Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 4.4. From 18th October to 18th November, 1875.

Depart from Ularring. Re-enter scrubs. Scrubs more dense. A known point. Magnetic rocks. Lowans' eggs. Numbers of the birds. Crows, hawks. Natives and water. Induce natives to decamp. Unusually vigorous growth of scrubs. Alec sights Mount Churchman. Bronze-winged pigeons. Pigeon Rocks. Depart. Edge of a cliff. Mount Churchman in view. Some natives arrive. A wandering pet. Lake Moore. Rock-holes. Strike old dray tracks. An outlying sheep-station. The first white man seen. Dinner of mutton. Exploring at an end. Civilisation once more. Tootra. All sorts and conditions come to interview us. A monastery. A feu-de-joie. The first telegraph station. Congratulatory messages. Intimations of receptions. A triumphal march. Messrs. Clunes Brothers. An address. Culham. White ladies. Newcastle. A triumphal arch. A fine tonic. Tommy's speech. Unscientific profanity. Guildford on the Swan. Arrival at Perth. Reception by the Mayor. The city decorated. Arrival at the Town Hall. A shower of garlands. A beautiful address. A public reception at Fremantle. Return to Perth. And festivities. Remarks.

Forcing a Passage Through the Scrubs in Western Australia.

On the 18th we departed. Mount Churchman was now not much more than 150 miles away. I felt sure we should reach it at last. It was late in the day when we left the camp, and immediately re-entered the dense and odious scrubs, which were more than usually thick. We passed a small salt-lake bed on our right, and made good twenty miles by night, which fell with cold and wind and threatened rain. At three or four miles the next morning, we saw some bare granite rocks to the south, and noticed the tops of some low ranges to the north, but these were partially hidden by some nearer ridges. The summit of one of these was a mass of exposed rock, similar in appearance to Ularring and remarkably high, but as it was five or six miles away from our line, which was now nearly west, we did not visit it. At fifteen miles from camp we sighted from the top of an undulation in the scrub, a pointed hill a little south of west, also another higher and longer, and lying more southerly. We could not reach the pointed hill by night. The country is now more densely scrubby than ever, and although we toiled the whole day, we only made good twenty-four miles. Upon nearing the hill the following morning we saw some grass-trees and passed between two salt-lakes. At ten miles Mr. Young and I were upon the top of the hill; the scrubs surrounding it were so terribly thick that I thought we should have to chop our way through them, and we had the greatest difficulty in getting the caravan to move along at all. I was much surprised at the view I obtained here; in the first place as we were now gradually approaching Mount Churchman, the hill to the south was, or should have been, Mount Jackson, but according to my chart there were no hills visible in any easterly or northeasterly direction from Mount Jackson, whereas from the range to the south, not only the hill I was upon, but all the others in various directions, must also have been seen from it. This was rather puzzling, and the only way I could account for the anomaly was that either Gregory had never ascended Mount Jackson at all, though according to his map he calls the whole eastern country beyond it sand plains, or these hills have been thrown up since 1846. The latter I cannot believe. The composition of this hill was almost iron itself, and there were some fused stones like volcanic slag upon it. It was too magnetic for working angles with a compass; it was between 500 and 600 feet above the surrounding regions. The horizon from east, north-east, round by north, thence to the west and south, was bounded by low ranges, detached into seven groups; the white beds of small lakes were visible running up to the northern, or north eastern group, the intervening country being, as usual, all scrubs, which grew even to the summits of the hills. The view from this hill was enough to terrify the spectator; my only consolation in gazing at so desolate a scene, was that my task was nearly accomplished, and nothing should stop me now. A second pointed hill lay nearly west, and we pushed on to this, but could not reach it by night.

