Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 1.4. From 17th September to 1st October, 1872.

Search for the missing horses. Find one. Hot wind and flying sand. Last horse recovered. Annoyed by flies. Mountains to the west. Fine timber. Gardiner's Range. Mount Solitary. Follow the creek. Dig a tank. Character of the country. Thunderstorms. Mount Peculiar. A desolate region. Sandhills. Useless rain. A bare granite hill. No water. Equinoctial gales. Search for water. Find a rock reservoir. Native fig-trees. Gloomy and desolate view. The old chain. Hills surrounded by scrubs. More hills to the west. Difficult watering-place. Immortelles. Cold weather. View from a hill. Renewed search for water. Find a small supply. Almost unapproachable. Effects of the spinifex on the horses. Pack-horses in scrubs. The Mus conditor. Glistening micaceous hills. Unsuccessful search. Waterless hill nine hundred feet high. Oceans of scrub. Retreat to last reservoir. Natives' smokes. Night without water. Unlucky day. Two horses lost. Recover them. Take a wrong turn. Difficulty in watering the horses. An uncomfortable camp. Unsuccessful searches. Mount Udor. Mark a tree. Tender-footed horses. Poor feed. Sprinkling rain. Flies again troublesome. Start for the western ranges. No water. Difficult scrubs. Lonely camp. Horses away. Reach the range. No water. Retreat to Mount Udor. Slight rain. Determine to abandon this region. Corkwood trees. Ants' nests. Glow-worms. Native poplar trees. Peculiar climate. Red gum-trees. A mare foals. Depart for the south. Remarks on the country.

Having fixed our camp at a new place, in the afternoon of the 17th September, Robinson and I again went to look after the horses. At three miles above the camp we found some water; soon after we got the tracks of one horse and saw that he had been about there for a day or two, as the tracks were that age. We made a sweep out round some hills, found the tracks again, much fresher, and came upon the horse about seven miles from the camp. The other horse was left for to-morrow. Thermometer 96°, sky overcast, rain imminent.

During the night of the 18th of September a few heat-drops of rain fell. I sent Robinson away to the plain camp, feeling sure he would find the rover there. A hot wind blew all day, the sand was flying about in all directions. Robinson got the horse at last at the plain, and I took special care to find a pair of hobbles for him for this night at all events. The flies were an intolerable nuisance, not that they were extraordinarily numerous, but so insufferably pertinacious. I think the tropic fly of Australia the most abominable insect of its kind. From the summit of the hill I ascended on Sunday, I found the line of mountains still ran on to the west, the furthest hills appeared fifty miles away. As they extend so far, and are the principal features in sight, I shall follow them, in hopes of meeting some creek, or river, that may carry me on to the west. It is a remarkable fact that such high hills as I have been following should send out no creek whose course extends farther than ten or twelve miles. I could trace the creek I am now on by its timber for only a few miles, its course appearing south of west. The country in its immediate neighbourhood is open, and timbered with fine casuarina trees; the grass is dry and long, and the triodia approaches to within a quarter of a mile of it. The line of hills I previously mentioned as running along to the south of us, we had now run out. I named them Gardiner's Range, after a friend of Mr. Carmichael's. There is, however, one small isolated hill, the furthest outpost of that line, some three miles away to the south-west; the creek may probably take a bend down towards it. I called it Mount Solitary. This creek is rather well timbered, the gum-trees look fresh and young, and there is some green herbage in places, though the surface water has all disappeared.

There was so little water at the camp tank, we had to send the horses up the creek three miles to water, and on their return I was not sorry to be moving again, for our stay at these two last camps had been compulsory, and the anxiety, trouble, and annoyance we had, left no very agreeable reminiscences of the locality in our minds.

