Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 4.1. From 6th May to 27th July, 1875.

Fourth expedition. The members. Departure. Squabbles. Port Augusta. Coogee Mahomet. Mr. Roberts and Tommy. Westward ho!. The equipment. Dinner and a sheep. The country. A cattle ranch. Stony plateau. The Elizabeth. Mr. Moseley. Salt lakes. Coondambo. Curdling tea. An indented hill. A black boy's argument. Pale-green-foliaged tree. A lost officer. Camels poisoned. Mount Finke in the winter. Wynbring. A new route. A good Mussulman. Depart from Wynbring. New places. Antediluvian cisterns. Still westwards. Lake Bring. Rain and a bath. A line cut in the scrubs. High sandhills. Return to Youldeh. Waking dreams. In depot. Fowler's Bay once more. The officers explore to the north. Jimmy and Tommy. Jimmy's bereavement. At the bay. Richard Dorey. Return to Youldeh. Tommy's father. The officer's report Northwards. Remarks.

Sir Thomas Elder was desirous that the new expedition for Perth, for which camels were to be the only animals taken, should start from Beltana by the 1st of May. I was detained a few days beyond that time, but was enabled to leave on Thursday, May the 6th. The members of the party were six in number, namely myself, Mr. William Henry Tietkens, who had been with me as second on my last expedition with horses — he had been secured from Melbourne by Sir Thomas Elder, and was again going as second; Mr. Jess Young, a young friend of Sir Thomas's lately arrived from England; Alexander Ross, mentioned previously; Peter Nicholls, who had just come with me from Fowler's Bay, and who now came as cook; and Saleh, the Afghan camel-driver as they like to be called. I also took for a short distance, until Alec Ross overtook me, another Afghan called Coogee Mahomet, and the old guide Jimmy, who was to return to the bosom of his family so soon as we arrived anywhere sufficiently near the neighbourhood of his country. Poor old Jimmy had been ill at Beltana, and suffered greatly from colds and influenza. The Beltana blacks did not treat him so well as he expected, and some of them threatened to kill him for poking his nose into their country, consequently he did not like the place at all, and was mighty glad to be taken away. Thus, as I have said, on the 6th of May, 1875, the caravan departed from Beltana, but we did not immediately leave civilisation or the settled districts, as I had to travel 150 miles down the country nearly south, to Port Augusta at the head of Spencer's Gulf, where I intended to take in my stores, and loading for the inland voyage, as most of my equipment was forwarded by Sir Thomas from Adelaide to that port.

Nothing very particular occurred on the road down, except some continual squabbles between myself, and Saleh and Coogee, on account of the extraordinary and absurd manner in which these two men wanted to load and work the camels. In the first place, we had several young camels or colts in the mob, some of these were bulls and others bullocks. The Afghans have a way when travelling of bringing the camels up to the camp and making them lie down by their loads all night, whether they have had time to fill themselves or not. This system was so revolting to my notions of fair play that I determined to alter it at once.

Another thing that annoyed me was their absurd and stupid custom of hobbling, and unhobbling, while the camels were lying down. This may be necessary for the first few days after the creatures are handled, but if they are never accustomed to have their legs and feet touched while they are standing up, of course they may paw, or strike and kick like a young horse; and if a camel is a striker, he is rather an awkward kind of a brute, but that is only the case with one in a thousand. The Afghans not only persist in hobbling and unhobbling while the camels are lying down, but never think of taking the hobbles entirely off at all, as they unfasten the hobble from one leg and put both on the other, so that the poor brutes always have to carry them on one leg when they are travelling. I quickly put a stop to this, but Coogee Mahomet exclaimed, “Oh, master! you mustn't take off a hobble, camel he keek, he keek, you mustn't.” To which I replied, “Let him kick, and I hope he will kick you to death first, so that there will be one Afghan less in the world, but every hobble shall come off every camel every day.” This Coogee was a most amusing though lazy, indolent beggar. He never ceased to brag of what he could make camels do; he wished to ingratiate himself with me in the hope I would take him with me, but I had already determined to have only one of his countrymen. He said if he came with me he could make the camels go 200, 300, 400 or 500 miles with heavy loads without water, by just talking to them in his language. He used to say, “You know, master, camel he know me, and my countrymen; camel he un'stand my language, he no like Englishman, Englishman, he no un'stand riding camel, he no un'stand loading camel, only my countryman he un'stand camel,” etc., etc.; but with all his bragging about the camels going so long without water, when we had been only four days gone from Beltana, Saleh and Coogee had held a council and decided that I must be remonstrated with, in consequence of my utter ignorance, stupidity, and reckless treatment of the camels. Accordingly on the fourth morning, the weather having been delightfully cool and the camels not requiring any water, Coogee came to me and said, “Master, when you water camel?” “What?” I said with unfeigned astonishment, “Water the camels? I never heard of such a thing, they will get no water until they reach Port Augusta.” This completely upset Mr. Coogee, and he replied, “What! no water till Port Gusta? camel he can't go, camel he always get water three, four time from Beltana to Port Gusta.” “Well,” I said, “Coogee, they will get none now with me till they walk to Port Augusta for it.” Then Coogee said, “Ah! Mr. Gile, you very smart master, you very clever man, only you don't know camel, you'll see you'll kill all Sir Thomas Elder camel; you'll no get Perth, you and all you party, and all you camel die; you'll see, you'll see; you no give poor camel water, camel he die, then where you be?” I was rather annoyed and said, “You stupid ass, it was only yesterday you said you could take camels, 300, 400, 500 miles without water, with heavy loads, and now they have no loads and we have only come about seventy miles, you say they will die if I don't give them water. How is it that all your countrymen continually brag of what camels can do, and yet, when they have been only three days without water, you begin to cry out that they want it?”

