Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 2.7. From 16th January to 19th February, 1874.

The Kangaroo Tanks. Horses stampede. Water by digging. Staggering horses. Deep rock-reservoir. Glen Cumming. Mount Russell. Glen Gerald. Glen Fielder. The Alice Falls. Separated hills. Splendid-looking creek. Excellent country. The Pass of the Abencerrages. Sladen Water. An alarm. Jimmy's anxiety for a date. Mount Barlee. Mount Buttfield. “Stagning” water. Ranges continue to the west. A notch. Dry rocky basins. Horses impounded. Desolation Glen. Wretched night. Terrible Billy. A thick clump of gums. A strong and rapid stream. The Stemodia viscosa. Head-first in a bog. Leuhman's Spring. Groener's and Tyndall's Springs. The Great Gorge. Fort McKellar. The Gorge of Tarns. Ants again. Swim in the tarn. View from summit of range. Altitude. Tatterdemalions. An explorer's accomplishments. Cool and shady caves. Large rocky tarn. The Circus. High red sandhills to the west. Ancient lake bed. Burrowing wallabies. The North-west Mountain. Jimmy and the grog bottle. The Rawlinson Range. Moth- and fly-catching plant. An inviting mountain. Inviting valley. Fruitless search for water. Ascend the mountain. Mount Robert. Dead and dying horses. Description of the mob. Mount Destruction. Reflections. Life for water. Hot winds. Retreat to Sladen Water. Wild ducks. An ornithological lecture. Shift the camp. Cockatoo parrots. Clouds of pigeons. Dragged by Diaway. Attacked by the natives.

It was late on the 16th of January when we left Fort Mueller. We reached our first or Kangaroo Tanks in eleven miles, so called as we saw several kangaroos there on our first visit; but only having revolvers, we could not get near enough to shoot any of them. The water had remained in them quite as well as I could expect, but we did not use it that night. The horses were evidently inclined to ramble back, so we short-hobbled them; but as soon as it became dusk, they all went off at a gallop. Mr. Tietkens and I went after them, but the wretches would not allow us to get up with them. The moment they heard us breaking any sticks in the scrubs behind them, off they started again; we had to go five or six miles before we could get hold of any of them, and it being cloudy and dark, we hardly knew which way to drive them back; at length we saw the reflection of a fire, and it proved we were taking them right; it was midnight when we got back. We tied one up and waited for morning, when we found they were all gone again, but having one to ride we thought to get them pretty soon. It now appeared that in the scrubs and darkness last night we had missed three. Now we had to use our tank water, the three missing horses not being found by night. The missing horses were found the next day, the 18th, and we continued our journey from these now empty tanks at twelve o'clock, and reached the native clay-pan tanks by night. The second one we had dug, though well shaded, was quite dry, and the native hole contained only sufficient for about half the horses. Some drank it all up, the rest going without, but we consoled them with the assurance that they should have some when we reached the top or Emu Tank. We wanted to fill up our own water-bags, as our supply was exhausted. On reaching it, however, to our disgust we found it perfectly dry, and as we couldn't get any water, the only thing to do was to keep pushing on, as far and as fast as we could, towards the Alice Falls. We got some water by digging in a small Grevillea (beef-wood-tree), water-channel, about three miles this side of it. The horses were exceedingly thirsty, and some of them when they got water were afflicted with staggers. The grass was beautifully green. The last few days have been comparatively cool. As the horses had two heavy days' stages, I did not move the camp, but Mr. Tietkens and I rode off to the main range to explore the gorges we had formerly seen to the east. The country at the foot of the range was very stony, rough, and scrubby. We reached the mouth of the most easterly gorge, tied up our horses, and walked up. We very soon came upon a fine deep long rock-reservoir with water running into and out of it. I could not touch the bottom with over twenty feet of string. The rocky sides of this gorge rose almost perpendicularly above us, and the farther we went up, the more water we saw, until our passage was completely stopped by the abruptness of the walls and the depth of the water at their feet; I called this Glen Cumming*. The particular part or hill of the range on which this reservoir exists I named Mount Russell*; this was the most eastern mount of the range. We then turned westerly towards the Alice Falls, and in a mile and a half we came to another gorge, where there was a cascade falling into a very clear round basin over twenty feet deep, washed out of solid white stone. There were numerous other basins, above and below the large one. I called this place Glen Gerald. Proceeding on our way, we came to another cascade and basin; the fall of water was from a lesser height. I called this Glen Fielder. From here we went to the Alice Falls, rested the horses, and had a swim and delicious shower bath. A warm wind from the south-east prevailed all day.

I wished to find a road through or over this range, but will evidently have to go farther to the west, where at seven or eight miles there are apparently two separate hummocks. We returned to camp quite charmed with our day's ramble, although the country was very rough and stony. The vegetation about here is in no way different from any which exists between this range and Mount Olga. Making a move now in the direction of the two apparently separated hills, we passed through some scrub of course, and then came to grassy gum-tree or eucalyptus flats, with water-channels. At twelve miles we came fairly on to the banks of a splendid-looking creek, with several sheets of water; its bed was broad, with many channels, the intermediate spaces being thickly set with long coarse green rushes. The flow of the water was to the north, and the creek evidently went through a glen or pass; the timber grew thick and vigorous; the water had a slightly brackish taste. All through the pass we saw several small sheets of water. One fine hole had great quantities of ducks on it, but Gibson, who started to shoot some of them, couldn't get his gun to go off, but the ducks' firearms acted much better, for they went off extremely well.

We encamped at a place near a recent native camp, where the grass was very good. This was evidently a permanently watered pass, with some excellent country round it to the south.