We travelled along the creek all day, cutting off the bends, but without seeing any signs of water: towards evening we set to work to try if we could get any by digging. In about four feet, water began to drain in, but, the sand being so loose, we had to remove an enormous quantity to enable a horse to drink. Some of the horses would not go into it, and had to be watered with a canvas bucket. The supply seemed good, but it only drained in from the sides. Every time a horse drank we had to clear out the sand for the next; it therefore took until late before all were satisfied. The country was still open, and timbered with fine black oak, or what is so called in Australia. It is a species of casuarina, of the same family but distinct from the beautiful desert oak. Triodia reigned supreme within half a mile. At this camp the old grass had been burnt, and fresh young green shoots appeared in its place; this was very good for the horses. A few drops of rain fell; distant rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning now cooled the air. While we were at breakfast the next morning, a thunderstorm came up to us from the west, then suddenly turned away, only just sprinkling us, though we could see the rain falling heavily a few yards to the south. We packed up and went off, hoping to find a better watered region at the hills westwards. There was an extraordinary mount a little to the west of north from us; it looked something like a church; it was over twenty miles away: I called it Mount Peculiar. Leaving the creek on our left, to run itself out into some lonely flat or dismal swamp, known only to the wretched inhabitants of this desolate region — over which there seems to brood an unutterable stillness and a dread repose — we struck into sandhill country, rather open, covered with the triodia or spinifex, and timbered with the casuarina or black oak trees. We had scarcely gone two miles when our old thunderstorm came upon us — it had evidently missed us at first, and had now come to look for us — and it rained heavily. The country was so sandy and porous that no water remained on the surface. We travelled on and the storm travelled with us — the ground sucking up every drop that fell. Continuing our course, which was north 67° west, we travelled twenty-five miles. At this distance we came in sight of the mountains I was steering for, but they were too distant to reach before night, so, turning a little northward to the foot of a low, bare, white granite hill, I hoped to find a creek, or at least some ledges in the rocks, where we might get some water. Not a drop was to be found. Though we had been travelling in the rain all day and accomplished thirty miles, we were obliged to camp without water at last. There was good feed for the horses, and, as it was still raining, they could not be very greatly in want of water. We fixed up our tent and retired for the night, the wind blowing furiously, as might reasonably be expected, for it was the eve of the vernal equinox, and this I supposed was our share of the equinoctial gales. We were compelled in the morning to remove the camp, as we had not a drop of water, and unless it descended in sheets the country could not hold it, being all pure red sand. The hill near us had no rocky ledges to catch water, so we made off for the higher mountains for which we were steering yesterday. Their nearest or most eastern point was not more than four miles away, and we went first to it. I walked on ahead of the horses with the shovel, to a small gully I saw with the glasses, having some few eucalypts growing in it. I walked up it, to and over rocky ledges, down which at times, no doubt, small leaping torrents roar. Very little of yesterday's rain had fallen here; but most fortunately I found one small rock reservoir, with just sufficient water for all the horses. There was none either above or below in any other basin, and there were many better-looking places, but all were dry. The water in this one must have stood for some time, yesterday's rain not having affected it in the least. The place at which I found the water was the most difficult for horses to reach; it was almost impracticable. After finding this opportune though awkwardly situated supply, I climbed to the summit of the mount. On the top was a native fig-tree in full bearing; the fruit was ripe and delicious. It is the size of an ordinary marble, yellow when unripe, and gradually becoming red, then black: it is full of small seeds. I was disturbed from my repast by seeing the horses, several hundred feet below me, going away in the wrong direction. And I had to descend before I had time to look around; but the casual glance I obtained gave me the most gloomy and desolate view imaginable; one, almost enough to daunt the explorer from penetrating any farther into such a dreadful region. To the eastward, I found I had now long outrun the old main chain of mountains, which had turned up to the north, or rather north-north-westward; between me and it a mass of jumbled and broken mounts appeared; each separate one, however, was almost surrounded by scrubs, which ran up to the foot of the hill I was upon. Northward the view was similar. To the west the picture was the same, except that a more defined range loomed above the intervening scrubs — the hills furthest away in that direction being probably fifty miles distant. The whole horizon looked dark and gloomy — I could see no creeks of any kind, the most extensive water channels were mere gullies, and not existing at all at a mile from the hills they issued from.