To this he only condescended to reply, “Ah! ah! you very clever, you'll see.” Of course the camels went to the port just as well without water as with it. Alec Ross overtook us on the road, and brought a special little riding-camel (Reechy) for me. I got rid of Mr. Coogee before we arrived at the port. We remained a little over a week, as all the loads had to be arranged and all the camels' pack-saddles required re-arranging. Saleh and another of his countryman who happened to be there, worked hard at this, while the rest of the party arranged the loads.

While at Port Augusta, Mr. Charles Roberts, who had been with me, and with whom I left all the horses at Youldeh, arrived, by the usual road and brought me a young black boy, Master Tommy Oldham, with whom I had travelled to Eucla from Fowler's Bay with the three horses that had died on my journey to Beltana. He was very sorry to hear of the loss of Chester and Formby, the latter having been his riding-horse. Old Jimmy was immensely delighted to meet one of his own people in a strange place. Tommy was a great acquisition to the party, he was a very nice little chap, and soon became a general favourite.

Everything being at length ready, the equipment of the expedition was most excellent and capable. Sir Thomas had sent me from Adelaide several large pairs of leather bags, one to be slung on each side of a camel; all our minor, breakable, and perishable articles were thus secure from wet or damp. In several of these large bags I had wooden boxes at the bottom, so that all books, papers, instruments, glass, etc., were safe. At starting the loads were rather heavy, the lightest-weighted camels carrying two bags of flour, cased in raw-hide covers, the two bags weighing about 450 pounds, and a large tarpaulin about 60 pounds on top, or a couple of empty casks or other gear, which did not require to be placed inside the leather bags. The way the camels' loads are placed by the Afghan camel-men is different from, and at first surprising to persons accustomed to, pack-horse loads. For instance, the two bags of flour are carried as perpendicularly as possible. As a general rule, it struck me the way they arranged the loads was absurd, as the whole weight comes down on the unfortunate animal's loins; they use neither bags nor trunks, but tie up almost every article with pieces of rope.

My Afghan, Saleh, was horrified at the fearful innovations I made upon his method. I furnished the leather bags with broad straps to sustain them, having large rings and buckles to pass them through and fasten in the ordinary way of buckle and strap; this had the effect of making the loads in the bags and trunks lie as horizontally as possible along the sides of the pads of the pack-saddles. Saleh still wanted to encumber them with ropes, so that they could not be opened without untying about a thousand knots. I would not permit such a violation of my ideas, and told him the loads should be carried as they stood upon the ground; his argument always was, a la Coogee Mahomet, “Camel he can't carry them that way,” to which I invariably replied, “Camel he must and camel he shall,” and the consequence was that camel he did.

When we left Port Augusta, I had fifteen pack- or baggage-camels and seven riding ones. The two blacks, Jimmy and Tommy, rode on one animal, while the others had a riding-camel each. The weight of the loads of the baggage-camels on leaving, averaged 550 pounds all round. All the equipment and loads being in a proper state, and all the men and camels belonging to the new expedition for Perth being ready, we left Port Augusta on the 23rd of May, 1875, but only travelled about six miles, nearly west-north-west, to a place called Bowman's or the Chinaman's Dam, where there was plenty of surface water, and good bushes for the camels; here we encamped for the night. A few ducks which incautiously floated too near fell victims to our sportsmen. The following day we passed Mr. Bowman's station, had some dinner with him, and got a fat sheep from one of his paddocks. On the 25th we encamped close to a station in the neighbourhood of Euro Bluff, a hill that exists near the south-western extremity of Lake Torrens; we now travelled about north-north-west up Lake Torrens, upon the opposite or western side to that on which we had lately travelled down, to Port Augusta, as I wished to reach a watercourse (the Elizabeth), where I heard there was water. On the 28th of May we encamped on the banks of Pernatty Creek, where we obtained a few wild ducks; the country here was very good, being open salt-bush country. The next morning we met and passed a Government Survey party, under the command of Mr. Brooks, who was engaged in a very extensive trigonometrical survey. In an hour or two after, we passed Mr. Bowman's Pernatty cattle-station; there was no one at home but a dog, and the appearance of the camels seemed to strike him dumb. There were some nice little sheets of water in the creek-bed, but scarcely large enough to be permanent. The country was now a sort of stony plateau, having low, flat-topped, tent-shaped table-lands occurring at intervals all over it; it was quite open, and no timber existed except upon the banks of the watercourses.