The range appeared to continue to the west, and this seemed the only pass through it. I called this the Pass of the Abencerrages — that is to say, the Children of the Saddle. The creek and its waters I named Sladen Water, after the late Sir Charles Sladen*. This evening, having had a comfortable bath, I was getting my blankets ready for bed when Jimmy Andrews came rushing over to me. I immediately grabbed a rifle, as I thought it was an attack by the natives. He merely begged to know what day of the month it was, and requested me to mention the fact, with day and date in my journal, that — yes, Gibson was actually seen in the act of bathing. I thought Jimmy was joking, as this I could not believe without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes, but there was the naked form, the splashing water, and the swimming dog. It was a circumstance well worth recording, for I am sure it is the first full bodied ablution he has indulged in since leaving Mount Olga, eighteen weeks to a day, and I am not at all sure that he bathed there. It was therefore with great pleasure that I recorded the unusual circumstance. When Jimmy left me grinning, and I had time to get over my surprise, and give mature consideration to this unusual matter, it did seem to me better, having the welfare of the whole of the members of my expedition at heart — I say, it did appear better, on the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, that Gibson should endure the agony of an all-over wash, than that we should be attacked and perhaps killed by the natives.

The flies on this range are evidently very numerous, for their attention to our eyes is not only persistent but very annoying.

This morning I made the latitude of this pass to be 24° 58´, and longitude 127° 55´. We followed this creek; travelling along its banks, we found native huts very numerous, and for a few miles some sheets of water were seen; the bed then became too sandy; its course was about north-west. In eight or nine miles we found that sandhill and casuarina country existed, and swallowed up the unfortunate creek. The main line of ranges continued westerly, and, together with another range in front of us to the north, formed a kind of crescent. No pass appeared to exist between them. I now went to the eastern end of a range that lay to the north of us, and passing over a low ridge had a good view of the surrounding country. Ranges appeared in almost all directions; the principal ones lay to the west and north-west. One conspicuous abrupt-faced mount bore north 17° east; this I named Mount Barlee. There were others to the east-north-east, and the long sweep of the range from which we had come to the south. One hill near us looked inviting, and we found a deep rocky gorge with water in its neighbourhood. In fact there were several fine rocky basins ten and twelve feet deep, though they were very rough places to get horses to. I called the high hill Mount Buttfield. It appeared as if no rain had fallen here lately; the water in all these holes was greenish and stagnant, or stagning as Gibson and Jimmy called it. The grass, such as there was, was old, white, and dry. The country down below, north-wards, consisted of open, sandy, level, triodia ground, dotted with a few clumps of the desert oak, giving a most pleasing appearance to the eye, but its reality is startlingly different, keeping, as it were, the word of promise to the eye, but breaking it to the hope. While the horses were being collected this morning I ascended Mount Buttfield, and found that ranges continued to the west for a considerable distance. I now decided to make for a notch or fall in the main range we had left, which now bore nearly west, as there appeared to be a creek issuing from the hills there. Travelling over casuarina sandhills and some level triodia ground, we found there was a creek with eucalypts on it, but it was quite evident that none of the late showers had fallen there. Hardly any grass was to be found, the ground being open and stony, with thorny vegetation.

In the main channel we could only find deep, rocky, dry basins, but up a small branch gorge I found three small basins with a very limited supply of water, not sufficient for my horses both now and in the morning, so we thought it better that they should do without it to-night. Above the camp there was a kind of pound, so we put all the horses up there, as it was useless to let them ramble all over the country in the night. The ants were excessively troublesome here. I could not find sufficient shade for the thermometer to-day, but kept it as cool as I could for fear of its bursting.

This glen, or rather the vegetation which had existed in it, had been recently burned by the natives, and it had in consequence a still more gloomy and dreary appearance. I called it by its proper name, that is to say, Desolation Glen.

I could get no rest last night on account of the ants, the wretches almost ate me alive, and the horses tried so often to pass by the camp that I was delighted at the reappearance of the morn. Mr. Tietkens also had to shift his camp, and drove the horses back, but ants as big as elephants, or an earthquake that would destroy the world, would never wake Gibson and Jimmy. It was difficult to get the horses to the place where the water was, and we could only manage three at a time. There was fortunately just enough water, though none to spare. One old fool of a horse must needs jump into an empty rock basin; it was deep and funnel shaped, so that he could not stand when he got there, so he fell, and had knocked himself about terribly before we could get him out. Indeed, I never thought he could come out whole, and I was preparing to get him out in pieces when he made one last super-equine exertion, and fell up and out at the same time.

The delay in watering the horses, and extracting Terrible Billy from the basin, made it twelve o'clock before we could turn our backs upon this hideous place, hoping to find no more like it. We travelled along the stony slope of the range nearly west, and in less than two miles we crossed a small creek-channel with a thick clump of gum-trees right under the range. The tops of a second clump were also visible about half a mile off. Mr. Tietkens went to search down Desolation Creek. I directed Gibson to go on with the horses to the foot of a hill which I pointed out to him, and to remain there until I overtook him. Up the creek close to the clump of timber the whole glen was choked with a rank vegetation, beneath which the water ran in a strong and rapid stream that issued to the upper air from the bottom of the range. In trying to cross this channel, my horse became entangled in the dense vegetation, whose roots, planted in rich and oozy soil, induced the tops of this remarkable plant to grow ten, twelve, and fifteen feet high. It had a nasty gummy, sticky feel when touched, and emitted a strong, coarse odour of peppermint. The botanical name of this plant is Stemodia viscosa. This vegetation was not substantial enough to sustain my horse, and he plunged so violently that he precipitated me head-first into the oozy, black, boggy mass, and it appeared as though he must be swallowed up alive. I had in such a place great difficulty in getting my saddle, rifle, revolver, and other gear off the animal's back. I gave up all hopes of recovering the horse, for he had ceased struggling, and was settling down bodily in the morass.

