The Rebecca. The Petermann range. Extraordinary place. The Docker. Livingstone's Pass. A park. Wall-like hills. The Ruined Rampart. Pink, green, and blue water. Park-like scenery. The Hull. A high cone. Sugar-loaf Peak. Pretty hills and grassy valleys. Name several features. A wild Parthenius. Surprise a tribe of natives. An attack. Mount Olga in view. Overtaken by the enemy. Appearance of Mount Olga. Breakfast interrupted. Escape by flight. The depot. Small circles of stone. Springs. Mark a tree. Slaughter Terrible Billy. A smoke signal. Trouble in collecting the horses. A friendly conference. Leave Sladen Water. Fort McKellar. Revisit the Circus. The west end of the range. Name two springs.
The country towards the other ranges eastwards appeared poor and scrubby. We went first to a hill a good deal south of east, and crossed the dry bed of a broad, sandy, and stony creek running north. I called it the Rebecca. From it we went to a low saddle between two hills, all the while having a continuous range to the north; this was the extension beyond the pinnacle of the wall-like crescent. A conspicuous mount in this northern line I called Mount Sargood*. From this saddle we saw a range of hills which ran up from the south-west, and, extending now eastwards, formed a valley nearly in front of us. I called this new feature the Petermann Range. In it, a peculiar notch existed, to which we went. This new range was exceedingly wall-like and very steep, having a serrated ridge all along; I found the notch to be only a rough gully, and not a pass. We continued along the range, and at four miles farther we came to a pass where two high hills stood apart, and allowed an extremely large creek — that is to say, an extremely wide one — whose trend was northerly, to come through. Climbing one of the hills, I saw that the creek came from the south-west, and was here joined by another from the south-east. There was an exceedingly fine and pretty piece of park-like scenery, enclosed almost entirely by hills, the Petermann Range forming a kind of huge outside wall, which enclosed a mass of lower hills to the south, from which these two creeks find their sources. This was a very extraordinary place; I searched in vain in the pass for water, and could not help wondering where such a watercourse could go to. The creek I called the Docker*. The pass and park just within it I called Livingstone Pass and Learmonth* Park. Just outside the pass, northerly, was a high hill I called Mount Skene*.
View on the Petermann Range.
Finding no water in the pass, we went to the more easterly of the two creeks; it was very small compared with the Docker. It was now dusk, and we had to camp without water. The day was hot. This range is most singular in construction; it rises on either side almost perpendicularly, and does not appear to have very much water about it; the hills indeed seem to be mere walls, like the photographs of some of the circular ranges of mountains in the moon. There was very fine grass, and our horses stayed well. We had thunder and lightning, and the air became a little cooled. The creek we were on appeared to rise in some low hills to the south; though it meandered about so much, it was only by travelling, we found that it came from a peculiar ridge, upon whose top was a fanciful-looking, broken wall or rampart, with a little pinnacle on one side. When nearly abreast, south, of this pinnacle, we found some water in the creek-bed, which was now very stony. The water was impregnated with ammonia from the excreta of emus, dogs, birds, beasts, and fishes, but the horses drank it with avidity. Above this we got some sweet water in rocks and sand. I called the queer-looking wall the Ruined Rampart. There was a quantity of different kinds of water, some tasting of ammonia, some saltish, and some putrid. A few ducks flew up from these strange ponds. There was an overhanging ledge and cave, which gave us a good shade while we remained here, the morning being very hot. I called these MacBain's* Springs.
Following the creek, we found in a few miles that it took its rise in a mass of broken table-lands to the south. We still had the high walls of the Petermann to the north, and very close to us. In five miles we left this water-shed, and descended the rough bed of another creek running eastwards; it also had some very queer water in it — there were pink, green, and blue holes. Ducks were also here; but as we had no gun, we could not get any. Some sweet water was procured by scratching in the sand. This creek traversed a fine piece of open grassy country — a very park-like piece of scenery; the creek joined another, which we reached in two or three miles. The new creek was of enormous width; it came from the low hills to the south and ran north, where the Petermann parted to admit of its passage. The natives were burning the country through the pass. Where on earth can it go? No doubt water exists in plenty at its head, and very likely where the natives are also; but there was none where we struck it. I called this the Hull*.