On the 30th of May we reached the Elizabeth; there was an old hut or two, but no people were now living there. The water was at a very low ebb. We got a few ducks the first day we arrived. As some work had to be done to the water-casks to enable us to carry them better, we remained here until the 2nd of June. The Elizabeth comes from the table-lands near the shores of Lake Torrens to the north-eastward and falls into the northern end of Pernatty Lagoon. Here we were almost as far north as when at Beltana, our latitude being 31° 10´ 30´´. The weather was now, and had been for several weeks — indeed ever since the thunderstorm which occurred the day we came upon the clay-channel water — very agreeable; the nights cold but dewless. When at Port Augusta, I heard that a Mr. Moseley was out somewhere to the west of the Elizabeth, well-sinking, on a piece of country he had lately taken up, and that he was camped at or near some rain-water. I was anxious to find out where he was; on the 31st of May I sent Alec Ross on the only track that went west, to find if any water existed at a place I had heard of about twenty-five miles to the west, and towards which the only road from here led. Alec had not been gone long, when he returned with Mr. Moseley, who happened to be coming to the Elizabeth en route for Port Augusta. He camped with us that night. He informed me his men obtained water at some clay-pans, called Coondambo, near the edge of Lake Gairdner, another large salt depression similar to Lake Torrens, and that by following his horses' tracks they would lead, first to a well where he had just succeeded in obtaining water at a depth of eighty-five feet, and thence, in seven miles farther, to the Coondambo clay-pans. I was very glad to get this information, as even from Coondambo the only water to the west beyond it, that I knew of, was Wynbring, at a distance of 160 or 170 miles.

Leaving the Elizabeth on June the 2nd, we went sixteen miles nearly west, to a small clay water-hole, where we encamped. On the 3rd we travelled twenty-five miles nearly west, passing a deserted sheep-station belonging to Mr. Litchfield about the middle of the day; the country was very poor, being open, bare, stony ground, with occasional low, flat-topped table-lands, covered very sparsely with salsolaceous vegetation. We next arrived at the north-east corner of Lake Hart, and proceeded nearly west along its northern shore; thence by the southern shores of Lakes Hanson and Younghusband, all salt lakes, where one of the party must have been taken ill, for he suddenly broke out into a doggerel rhyme, remarking that:—

“We went by Lake Hart, which is laid on the chart,

And by the Lake Younghusband too;

We next got a glance on, the little Lake Hanson,

And wished . . . ”

Goodness only knows what he wished, but the others conveyed to him their wish that he should discontinue such an infliction on them.

On June the 6th we arrived at the place where Mr. Moseley had just finished his well; but his men had deserted the spot and gone somewhere else, to put down another shaft to the north-eastwards. The well was between eighty and ninety feet deep, the water whitish but good; here we encamped on a bushy sort of flat. The next morning, following some horse tracks about south-west, they took us to the Coondambo clay-pans; the water was yellow and very thick, but there was plenty of it for all our purposes, though I imagined it would not last Mr. Moseley and his men very long. Two or three of his horses were running at this water; here were several large shallow, cane-grass clay flats which are also occasionally filled with rain-water, they and Coondambo being situated close to the northern shore of Lake Gairdner.

We left Coondambo on the 8th; on the 9th rain pretended to fall, and we were kept in camp during the day, as a slight spitting fell, but was totally useless. On the 11th we encamped again near Lake Gairdner's shore; this was the last we should see of it. Our latitude here was 31° 5´, and longitude 135° 30´ 10´´. We had seen no water since leaving Coondambo, from whence we carried a quantity of the thick yellow fluid, which curdled disagreeably when made into tea, the sugar having the chemical property of precipitating the sediment. We were again in a scrubby region, and had been since leaving Coondambo. Our course was now nearly north-north-west for sixteen or seventeen miles, where we again camped in scrubs. The following day we got to a low rocky hill, or rather several hills, enveloped in the scrub; there were numerous small indentations upon the face of the rocks, and we got some water for the camels, though they had to climb all over the rocks to get it, as there was seldom more than three or four gallons in any indent. We got some pure water for ourselves, and were enabled to dispense with the yellow clayey fluid we had carried. From these hills we travelled nearly west-north-west until, on the 15th, we fell in with my former tracks in April, when travelling from Wynbring. Old Jimmy was quite pleased to find himself again in country which he knew something about. We could again see the summit of Mount Finke. The only water I knew of in this wretched country being at Wynbring, I determined to follow my old route. On the 16th we passed a place where we had formerly seen a small portion of bare rock, and now, in consequence of the late sprinkling showers on the 9th and 10th, there were a few thimblefuls of water on it. This set Jimmy into a state of excitement; he gesticulated and talked to Tommy in their language at a great rate, and Tommy said, “Ah, if you found water here, when you come before, Chester and Formby wouldn't die.” “Well,” I said, “Tommy, I don't see much water here to keep anything alive, even if it had been here then.” He only sapiently shook his head and said, “But if you got plenty water then that's all right.” I found Tommy's arguments were exactly similar to those of all other black boys I have known, exceedingly comical, but all to their own way of thinking.

