Farther into the desert. Sandhills crowned with stones. Natives' smokes and footprints seen. Weakened camels. Native well. Ten days' waterless march. Buzoe's grave. A region of desolation. Eagles. Birds round the well. Natives hovering near. Their different smokes. Wallaby. Sad Solitude's triumphant reign. The Alfred and Marie range once more. The Rawlinson range and Mount Destruction. Australia twice traversed. Fort McKellar. Tyndall's Springs. A last search after Gibson. Tommy's Flat. The Circus. The Eagle. Return to Sladen Water. The Petermann tribes. Marvellous Mount Olga. Glen Watson. Natives of the Musgrave range. A robbery. Cattle camps. The missing link. South for the Everard range. Everard natives. Show us a watering-place. Alec and Tommy find water. More natives. Compelled to give up their plunder. Natives assist at dinner. Like banyan-trees. A bad camping-place. Natives accompany us. Find the native well. The Everard revisited. Gruel thick and slab. Well in the Ferdinand. Rock-hole water. Natives numerous and objectionable. Mischief brewing. A hunt for spears. Attack frustrated. Taking an observation. A midnight foe. The next morning. Funeral march. A new well. Change of country. Approaching the telegraph line. The Alberga. Decrepit native women. The Neales. Mount O'Halloran. The telegraph line. Dry state of the country. Hann's Creek. Arrival at the Peake.
On the 11th of June I was delighted to be able to be again upon the move, and leave this detestable poisonous place and our fifteen-foot shaft behind. Our only regret was that we had been compelled to remain so long. The camels had nearly all been poisoned, some very much worse than others; but all looked gaunt and hollow-eyed, and were exceedingly weak and wretched, one remarkable exception being noticed in Alec Ross's riding-cow, old Buzoe, who had either not eaten the poison plant, or had escaped untouched by it. Our course was now east by north, and as we got farther into the desert, I noticed that occasionally some of the undulations of sand were crowned with stones, wherever they came from. Where these stones crop up a growth of timber, generally mulga, occurs with them. It is sandstone that tips these rises. Some smokes of native fires were seen from our line of march, in northerly and southerly directions, and occasionally the footprints upon the sands, of some wandering child of the desert. These were the only indications we could discover of the existence of primordial man upon the scene. We passed a few grass-trees, which are usually called “black boys” in almost every part of the continent where they exist, and they seem to range over nearly the whole of Australia, from Sydney to Perth, south of the Tropic. The camels were so weak that to-day we could only accomplish about eighteen miles. At five miles, on the following morning, we passed a hollow with some mulga acacia in it. Near them Alec and I found a place where the number of deserted huts, or gunyahs of the natives induced us to look about for a well or some other kind of watering-place. An old well was soon found, which was very shallow; the water was slightly brackish and not more than three feet below the surface. How I wished I had known of its existence before, it being not twenty-five miles from our poison camp, and that some good acacia bushes grew here also; as it was, I made no use of it. The weather being cool, and the camels having filled themselves with water at the deep well, they would not drink. That afternoon we got into a hollow where there was a low ridge of flat-topped cliffs, and a good deal of mulga timber in it. Very likely in times of rain a flow of water might be found here, if there ever are times of rain in such a region. We just cleared the valley by night, having travelled nearly twenty miles. My latitude here was 23° 56´ 20´´ and not desiring to go any farther north, I inclined my course a little southerly — that is to say, in an east by south direction.
We had left the deep well on the 9th June, and not until ten days of continuous travelling had been accomplished — it being now the 18th — did we see any more water. That evening we reached a little trifling water-channel, with a few small scattered white gum-trees, coming from a low stony mulga-crowned ridge, and by digging in it we found a slight soakage of water. Here we dug a good-sized tank, which the water partly filled, and this enabled us to water all the camels. They had travelled 230 miles from our deep well. For the last two or three days poor old Buzoe, Alec Ross's riding cow, has been very ill, and almost unable to travel; she is old and worn out, poor old creature, having been one of Sir Thomas Elder's original importations from India. She had always been a quiet, easy-paced old pet, and I was very much grieved to see her ailing. I did not like to abandon her, and we had to drag her with a bull camel and beat her along, until she crossed this instalment of Gibson's Desert: but she never left this spot, which I have named Buzoe's Grave. I don't think this old cow had been poisoned — at least she never showed any signs of it; I believe it was sheer old age and decay that assailed her at last. The position of this welcome watered spot was in latitude 24° 33´, and longitude 123° 57´. It was by wondrous good fortune that we came upon it, and it was the merest chance that any water was there. In another day or two there would have been none; as it was, only a little rainwater, that had not quite ceased to drain down the half-stony, half-sandy bed of the little gully, was all we got. The weather had been very disagreeable for some days past, the thermometer in the early dawn generally indicating 18° while in the middle of the day the heat was oppressive.