Watering our horses proved a difficult and tedious task; as many of them would not approach the rocky basin, the water had to be carried up to them in canvas buckets. By the time they were all watered, and we had descended from the rocky gully, the day had passed with most miraculous celerity. The horses did not finish the water, there being nearly sufficient to give them another drink. The grass was good here, as a little flat, on which grew some yellow immortelles, had recently been burnt. I allowed the horses to remain and drink up the balance of the water, while I went away to inspect some other gorges or gullies in the hills to the west of us, and see whether any more water could be found. The day was cool and fine.

I climbed to the summit of a hill about 800 feet from its base. The view was similar to yesterday's, except that I could now see these hills ran on west for twelve or fifteen miles, where the country was entirely covered with scrubs. Little gullies, with an odd, and stunted, gum-tree here and there, were seen. Few of these gullies were more than six feet wide, and the trumpery little streams that descend, in even their most flooded state, would be of but little service to anybody. I had wandered up and down hills, in and out of gullies, all the morning, but had met no single drop of water, and was returning disappointed to the camp when, on trying one more small scrubby, dreadfully-rocky little gully which I had missed, or rather passed by, in going out, I was fortunate enough to discover a few small rocky holes full of the purest fluid. This treasure was small indeed, but my gratitude was great; for what pleased me most was the rather strange fact that the water was trickling from one basin to another, but with the weakest possible flow. Above and below where I found this water the gully and the rocks were as dry as the desert around. Had the supply not been kept up by the trickling, half my horses would have emptied all the holes at a draught.

The approach to this water was worse, rougher, rockier, and more impracticable than at the camp; I was, however, most delighted to have found it, otherwise I should have had to retreat to the last creek. I determined, however, not to touch it now, but to keep it as a reserve fund, should I be unable to find more out west. Returning to camp, we gave the horses all the water remaining, and left the spot perfectly dry.

We now had the line of hills on our right, and travelled nearly west-north-west. Close to the foot of the hills the country is open, but covered with large stones, between the interstices of which grow huge bunches of the hideous spinifex, which both we and the horses dread like a pestilence. We have encountered this scourge for over 200 miles. All around the coronets of most of the horses, in consequence of their being so continually punctured with the spines of this terrible grass, it has caused a swelling, or tough enlargement of the flesh and skin, giving them the appearance of having ring-bones. Many of them have the flesh quite raw and bleeding; they are also very tender-footed from traversing so much stony ground, as we have lately had to pass over. Bordering upon the open stony triodia ground above-mentioned is a bed of scrubs, composed chiefly of mulga, though there are various other trees, shrubs, and plants amongst it. It is so dense and thick that in it we cannot see a third of the horses at once; they, of course, continually endeavour to make into it to avoid the stones and triodia; for, generally speaking, the pungent triodia and the mulga acacia appear to be antagonistic members of the vegetable kingdom. The ground in the scrubs is generally soft, and on that account also the horses seek it. Out of kindness, I have occasionally allowed them to travel in the scrubs, when our direct course should have been on the open, until some dire mishap forces us out again; for, the scrubs being so dense, the horses are compelled to crash through them, tearing the coverings of their loads, and frequently forcing sticks in between their backs or sides and their saddles, sometimes staking themselves severely. Then we hear a frantic crashing through the scrubs, and the sounds of the pounding of horse-hoofs are the first notice we receive that some calamity has occurred. So soon as we ourselves can force our way through, and collect the horses the best way we can, yelling and howling to one another to say how many each may have got, we discover one or two missing. Then they have to be tracked; portions of loads are picked up here and there, and, in the course of an hour or more, the horse or horses are found, repacked, and on we push again, mostly for the open, though rough and stony spinifex ground, where at least we can see what is going on. These scrubs are really dreadful, and one's skin and clothes get torn and ripped in all directions. One of these mishaps occurred to-day.