The main range now ran on in more disconnected portions than formerly; their general direction was 25° south of east. We still had a mass of low hills to the south. We continued to travel under the lea of the main walls, and had to encamp without water, having travelled twenty-five miles from the Ruined Rampart. A high cone in the range I called Mount Curdie*. The next morning I ascended the eastern end of Mount Curdie. A long way off, over the tops of other hills, I could see a peak bearing 27° south of east; this I supposed was, as it ought to be, the Sugar-loaf Hill, south westward from Mount Olga, and mentioned previously. To the north there was a long wall-like line stretching across the horizon, ending about north-east; this appeared to be a disconnected range, apparently of the same kind as this, and having gaps or passes to allow watercourses to run through; I called it Blood's Range. I could trace the Hull for many miles, winding away a trifle west of north. It is evident that there must exist some gigantic basin into which the Rebecca, the Docker, and the Hull, and very likely several more further east, must flow. I feel morally sure that the Lake Amadeus of my former journey must be the receptacle into which these creeks descend, and if there are creeks running into the lake from the south, may there not also be others running in, from the north and west? The line of the southern hills, connected with the Petermann wall, runs across the bearing of the Sugar-loaf, so that I shall have to pass over or through them to reach it. The outer walls still run on in disconnected groups, in nearly the same direction as the southern hills, forming a kind of back wall all the way.
Starting away from our dry encampment, in seven miles we came to where the first hills of the southern mass approached our line of march. They were mostly disconnected, having small grassy valleys lying between them, and they were festooned with cypress pines, and some pretty shrubs, presenting also many huge bare rocks, and being very similar country to that described at Ayers Range, through which I passed in August. Here, however, the rocks were not so rounded and did not present so great a resemblance to turtles. At two miles we reached a small creek with gum timber, and obtained water by digging. The fluid was rather brackish, but our horses were very glad of it, and we gave them a couple of hours' rest. I called this Louisa's Creek. A hill nearly east of Mount Curdie I called Mount Fagan; another still eastward of that I called Mount Miller. At five miles from Louisa's Creek we struck another and much larger one, running to the north; and upon our right hand, close to the spot at which we struck it, was a rocky gorge, through and over which the waters must tumble with a deafening roar in times of flood. Just now the water was not running, but a quantity was lodged among the sand under the huge boulders that fill up the channel. I called this the Chirnside*. A hill in the main range eastward of Mount Miller I called Mount Bowley. At ten miles from Louisa's Creek we camped at another and larger watercourse than the Chirnside, which I called the Shaw*. All these watercourses ran up north, the small joining the larger ones — some independently, but all going to the north. Crossing two more creeks, we were now in the midst of a broken, pine-clad, hilly country, very well grassed and very pretty; the hills just named were on the north, and low hills on the south. Ever since we entered the Livingstone Pass, we have traversed country which is remarkably free from the odious triodia. Travelling along in the cool of the next morning through this “wild Parthenius, tossing in waves of pine,” we came at six miles along our course towards the Sugar-loaf, to a place where we surprised some natives hunting. Their wonderfully acute perceptions of sight, sound, and scent almost instantly apprised them of our presence, and as is usual with these persons, the most frantic yells rent the air. Signal fires were immediately lighted in all directions, in order to collect the scattered tribe, and before we had gone a mile we were pursued by a multitude of howling demons. A great number came running after us, making the most unearthly noises, screeching, rattling their spears and other weapons, with the evident intention of not letting us depart out of their coasts. They drew around so closely and so thick, that they prevented our horses from going on, and we were compelled to get out our revolvers for immediate use; we had no rifles with us. A number from behind threw a lot of spears; we were obliged to let the pack-horse go — one spear struck him and made him rush and jump about. This drew their attention from us for a moment; then, just as another flight of spears was let fly at us, we plunged forward on our horses, and fired our revolvers. I was horrified to find that mine would not go off, something was wrong with the cartridges, and, though I snapped it four times, not a single discharge took place. Fortunately Mr. Tietkens's went off all right, and what with that, and the pack-horse rushing wildly about, trying to get up to us, we drove the wretches off, for a time at least. They seemed far more alarmed at the horses than at us, of whom they did not seem to have any fear whatever. We induced them to retire for a bit, and we went on, after catching the packhorse and breaking about forty of their spears. I believe a wild Australian native would almost as soon be killed as have his spears destroyed. The country was now much rougher, the little grassy valleys having ceased, and we had to take to the hills.