The flies were still about us, in persecuting myriads. The nature of the country during this march was similar to that previously described, being quite open, it rolled along in ceaseless undulations of sand. The only vegetation besides the ever-abounding spinifex was a few blood-wood-trees on the tops of some of the red heaps of sand, with an occasional desert oak, an odd patch or clump of mallee-trees, standing desolately alone, and perhaps having a stunted specimen or two of the quandong or native peach-tree, and the dreaded Gyrostemon growing among them. The region is so desolate that it is horrifying even to describe. The eye of God looking down on the solitary caravan, as with its slow, and snake-like motion, it presents the only living object around, must have contemplated its appearance on such a scene with pitying admiration, as it forced its way continually on; onwards without pausing, over this vast sandy region, avoiding death only by motion and distance, until some oasis can be found. Slow as eternity it seems to move, but certain we trust as death; and truly the wanderer in its wilds may snatch a fearful joy at having once beheld the scenes, that human eyes ought never again to see. On the 15th of June we found a hollow in which were two or three small salt-lake beds, but these were perfectly dry; on the 16th also another solitary one was seen, and here a few low rises lay across a part of the eastern horizon. On the 17th a little water left in the bottom of a bucket overnight was frozen into a thick cake in the morning, the thermometer indicating 18°. The nights I pass in these fearful regions are more dreadful than the days, for “night is the time for care, brooding o'er days misspent, when the pale spectre of despair comes to our lonely tent;” and often when I lay me down I fall into a dim and death-like trance, wakeful, yet “dreaming dreams no mortals had ever dared to dream before.”
The few native inhabitants of these regions occasionally burn every portion of their territories, and on a favourably windy day a spinifex fire might run on for scores of miles. We occasionally cross such desolated spaces, where every species of vegetation has been by flames devoured. Devoured they are, but not demolished, as out of the roots and ashes of their former natures, phoenix-like, they rise again. A few Australian eagles are occasionally seen far up in the azure sky, hovering with astonished gaze, over the unwonted forms below; and as the leading camels of the caravan frighten some wretched little wallaby from its lair under a spinifex bunch, instantly the eagle swoops from its height, and before the astonished creature has had time to find another refuge he is caught in the talons of his foe. We also are on the watch, and during the momentary struggle, before the eagle can so quiet his victim as to be able to fly away with it, up gallops Reechy, Alec and Tommy, and very often we secure the prize. Round this spot at Buzoe's Grave, just while the water lasts I suppose, there were crows, small hawks, a few birds like cockatoos, and many bronze-winged pigeons. Some natives also were hovering near, attracted probably by the sight of strange smoke. The natives of these regions signal with different kinds of smoke by burning different woods or bark, and know a strange smoke in an instant. Some smokes which they make, go up like a thin white column, others are dark and tower-like, while others again are broad and scattered. These natives would not come to visit us. The small marsupial wallaby, which I mentioned just now, exists throughout the whole of these deserts; they live entirely without water, as do many small birds we occasionally see where there is a patch of timber. The wallabies hide during the day amongst the spinifex bushes, and feed, like other rodents, on their roots at night. Another way of getting some of these wallabies was by knocking them over, blackfellow fashion, with a short stick, when startled from their hiding-places. Tommy used to work very hard at this game, and we usually got one a day for food for our little dogs. They are exceedingly good eating, being very like rabbits in size and taste. We remained at this little oasis, I suppose I may call it — at least it was so to us, though I should not like to return to it with any expectation of getting water again, for when we left, the water had ceased to drain in, and there were only a few pints of thick muddy fluid left in the tank at the end of our three days' rest. The place might well be termed the centre of silence and solitude; despair and desolation are the only intruders here upon sad solitude's triumphant reign. Well may the traveller here desire for more inhabited lands; rather to contend with fierce and warlike men; to live amongst far noisier deaths, or die amid far louder dangers! I often declare that:—
“I'll to Afric lion haunted,
Baboons blood I'll daily quaff;
And I'll go a tiger-hunting
On a thorough-bred giraffe.”
Whenever we had east winds in this region, the weather was cool and agreeable; but when they blow from any other quarter, it becomes much hotter, and the flies return in myriads to annoy us. Where they get to when an east wind blows, the east wind only knows.