In these scrubs are met nests of the building rat (Mus conditor). They form their nests with twigs and sticks to the height of four feet, the circumference being fifteen to twenty. The sticks are all lengths up to three feet, and up to an inch in diameter. Inside are chambers and galleries, while in the ground underneath are tunnels, which are carried to some distance from their citadel. They occur in many parts of Australia, and are occasionally met with on plains where few trees can be found. As a general rule, they frequent the country inhabited by the black oak (casuarina). They can live without water, but, at times, build so near a watercourse as to have their structures swept away by floods. Their flesh is very good eating.

In ten miles we had passed several little gullies, and reached the foot of other hills, where a few Australian pines were scattered here and there. These hills have a glistening, sheening, laminated appearance, caused by the vast quantities of mica which abounds in them. Their sides are furrowed and corrugated, and their upper portions almost bare rock. Time was lost here in unsuccessful searches for water, and we departed to another range, four or five miles farther on, and apparently higher; therefore perhaps more likely to supply us with water. Mr. Carmichael and I ascended the range, and found it to be 900 feet from its base; but in all its gullies water there was none. The view from the summit was just such as I have described before — an ocean of scrubs, with isolated hills or ranges appearing like islands in most directions. Our horses had been already twenty-four hours without water. I wanted to reach the far range to the west, but it was useless to push all the pack-horses farther into such an ocean of scrubs, as our rate of progress in them was so terribly slow. I decided to return to the small supply I had left as a reserve, and go myself to the far range, which was yet some thirty miles away. The country southward seemed to have been more recently visited by the natives than upon our line of march, which perhaps was not to be wondered at, as what could they get to live on out of such a region as we had got into? Probably forty or fifty miles to the south, over the tops of some low ridges, we saw the ascending smoke of spinifex fires, still attended to by the natives; and in the neighbourhood, no doubt, they had some watering places. On our retreat we travelled round the northern face of the hills, upon whose south side we had arrived, in hopes of finding some place having water, where I might form a depot for a few days. By night we could find none, and had to encamp without, either for ourselves or our horses.

The following day seemed foredoomed to be unlucky; it really appeared as though everything must go wrong by a natural law. In the first place, while making a hobble peg, while Carmichael and Robinson were away after the horses, the little piece of wood slipped out of my hand, and the sharp blade of the knife went through the top and nail of my third finger and stuck in the end of my thumb. The cut bled profusely, and it took me till the horses came to sew my mutilated digits up. It was late when we left this waterless spot. As there was a hill with a prepossessing gorge, I left Carmichael and Robinson to bring the horses on, and rode off to see if I could find water there. Though I rode and walked in gullies and gorges, no water was to be found. I then made down to where the horses should have passed along, and found some of them standing with their packs on, in a small bit of open ground, surrounded by dense scrubs, which by chance I came to, and nobody near. I called and waited, and at last Mr. Carmichael came and told me that when he and Robinson debouched with the horses on this little open space, they found that two of the animals were missing, and that Robinson had gone to pick up their tracks. The horse carrying my papers and instruments was one of the truants. Robinson soon returned, not having found the track. Neither of them could tell when they saw the horses last. I sent Mr. Carmichael to another hill two or three miles away, that we had passed, but not inspected yesterday, to search for water, while Robinson and I looked for the missing horses. And lest any more should retreat during our absence, we tied them up in two mobs. Robinson tied his lot up near a small rock. We then separately made sweeps round, returning to the horses on the opposite side, without success. We then went again in company, and again on opposite sides singly, but neither tracks nor horses could be found. Five hours had now elapsed since I first heard of their absence. I determined to make one more circuit beyond any we had already taken, so as to include the spot we had camped at; this occupied a couple of hours. When I returned I was surprised to hear that Robinson had found the horses in a small but extra dense bunch of scrub not twenty yards from the spot where he had tied his horses up. While I was away he had gone on top of the little stony eminence close by, and from its summit had obtained a bird's-eye view of the ground below, and thus perceived the two animals, which had never been absent at all. It seemed strange to me that I could not find their tracks, but the reason was there were no tracks to find. I took it for granted when Carmichael told me of their absence that they were absent, but he and Robinson were both mistaken.