I left him and ran shouting after Gibson and Jimmy, but they were too far away; Mr. Tietkens, however, on his way after them, heard me and rode up. His astonishment was great indeed when I showed him the horse, now deeply imbedded in the bog. The vegetation could hold us up above the running stream, and at last, but how I never could make out, by dint of flogging, helping to lift, and yelling at him, the creature, when he found we were trying to help him, interested himself once more in the matter, and at length we got him out of this bottomless pit. He was white when he went in, but coal black when he came out. There were no rock-holes at the head of this spring; the water drains from underneath the mountains, and is permanent beyond a doubt. I called this Luehman's Springs. The water appears on the surface for a little over a mile. Having re-saddled my dirty black beast, we went to the next gorge, where the clump of eucalyptus was very thick and fine-looking; the water here springing from the hills as at the last, we were mighty skeery how we approached this. A fine stream of water ran here.

After this we found five other glens with running springs, in about as many miles; they were named respectively, but afterwards, Groener's and Tyndall's Springs, the Great Gorge, Fort McKellar*, where I subsequently had a depot, and the Gorge of Tarns. Fort McKellar is the most western water suitable for a depot, and is the most agreeable encampment. Many of these glens had fine rock-holes as well as running springs; most of the channels were full of bulrushes and the peculiar Stemodia. This plant is of a dark-green colour, of a pulpy nature, with a thick leaf, and bears a minute violet-coloured flower. It seemed very singular that all these waters should exist close to the place I called Desolation Glen; it appeared as if it must be the only spot on the range that was destitute of water. After some time spent in exploring these charming places, it was time to look about for the horses, and though Gibson had crossed all these channels within sight of their waters, he never stopped for a moment to see if the horses would drink. We expected to overtake him in a mile or two, as the hill pointed out to him was now close at hand. The country was so solid and stony that we could not follow the tracks of the horses for any distance, they could only be picked up here and there, but the country being open, though rising and falling into gullies and ridges, we thought to see them at any moment, so that, as we had found so many waters and the day was Sunday, I wanted to camp early and rest. Gibson, however, kept driving on, driving on, going in no particular direction — north, north-north-west, north-west, south-west, north again; and having got such a start of us, it was just night when we overtook him, still driving on up a dry creek, going due south, slap into the range amongst rocks and stones, etc. I was greatly annoyed, for, having found six splendid permanent waters, we had to camp without a drop of water either for ourselves or our horses, the animals being driven about the whole day when they might have had a fine day's rest, with green grass and splendid water. It is impossible to drill sense into some people's heads; but there — perhaps I had no sense in coming into such a region myself.

A fierce, warm south wind blew all night; the ants were dreadful, and would not allow me to sleep for a minute, though the others did not seem to feel them. The range still continued to the west, and other creeks were visible in that direction, but I decided to return to the last water I had seen — that is to say, at the Gorge of Tarns. Not being able to sleep, I went after the horses long before daylight, and found they had wandered a terrible distance, although short-hobbled. I soon found out the cause, for one horse had been loose all night with his pack on, and had consequently led the others a fine jaunt. When all were found and packed, we returned to the gorge which, in consequence of its having so many splendid basins of deep water, I named as before said. On arriving, we fixed our camp close up to the large basins, but the horses could water a mile below, where some tea-tree grew, and where the water reappeared upon the surface after sinking beneath it. There was some good feed here for the horses, but it was over a very limited area.

We had a swim in the fine rocky tarn, and we were delighted to be joined by Gibson in our ablutions. Could the bottom of this pool be cleared of the loose blocks of stone, gravel, and sand, it would doubtless be found of very great depth; but the rains and floods of ages have nearly filled it with stones, loosened from the upper rocks, and it is only in the crevices between the rocks at the bottom that one can discover the depth to be greater than seven feet. Shade here is very scarce when the sun is overhead, except up around the large basin, where there are caves and overhanging rocky ledges, under which we sit, and over which the splashing waters from their sources above fall into the tarn below.

The view from the top of the range was very similar to that from Mount Buttfield, only that now to the south we could see an horizon of scrub. To the north, the natives were burning the spinifex, and this produced such a haze that no definite view could be obtained. Other portions of the range quite prevented a western view. The altitude of this summit was a little over 3000 feet above sea level.

Not being able to glean any farther information about the surrounding country, we (con)descended to work in the shady caves, swimming and working alternately during the day, for we had plenty of the ever-recurring tasks to do, namely, the repairing of pack-bags and clothes, and the unravelling of canvas for twine.

The first night we passed here was close and hot. We had so much of sewing to do that we set to work with a will; our clothes also require as much attention as the pack-bags and pack-saddles. No one could conceive the amount of tearing and patching that is for ever going on; could either a friend or stranger see us in our present garb, our appearance would scarcely be thought even picturesque; for a more patched and ragged set of tatterdemalions it would be difficult to find upon the face of the earth. We are not, indeed, actually destitute of clothes, but, saving our best for future emergencies, we keep continually patching our worst garments, hence our peculiar appearance, as our hats, shirts, and trousers, are here and there, so quilted with bits of old cloth, canvas, calico, basil, greenhide, and old blanket, that the original garment is scarcely anywhere visible. In the matter of boots the traveller must be able to shoe himself as well as his horses in these wild regions of the west. The explorer indeed should be possessed of a good few accomplishments — amongst these I may enumerate that he should be able to make a pie, shoe himself or his horse, jerk a doggerel verse or two, not for himself, but simply for the benefit or annoyance of others, and not necessarily for publication, nor as a guarantee of good faith; he must be able to take, and make, an observation now and again, mend a watch, kill or cure a horse as the times may require, make a pack-saddle, and understand something of astronomy, surveying, geography, geology, and mineralogy, et hoc, simile huic.