Leaving Buzoe's Grave, which had proved a godsend to us, with a swarm of eagles, crows, hawks, vultures, and at night wild dogs, eating up her carcase, in four days' farther travel we neared the spot from the west, where the Alfred and Marie Ranges lie. The first sight of these ranges from the east, had cost my former horse expedition into this region so dear. I could not help believing that the guiding hand of a gracious Providence had upon that occasion prevented me from obtaining my heart's desire to reach them; for had I then done so, I know now, having proved what kind of country lay beyond that, neither I nor any of my former party would ever have returned. Assuredly there is a Providence that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will. These hills were in reality much lower than they appeared to be, when looked at from the east; in fact, they were so low and uninteresting, that I did not investigate them otherwise than with field-glasses. We passed by the northern end, and though the southern end was a little higher, I could see that there were no watering-places possible other than chance rock receptacles, and of these there were no signs. At the northern end we came upon a small shallow kind of stony pan, where a little rain-water was yet lying, proving that the rains we had experienced in May, before leaving the western watershed, must have extended into the desert. We reached this drop of water on the 25th of June, and the camels drank it all up while we rested on the 26th. After five days' more travelling over the same kind of desert as formerly described, except that the sand-mounds rose higher yet in front of us, still progressing eastwards, the well-remembered features of the Rawlinson Range and the terrible Mount Destruction rose at last upon my view.
On reaching the range, I suppose I may say that the exploring part of my expedition was at an end, for I had twice traversed Australia; and although many hundreds of miles had yet to be travelled before we should reach the abodes of civilisation, the intervening country had all been previously explored by myself. For a full account of my former explorations into this region, I must refer my reader to the chapters on my second expedition. The first water we reached in the Rawlinson Range was at a rock-hole about ten miles eastwards from the Circus water, the place from whence Gibson and I started to explore to the west. His death, the loss of all the horses, and my struggles to regain my depot on foot, are they not written in the chronicles of that expedition?
On reaching my former depot at Fort McKellar, I found the whole place so choked up with shrubs and bushes, that it was quite impossible to camp there, without wasting a week in cutting the vegetation away, although it had formerly been sufficiently open for an explorer's camp. The spring was running as strong as ever. The bridge had been washed away. However, at less than a mile from it, there was Tyndall's Spring, with an open shady space, among the clump of fine gum-trees, which gave us an excellent camping-place. Here the camp remained for some days. A line of green bulrushes fringed this spring. While the main party camped here, I once more tried to find some remains or traces of my lost companion Gibson, taking with me only Tommy Oldham. It was quite a forlorn hope, as Gibson had gone away with only one horse; and since we reached the range, we had passed over places where I knew that all the horses I then had with me had gone over the ground, but no signs of former horse-tracks could be seen, therefore the chance of finding any traces of a single animal was infinitesimal. Tommy and I expended three days in trying to discover traces, but it was utterly useless, and we returned unsuccessful to the depot.
Singular to say, on this attempt I found a place west from the end, the Rawlinson Range, where there were some rock-holes on a grassy mulga flat, but we did not require the water, as the camels would not drink. Had I come upon this spot when I was in this region before, it might have saved Gibson and all the horses that were lost with him. I called this little watered spot, Tommy's Flat; the latitude of it is 24° 52´ 3´´. It bears 9° south of west from a peculiar red sandhill that is visible from any of the hills at the western extremity of the Rawlinson Range; and lies in a flat or hollow between the said red sandhill, and the nearest of a few low stony hills, about four miles farther away to the west. On visiting the Circus, I found the water-hole was full and deep. This was very different from its state when I had seen it last. The recording eagle still was sitting immovable on his crag, Prometheus-like, apparently chained to the rock.
On the 11th of July, the main party having been encamped at Tyndall's Springs for seven days, we departed for Sladen Water, at the Pass of the Abencerrages. All the other places previously mentioned on the range, had plenty of water running on for ever, though at the Pass the supply was rather lower than I had seen it previously. There was, however, quite enough for all our requirements. The little sweet-water spring was bubbling up, and running over as of yore. Both at Fort McKellar and here I found that the bones of the horses we had smoked and eaten had been removed by the natives, or wild dogs. At Fort McKellar the smoke-house frame had either fallen or been knocked down; while here, at the Pass, the natives had removed the timber, and placed portions of it in different places and positions. We saw none of the natives belonging to the range, although their smokes were a very short distance away. Sladen Water was always a favourite spot with me, and we rested a day at it for old association's sake.
On the 14th of July we left the place, and travelled along my former route, via Gill's Pinnacle, and all the other watering-places mentioned in my preceding narrative. The Petermann Range looked green and beautiful. It had evidently been visited by rains. A portion of the Rawlinson and the Petermann Ranges were the only spots for hundreds of miles of which this could be said. The Hull here runs near the boundary of the two colonies of South, and Western Australia, and crossing it, we entered the former province once more. When nearly at the eastern end of the Petermann — that is to say, close to Mount Phillips — we camped in Winter's Glen, where the whole tribes of the Petermann were located. They instantly armed themselves, and endeavoured to prevent our progress. Several of them recognised me, and I them; for in my first visit to this range, with Tietkens, we had three encounters with them. They evidently intended mischief again; but they kept off until morning, and we then, being in full marching order, with our firearms in our hands, and all walking alongside of the camels and ready for attack, managed to pass away from them without a collision. Leaving their country behind us, we went via the Sugar-loaf, and thence to the Musgrave Ranges, not now revisiting the marvellous Mount Olga; we entered the range near Glen Watson. There was plenty of water in the glen, but the country, in general, about the range, was in a very dry state. As, however, it has permanent springs, we had no difficulty from want of water. When nearly at the eastern end of the Musgrave Range, a number of natives came to interview the caravan, and actually pulled some coats and blankets off Nicholls's and Tommy's riding camels, and ran away with them. They had previously begged Nicholls to shoot kangaroos for them, thereby showing that they remembered the use of firearms, which formerly I had been compelled to teach them.