It was now nearly evening, and I had been riding my horse at a fast pace the whole day; I was afraid we could not reach the reserve water by night. But we pushed on, Mr. Carmichael joining us, not having found any water. At dusk we reached the small creek or gully, up in whose rocks I had found the water on Sunday. At a certain point the creek split in two, or rather two channels joined, and formed one, and I suppose the same ill fate that had pursued me all day made me mistake the proper channel, and we drove the unfortunate and limping horses up a wretched, rocky, vile, scrubby, almost impenetrable gully, where there was not a sup of water.

On discovering my error, we had to turn them back over the same horrible places, all rocks, dense scrubs, and triodia, until we got them into the proper channel. When near the first little hole I had formerly seen, I dismounted, and walked up to see how it had stood during my absence, and was grieved to discover that the lowest and largest hole was nearly dry. I bounded up the rocks to the next, and there, by the blessing of Providence, was still a sufficient quantity, as the slow trickling of the water from basin to basin had not yet entirely ceased, though its current had sadly diminished since my last visit only some seventy hours since.

By this time it was dark, and totally impossible to get the horses up the gully. We had to get them over a horrible ridge of broken and jumbled rocks, having to get levers and roll away huge boulders, to make something like a track to enable the animals to reach the water.

Time (and labour) accomplishes all things, and in time the last animal's thirst was quenched, and the last drop of water sucked up from every basin. I was afraid it would not be replenished by morning. We had to encamp in the midst of a thicket of a kind of willow acacia with pink bark all in little curls, with a small and pretty mimosa-like leaf. This bush is of the most tenacious nature — you may bend it, but break it won't. We had to cut away sufficient to make an open square, large enough for our packs, and to enable us to lie down, also to remove the huge bunches of spinifex that occupied the space; then, when the stones were cleared away, we had something like a place for a camp. By this time it was midnight, and we slept, all heartily tired of our day's work, and the night being cool we could sleep in comfort. Our first thought in the morning was to see how the basins looked. Mr. Carmichael went up with a keg to discover, and on his return reported that they had all been refilled in the night, and that the trickling continued, but less in volume. This was a great relief to my mind; I trust the water will remain until I return from those dismal-looking mountains to the west. I made another search during the morning for more water, but without success, and I can only conclude that this water was permitted by Providence to remain here in this lonely spot for my especial benefit, for no more rain had fallen here than at any of the other hills in the neighbourhood, nor is this one any higher or different from the others which I visited, except that this one had a little water and all the rest none. In gratitude therefore to this hill I have called it Mount Udor. Mount Udor was the only spot where water was to be found in this abominable region, and when I left it the udor had departed also. I got two of my riding-horses shod to-day, as the country I intended to travel over is about half stones and half scrub. I have marked a eucalyptus or gum-tree in this gully close to the foot of the rock where I found the water [EG/21], as this is my twenty-first camp from Chambers' Pillar. My position here is in latitude 23° 14´, longitude 130° 55´, and variation 3° east nearly. I could not start to-day as the newly shod horses are so tender-footed that they seem to go worse in their shoes; they may be better to-morrow. The water still holds out. The camp is in a confined gully, and warm, though it is comparatively a cool day. The grass here is very poor, and the horses wander a great deal to look for feed. Four of them could not be found in the morning. A slight thunderstorm passed over in the night, with a sprinkling of rain for nearly an hour, but not sufficient fell to damp a pocket-handkerchief. It was, however, quite sufficient to damp my hopes of a good fall. The flies are very numerous here and troublesome. After watering my two horses I started away by myself for the ranges out west. I went on our old tracks as far as they went, then I visited some other hills on my line of march. As usual, the country alternated between open stones at the foot of the hills and dense scrubs beyond. I thought one of the beds of scrubs I got into the densest I had ever seen, it was actually impenetrable without cutting one's way, and I had to turn around and about in all directions. I had the greatest difficulty to get the horse I was leading to come on at all; I had no power over him whatever. I could not use either a whip or a stick, and he dragged so much that he nearly pulled me out of my saddle, so that I could hardly tell which way I was going, and it was extremely difficult to keep anything like a straight course. Night overtook me, and I had to encamp in the scrubs, having travelled nearly forty miles. A few drops of rain fell; it may have benefited the horses, but to me it was a nuisance. I was up, off my sandy couch early enough, but had to wait for daylight before I could get the horses; they had wandered away for miles back towards the camp, and I had the same difficulties over again when getting them back to where the saddles were. In seven or eight miles after starting I got out of the scrubs. At the foot of the mountain for which I was steering there was a little creek or gully, with some eucalypts where I struck it. It was, as all the others had been, scrubby, rocky, and dry. I left the horses and ascended to the top, about 900 feet above the scrubs which surrounded it. The horizon was broken by low ranges nearly all round, but scrubs as usual intervened between them. I descended and walked into dozens of gullies and rocky places, and I found some small holes and basins, but all were dry. At this spot I was eighty miles from a sufficient supply of water; that at the camp, forty-five miles away, may be gone by the time I return. Under these circumstances I could not go any farther west. It was now evening again. I left these desolate hills, the Ehrenberg Ranges of my map, and travelled upon a different line, hoping to find a better or less thick route through the scrubs, but it was just the same, and altogether abominable. Night again overtook me in the direful scrubs, not very far from the place at which I had slept the previous night; the most of the day was wasted in an ineffectual search for water.

