, we struck across for Penny's Creek, four miles east of it, where the splendid rocky reservoir is, and where there was delicious herbage for the horses. We had now a fair and fertile tract to the River Finke, discovered by me previously, getting water and grass at Stokes's, Bagot's, Trickett's, and Petermann's Creeks; fish and water at Middleton's and Rogers's Pass and Ponds. Thence down the Palmer by Briscoe's Pass, and on to the junction of the Finke, where there is a fine large water-hole at the junction.

On the 10th of July travelling down the Finke near a place called Crown Point on the telegraph line, we saw a white man riding towards us. He proved to be a Mr. Alfred Frost, the owner of several fine horse-teams and a contractor to supply loading for the Government to several telegraph stations farther up the line. I had known him before; he was most kind. He was going ahead to select a camp for his large party, but upon our telling him of our having nothing but horse-flesh, he immediately returned with us, and we met the advancing teams. He called a halt, ordered the horses to be unyoked, and we were soon laughing and shaking hands with new-found friends. Food was the first order Mr. Frost gave, and while some were unyoking the horses, some were boiling the tea-billies, while old Frost was extracting a quart of rum for us from a hogshead. But we did not indulge in more than a sip or two, as bread and meat was what we cared for most. In ten minutes the tea was ready; some splendid fat corned beef, and mustard, and well-cooked damper were put before us, and oh, didn't we eat! Then pots of jams and tins of butter were put on our plates whole, and were scooped up with spoons, till human organisms could do no more. We were actually full — full to repletion. Then we had some grog. Next we had a sleep, and then at sundown another exquisite meal. It made our new friends shudder to look at our remaining stock of Hollow Back, when we emptied it out on a tarpaulin and told them that was what we had been living on. However, I made them a present of it for their dogs. Most of the teamsters knew Gibson, and expressed their sorrow at his mishap; some of them also knew he was married.

The natives up the line had been very aggressive at the telegraph stations, while we were absent, and all our firearms, etc., were eagerly purchased, also several horses and gear. Mr. Frost fell in love with Banks at a glance, and, though I tried not to part with the horse, he was so anxious to buy him that I could not well refuse, although I had intended to keep him and West Australian. Trew, one of the best horses, had been staked early in the journey and his foot was blemished, otherwise he was a splendid horse. All the best horses were wanted — Diaway, Blackie, etc., but I kept W.A., Widge, and one or two more of the best, as we still had several hundreds of miles to go.

When we parted from our friends we only had a few horses left. We reached the Charlotte Waters about twelve o'clock on July 13th, having been nearly a year absent from civilisation. Our welcome here by my friend and namesake, Mr. Christopher Giles, was of the warmest, and he clothed and fed us like a young father. He had also recovered and kept my old horse Cocky. The whole of the establishment there, testified their pleasure at our return. On our arrival at the Peake our reception by Mr. and Mrs. Blood at the telegraph station was most gratifying. Mr. John Bagot also supplied us with many necessaries at his cattle-station. The mail contractor had a light buggy here, and I obtained a seat and was driven by him as far as the Blinman Copper Mine, via Beltana, where I heard that my black boy Dick had died of influenza at a camp of the semi-civilised natives near a hill called by Eyre, Mount Northwest. From the Blinman I took the regular mail coach and train nearly 300 miles to Adelaide. Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy came behind and sold the remaining horses at the Blinman, where they also took the coach and joined me in Adelaide a week later.

I have now but a few concluding remarks to make; for my second expedition is at an end, and those of my readers who have followed my wanderings are perhaps as glad to arrive at the end as I was. I may truly say that for nearly twelve months I had been the well-wrought slave not only of the sextant, the compass, and the pen, but of the shovel, the axe, and the needle also. There had been a continual strain on brain and muscle. The leader of such an expedition as this could not stand by and simply give orders for certain work to be performed; he must join in it, and with the good example of heart and hand assist and cheer those with whom he was associated. To my friend and second, Mr. Tietkens, I was under great obligations, for I found him, as my readers will have seen, always ready and ever willing for the most arduous and disagreeable of our many undertakings. My expedition had been unsuccessful in its main object, and my most sanguine hopes had been destroyed. I knew at starting a great deal was expected from me, and if I had not fulfilled the hopes of my friends, I could only console them by the fact that I could not even fulfil my own. But if it is conceded that I had done my devoir as an Australian explorer, then I am satisfied. Nothing succeeds like success, but it is not in the power of man — however he may deserve — to command it. Many trials and many bitter hours must the explorer of such a region experience. The life of a man is to be held at no more than a moment's purchase. The slightest accident or want of judgment may instantly become the cause of death while engaged in such an enterprise, and it may be truly said we passed through a baptism worse indeed than that of fire — the baptism of no water. That I should ever again take the field is more than I would undertake to say:—