Soon after this, I was riding in advance along the old track, when old Jimmy came running up behind my camel in a most excited state, and said, “Hi, master, me find 'im, big one watta, plenty watta, mucka (not) pickaninny (little); this way, watta go this way,” pointing to a place on our left. I waited until the caravan appeared through the scrub, then old Jimmy led us to the spot he had found. There was a small area of bare rock, but it was too flat to hold any quantity of water, though some of the fluid was shining on it; there was only enough for two or three camels, but I decided to camp there nevertheless. What water there was, some of the camels licked up in no time, and went off to feed. They seemed particularly partial to a low pale-green-foliaged tree with fringelike leaves, something like fennel or asparagus. I have often gathered specimens of this in former journeys, generally in the most desert places. The botanical name of this tree is Gyrostemon ramulosus. After hobbling out the camels, and sitting down to dinner, we became aware of the absence of Mr. Jess Young, and I was rather anxious as to what had become of him, as a new arrival from England adrift in these scrubs would be very liable to lose himself. However, I had not much fear for Mr. Young, as, having been a sailor, and carrying a compass, he might be able to recover us. Immediately after our meal I was going after him, but before it was finished he came, without his camel, and said he could not get her on, so had tied her up to a tree and walked back, he having gone a long way on my old tracks. I sent Tommy and another riding-camel with him, and in a couple of hours they returned with Mr. Young's animal.

The following morning, the 17th, much to my distress, one of our young bull camels was found to be poisoned, and could not move. We made him sick with hot butter and gave him a strong clyster. Both operations produced the same substance, namely, a quantity of the chewed and digested Gyrostemon; indeed, the animal apparently had nothing else in his inside. He was a trifle better by night, but the following morning, my best bull, Mustara, that had brought me through this region before, was poisoned, and couldn't move. I was now very sorry I had camped at this horrid place. We dosed Mustara with butter as an emetic, and he also threw up nothing but the chewed Gyrostemon; the clyster produced the same. It was evident that this plant has a very poisonous effect on the camels, and I was afraid some of them would die. I was compelled to remain here another day. The first camel poisoned had got a little better, and I hoped the others would escape; but as they all seemed to relish the poisonous plant so much until they felt the effects, and as there were great quantities of it growing on the sandhills, I was in great anxiety during the whole day. On the 19th I was glad to find no fresh cases, though the two camels that had suffered were very weak and afflicted with spasmodic staggerings. We got them away, though they were scarcely able to carry their loads, which we lightened as much as possible; anything was better than remaining here, as others might get affected.

On this day's march we passed the spot where I had put the horse's packsaddle in the sandal-wood-tree, and where my first horse had given in. The saddle was now of no use, except that the two pads, being stuffed with horsehair, made cushions for seats of camels' riding-saddles; these we took, but left the frame in the tree again. That night we camped about five miles from Mount Finke, and I was glad to find that the two poisoned bulls had greatly recovered.

The following day, Mr. Young and I ascended Mount Finke, and put up a small pile of stones upon its highest point. The weather, now cool and agreeable, was so different from that which I had previously experienced upon this dreadful mount. Upon that visit the whole region was in an intense glow of heat, but now the summer heats were past; the desolate region around was enjoying for a few weeks only, a slight respite from the usual fiery temperature of the climate of this part of the world; but even now the nature of the country was so terrible and severe, the sandhills so high, and the scrub so thick, that all the new members of the party expressed their astonishment at our ever having got out of it alive. This mountain, as before stated, is forty-five miles from Wynbring. On the 22nd of June, just as we got in sight of the rock, some heavy showers of rain descended; it came down so fast that the camels could drink the water right at their feet, and they all got huddled up together in a mob, breaking their nose-ropes, some laying down to enable them to drink easier, as loaded camels, having a breast-rope from the saddles, cannot put their heads to the ground without hurting, and perhaps cutting, themselves. The rain ceased for a bit, and we made off to my old camp, and got everything under canvas just as another heavy shower came down. Of course the rock-hole was full to overflowing, and water was lying about in all directions. During the 23rd several smart showers fell, and we were confined to our canvas habitations for nearly the whole day.