Attack at the Farthest East.
While travelling along here we saw, having previously heard its rustle, one of those very large iguanas which exist in this part of the country. We had heard tales of their size and ferocity from the natives near the Peake (Telegraph Station); I believe they call them Parenties. The specimen we saw to-day was nearly black, and from head to tail over five feet long. I should very much have liked to catch him; he would make two or three good meals for both of us. Occasionally we got a glimpse of the Sugar-loaf. At nine miles from where we had encountered the enemy, we came to a bold, bare, rounded hill, and on ascending it, we saw immediately below us, that this hilly country ceased immediately to the east, but that it ran on south-easterly. Two or three small creeks were visible below, then a thick scrubby region set in, bounded exactly to the east by Mount Olga itself, which was sixty miles away. There was a large area of bare rock all about this hill, and in a crevice we got a little water and turned our horses out. While we were eating our dinner, Mr. Tietkens gave the alarm that the enemy was upon us again, and instantly we heard their discordant cries. The horses began to gallop off in hobbles. These wretches now seemed determined to destroy us, for, having considerably augmented their numbers, they swarmed around us on all sides. Two of our new assailants were of commanding stature, each being nearly tall enough to make two of Tietkens if not of me. These giants were not, however, the most forward in the onslaught. The horses galloped off a good way, with Tietkens running after them: in some trepidation lest my revolver should again play me false, though of course I had cleaned and re-loaded it, I prepared to defend the camp. The assailants immediately swarmed round me, those behind running up, howling, until the whole body were within thirty yards of me; then they came on more slowly. I could now see that aggression on my part was the only thing for it; I must try to carry the situation with a coup. I walked up to them very fast and pointed my revolver at them. Some, thinking I was only pointing my finger, pointed their fingers at me. They all had their spears ready and quivering in their wommerahs, and I am sure I should in another instant have been transfixed with a score or two of spears, had not Mr. Tietkens, having tied up the horses, come running up, which caused a moment's diversion, and both our revolvers going off properly this time, we made our foes retreat at a better pace than they had advanced. Some of their spears were smashed in their hands; most of them dropped everything they carried, and went scudding away over the rocks as fast as fear and astonishment would permit. We broke all the spears we could lay our hands on, nearly a hundred, and then finished our dinner.
I would here remark that the natives of Australia have two kinds of spears — namely, the game- and the war-spear. The game-spear is a thick, heavy implement, barbed with two or three teeth, entirely made of wood, and thrown by the hand. These are used in stalking large game, such as emus, kangaroos, etc., when the hunter sneaks on the quarry, and, at a distance of forty to fifty yards, transfixes it, though he may not just at the moment kill the animal, it completely retards its progress, and the hunter can then run it to earth. The war-spears are different and lighter, the hinder third of them being reed, the other two-thirds mulga wood; they are barbed, and thrown with a wommerah, to a distance up to 150 yards, and are sometimes ten feet long.
After our meal we found a better supply of water in a creek about two miles southward, where there was both a rock reservoir and sand water. We had now come about 130 miles from Sladen Water, and had found waters all the way; Mount Olga was again in sight. The question was, is the water there permanent? Digging would be of no avail there, it is all solid rock; either the water is procured on the surface or there is none. I made this trip to the east, not with any present intention of retreat, but to discover whether there was a line of waters to retreat upon, and to become acquainted with as much country as possible.
Mount Olga, from Sixty Miles to the West.