With regard to shoeing oneself, I will give my reader some idea of what strength is required for boots in this country. I repaired mine at Fort Mueller with a double sole of thick leather, with sixty horseshoe nails to each boot, all beautifully clenched within, giving them a soft and Turkish carpet-like feeling to the feet inside; then, with an elegant corona of nail-heads round the heel and plates at the toes, they are perfect dreadnoughts, and with such understandings I can tread upon a mountain with something like firmness, but they were nearly the death of me afterwards for all that.

In the shade of our caves here the thermometer does not rise very high, but in the external glen, where we sleep in the open air, it is no cooler.

On the 29th we left this cool and shady spot — cool and shady, however, only amongst the caves — and continued our march still westward, along the slopes of the range.

In eight miles we crossed ten creeks issuing from glens or gorges in the range; all that I inspected had rocky basins, with more or less water in them. Other creeks were seen ahead, but no view could be got of any horizon to the west; only the northern and eastern ones being open to our view. The country surrounding the range to the north appeared to consist of open red sandhills, with casuarina in the hollows between. At sixteen miles I found a large rocky tarn in a creek-gorge; but little or no grass for the horses — indeed, the whole country at the foot of this range is very bare of that commodity, except at Sladen Water, where it is excellent.

Since we left Sladen Water the horses have not done well, and the slopes of this range being so rough and stony, many of them display signs of sorefootedness. I cannot expect the range to continue farther than another day's stage; and though I cannot see its end, yet I feel 'tis near.

Many delays by visiting places caused it to be very late when we sat down amongst stones and triodia to devour our frugal supper. A solitary eagle was the monarch of this scene; it was perched upon the highest peak of a bare ridge, and formed a feathery sky-line when looking up the gorge — always there sat the solemn, solitary, and silent bird, like the Lorelei on her rock — above — beautifully, there, as though he had a mission to watch the course of passing events, and to record them in the books of time and fate. There was a larger and semicircular basin still farther up the gorge; this I called the Circus, but this creek and our rock-hole ever after went by the name of the Circus. In a few miles the next day I could see the termination of the range. In nine miles we crossed three creeks, then ascended a hill north of us, and obtained at last a western view. It consisted entirely of high, red sandhills with casuarinas and low mallee, which formed the horizon at about ten miles. The long range that had brought us so far to the west was at an end; it had fallen off slightly in altitude towards its western extremity, and a deep bed of rolling sandhill country, covered with desert vegetation, surrounded it on all sides. Nearer to us, north-westerly, and stretching nearly to west, lay the dry, irregular, and broken expanse of an ancient lake bed. On riding over to it we found it very undefined, as patches of sandhills occurred amongst low ridges of limestone, with bushes and a few low trees all over the expanse. There were patches of dry, soda-like particles, and the soil generally was a loose dust coloured earth. Samphire bushes also grew in patches upon it, and some patches of our arch-enemy, triodia. Great numbers of wallaby, a different kind from the rock, were seen amongst the limestone rises; they had completely honeycombed all we inspected. Water there was none, and if Noah's deluge visited this place it could be conveniently stowed away, and put out of sight in a quarter of an hour.

Returning to the horses, we turned southerly to the most westerly creek that issues from the range. I found some water up at the head of it in rock-holes; but it was so far up easterly, that we could not have been more than five or six miles across the hills from our last night's encampment at the Circus. There was only a poor supply of water in two small holes, which could not last longer than three days at the most. The thermometer ranged up to 104° to-day. Some of the horses are now terribly footsore. I would shoe them, only that we are likely to be in the sandhills again immediately. I did not exactly know which way to go. Mr. Tietkens and I ascended the highest hill in this part of the range. I had yesterday seen something like the top of a ridge south-westerly; I now found it was part of a low distant range, and not of a very promising nature. There was a conspicuous mountain, which now bore north-east about fifty miles away, and I fancied I saw the refracted tops of other ranges floating in the mirage. I thought, from the mountain just mentioned, I might discover others, which might lead me away to the west. Up to the present time we had always called this, in consequence of its bearing when first seen, the North-west Mountain. I thought a change of country might be met with sooner in a north or north-westerly direction than in a west or south-westerly one, as the sources of the Murchison River must be met somewhere in the former direction. I tried the boiling-point of water here, and found that the ebullition occurred at two degrees higher than at the Alice Falls, which indicated a fall of nearly 1000 feet, the western end of the range being much lower than the middle or eastern. We had still a couple of bottles of spirit left in the medical department, and as nobody seemed inclined to get ill, we opened one here. Jimmy Andrews having been a sailor boy, I am afraid had learnt bad habits, as he was very fond of grog. When we opened the last bottle at Christmas, and Jimmy had had a taste, he said, “What's the use of only a nobbler or two? I wouldn't give a d — ” dump, I suppose he meant, “for grog unless I could get drunk.” I said, “Well, now, my impression is that it would require very little grog to do that.” He said, “Why, I'd drink six bottles off and never know it.” I said, “Well, the next bottle we open you shall have as much out of it as you can take in one drink, even if you drink the whole bottle.” He replied, “Oh, all right, I'll leave a nobbler for you, you know, Mr. Giles; and I'd like to give Tietkens a taste; but that [adjective] Gibson, I'll swear he won't git none.” So we opened the bottle, and I said, “Now then, Jimmy, here's your grog, let's see how much you can drink.” “Oh!” said he, “I ain't going to drink it all at once.” “All right,” I said, “if you don't, we shall — so now is your chance.” Jimmy poured out a good stiff glass and persisted in swallowing it raw. In five minutes he was fast asleep, and that was all he got out of the bottle; he never woke till morning, and then — well, the bottle was empty then.