On Sunday morning, the 29th September, having hobbled my horses so short, although the scrubs were so thick, they were actually in sight at dawn; I might as well have tied them up. Starting at once, I travelled to one or two hills we had passed by, but had not inspected before. I could find no water anywhere. It was late when I reached the camp, and I was gladdened to find the party still there, and that the water supply had held out so long. On the following morning, Monday, the 30th of September, it was at a very low ebb; the trickling had ceased in the upper holes, though it was still oozing into the lower ones, so that it was absolutely necessary to pack up and be off from this wretched place. It was an expedition in itself to get water for the camp, from the rock basins above. The horses dreaded to approach it on account of their tender feet. It required a lot of labour to get sufficient firewood to boil a quart pot, for, although we were camped in a dense thicket, the small wood of which it was composed was all green, and useless for firewood.

I intended to retreat from here to-day, but just as Robinson was starting to find the horses a shower of rain came on, and hoping it might end in a heavier fall, I decided to remain until to-morrow, to give the rain a chance — especially as, aided by the slight rain, the horses could do without a drink, there now being only one drink remaining, as the trickling had entirely ceased, though we yet had the little holes full. The rain fell in a slight and gentle shower two or three hours, but it left no trace of its fall, even upon the rocks, so that our water supply was not increased by one pint.