As this spot was so excellent for all kinds of animals, I gave my friends a couple of days' rest, in the first place because they had had such poor feeding places for several nights before our arrival here, and I also wished, if possible, to meet again with the Wynbring natives, and endeavour to find out from them whether any other waters existed in this country. Old Jimmy, when he discovered, through Tommy Oldham, what I wanted the natives for, seemed surprised and annoyed that I should attempt to get information from them while he was with me in his own territories. He said he would take me to several waters between here and Youldeh, by a more northerly route than he had previously shown; he said that water existed at several places which he enumerated on his fingers; their names were Taloreh, Edoldeh, Cudyeh, Yanderby, Mobing, Bring, Poothraba, Pondoothy, and Youldeh. I was very glad to hear of all these places, and hoped we should find they were situated in a more hospitable country than that through which we had formerly come. On the 25th Mr. Young shot an emu, and we had fried steaks, which we all relished. Saleh being a good Mussulman, was only just (if) in time to run up and cut the bird's throat before it died, otherwise his religious scruples would have prevented him from eating any of it. All the meat he did eat, which was smoked beef, had been killed in the orthodox Mohammedan style, either by himself or one of his co-religionists at Beltana. It was cured and carried on purpose. None of the natives I had formerly seen, or any others, made their appearance, and the party were disappointed by not seeing the charming young Polly, my description of whom had greatly raised their curiosity.

Wynbring Rock.

On the 26th of June we departed from the pretty little oasis of Wynbring, leaving its isolated and water-giving rock, in the silence and solitude of its enveloping scrubs, abandoning it once again, to the occupation of primeval man, a fertile little gem in a desolate waste, where the footsteps of the white man had never been seen until I came, where the wild emu, and the wilder black man, continually return to its life-sustaining rock, where the aboriginal inhabitants will again and again indulge in the wild revelries of the midnight corroborree dance, and where, in an existence totally distinct from ours of civilisation, men and women live and love, and eat and drink, and sleep and die. But the passions are the same in all phases of the life of the human family, the two great master motives, of love and hunger, being the mainspring of all the actions of mankind.

Wynbring was now behind us, and Jimmy once more our guide, philosopher, and friend. He seemed much gratified at again becoming an important member of the expedition, and he and Tommy, both upon the same riding-camel, led the way for us, through the scrubs, in the direction of about west-north-west. In seven or eight miles we came to a little opening in the scrub, where Jimmy showed us some bare flat rocks, wherein was a nearly circular hole brimful of water. It was, however, nearly full also of the debris of ages, as a stick could be poked into mud or dirt for several feet below the water, and it was impossible to say what depth it really was; but at the best it could not contain more than 200 or 300 gallons. This was Taloreh. Proceeding towards the next watering-place, which old Jimmy said was close up, in a rather more northerly direction, we found it was getting late, as we had not left Wynbring until after midday; we therefore had to encamp in the scrubs, having come about fifteen miles. It is next to impossible to make an old fool of a black fellow understand the value of the economy of time. I wanted to come on to Edoldeh, and so did old Jimmy; but he made out that Edoldeh was close to Taloreh, and every mile we went it was still close up, until it got so late I ordered the party to camp, where there was little or nothing that the camels could eat. Of course it was useless to try and make Jimmy understand that, having thousands of miles to travel with the camels, it was a great object to me to endeavour to get them bushes or other food that they could eat, so as to keep them in condition to stand the long journey that was before them. Camels, although exceedingly ravenous animals, will only eat what they like, and if they can't get that, will lie down all night and starve, if they are too short-hobbled to allow them to wander, otherwise they will ramble for miles. It was therefore annoying the next morning to find plenty of good bushes at Edoldeh, two miles and a half from our wretched camp, and whither we might have come so easily the night before. To-day, however, I determined to keep on until we actually did reach the next oasis; this Jimmy said was Cudyeh, and was of course still close up. We travelled two and a half miles to Edoldeh, continued eighteen miles beyond it, and reached Cudyeh early in the afternoon. This place was like most of the little oases in the desert; it was a very good place for a camp, one singular feature about it being that it consisted of a flat bare rock of some area, upon which were several circular and elliptical holes in various places. The rock lay in the lowest part of the open hollow, and whenever rain fell in the neighbourhood, the water all ran down to it. In consequence of the recent rains, the whole area of rock was two feet under water, and the extraordinary holes or wells that existed there looked like antediluvian cisterns. Getting a long stick, and wading through the water to the mouths of these cisterns, we found that, like most other reservoirs in a neglected native state, they were almost full of soil and debris, and the deepest had only about three feet of water below the surface of the rock. Some of these holes might be very deep, or they might be found to be permanent wells if cleaned out.