To-day we managed to get thirty-four Lowans' eggs, yesterday we had secured twenty-seven. These birds swarm in these scrubs, and their eggs form a principal item in the daily fare of the natives during the laying season. We seldom see the birds, but so long as we get the eggs I suppose we have no great cause of complaint. In the morning we reached and ascended the second hill. Some other hills a few miles away ended nearly west, and bare granite rocks appeared a few miles beyond them, which I determined to visit. This hill was of similar formation to the last-described. The far horizon to the west being all scrub, Mount Churchman should have been visible, but it was not. The sight of the country from any of these hills is truly frightful; it seemed as though the scrubs were to end only with our journey. On descending, we pushed on for the rocks, and reached them in twelve miles from the last camp. As we neared them, we could distinguish a large extent of bare rock, and it seemed likely that we should find water, as we saw a number of crows and hawks, and we soon became aware of the presence of natives also, for they began to yell so soon as they perceived our approach. A well was soon found, and our camp fixed beside it. The natives were numerous here, but whether they were our old enemies or not I could not say; yet I fancied I recognised one or two among them, and to let them see that our ammunition was not yet exhausted, I fired my rifle in the air. This had the effect of inducing them, whether friends or foes, to decamp, and we were not troubled with them while we were here. I did not wish for a repetition of the Ularring affair. The well was shallow, with a good supply of water, and there were a few scores of acres of open ground around the rocks, though the scrubs came as close as possible. This spot was seventy-seven miles from Ularring; our well was situated at what may be called the north-east corner of these rocks; at the south-west end there is another and larger valley, where I saw two wells. On Sunday, the 22nd of October, we rested here. The old lame cow is still very bad, I am afraid she cannot travel much farther. Yesterday and to-day were rather warm, the thermometer indicating 94 and 96° in the shade. The upheaval of the few hills we have lately passed seems to have induced an unusually vigorous growth of scrubs, for they are now denser and more hideous than ever.

Alec Ross stated that he had seen, from the last hill, another, far away, due west, but nobody else saw it. If such a hill exists it is over eighty miles away from where seen, and it must be Mount Churchman. No views to any distance could be had from these rocks, as the undulations of the scrubs occur continuously throughout the desert, at almost regular intervals of a few miles, from seven to twenty.

After dinner on the 23rd I had intended to leave this place, but upon mustering the camels I found that not only was the lame cow worse, but another of the cows had calved, and our family was increased by the advent of a little cow-calf about the size of a rabbit. This prevented our departure. The calf was killed, and the mother remained with her dead offspring, whereby she comprehended her loss, and this will prevent her endeavouring to return to it after we leave. We obtained a good many bronze-winged pigeons here, and I called the place the Pigeon Rocks. Their position is in latitude 29° 58´ 4´´ and longitude 119° 15´ 3´´. To-day the thermometer rose to 100° in the shade, and at night a very squally thunderstorm, coming from the west, agreeably cooled the atmosphere, although no rain fell. On the 24th we left the Pigeon Rocks, still steering west, and travelled twenty-five miles through the dense scrubs, with an occasional break, on which a few of the yellow-bark gum-trees grew. They are generally of a vigorous and well grown habit. The poor old lame cow followed as usual, but arrived at the camp a long while after us. The next day we progressed twenty-five miles to the westward, and at evening we tore through a piece of horrible scrub, or thickets, and arrived at the edge of a cliff which stood, perpendicularly, 200 feet over the surrounding country. This we had to circumnavigate in order to descend.

Right on our course, being in the proper latitude, and twenty-seven or twenty-eight miles away, was a small hill, the object I had traversed so many hundreds of miles of desert to reach, and which I was delighted to know, was Mount Churchman. The country between the cliff and Mount Churchman was filled to overflowing with the densest of scrubs; Nature seemed to have tried how much of it she could possibly jam into this region. We encamped at the foot of the cliff. We got several Lowans'— or, as the West Australians call them, Gnows'— eggs, thirty yesterday, and forty-five to-day. At night the old lame cow did not arrive at the camp, nor was she with the mob the next morning; I wished her to remain at the Pigeon Rocks, but of course she persisted in following her kindred so long as she could, but now she has remained behind of her own accord, she will no doubt return there, and if she recovers will most probably go back to Beltana by herself, perhaps exploring a new line of country on the way.