To-morrow I am off; it is useless to remain in a region such as this. But where shall I go next? The creek I had last got water in, might even now be dry. I determined to try and reach it farther down its channel. If it existed beyond where I left it, I expected, in twenty-five to thirty miles, in a southerly direction, to strike it again: therefore, I decided to travel in that direction. A few quandongs, or native peach trees, exist amongst these gullies; also a tree that I only know by the name of the corkwood tree. (“Sesbania grandiflora,” Baron Mueller says, “North-Western Australia; to the verge of the tropics; Indian Archipelago; called in Australia the corkwood tree; valuable for various utilitarian purposes. The red-flowered variety is grandly ornamented. Dr. Roxburgh recommends the leaves and young pods as an exquisite spinach; the plant is shy of frost.”) The wood is soft, and light in weight and colour. It is by no means a handsome tree. It grows about twenty feet high. Generally two or three are huddled together, as though growing from one stem. Those I saw were nearly all dead. They grow in the little water channels. The ants here, as in nearly the whole of Tropical Australia, build nests from four to six feet high — in some other parts I have known them twenty — to escape, I suppose, from the torrents of rain that at times fall in these regions: the height also protects their eggs and stores from the fires the natives continually keep burning. This burning, perhaps, accounts for the conspicuous absence of insects and reptiles. One night, however, I certainly saw glowworms. These I have only seen in one other region in Australia — near Geelong, in Victoria. A tree called the native poplar (Codonocarpus cotinifolius) is also found growing in the scrubs and water-channels of this part of the country. The climate of this region appears very peculiar. Scarcely a week passes without thunderstorms and rain; but the latter falls in such small quantities that it is almost useless. It is evidently on this account that there are no waters or watercourses deserving of the name. I should like to know how much rain would have to fall here before any could be discovered lying on the ground. All waters found in this part of the country must be got out of pure sand, in a water channel or pure rock. The native orange-tree grows here, but the specimens I have met are very poor and stunted. The blood-wood-trees, or red gum-trees, which always enliven any landscape where they are found, also occur. They are not, however, the magnificent vegetable structures which are known in Queensland and Western Australia, but are mostly gnarled and stunted. They also grow near the watercourses.

The 1st October broke bright and clear, and I was only too thankful to get out of this horrible region and this frightful encampment, into which the fates had drawn me, alive. When the horses arrived, there was only just enough water for all to drink; but one mare was away, and Robinson said she had foaled. The foal was too young to walk or move; the dam was extremely poor, and had been losing condition for some time previously; so Robinson went back, killed the foal, and brought up the mare. Now there was not sufficient water to satisfy her when she did come. Mr. Carmichael and I packed up the horses, while Robinson was away upon his unpleasant mission. When he brought her up, the mare looked the picture of misery. At last I turned my back upon this wretched camp and region; and we went away to the south. It was half-past two o'clock when we got clear from our prison.

It is almost a work of supererogation to make many further remarks on the character of this region — I mean, of course, since we left the Finke. I might, at a word, condemn it as a useless desert. I will, however, scarcely use so sweeping a term. I can truly say it is dry, stony, scrubby, and barren, and this in my former remarks any one who runs can read. I saw very few living creatures, but it is occasionally visited by its native owners, to whom I do not grudge the possession of it. Occasionally the howls of the native dog (Canis familiaris)— or dingo as he is usually called — were heard, and their footprints in sandy places seen. A small species of kangaroo, known as the scrub wallaby, were sometimes seen, and startled from their pursuit of nibbling at the roots of plants, upon which they exist; but the scrubs being so dense, and their movements so rapid, it was utterly impossible to get a shot at them. Their greatest enemy — besides the wild black man and the dingo — is the large eagle-hawk, which, though flying at an enormous height, is always on the watch; but it is only when the wallaby lets itself out, on to the stony open, that the enemy can swoop down upon it. The eagle trusses it with his talons, smashes its head with its beak to quiet it, and, finally, if a female, flies away with the victim to its nest for food for its young, or if a male bird, to some lonely rock or secluded tarn, to gorge its fill alone. I have frequently seen these eagles swoop on to one, and, while struggling with its prey, have galloped up and secured it myself, before the dazed wallaby could collect its senses. Other birds of prey, such as sparrow-hawks, owls, and mopokes (a kind of owl), inhabit this region, but they are not numerous. Dull-coloured, small birds, that exist entirely without water, are found in the scrubs; and in the mornings they are sometimes noisy, but not melodious, when there is a likelihood of rain; and the smallest of Australian ornithology, the diamond bird (Amadina) of Gould, is met with at almost every watering place. Reptiles and insects, as I have said, are scarce, on account of the continual fires the natives use in their perpetual hunt for food.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54