The sight of Mount Olga, and the thoughts of retreating to the east, acted like a spur to drive me farther to the west; we therefore turned our backs upon Mount Olga and the distant east. I named this gorge, where we found a good supply of water, Glen Robertson*, and the creek that comes from it, Casterton Creek. Mount Olga, as I said, bore nearly due east; its appearance from here, which we always called the farthest east, was most wonderful and grotesque. It seemed like five or six enormous pink hay-stacks, leaning for support against one another, with open cracks or fissures between, which came only about half-way down its face. I am sure this is one of the most extraordinary geographical features on the face of the earth, for, as I have said, it is composed of several enormous rounded stone shapes, like the backs of several monstrous kneeling pink elephants. At sixty miles to the west its outline is astonishing. The highest point of all, which is 1500 feet above the surrounding country, looked at from here, presents the appearance of a gigantic pink damper, or Chinese gong viewed edgeways, and slightly out of the perpendicular. We did not return to the scene of our fight and our dinner, but went about two miles northerly beyond it, when we had to take to the rough hills again; we had to wind in and out amongst these, and in four miles struck our outgoing tracks. We found the natives had followed us up step by step, and had tried to stamp the marks of the horses' hoofs out of the ground with their own. They had walked four or five abreast, and consequently made a path more easy for us to remark. We saw them raising puffs of smoke behind us, but did not anticipate any more annoyance from them. We pushed on till dark, to the spot where we had met them in the morning; here we encamped without water.
Before daylight I went for the horses, while Mr. Tietkens got the swag and things ready to start away. I returned, tied up the horses, and we had just begun to eat the little bit of damper we had for breakfast, when Mr. Tietkens, whose nervous system seems particularly alive to any native approach, gave the alarm, that our pursuers were again upon us, and we were again saluted with their hideous outcries. Breakfast was now a matter of minor import; instantly we slung everything on to the horses, and by the time that was done we were again surrounded. I almost wished we had only one of our rifles which we had left at home. We could do nothing with such an insensate, insatiable mob of wretches as these; as a novelist would say, we flung ourselves into our saddles as fast as we could, and fairly gave our enemies the slip, through the speed of our horses, they running after us like a pack of yelping curs, in maddening bray. The natives ran well for a long distance, nearly three miles, but the pace told on them at last and we completely distanced them. Had we been unsuccessful in finding water in this region and then met these demons, it is more than probable we should never have escaped. I don't sigh to meet them again; the great wonder was that they did not sneak upon and spear us in the night, but the fact of our having a waterless encampment probably deterred them. We kept at a good pace till we reached the Chirnside, and gave our horses a drink, but went on twenty miles to Louisa's Creek before we rested. We only remained here an hour. We saw no more of our enemies, but pushed on another twenty-two miles, till we reached the Hull, where we could find no water.
On the subject of the natives, I may inform my reader that we often see places at native camps where the ground has been raised for many yards, like a series of babies' graves; these are the sleeping-places of the young and unmarried men, they scoop the soil out of a place and raise it up on each side: these are the bachelors' beds — twenty, thirty, and forty are sometimes seen in a row; on top of each raised portion of soil two small fires are kept burning in lieu of blankets. Some tribes have their noses pierced, others not. Some have front teeth knocked out, and others not. In some tribes only women have teeth knocked out.
Our supply of food now consisted of just sufficient flour to make two small Johnny-cakes, and as we still had over eighty miles to go, we simply had to do without any food all day, and shall have precisely the same quantity to-morrow — that is to say, none. In eleven or twelve miles next morning we reached the caves near the Ruined Rampart, where we rested and allowed the horses to feed. At night we camped again without food or water. The morning after, we reached Gill's Pinnacle early, and famished enough to eat each other. We mixed up, cooked, and ate our small remnant of flour. The last two days have been reasonably cool; anything under 100° is cool in this region. We found that during our absence the natives had placed a quantity of gum-leaves and small boughs into the interstices of the small mounds of stone, or as I call them, teocallis, which I mentioned previously; this had evidently been done so soon as we departed, for they were now dead and dry. After bathing, remounting, we made good another twenty miles, and camped in triodia and casuarina sandhills. We reached the camp at the pass by nine a.m. on the 19th, having been absent ten days. Gibson and Jimmy were there certainly, and nothing had gone wrong, but these two poor fellows looked as pale as ghosts. Gibson imagined we had gone to the west, and was much perturbed by our protracted absence.