First View of Mt. Churchman.

The following day we hoped to reach Mount Churchman, but the scrubs were so frightful we could not get there by night, though we travelled without stopping for twelve hours. To-day we got only twenty eggs. To-night and last night a slight dew fell, the first for a long time. Early on the morning of the 27th of October I stood upon the summit of Mount Churchman; and, though no mention whatever is made upon the chart of the existence of water there, we found a native well which supplied all our wants. In the afternoon some natives made their appearance; they were partly clothed. The party consisted of an oldish man, a very smart and good-looking young fellow, and a handsome little boy. The young fellow said his own name was Charlie, the boy's Albert, and the older one's Billy. It is said a good face is the best letter of introduction, but Charlie had a better one, as I had lost a little ivory-handled penknife on the road yesterday, and they had come across, and followed our tracks, and picked it up. Charlie, without a moment's questioning, brought it to me; he was too polite, too agreeable altogether, and evidently knew too much; he knew the country all the way to Perth, and also to Champion Bay. It occurred to me that he had been somebody's pet black boy, that had done something, and had bolted away. He told me the nearest station to us was called Nyngham, Mount Singleton on the chart, in a north-west direction. The station belonged, he said, to a Mr. Cook, and that we could reach it in four days, but as I wished to make south-westerly for Perth, I did not go that way. The day was very warm, thermometer 99° in shade.

The First White Man Met in Western Australia.

This mount is called Geelabing on the chart, but Charlie did not know it by that name. He and the other two came on and camped with us that night. Our course was nearly south-west; we only travelled eleven miles. The following day our three friends departed, as they said, to visit Nyngham, while we pursued our own course, and reached the shores of the dry salt-lake Moore. In about thirty miles we found some rock water-holes, and encamped on the edge of the lake, where we saw old horse and cattle tracks. We next crossed the lake-bed, which was seven miles wide. No doubt there is brine in some parts of it, but where I crossed it was firm and dry. We left it on the 30th of October, and travelling upon a course nearly west-south-west, we struck some old dray tracks, at a dried-up spring, on the 3rd of November, which I did not follow, as they ran eastwards. From there I turned south, and early on the 4th we came upon an outlying sheep station; its buildings consisting simply of a few bark-gunyahs. There was not even a single, rude hut in the dingle; blacks' and whites' gunyahs being all alike. Had I not seen some clothes, cooking utensils, etc., at one of them, I should have thought that only black shepherds lived there. A shallow well, and whip for raising the water into a trough, was enclosed by a fence, and we watered our camels there. The sheep and shepherd were away, and although we were desperately hungry for meat, not having had any for a month, we prepared to wait until the shepherd should come home in the evening. While we were thinking over these matters, a white man came riding up. He apparently did not see us, nor did his horse either, until they were quite close; then his horse suddenly stopped and snorted, and he shouted out, “Holy sailor, what's that?” He was so extraordinarily surprised at the appearance of the caravan that he turned to gallop away. However, I walked to, and reassured him, and told him who I was and where I had come from. Of course he was an Irishman, and he said, “Is it South Austhralia yez come from? Shure I came from there meself. Did yez crass any say? I don't know, sure I came by Albany; I never came the way you've come at all. Shure, I wilcome yez, in the name of the whole colony. I saw something about yez in the paper not long ago. Can I do anything for yez? This is not my place, but the shepherd is not far; will I go and find him?” “Faith, you may,” I said, “and get him to bring the flock back, so that we can get a sheep for dinner.” And away he went, and soon returned with the shepherd, sheep, black assistants and their wives; and we very soon had a capital meal of excellent mutton. While it was in process of cooking the shepherd despatched a black boy to the nearest farm, or settlement, for coffee, butter, sugar, eggs, etc. The messenger returned at night with everything. Exploring had now come to an end; roads led to, and from, all the other settled districts of the colony, and we were in the neighbourhood of civilisation once more. This out-station was the farthest attempt at settlement towards the east, in this part of the colony. It was called Tootra, and belonged to the Messrs. Clunes Brothers, who live lower down the country.