My readers will form a better idea of this peculiar and distant mountain range when I tell them that it is more than sixty miles long, averaging five or six miles through. It is of a bold and rounded form; there is nothing pointed or jagged in its appearance anywhere, except where the eagle sat upon the rock at the Circus; its formation is mostly a white conglomerate, something between granite, marble, and quartz, though some portions are red. It is surrounded, except to the east, by deserts, and may be called the monarch of those regions where the unvisited mountains stand. It possesses countless rocky glens and gorges, creeks and valleys, nearly all containing reservoirs of the purest water. When the Australian summer sunset smooths the roughness of the corrugated range, like a vast and crumpled garment, spread by the great Creator's hand, east and west before me stretching, these eternal mountains stand. It is a singular feature in a strange land, and God knows by what beady drops of toilsome sweat Tietkens and I rescued it from its former and ancient oblivion. Its position in latitude is between the 24th and 25th parallels, and its longitude between 127° 30´ and 128° 30´. I named it the Rawlinson Range, after Sir Henry Rawlinson, President of the Royal Geographical Society of London. I found a singular moth- and fly-catching, plant in this range; it exudes a gummy substance, by which insects become attached to the leaves. The appearance of this range from a distance is white, flat, corrugated, rounded, and treeless. It rises between 1100 and 1200 feet in its highest portions, about the centre, in the neighbourhood of Fort McKellar, above the surrounding country, though its greatest elevation above the sea is over 3000 feet.

On the 1st of February, after a very hot night, we made a late start for the North-west Mountain, which now bore nearly north-east. It took some miles to get clear of the stones of the range, the appearance of the new feature we were steering for being most inviting. Its corrugated front proclaimed the existence of ravines and gorges, while a more open valley ran between it and some lower hills immediately to the west of it.

The horses were so delighted to get off the stones, that they travelled uncommonly fast, and we got over twenty-eight miles by night, though the country was exceedingly heavy travelling, being all high, red sandhills, and until near the end of our day's stage we could scarcely ever see the mountain at all. We encamped without water, but I expected to get some early next day at the mountain. Two of the horses lay down at the camp all night, being thirsty, tired, and footsore; there was no grass for them. The thermometer to-day indicated 108° in the shade. A great number of the horses, from being footsore, were lying down this morning, and when mustered they all looked excessively hollow and thirsty. If no water be found at this mountain, how many of them will be alive in a couple of days? Yesterday we made twenty-eight, and to-day at twenty-three, miles we reached the foot of the mount. There was an inviting valley, up which we took the horses a mile. Then, leaving Gibson and Jimmy to await our return, Mr. Tietkens and I rode away in search of water. It was evident that only a trifling shower, if any, had visited this range, for not a drop of water could be found, nor any rock reservoirs where it might lodge. We parted company, and searched separately, but when we met again we could only report to each other our non-success. It was now past two o'clock, our horses had been ridden somewhat fast over the most horrible and desolate stony places, where no water is, and they were now in a very exhausted state, especially Mr. Tietkens's.

There were yet one or two ravines in the southern face of the range, and while I ascended the mountain, Mr. Tietkens and the others took the horses round that way and searched. From the summit of this sterile mount I had expected at least a favourable view, but to my intense disappointment nothing of the kind was to be seen. Two little hills only, bearing 20 and 14° west of north, were the sole objects higher than the general horizon; the latter was formed entirely of high, red sandhills, with casuarina between. To the east only was a peaked and jagged range, which I called Mount Robert, after my brother; all the rest was a bed of undulating red sand. What was to be hoped from a region such as this? Could water exist in it? It was scarcely possible. For an independent watercourse I could not hope, because in the many hundreds of miles westward from the telegraph line which we had travelled, no creek had been met, except in the immediate vicinity of ranges, and not a drop of water, so to speak, had I obtained away from these. I was upon the point of naming this Mount Disappointment, it looked so inviting from a distance, and yet I could find no water; and if none here, what possibility could there be of getting any in the midst of the dense bed of sandhills beyond? I did not test the boiling-point of water, for I had none to boil, but the elevation was about 1100 feet above the surrounding country. From a distance this mount has a very cheering and imposing appearance, and I would have gone to it from almost any distance, with a full belief in its having water about it. But if, indeed, the inland mountain has really voice and sound, what I could gather from the sighings of the light zephyrs that fanned my heated brow, as I stood gazing hopelessly from this summit, was anything but a friendly greeting, it was rather a warning that called me away; and I fancied I could hear a voice repeating, Let the rash wand'rer here beware; Heaven makes not travellers its peculiar care.

Descending now, I joined the others at the foot of the hill, when Mr. Tietkens and Gibson informed me they had searched everywhere, but in vain. The horses were huddled together in the shade of a thicket, three or four of them lying down with their packs on, and all looking the pictures of wretchedness and woe. It was now past four o'clock, and there was no alternative but to retreat.