“Yet the charmed spell

Which summons man to high discovery,

Is ever vocal in the outward world;

But those alone may hear it who have hearts,

Responsive to its tone.”

I may add that I had discovered a line of waters to Sladen Water and Fort McKellar, and that at a distance of 150 miles from there lies the Alfred and Marie Range. At what price that range was sighted I need not now repeat. It is highly probable that water exists there also.

It was, however, evident to me that it is only with camels there is much likelihood of a successful and permanently valuable issue in case of any future attempt. There was only one gentleman in the whole of Australia who could supply the means of its accomplishment; and to him the country at large must in future be, as it is at present, indebted for ultimate discoveries. Of course that gentleman was the Honourable Sir Thomas Elder. To my kind friend Baron Mueller I am greatly indebted, and I trust, though unsuccessful, I bring no discredit upon him for his exertions on my behalf.

The map and journal of my expedition, as per agreement, was handed over to the South Australian Government, and printed as Parliamentary Papers; some few anecdotes of things that occurred have since been added. It was not to be supposed that in a civilised community, and amongst educated people, that such a record should pass unnoticed. I received many compliments from men of standing. The truest, perhaps, was from a gentleman who patted me on the back and said, “Ah, Ernest, my boy, you should never have come back; you should have sent your journal home by Tietkens and died out there yourself.” His Excellency Sir George Bowen, the Governor of Victoria, was very kind, and not only expressed approval of my exertions, but wrote favourable despatches on my behalf to the Colonial Office. (This was also the case subsequently with Sir William Robinson, K.C.M.G., the Governor of Western Australia, after my arrival at Perth.) Sir Graham Berry, the present Agent-General for the Colony of Victoria, when Premier, showed his good opinion by doing me the good turn of a temporary appointment, for which I shall ever feel grateful.

What was generally thought of my work was the cause of subsequent explorations, as Sir Thomas Elder, the only camel-owner in Australia, to whom, through Baron von Mueller, I was now introduced, desired me to take the field again; and it was soon arranged that he would equip me with camels, and send me in command of a thoroughly efficient exploring expedition. Upon this occasion I was to traverse, as near as possible, the country lying under the 29th parallel of latitude, and I was to force my way through the southern interior to the City of Perth in Western Australia, by a new and unknown route. But, previous to beginning the new expedition, Sir Thomas desired me to execute a commission for a gentleman in England, of a squatting nature, in the neighbourhood of Fowler's Bay, of Flinders, on the western coast of South Australia, and near the head of the Great Australian Bight. This work was done entirely with horses, though I had two camels, or rather dromedaries — a bull and a cow, which had a young calf. There was no pack-saddle for the bull, and the cow being very poor, I had not yet made use of them. After I had completed my surveys near Fowler's Bay, and visited the remote locality of Eucla Harbour, discovered by Flinders and mentioned by Eyre in his travels in 1841, at the boundary of the two colonies of South, and Western Australia, I had to proceed to Sir Thomas Elder's cattle and sheep station, and camel depot, at Beltana, to fit out for the new expedition for Perth. Beltana station lies about 300 miles nearly north from the city of Adelaide, while Fowler's Bay lies 450 miles about west-north-west from that city; and though Beltana is only 370 or 380 miles in a straight line across the country from Fowler's Bay, yet the intervening country being mostly unknown, and the great salt depression of Lake Torrens lying in the way, I had to travel 700 miles to reach it. As this was my first attempt with camels, I shall now give an account of my journey there with them and three horses. This undertaking was my third expedition, and will be detailed in the following book.

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