On the 6th of November we passed by the farm where the black boy had got the coffee, sugar, etc.; it belonged to a Mr. Joyce. We did not stay there very long, the people did not seem to know what to make of, and never said anything to, us. That evening we reached Mr. Clarke's homestead, called Inderu, where we were treated with the greatest kindness by every member of the family. They gave us eggs, butter, jam, and spirits, and despatched a messenger with a letter to Sir Thomas Elder's agent at Fremantle. Here we were also met by young Mr. Lefroy, son of the Hon. O'Grady Lefroy, Treasurer and acting Colonial Secretary for the Colony, who took us off to his station, Walebing, where we remained some days, thoroughly enjoying a recruiting at so agreeable a place. We had to depart at last, and were next entertained by Mr. and Mrs. McPherson, as we passed by their station called Glentromie. So soon as the news spread amongst the settlers that a caravan of camels had arrived, bushmen and girls, boys and children, came galloping from all parts, while their elders drove whatever vehicles they could lay their hands on, to come and see the new arrivals. The camels were quite frightened at the people galloping about them. Our next reception was at a Spanish Benedictine Monastery and Home for natives, called New Norcia. This Monastery was presided over by the Right Reverend Lord Bishop Salvado, the kindest and most urbane of holy fathers. We were saluted on our arrival, by a regular feu-de-joie, fired off by the natives and half-castes belonging to the mission. The land and property of this establishment is some of the best in the Colony. Here was the first telegraph station we had reached, and I received a number of congratulatory telegrams from most of the leading gentlemen in Perth; from His Excellency the Governor's private secretary, the Press, and my brother-explorer Mr. John Forrest.

Arrival at Culham (Samuel Phillips's.)

Intimations of intended receptions, by corporations, and addresses to be presented, with invitations to banquets and balls, poured in, in overwhelming numbers; so that on leaving the Monastery I knew the series of ordeals that were in store for me. His Excellency the Governor, Sir William Robinson, K.C.M.G., most kindly despatched Mr. John Forrest with a carriage to meet us. From the Monastery our triumphal march began. The appearance of a camel caravan in any English community, away from camel countries, is likely to awaken the curiosity of every one; but it is quite a matter of doubt whether we, or the camels caused the greater sensation as we advanced. A few miles from the monastery we passed the station of Messrs. Clunes Brothers, at whose farthest out-station we had first come upon a settlement. These gentlemen were most kind and hospitable, and would not accept any payment for two fine wether sheep which we had eaten. A short distance from their residence we passed a district country school-house, presided over by Mr. J.M. Butler, and that gentleman, on behalf of Messrs. Clunes, the residents of the locality, his scholars, and himself, presented us with a congratulatory address. Pushing onwards towards the metropolis we arrived, on Saturday, November 13th, at Mr. Samuel Phillips's station, Culham, where that gentleman invited us to remain during Sunday. Here, for the first time, we had the pleasure of enjoying the society of ladies, being introduced to Mrs. Phillips, her sister-in-law Mrs. Fane, and their several daughters. The whole family combined to make us welcome, and as much at home as possible. Here also Mr. Forrest joined us, and welcomed us to his own native land. The camels were put into an excellent paddock, and enjoyed themselves almost as much as their masters. Culham is nine or ten miles from Newcastle, the first town site we should reach. We were invited thither by the Mayor and Council, or rather the Chairman and Council of the Municipality.