The Gorge of Tarns, thirty miles away, about south-south-west, was the nearest water, but between us and it was another low range with a kind of saddle or break in the middle. I wished, if possible, to get over this before night, so we turned the horses' heads in that direction. One fine horse called Diamond seemed suffering more than the rest. Mr. Tietkens's riding-horse, a small blue roan, a very game little animal that had always carried him well, albeit not too well treated, was also very bad, and two others were very troublesome to drive along. The saddle in the low range was a most difficult and stony pass; so dreadfully rough and scrubby was it, I was afraid that night would descend upon us before we could reach the southern side. Mr. Tietkens's Bluey gave in here, and fell heavily down a stony slope into a dense thicket of scrub; we had the greatest difficulty in getting him out, and it was only by rolling him over the stones and down the remainder of the slope, for he could not stand, that we got him to the bottom. He was severely cut and bruised in the descent. We just managed to get clear of the stones by dark, and unpacked the exhausted animals, which had been travelling almost ever since daylight. We had no water except a mouthful for the little dog. The thermometer stood at 108°, ourselves and our horses were choking for water.

In the morning several of the horses were lying dying about the camp; Bluey, Diamond, a little cob — mate or brother of the one killed on Elder's Creek — and one or two more, while those that were able had wandered away. Though we were up and after them at three in the morning, it was ten before I could despatch Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy with the main mob. Poor little Bluey died soon after sunrise. Gibson was after the absent horses, which he brought at length, and we packed up and went after the others. Gibson's usual riding-horse, Trew, was very bad, and quite unable to carry him. Mr. Tietkens was now riding an old horse which I had purchased in Victoria, and had owned for some time; he was called Widge. I had him out on my former expedition. He was a cool, calculating villain, that no ordinary work could kill, and he was as lively as a cricket when Mr. Tietkens rode him away; he usually carried a pack. Jimmy carried the little dog Cocky, now nearly dead from thirst and heat, though we had given him the last drop of water we possessed. Dogs, birds, and large beasts in Australia often die of heat, within sight of water. Jimmy was mounted on a gray-hipped horse, which was also out on my former trip; he carried his rider well to the end. Gibson I had mounted on a young bay mare, a creature as good as they make them; she was as merry and gay, as it is possible for any of her sex, even of the human kind, to be. Her proper name was the Fair Maid of Perth; but somehow, from her lively, troublesome, and wanton vagaries, they called her the Sow-Cow. My own riding-horse, a small, sleek, cunning little bay, a fine hack with excellent paces, called W.A., I also had out previously. He would pull on his bridle all day long to eat, he would even pretend to eat spinifex; he was now very bad and footsore. Gibson and I overtook Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy, and we pushed on as fast as we could, the distance we had now to go, not being more than ten or eleven miles. The sandhills were exceedingly high and severe, but all the horses got over the last one.

We were now in full view of the range, with the Gorge of Tarns not more than five miles away. But here Diamond and another, Pratt, that I had out by myself at the stinking pit in November, fell, never to rise. We took off their packs and left them on the ground. The thermometer then stood at 106° in the shade. We pushed on, intending to return immediately with water to the relief of these unfortunates. The pack-horses now presented a demoralised and disorganised rout, travelling in a long single file, for it was quite impossible to keep the tail up with the leaders. I shall try to give my reader some slight idea of them, if description is sufficiently palpable to do so. The real leader was an old black mare, blear-eyed from fly-wounds, for ever dropping tears of salt rheum, fat, large, strong, having carried her 180 pounds at starting, and now desperately thirsty and determined, knowing to an inch where the water was; on she went, reaching the stony slopes about two miles from the water. Next came a rather herring-gutted, lanky bay horse, which having been bought at the Peake, I called Peveril; he was generally poor, but always able, if not willing, for his work. Then came a big bay cob, and an old flea-bitten gray called Buggs, that got bogged in the Stemodia viscosa Creek, and a nuggetty-black harness-horse called Darkie, always very fat. These last three carried 200 pounds each at starting. Then Banks, the best saddle-horse I have, and which I had worked too much in dry trips before reaching this range; he was very much out of sorts and footsore. Then an iron-grey colt, called Diaway, having been very poor and miserable when first purchased, but he was a splendid horse. Then came the sideways-going old crab, Terrible Billy. He was always getting into the most absurd predicaments — poor old creature; got down our throats at last! — falling into holes, and up and down slopes, going at them sideways, without the slightest confidence in himself, or apparent fear of consequences; but the old thing always did his work well enough. Blackie next, a handsome young colt with a white stripe down his face, and very fast; and Formby, a bay that had done excellent harness-work with Diamond on the road to the Peake; he was a great weight-carrier. The next was Hollow Back, who had once been a fine-paced and good jumping horse, but now only fit for packing; he was very well bred and very game. The next was Giant Despair, a perfect marvel. He was a chestnut, old, large-framed, gaunt, and bony, with screwed and lately staked feet. Life for him seemed but one unceasing round of toil, but he was made of iron; no distance and no weight was too much for him. He sauntered along after the leaders, looking not a whit the worse than when he left the last water, going neither faster nor slower than his wont. He was dreadfully destructive with his pack-bags, for he would never get out of the road for anything less than a gum-tree. Tommy and Badger, two of my former expedition horses; Tommy and Hippy I bought a second time from Carmichael, when coming up to the Peake. Tommy was poor, old, and footsore, the most wonderful horse for his size in harness I ever saw. Badger, his mate, was a big ambling cob, able to carry a ton, but the greatest slug of a horse, I ever came across; he seems absolutely to require flogging as a tonic; he must be flogged out of camp, and flogged into it again, mile after mile, day after day, from water and to it. He was now, as usual, at the tail of the straggling mob, except Gibson's former riding-horse called Trew. He was an excellent little horse, but now so terribly footsore he could scarcely drag himself along; he was one of six best of the lot. If I put them in their order I should say, Banks, the Fair Maid of Perth, Trew, Guts (W.A.), Diaway, Blackie and Darkie, Widge, the big cob Buggs — the flea-bitten grey — Bluey, Badger, who was a fine ambling saddle-horse, and Tommy; the rest might range anyhow. The last horse of all was the poor little shadow of a cob, the harness-mate of the one killed at Elder's Creek. On reaching the stones this poor little ghost fell, never again to rise. We could give him no relief, we had to push on. Guts gave in on the stones; I let him go and walked to the water. I need scarcely say how thirsty we all were. On reaching the water, and wasting no time, Mr. Tietkens and I returned to the three fallen horses, taking with us a supply of water, and using the Fair Maid, Widge, Formby, and Darkie; we went as fast as the horses could go. On reaching the little cob we found him stark and stiff, his hide all shrivelled and wrinkled, mouth wide open, and lips drawn back to an extraordinary extent. Pushing on we arrived where Diamond and Pratt had fallen. They also were quite dead, and must have died immediately after they fell; they presented the same appearance as the little cob. Thus my visit to the North-west Mountain had cost the lives of four horses, Bluey, Diamond, Pratt, and the cob. The distance they had to travel was not great — less than ninety miles — and they were only two nights without water; but the heat was intense, the country frightful, and to get over the distance as soon as possible, we may have travelled rather fast. The horses had not been well off for either grass or water at starting, and they were mostly footsore; but in the best of cases, and under the most favourable start from a water, the ephemeral thread of a horse's life may be snapped in a moment, in the height of an Australian summer, in such a region as this, where that detestable vegetation, the triodia, and high and rolling sandhills exist for such enormous distances. The very sight of the country, in all its hideous terrors clad, is sufficient to daunt a man and kill a horse. I called the vile mountain which had caused me this disaster, Mount Destruction, for a visit to it had destroyed alike my horses and my hopes. I named the range of which it is the highest point, Carnarvon Range.