The water in the open holes did not agree with either Gibson or Jimmy, and, when starting, I had shown them where to dig for a spring of fresh water, and where I had nearly got a horse bogged one day when I rode there, to see what it was like. They had not, however, made the slightest effort to look for or dig it out. I gave them the last of our medical spirits, only half a bottle of rum, at starting. They had shot plenty of parrots and pigeons, and one or two ducks; but, now that the ammunition is all but gone, a single shot is of the greatest consideration. We have only a few pounds of flour, and a horse we must kill, in order to live ourselves. A few finishing touches to the smoke-house required doing; this Mr. Tietkens and Jimmy went to do, while Gibson and I cut up a tarpaulin to make large water-bags, and with a small lot of new canvas made four pairs of water-bags that would hold seven to eight gallons each. These, when greased with horse fat or oil, ought to enable me to get out some distance from the western extremity of this range. Poor old Terrible Billy came to water early, and I was much pleased with his appearance, but his little house not being quite ready and the bags not completed, he has a day or so longer of grace. I had looked forward eagerly to the time of the autumnal equinox, in hopes of rain. But all we got, however, was three dry thunderstorms and a few drops of rain, which fell upon us en route to some more favoured land. The next day being Sunday, we had a day of rest.
Near the place to which I had been dragged, there were several little heaps of stones, or rather, as a general rule, small circles of piled-up stones removed from where they had formerly lain, with the exception of a solitary one left in the centre. For what purpose the natives could have made or cleared these places I cannot tell; they were reserved for some ceremonies, no doubt, like those at Gill's Pinnacle. The last few days have been very cool, the thermometer indicating one day only 78° in the shade. On the 25th Gibson took the shovel to open out the springs formerly mentioned; they lie in the midst of several little clumps of young eucalyptus suckers, the ground all round being a morass, in which a man might almost sink, were it not for the thick growth of rushes. The water appears to flow over several acres of ground, appearing and disappearing in places. The moment a small space was cleared of the rushes, it became evident that the water was perpetually flowing, and we stood on rushes over our ankles in black soil. Gibson dug a small tank, and the water soon cleared for itself a beautiful little crystal basin of the purest liquid, much more delicious and wholesome than the half brackish water in the bed of the creek. These springs have their origin at the foot of the hill on the eastern side of this pass, and percolate into the creek-bed, where the water becomes impregnated with salt or soda. The water in the open holes in the creek-bed is always running; I thought the supply came from up the creek — now, however, I find it comes from these fresh-water springs. I branded a tree in this pass E. Giles with date.
On the 25th March the plump but old and doomed Terrible Billy confidingly came to water at eleven o'clock at night. He took his last drink, and was led a captive to the camp, where he was tied up all night. The old creature looked remarkably well, and when tied up close to the smoke-house — innocent, unsuspecting creature of what the craft and subtilty of the devil or man might work against him — he had begun to eat a bunch or two of grass, when a rifle bullet crashing through his forehead terminated his existence. There was some little fat about him; it took some time to cut up the meat into strips, which were hung on sticks and placed in tiers in the pyramidal smoke-house.
We had a fine supper of horse-steaks, which we relished amazingly. Terrible Billy tasted much better than the cob we had killed at Elder's Creek. What fat there was on the inside was very yellow, and so soft it would not harden at all. With a very fat horse a salvage of fat might be got on portions of the meat, but nearly every particle of the fat drips into oil. The smoke-house is now the object of our solicitude; a column of smoke ascends from the immolated Billy night and day. Our continual smoke induced some natives to make their appearance, but they kept at a very respectful distance, coming no nearer than the summit of the hills, on either side of the pass, from whence they had a good bird's-eye view of our proceedings. They saluted us with a few cheers, i.e. groans, as they watched us from their observatory.