Next day we passed another little spot called Yanderby, with rock water, at ten miles; thence in three more we came to Mobing, a much better place than any of the others: indeed I thought it superior to Wynbring. It lies about north 62° west from Wynbring and is fifty miles from it; the latitude of Mobing is 30° 10´ 30´´. At this place there was a large, bare, rounded rock, very similar to Wynbring, except that no rock-holes to hold any surface water existed; what was obtainable being in large native wells sunk at the foot of the rock, and brimful of water. I believe a good supply might be obtained here. There were plenty of good bushes in the neighbourhood for the camels, and we had an excellent camp at Mobing. As usual, this oasis consisted merely of an open space, lightly timbered with the mulga acacia amongst the sandhills and the scrubs.

The day after, we were led by old Jimmy to a small salt lake-bed called Bring, which was dry; it lay about south-west from Mobing. Round at the southern shore of this lake Jimmy showed us a small rock-hole, with a few dozen gallons of water in it. In consequence of Mr. Young not being well, we encamped, the distance from Mobing being nine miles. This also was a rather pretty camp, and excellent for the camels. Towards evening some light showers of rain fell, and we had to erect our tarpaulins and tents, which we only do in times of rain. More showers fell the next day, and we did not shift our quarters. A very shallow sheet of water now appeared upon the surface of the lake bed, but it was quite salt. We made some little dams with clay, where the water ran into the lake, and saved enough water to indulge in a sort of bath with the aid of buckets and waterproof sheeting. This was the last day of June. Unfortunately, though Chairman of the Company, I was unable to declare a dividend for the half-year.

The 1st of July broke with a fine and beautiful morning, and we left Lake Bring none the worse for our compulsory delay. I was anxious to reach Youldeh so soon as possible, as I had a great deal of work to do when I arrived there. To-day we travelled nearly west seventeen or eighteen miles, and encamped without an oasis. On the 2nd we passed two rocky hills, named respectively Pondoothy and Poothraba, Pondoothy was an indented rock-crowned hill in the scrubs. Standing on its summit I descried an extraordinary line cut through the scrubs, which ran east by north, and was probably intended by the natives for a true east line. The scrub timber was all cut away, and it looked like a survey line. Upon asking old Jimmy what it was done for, and what it meant, he gave the usual reply, that Cockata black fellow make 'em. It was somewhat similar to the path I had seen cleared at Pylebung in March last, and no doubt it is used for a similar purpose. Leaving this hill and passing Poothraba, which is in sight of it, we continued our nearly west course, and camped once more in the scrubs. The country was very difficult for the loaded camels, it rose into such high ridges or hills of sand that we could only traverse it at a snail's pace. It was of course still covered with scrubs, which consisted here, as all over this region, mostly of the Eucalyptus dumosa, or mallee-trees, of a very stunted habit; occasionally some patches of black oaks as we call them, properly casuarinas, with clumps of mulga in the hollows, here and there a stunted cypress pine, callitris, some prickly hakea bushes, and an occasional so called native poplar, Codonocarpus cotinifolius, a brother or sister tree to the poisonous Gyrostemon. The native poplar is a favourite and harmless food for camels, and as it is of the same family as the Gyrostemon, my friend Baron von Mueller argues that I must be mistaken in the poison plant which affected the camels. He thinks it must be a plant of the poisonous family of the Euphorbiaceae, and which certainly grows in these regions, and which I have collected specimens of, but I cannot detect it.