We returned again to the Gorge of Tarns, as Mr. Tietkens very tritely remarked, sadder but wiser men. Our position here is by no means enviable, for although there is plenty of permanent water in this range, it appears to be surrounded by such extensive deserts that advance or retreat is equally difficult, as now I had no water in tanks or otherwise between this and Fort Mueller, and not a horse might ever reach that goal. I am again seated under the splashing fountain that falls from the rocks above, sheltered by the sunless caverns of this Gorge of Tarns, with a limpid liquid basin of the purest water at my feet, sheltered from the heated atmosphere which almost melts the rocks and sand of the country surrounding us — sitting as I may well declare in the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, but we cannot shut out from the mind the perils we have endured, the perils we may yet have to endure. For the present our wants and those of our gallant horses are supplied, but to the traveller in such a wilderness, when he once turns his back upon a water, the ever-recurring question presents itself, of when and where shall I obtain more? The explorer is necessarily insatiable for water; no quantity can satisfy him, for he requires it always and in every place. Life for water he will at any moment give, for water cannot be done without. Thermometer in outer shade 106°; in the caverns 98°.

We shall have to remain here for a few days. The bare rocks in this glen and the walls of stone that form it become so heated during the day that the nights passed in it are most oppressive. The rocks have not time to cool before the sun is upon them again, and at evening, when descending from the caves, we find the thermometer actually rises in the night air. In the caves during to-day it was 98°, and at eight o'clock at night outside it was 101°. We are pestered here terribly by flies, but not plagued by either ants or mosquitoes. This evening Gibson and Jimmy shot three wallabies. This range swarms also with pigeons in every gorge and glen, and they come in clouds at night and morning for water. Unfortunately nearly all our sporting ammunition is gone, though I have a good supply of defensive. To-day the thermometer in the caves was only 88° while in the outside shade 104°, the cause being hot winds from the south-east. While here we shod the most tender-footed of our horses. There was a good deal of thunder and lightning. The daytime in this gorge is less oppressive than the night. The sun does not appear over the eastern hills until nearly nine o'clock, and it passes behind the western ones at about 4.15 p.m. The horses cannot recover well here, the ground being too stony, and the grass and herbage too poor; therefore I shall retreat to the Pass of the Abencerrages and the pleasant encampment of Sladen Water. One horse, Tommy, was still very bad, and had to be left on the road, not from want of water, but old age and exhaustion. I sent for him the next day, and he rejoined the mob. We got back on the 12th of February; there was a fine lot of ducks when we arrived, but those sportsmen Gibson and Jimmy went blazing away as usual without getting one, wasting the powder and shot, which has now become such a scarcity, and losing and making the ducks wild into the bargain. The birds were so frightened that they split into several mobs, and only one mob of eight remained at the pass. I wanted to get these, and went to some trouble to do so. I first walked away and got a horse, and riding him bare-backed I drove the ducks quietly down to the camp water-hole, but the moment they arrived, I being behind with the horse, Gibson and Jimmy must needs go blazing away at them again, although they knew they could never hit any of them; and just as I arrived I heard the report and saw all the ducks come flying overhead up the pass. They went up therefore through the regions of the air singing sweetly as they went, but I did not sing so sweetly on the occasion. Then ensued quite a scientific little ornithological lecture on my part, referring mostly to the order of ducks, and the species known as wild ones more particularly, and I explained the subject to them in such a plain and forcible manner that both of them admitted they quite understood what I was talking about, which is a great matter for lecturers to consider, because if, after a forcible harangue, a speaker's audience is in any way mystified, or not in touch with him as to the meaning of his remarks, why, then, his time and labour are both lost; therefore I purposely refrained from any ambiguity, and delivered my figures of speech and rounded periods in words suitable for the most ordinary comprehension, and I really think it had a good effect on both of them. Of course I addressed them more in sorrow than in anger, although the loss of eight ducks was a frightfully heavy one to all of us; but I was partially consoled with the thought that they would have to bear their share of the loss. A few hours afterwards I went after the ducks again, and by good fortune bagged six in one shot; one got away in the bushes, and the other flew away; and he seemed to me to have a very crooked flew at that. These were the fattest birds I ever ate. We had a fine supper of ducks, their flavour being sup(p)er-excellent.