The weather is now beautifully cool, fine, and clear. We had now finished smoking Terrible Billy who still maintained his name, for he was terribly tough. I intended to make an attempt to push westward from the end of this range, and all we required was the horses to carry us away; but getting them was not the easiest thing in the world, for they were all running loose. Although they have to come to the pass to get water, there is water for more than a mile, and some come sneaking quietly down without making the slightest noise, get a drink, and then, giving a snort of derision to let us know, off they go at a gallop. They run in mobs of twos and threes; so now we have systematically to watch for, catch, and hobble them. I set a watch during the night, and as they came, they were hobbled and put down through the north side of the pass. They could not get back past the camp without the watchman both hearing and seeing them; for it was now fine moonlight the greater part of the night. We had ten or twelve horses, but only two came to-night for water, and these got away before we could catch them, as two of the party let them drink before catching them. None came in the day, and only two the next night; these we caught, hobbled, and put with the others, which were always trying to get back past the camp, so to-night I had a horse saddled to be sure of catching any that came, and keeping those we had. During my watch, the second, several horses tried to pass the camp. I drove them back twice, and had no more trouble with them; but in the morning, when we came to muster them, every hoof was gone. Of course nobody had let them go! Every other member of the party informed me that they were ready to take their dying oaths that the horses never got away in their watches, and that neither of them had any trouble whatever in driving them back, etc.; so I could only conclude that I must have let them all go myself, because, as they were gone, and nobody else let them go, why, of course, I suppose I must. After breakfast Mr. Tietkens went to try to recover them, but soon returned, informing me he had met a number of natives at the smoke-house, who appeared very peaceably inclined, and who were on their road down through the pass. This was rather unusual; previous to our conflict they had never come near us, and since that, they had mostly given us a wide berth, and seemed to prefer being out of the reach of our rifles than otherwise. They soon appeared, although they kept away on the east side of the creek. They then shouted, and when I cooeyed and beckoned them to approach, they sat down in a row. I may here remark that the word cooey, as representing the cry of all Australian aborigines, belonged originally to only one tribe or region, but it has been carried about by whites from tribe to tribe, and is used by the civilised and semi-civilised races; but wild natives who have never seen whites use no such cry. There were thirteen of these men. Mr. Tietkens and I went over to them, and we had quite a friendly conference. Their leader was an individual of a very uncertain age — he might have been forty, or he might have been eighty (in the shade). (This was written some time before the “Mikado” appeared. — E.G.) His head was nearly bald on the crown, but some long grizzly locks depended below the bald patch.
The others were generally much younger, but some of them, though not clean past their youth, yet had about them some smacks of the saltness of age. The old man was the most self-possessed; the others displayed a nervous tremor at our approach; those nearest us sidled closer to their more remote and, as they no doubt thought, fortunate fellows; they were all extremely ill-favoured in face, but their figures were not so outres, except that they appeared emaciated and starved, otherwise they would have been men of good bulk. Their legs were straight, and their height would average five feet nine inches, all being much taller than Mr. Tietkens or I. Two remained at a distance; these had a great charge to superintend, it being no less than that of the trained wild dogs belonging to the tribe. There were three large dogs, two of a light sandy, and one of a kind of German colley colour. These natives were armed with an enormous number of light barbed spears, each having about a dozen. They do not appear to use the boomerang very generally in this part of the continent, although we have occasionally picked up portions of old ones in our travels. Mr. Tietkens gave each of these natives a small piece of sugar, with which they seemed perfectly charmed, and in consequence patted the seat of their intellectual — that is to say, digestive — organs with great gusto, as the saccharine morsels liquefied in their mouths. They seemed highly pleased with the appearance and antics of my little dog, who both sat and stood up at command in the midst of them.