We were now nearly in the latitude of Youldeh, and had only to push west to reach it; but the cow camel that Jimmy and Tommy rode, being very near calving, had not travelled well for some days, and gave a good deal of trouble to find her of a morning. I wished to get her to Youldeh before she calved, as I intended to form a depot there for a few weeks, during which time I hoped the calf would become strong enough to travel. On the morning of the 5th, only about half the mob were brought up to the camp, and, as Mr. Tietkens' and my riding camels were amongst them, we rode off to Youldeh, seven or eight miles away, telling the others to come on as soon as they could. Mr. Young, Saleh, and Tommy were away after the absent animals. On arriving I found Youldeh much the same as when I left it, only now the weather was cool, and the red sandhills, that had formerly almost burnt the feet of men and animals, were slightly encrusted with a light glittering mantle of hoar-frost in the shaded places, under the big leguminous bushes, for that morning Herr Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit had fallen to 28°. My old slabbed well had got filled up with sand, and it was evident that many natives had visited the place since I left on the 24th of March, 103 days ago. We managed to water our camels, as they lay down on the top of the well, and stretched their long necks down into it. We then quietly waited till long past midday for the caravan to come up. We had nothing to do, and nothing to eat; we could not dig out the well, for we had no shovel. At last Mr. Tietkens got alarmed at the non-arrival of the party, and he went back to the camp, taking my riding-camel with him, as she would not remain quiet by herself. I remained there mighty hungry, and made some black smoke to endeavour to attract any natives that might be in the neighbourhood. I have before remarked that the natives can make different coloured smokes, of different form, and make them ascend in different ways, each having a separate meaning: hurried alarm, and signal fires are made to throw up black and white smokes. No signals were returned, and I sat upon a sandhill, like Patience on a monument, and thought of the line, “That sitting alone with my conscience, is judgment sufficient for me.” I could not perceive any dust or sand of the approaching caravan; darkness began to creep over this solitary place and its more solitary occupant. I thought I had better sleep, though I had no bedding, to pass the time away till morning. I coiled myself up under a bush and fell into one of those extraordinary waking dreams which occasionally descend upon imaginative mortals, when we know that we are alive, and yet we think we are dead; when a confused jumble of ideas sets the mind “peering back into the vistas of the memories of yore,” and yet also foreshadowing the images of future things upon the quivering curtains of the mental eye. At such a time the imagination can revel only in the marvellous, the mysterious, and the mythical. The forms of those we love are idealised and spiritualised into angelic shapes. The faces of those we have forgotten long, or else perchance have lost, once more return, seraphic from the realms of light. The lovely forms and winning graces of children gone, the witching eyes and alluring smiles of women we have loved, the beautiful countenances of beloved and admired youth, once more we seem to see; the youthful hands we have clasped so often in love and friendship in our own, once more we seem to press, unchanged by time, unchanged by fate, beckoning to us lovingly to follow them, still trying with loving caress and youthful smiles to lead us to their shadowy world beyond. O youth, beautiful and undying, the sage's dream, the poet's song, all that is loving and lovely, is centred still in thee! O lovely youth, with thine arrowy form, and slender hands, thy pearly teeth, and saintly smile, thy pleading eyes and radiant hair; all, all must worship thee. And if in waking hours and daily toil we cannot always greet thee, yet in our dreams you are our own. As the poet says:—

“In dreams you come as things of light and lightness!

We hear your voice in still small accents tell,

Of realms of bliss and never-fading brightness,

Where those who loved on earth together dwell.”

Then, while lying asleep, engrossed by these mysterious influences and impressions, I thought I heard celestial sounds upon mine ear; vibrating music's rapturous strain, as though an heavenly choir were near, dispensing melody and pain. As though some angels swept the strings, of harps ethereal o'er me hung, and fann'd me, as with seraph's wings, while thus the voices sweetly sung: “Be bold of heart, be strong of will, for unto thee by God is given, to roam the desert paths of earth, and thence explore the fields of heaven. Be bold of heart, be strong of will, and naught on earth shall lay thee low.” When suddenly I awoke, and found that the party with all the camels had arrived, my fire was relit, and the whole place lately so silent was now in a bustle. I got up, and looked about me in astonishment, as I could not at first remember where I was. But I soon discovered that the musical sounds I had heard were the tintinabulations of my camel-bells, tinkling in the evening air, as they came closer and closer over the sandhills to the place where I lay dreaming, and my senses returned at length to their ordinary groove.

We were safely landed at the Youldeh depot once more; and upon the whole I may say we had had an agreeable journey from Port Augusta. Jimmy and Tommy's cow calved soon after arrival. I was glad to find she had delayed; now the calf will be allowed to live, as she will be here for some little time. On the following morning I christened the calf Youldeh, after her birthplace; she was not much bigger than a cat. On the 6th, 7th, and 8th, we all remained in depot, doing various kinds of work, re-digging and re-slabbing the well, making two large canvas troughs for the camels to drink out of, making some covers and alterations to some water-beds I had for carrying water, and many other things. I had some camels to deliver at Fowler's Bay, and some private business, necessary to be done before a magistrate, which compelled me personally to return thither; otherwise I should have gone away to the north to endeavour to discover another depot in that direction. But now I committed this piece of work to my two officers, Messrs. Tietkens and Young, while Alec Ross and I went south to the Bay. Both parties started from Youldeh on the 9th. I took old Jimmy with me to return him, with thanks, to his family. Tietkens and Young took Tommy with them, as that young gentleman had no desire whatever to return or to leave me. Between ourselves, when I first got him in February, I had caused him to commit some very serious breaches of aboriginal law, for he was then on probation and not allowed to come near women or the blacks' camp. He was also compelled to wear a great chignon, which made him look more like a girl than a boy. This I cut off and threw away, much to the horror of the elders of his tribe, who, if they could catch, would inflict condign punishment upon him. When he and old Jimmy met at Port Augusta, and Jimmy saw him without his chignon and other emblems of novice-hood, that old gentleman talked to him like a father; but Tommy, knowing he had me to throw the blame on, quietly told the old man in plain English to go to blazes. The expression on old Jimmy's face at thus being flouted by a black boy, was indescribable; he thought it his duty to persecute Tommy still farther, but now Tommy only laughed at him and said I made him do it, so old Jimmy gave him up at last as a bad job. Poor old fellow, he was always talking about his wife and children; I was to have Mary, and Peter Nicholls Jinny. Alec, Jimmy, and I reached the bay on the 14th, but at Colona, on the 12th, we heard there had been a sad epidemic amongst the natives since I left, and poor old Jimmy had lost two of his children, both Mary and Jinny. When he heard this, the poor old fellow cried, and looked at me, as much as to say if I had not taken him away he might have saved them. It was but poor consolation to tell him, what he could not understand, that those whom the gods love die young. I suffered another loss, as a bright little black boy called Fry, a great favourite of mine, with splendid eyes and teeth, whom I had intended to bring with me as a companion for Tommy, was also dead. I parted from old Jimmy the best of friends, but he was like Rachael weeping for her children, and would not be comforted. I gave him money and presents, and dresses for his wife, and anything he asked for, but this was not very much.