Dragged by Diaway.

Attack at Sladen Water.

The ants were terribly troublesome at this waterhole, although we slept on the damp sand; so we shifted the camp up to the sweet water-hole, and selected as open a piece of ground as possible, as I intended the camp to remain here for a week or two. More thunder and lightning, with great heat and a few drops of rain. Thermometer, 106°. There were countless numbers of the little cockatoo parrots here; they are very shy, and even when Gibson or Jimmy lets off a gun at them, a dozen or two are sure to fall; it takes some time, however, before another shot can be had at them. I fancy they are migrating. The pigeons swarm at night to water. I intend to visit the ridges which I mentioned as lying to the south-west, from the west end of this range. We shod the old black mare, Diaway, and old Buggs, to take with us. The 18th of February, 1874, was like to have proved a most eventful day in my life, for it was very nearly the termination of it. I was riding Diaway, the colt just shod; he is seldom ridden, though a very fine hack, as he is such a splendid weight-carrier as a packhorse; he is rather skittish, and if anything goes wrong with his pack, he'll put it right (on the ground) almost instantaneously. I was driving all the horses up to the camp, when one broke from the mob, and galloped across the creek. There was a bank of stones about three feet high, which was hidden by a growth of rushes; Diaway went bounding over the great bushes and inequalities of the channel, and reached the bank without seeing it, until too late, when he made a bound at, but fell on the top of, it, rolling over upon me at the same time. He scrambled up, but left me on the broad of my back. On my feet were those wonderful boots before described, with the sixty horseshoe nails in each, and it was no wonder that one of my feet got caught in the stirrup on the off side of the horse. It is one of the most horrible positions that the mind can well imagine, to contemplate being dragged by a horse. I have been dragged before now, and only escaped by miracles on each occasion. In this case, Diaway, finding me attached to him, commenced to lash out his newly shod heels at me, bounding away at the same time into a dense thicket of scrub close by. Mr. Tietkens and the others seeing the accident came running up behind, as Diaway and I were departing. Fortunately I was not dragged far, but was literally kicked free from and by, the frightened and uncontrolled animal. The continual kickings I received — some on my legs and body, but mostly upon that portion of the frame which it is considered equally indecorous to present either to a friend or an enemy — at length bent one or two of the nail-heads which held me, and, tearing the upper leather off my boot, which fortunately was old, ripped it off, leaving me at length free. As I lay on my excoriated back, I saw Diaway depart without me into the scrub, with feelings of the most profound delight, although my transports were considerably lessened by the agonising sensations I experienced. Mr. Tietkens helped me to hobble over to the camp in a most disorganised state, though thanking Providence for so fortunate an escape. Had Diaway but entered the scrub not two yards from where I was released, I could not have existed more than a minute. The following day Mr. Tietkens was getting everything ready to go with me to the south-west ridges, though I had great doubts of my ability to ride, when we became aware of the presence of a whole host of natives immediately below the camp. All the morning the little dog had been strangely perturbed, and we knew by the natives' fires that they were in our immediate neighbourhood. There was so much long grass and tall rushes in the creek bed, that they could approach very close before we could possibly see them. So soon as they found themselves detected, as usual they set up the most horrible yells, and, running up on the open ground, sent a flight of spears at us before a rifle or a gun could be seized, and we had to jump behind a large bush, that I left standing on purpose, to escape. Our stand of arms was there, and we immediately seized them, sending the bullets flying just above their heads and at their feet. The report of the weapons and the whirring sound of the swiftly passing shots made them pause, and they began an harangue, ordering us out of their territories, to the south. Seeing us, however, motionless and silent, their courage returned, and again they advanced, uttering their war cries with renewed energy. Again the spears would have been amongst us; but I, not relishing even the idea of barbed spears being stuck through my body, determined not to permit either my own or any of my party's lives to be lost for the sake of not discharging my firearms. Consequently we at length succeeded in causing a rout, and driving the enemy away. There were a great number of natives in the bushes, besides those who attacked us. There were not many oldish men among them, only one with grey hair. I am reminded here to mention that in none of my travels in these western wilds have I found any places of sepulture of any kind. The graves are not consumed by the continual fires that the natives keep up in their huntings, for that would likewise be the fate of their old and deserted gunyahs, which we meet with frequently, and which are neither all nor half destroyed. Even if the natives put no boughs or sticks upon their graves, we must see some mounds or signs of burial-places, if not of bones or skulls. My opinion is, that these people eat their aged ones, and most probably those who die from natural causes also.

It was a cool, breezy day, and, in consequence of the hostile action of the natives, I did not depart on the south-west excursion. I was not sorry to delay my departure, for I was in great pain all over. I now decided to leave Mr. Tietkens and take Jimmy with me. I cannot say I anticipate making any valuable discovery on this trip; for had there been ranges of any elevation to the westward, or beyond the ridges in question, I should in all probability have seen them from the end of this range, and should have visited them in preference to Mount Destruction. I felt it incumbent on me to visit them, however, as from them I might obtain a view of some encouraging features beyond.

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