They kept their own dogs away, I presume, for fear we might want to seize them for food — wild dog standing in about the same relation to a wild Australian native, as a sheep would to a white man. They eat all the grown dogs they can catch, but keep a few pups to train for hunting, and wonderful hunting dogs they are. Hence their fear of our taking their pets. The old gentleman was much delighted with my watch. I then showed them some matches, and the instantaneous ignition of some grass in the midst of them was rather too startling a phenomenon for their weak minds; some of them rose to depart. The old man, however, reassured them. I presented him with several matches, and showed him how to use them; he was very much pleased, and having no pockets in his coat — for I might have previously remarked they were arrayed in Nature's simple garb — he stuck them in his hair. Mr. Tietkens, during this time, was smoking, and the sight of smoke issuing from his mouth seemed to disturb even the old man's assumed imperturbability, and he kept much closer to me in consequence. I next showed them a revolver, and tried to explain the manner of using it. Most of them repeated the word bang when I said it; but when I fired it off they were too agitated to take much notice of its effect on the bark of a tree, which might otherwise have served to point a moral or adorn a tale in the oral traditions of their race for ever. At the report of the revolver all rose and seemed in haste to go, but I would not allow my dear old friend to depart without a few last friendly expressions. One of these natives was pitted with small-pox. They seemed to wish to know where we were going, and when I pointed west, and by shaking my fingers intimated a long way, many of them pulled their beards and pointed to us, and the old man gave my beard a slight pull and pointed west; this I took to signify that they were aware that other white people like us lived in that direction. The conference ended, and they departed over the hills on the east side of the pass, but it was two hours before they disappeared.
All the horses which had escaped in hobbles the other night now came to water, and were put through the pass again. During the day we secured the remainder, and had them altogether at last. It was noon of the 7th April when we left this delectable pass, again en route for the west, hoping to see Sladen Water and the Pass of the Abencerrages no more. At fourteen miles we were delayed by Banks, carrying my boxes, as a strap broke, and he set to work to free himself of everything. Fortunately, one box with the instruments, quicksilver, etc., remained firm; everything got bucked and kicked out of the other; buckskin gloves, matches, mineral collection, rifle cartridges, bottles of medicine, eye-water, socks, specimens of plants, etc., all sent flying about in the thick triodia, for the brute went full gallop all round the mob of horses, trying to get rid of the other box and his saddle. In spite of all his efforts they remained, and it was wonderful how many things we recovered, though some were lost. By this time it was dusk, and the evening set in very cool. I now intended to encamp at the fine spring I named Fort McKellar, four miles east of the Gorge of Tarns. There was a fine and heavy clump of eucalyptus timber there, and a very convenient and open sheet of water for the use of the camp. I had always looked upon this as an excellent and desirable spot for an encampment, though we had never used it yet. The grass, however, is neither good nor abundant; the country around being stony and sterile, except down the immediate valley of the channel, which was not wide enough to graze a mob of horses for long. We reached it again on the 9th of April.
My reader will remember that in January I had found a creek with a large, rocky tarn of water, which I called the Circus; it was the last westerly water on the range, and I was anxious to know how it was holding out, as it must be our point of departure for any farther efforts to the west. It was twenty miles from here, and Gibson and I rode up the range to inspect it. On our road we revisited the Gorge of Tarns; the water there had shrunk very much. Here we had left some useless articles, such as three pack-saddle frames, a broken thermometer, and sundry old gear; all these things the natives had carried away. I had a good swim in the old tarn, and proceeded, reaching the Circus early in the afternoon. There was the solitary eagle still perched upon its rock. The water had become greatly reduced; ten weeks and two days had elapsed since I was here; and in another fortnight it would all be gone. If I intend doing anything towards the west it must be done at once or it will be too late. The day was warm — 102°. A large flock of galars, a slate-coloured kind of cockatoo, and a good talking bird, and hundreds of pigeons came to water at night; but having no ammunition, we did not bring a gun. The water was so low in the hole that the horses could not reach it, and had to be watered with a canvas bucket. I have said previously, that at the extremity of this range there lay an ancient lake bed, but I had only been a mile or two upon it. Further on there were indications of salt, and as we were quite out of that commodity, we rode over to try and procure some, but none existed, and we had to be satisfied with a quantity of samphire bushes and salt-bush leaves, which we took home with us, returning to Fort McKellar the following day. I called the salt feature Lake Christopher. We remained at the depot for a day or two, preparing for a start to the west, and cut rails, and fixed up some palisading for the fort. I delayed entering that evidently frightful bed of sand which lay to the west, in hopes of a change, for I must admit I dreaded to attempt the western country while the weather was still so hot and oppressive. Though the thermometer may not appear to rise extraordinarily high in this region, yet the weight and pressure of the atmosphere is sometimes almost overpowering. Existence here is in a permanent state of languor, and I am sure the others in the party feel it more than I do, being consumed with the fire or frenzy of renown for opening unknown lands, all others have to pale their ineffectual fires before it. No doubt, not being well fed is some cause for our feelings of lassitude. The horses are also affected with extreme languor, as well as the men. The thermometer to-day registered only 99°. The horses are always trying to roam away back to Sladen Water, and Mr. Tietkens and I had a walk of many miles after them to-day. I was getting really anxious about the water at the Circus. I scarcely dare to grapple with that western desert in such weather, yet, if I do not, I shall lose the Circus water.