At Newcastle we were received under a triumphal arch, and the Chairman presented us with an address. We were then conducted to a sumptuous banquet. Near the conclusion, the Chairman rose to propose our healths, etc.; he then gratified us by speaking disparagingly of us and our journey; he said he didn't see what we wanted to come over here for, that they had plenty of explorers of their own, etc. This was something like getting a hostile native's spear stuck into one's body, and certainly a fine tonic after the champagne. Several gentlemen in the hall protested against these remarks. I made a short reply; Mr. Tietkens put a little humour into his, and all coolness wore away, especially when Tommy made a speech. He was a great favourite with the “General,” and was well looked after during the repast. When we had all said our say, Tommy was urged to speak; he was very bashful, and said, “I don't know what to say;” the people near him said, “Never mind, Tommy, say anything;” so he rose in his seat and simply said “Anything,” whereupon everybody laughed, and joviality was restored. In the evening a ball took place in our honour; the old Chairman went to bed, and we all danced till morning. Never after did we hear anything but compliments and commendations, as what was then said was against the sense of the whole Colony. The next town we arrived at was Guildford; on the road the caravan passed by a splitters' camp, the men there came round the camels, and as usual stared wide-eyed with amazement. One of them begged Alec Ross, who was conducting the camels, to wait till a mate of theirs who was away returned, so that he might see them; but as we were bound to time and had our stages arranged so that we should reach Perth by a certain time, this could not be done, and the camels went on. By-and-by a man came galloping up as near as his horse would come to the camels, and called out: “Hi there, hold on, you *** wretches; do you think I'd a galloped after yer ter see such little *** things as them? why, they ain't no bigger nor a *** horse [there were camels seven feet high in the mob]; why, I thought they was as big as *** clouds, or else I'd never a come all this *** way to see them,” etc. He interspersed this address with many adjectives, but as nobody took the slightest notice of him, he started away, banning and blaspheming as he went, and for an uneducated, unscientific West Australian, his, was not a bad effort at profanity.

Arrival at Perth.

Arrival at the Town Hall, Perth, Western Australia.

At Guildford, a town-site on the Swan, we were publicly received by the Mayor, Mr. Spurling, the Town Council, various bodies and lodges, and a detachment of volunteers. We were presented with addresses from the Town Council, and Mr. Spurling made a most handsome speech, which removed any remains of the taste of the Newcastle tonic. The Lodges of Oddfellows and Good Templars also presented us with addresses. The Chairman of the latter made a little Good Templar capital out of the fact of our having achieved such a great feat entirely on water. To this I replied, that it was true we had accomplished our journey on water, and very little of it, but that if we had had anything stronger we should certainly have drunk it, if only to make our water supply last the longer. Then a banquet was spread, which was attended also by ladies, and was a most agreeable entertainment, and the evening wound up with a ball. Guildford being only ten or eleven miles from Perth, at about three p.m. of the next day we approached the city, riding our camels, and having the whole of the caravan in regular desert-marching order. A great number of people came out, both riding and driving, to meet us, and escorted us into the city; Mr. Forrest was now on horseback and riding alongside of me.

After traversing the long wooden causeway that bridges the Swan, we soon reached the city bounds, and were met by the Mayor, Mr. George Shenton, and the other members of the City Council, companies of volunteers lined the streets on either side, and the various bodies of Freemasons, Oddfellows, and Good Templars, accompanied by the brass band of the latter, took a part in the procession. A great crowd of citizens assembled, and the balconies of the houses on both sides were thronged with the fair sex, and garlands of flowers were showered down upon us. The streets of the city were decorated with flags and streamers, and scrolls of welcome were stretched across. The procession moved along to the Town Hall amidst general cheering. We were ushered into the spacious hall, and placed on a raised platform, then we were introduced to most of the gentlemen present. The Mayor then addressed me in most eulogistic terms, and presented me with an address on vellum, beautifully illuminated and engrossed, on behalf of the corporation and citizens of Perth, congratulating myself, and party on our successful exploration across the unknown interior from South Australia, and warmly expressing the good feelings of welcome entertained by the citizens towards us.