Our stay at Fowler's Bay was not extended longer than I could help. Mr. Armstrong, the manager, made me a present of a case of brandy, and as I wanted to take some stores to Youldeh, he allowed me to take back the camels I had brought him, and sent a man of his — Richard Dorey — to accompany me to Youldeh, and there take delivery of them.

On the 17th we left the bay, and the spindrift and the spray of the Southern Ocean, with the glorious main expanding to the skies. We stayed at Colona with Mr. Murray a couple of days, and finally left it on the 21st, arriving with Dorey and his black boy at Youldeh on the 25th.

Tommy Oldham's father had also died of the epidemic at the bay. Richard Dorey's black boy broke the news to him very gently, when Tommy came up to me and said, “Oh, Mr. Giles, my”— adjective [not] blooming —“old father is dead too.” I said, “Is that how you talk of your poor old father, Tommy, now that he is dead?” To this he replied, much in the same way as some civilised sons may often have done, “Well, I couldn't help it!”

I have stated that when I went south with Alec Ross to Fowler's Bay I despatched my two officers, Mr. Tietkens and Mr. Young, with my black boy Tommy, to endeavour to discover a new depot to the north, at or as near to the 29th parallel of latitude as possible. When I returned from the bay they had returned a day or two before, having discovered at different places two native wells, a small native dam, and some clay-pans, each containing water. This was exceedingly good news, and I wasted no time before I departed from Youldeh. I gave my letters to Richard Dorey, who had accompanied me back from Fowler's Bay. I will give my readers a condensation of Mr. Tietkens's report of his journey with Mr. Young and Tommy.

On leaving Youldeh, in latitude 30° 24´ 10´´ and longitude 131° 46´— they took four camels, three to ride and one to carry water, rations, blankets, etc. — they went first to the small rock-hole I had visited with Mr. Murray and old Jimmy, when here in the summer. This lay about north 74° west, was about fourteen miles distant, and called Paring. Tommy followed our old horse-tracks, but on arrival found it dry. The following day they travelled north, and passed through a country of heavy sandhills and thick scrubs, having occasional open patches with limestone cropping out, and camped at twenty-four miles. Continuing their journey the next morning, they went over better and more open country, and made twenty-four or -five miles of northing. Some more good country was seen the following day, but no water, although they saw native tracks and native huts. The next day they sighted two small flat-topped hills and found a native well in their neighbourhood; this, however, did not promise a very good supply of water. The views obtainable from the little hills were not very inviting, as scrubs appeared to exist in nearly every direction. This spot was eighty-two miles from Youldeh, and lay nearly north 10° west. They continued north for another twenty-five miles, to latitude 28° 52´ and longitude about 131° 31´, when they turned to the south-west for eighteen miles, finding a small native dam with some water in it; then, turning slightly to the north of west, they found some clay-pans with a little more water. They now went forty-four miles nearly west from the little dam, and, although the country seemed improving, they could discover no more water. From their farthest westerly point in latitude 28° 59´ they turned upon a bearing of south 55° east direct for the native well found near the little flat-topped hills before mentioned. In their progress upon this line they entered, at forty-five miles and straight before them, upon a small open flat space very well grassed, and very pretty, and upon it they found another native well, and saw some natives, with whom they held a sort of running conversation. There were several wells, all containing water. Tommy managed to elicit from the natives the name of the place, which they said was Ooldabinna. This seemed a very fortunate discovery, as the first well found near the flat tops was by no means a good one. Here they encamped, being highly pleased with their successful journey. They had now found a new depot, ninety-two miles, lying north 20° west from Youldeh. From hence they made a straight line back to the camp, where they awaited my return from the bay.

I was much pleased with their discovery, and on Tuesday, the 27th July, having nineteen camels and provisions for eight months, and a perfect equipment for carrying water, we left Youldeh. Richard Dorey, with his camels and black boy, went away to the south. My caravan departed in a long single string to the north, and Youldeh and the place thereof knew us no more.

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