Although we were near the change of the moon, I despaired of a change of weather. I did not ask for rain, for it would be useless on the desert sands; I only wanted the atmosphere to become a little less oppressive. I had not been round the extreme western end of the range, though we had been to it, and I thought perhaps some creek might be found to contain a good rock-hole, perhaps as far to the west, if not farther, than the Circus; on the opposite side of the range, Mr. Tietkens and Gibson, who volunteered, went to see what they could discover, also to visit the Circus so as to report upon it. Jimmy and I remained and erected some more woodwork — that is to say, rails and uprights — for the fort. We walked over to re-inspect — Jimmy had not seen them — two glens and springs lying within a couple of miles to the east of us, the first being about three-quarters of a mile off. I now named it Tyndall's Springs. Here a fine stream of running water descends much further down the channel than at any other spring in the range, though it spreads into no open sheets of water as at the depot; there was over a mile of running water. The channel is thickly set with fine tall bulrushes. There is a very fine shady clump of gum-trees here, close to the base of the range. The next spring, about a mile farther east, I called Groener's Springs; it had not such a strong flow of water, but the trees in the clump at the head of it were much larger and more numerous than at the last. Some of the trees, as was the case at Fort McKellar, were of very considerable size. Late at night Mr. Tietkens and Gibson returned, and reported that, although they had discovered a new rock-hole with seven or eight feet of water in it, it was utterly useless; for no horses could get within three-quarters of a mile of it, and they had been unable to water their horses, having had to do so at the Circus. They said the water there was holding out well; but Gibson said it had diminished a good deal since he and I were there a week ago. On the 19th April I told the party it was useless to delay longer, and that I had made up my mind to try what impression a hundred miles would make on the country to the west. I had waited and waited for a change, not to say rain, and it seemed as far off as though the month were November, instead of April. I might still keep on waiting, until every ounce of our now very limited supply of rations was gone. We were now, and had been since Billy was killed, living entirely on smoked horse; we only had a few pounds of flour left, which I kept in case of sickness; the sugar was gone; only a few sticks of tobacco for Mr. Tietkens and Gibson — Jimmy and I not smoking — remained. I had been disappointed at the Charlotte Waters at starting, by not being able to get my old horse, and had started from the Alberga, lacking him and the 200 pounds of flour he would have carried — a deficiency which considerably shortened my intended supply. A comparatively enormous quantity of flour had been lost by the continual rippings of bags in the scrubs farther south, and also a general loss in weight of nearly ten per cent., from continual handling of the bags, and evaporation. We had supplemented our supplies in a measure at Fort Mueller and the Pass, with pigeons and wallabies, as long as our ammunition lasted, and now it was done. When I made known my intention, Gibson immediately volunteered to accompany me, and complained of having previously been left so often and so long in the camp. I much preferred Mr. Tietkens, as I felt sure the task we were about to undertake was no ordinary one, and I knew Mr. Tietkens was to be depended upon to the last under any circumstances, but, to please Gibson, he waived his right, and, though I said nothing, I was not at all pleased.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50