After this a round of festivities set in; among these were a public banquet and ball in our honour by the Mayor and Corporation of the city of Perth and a dinner and ball at Government House. A public reception also awaited us at Fremantle, on the coast. On our arrival at the long, high, wooden structure that spans the broad mouth of the river at Fremantle, we were again met by eager crowds. Mr. Forrest rode near me on this occasion also. When entering Perth, I had a great deal of trouble to induce my riding-camel, Reechy, to lead, but when entering Fremantle she fairly jibbed, and I had to walk and lead her, so that I was hidden in the crowd, and Mr. Tietkens, coming next to me, appeared to be the leader, as his camel went all right. The balconies and verandahs here were also thronged with ladies, who showered down heaps of garlands while they cheered. I was completely hidden, and they threw all the flowers down on Tietkens, so that he got all the honour from the ladies. Here another beautiful address was presented to me by Mr. John Thomas, the Chairman of the Town Council, and a public banquet was given us. On returning to Perth, we had invitations from private individuals to balls, dinners, pic-nics, boating and riding parties, and the wife of the Honourable O'Grady Lefroy started the ball giving immediately after that at Government House. Mr. Forrest gave us a dinner at the Weld Club.

Since our arrival in the settled parts of Western Australia, we have had every reason to believe that our welcome was a genuine one, everybody having treated us with the greatest kindness and courtesy. His Excellency the Governor ordered that all our expenses down the country, from where Mr. Forrest met us, should be defrayed by the Government; and having been so welcomed by the settlers on our arrival at each place, I had no occasion to expend a penny on our march through the settled districts of the Colony.

In concluding the tale of a long exploration, a few remarks are necessary. In the first place I travelled during the expedition, in covering the ground, 2500 miles; but unfortunately found no areas of country suitable for settlement. This was a great disappointment to me, as I had expected far otherwise; but the explorer does not make the country, he must take it as he finds it. His duty is to penetrate it, and although the greatest honour is awarded and the greatest recompense given to the discoverer of the finest regions, yet it must be borne in mind, that the difficulties of traversing those regions cannot be nearly so great as those encountered by the less fortunate traveller who finds himself surrounded by heartless deserts. The successful penetration of such a region must, nevertheless, have its value, both in a commercial and a geographical sense, as it points out to the future emigrant or settler, those portions of our continent which he should rigorously avoid. It never could have entered into any one's calculations that I should have to force my way through a region that rolls its scrub-enthroned, and fearful distance out, for hundreds of leagues in billowy undulations, like the waves of a timbered sea, and that the expedition would have to bore its way, like moles in the earth, for so long, through these interminable scrubs, with nothing to view, and less to cheer. Our success has traced a long and a dreary road through this unpeopled waste, like that to a lion's abode, from whence no steps are retraced. The caravan for months was slowly but surely plodding on, under those trees with which it has pleased Providence to bedeck this desolate waste. But this expedition, as organised, equipped, and intended by Sir Thomas Elder, was a thing of such excellence and precision, it moved along apparently by mechanical action; and it seemed to me, as we conquered these frightful deserts by its power, like playing upon some new fine instrument, as we wandered, like rumour, “from the Orient to the Drooping West,”—

“From where the Torrens wanders,

'Midst corn and vines and flowers,

To where fair Perth still lifts to heaven

Her diadem of towers.”

The labours of the expedition ended only at the sea at Fremantle, the seaport of the west; and after travelling under those trees for months, from eastern lands through a region accurst, we were greeted at last by old Ocean's roar; Ocean, the strongest of creation's sons, “that rolls the wild, profound, eternal bass in Nature's anthem.” The officers, Mr. Tietkens and Mr. Young, except for occasional outbursts of temper, and all the other members of the expedition, acted in every way so as to give me satisfaction; and when I say that the personnel of the expedition behaved as well as the camels, I cannot formulate greater praise.

It will readily be believed that I did not undertake a fourth expedition in Australia without a motive. Sir Thomas Elder had ever been kind to me since I had known him, and my best thanks were due to him for enabling me to accomplish so difficult an undertaking; but there were others also I wished to please; and I have done my best endeavours upon this arduous expedition, with the hope that I might “win the wise, who frowned before to smile at last.”

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