I was away from the party when this robbery was committed. Near the eastern end of this range it will be remembered I had formerly discovered a large watercourse, with a fine spring running along its bed, which I called the Ferdinand; here we encamped again. From hence I determined to reach the South Australian Telegraph Line upon a new route, and to follow the Ferdinand, which runs to the south. A mass of hills that I had formerly seen and named the Everard Ranges, lay in that direction, and I desired to visit them also. At and around the water at Glen Ferdinand, as well as at other places on this range, considerable quantities of dung, old tracks, and sleeping camps of cattle were found, but no live animals were seen.
After resting a day at Glen Ferdinand we departed, following the banks of the creek. Just at leaving, an old black man and two lads made their appearance. This old party was remarkably shy; the elder boy seemed a little frightened, and didn't relish being touched by a white man, but the youngest was quite at his ease, and came up to me with the audacity and insouciance of early youth, and pulled me about. When I patted him, he grinned like any other monkey. None of them were handsome; the old man was so monkey-like — he would have charmed the heart of Professor Darwin. I thought I had found the missing link, and I had thoughts of preserving him in methylated spirits, only I had not a bottle large enough.
Following the channel of the Ferdinand nearly south, we came to some limestone rises with one or two native wells, but no water was seen in them. The country was good, grassy, nearly level, with low, sandy, mulga rises, fit for stock of any kind. There were a few detached granite hills, peeping here and there amongst the tree-tops. The creek-channel appeared to run through, or close to, some of the hills of the Everard Ranges; and I left it to visit them. At one of the outcropping granite mounds, at about forty-eight miles from Glen Ferdinand, Alec Ross found a large native well, which bore 12° east of south from Mount Ferdinand, a conspicuous point overlooking the glen. We did not require to use this well, but there was plenty of water in it. Arriving at the first hills of the Everard, I found they were all very peculiar, bare, red, granite mounds, being the most extraordinary ranges one could possibly imagine, if indeed any one could imagine such a scene. They have thousands of acres of bare rock, piled up into mountainous shapes and lay in isolated masses, forming something like a broken circle, all round a central and higher mass. They have valleys filled with scrubs between each section. Numerous rocky glens and gorges were seen, having various kinds of shrubs and low trees growing in the interstices of the rocks. Every thing and every place was parched, bare, and dry. We searched in many places for water without success.
At length some natives made their appearance, and showed us where water could be had by digging. This was a most disagreeable and awkward spot to get the camels to, but after a great deal of labour in making a tank, and rolling boulders of rock out of the way, we were enabled to give them a drink. There was but a very poor supply.
The water we got here was in a small gum-creek under the highest hill in the centre of the group upon its northern face. The summit of the hill above it bore 21° east of south, from Mount Ferdinand, in the Musgrave Ranges, and it is sixty-four miles from my camp at Glen Ferdinand water. Alec and Tommy searched for, and found, some other water in rock-holes at the back or south side of this central hill, nearly three miles round. Several more natives came to the camp, and some of them worked a little at watering the camels, but were greatly scandalised at seeing them drink such enormous quantities, and no doubt, in their heart of hearts, they were grieved that they had shown us the place. And in order to recoup themselves in some measure for their romantic generosity, they quietly walked away with several unconsidered trifles out of the camp, such as ration bags, towels, socks, etc. These thefts always occur when I am away. I made one old gentleman who took some things disgorge his loot, and he and his friend who had dined with us went away, in the last stage of displeasure. There are apparently but few natives about here just now; had there been more of them we might have had some trouble, as indeed I subsequently had at the rock-holes at the back of this hill.
The following day we went round to Alec's rock-holes, intending to have dinner, water the camels if they would drink, and fill our casks before plunging again into the scrubs that extended everywhere to the south. To the east a flat-topped, bluff-faced hill was visible. While we were at dinner several natives came and assisted us, and pointed in a direction a little west of south, where they said water existed. The whole space round the foot of the rocks here is choked up with a thick and vigorous growth of the native fig-trees, which grow somewhat like banyan-trees, except that suckers do not descend from the upper branches and take root in the ground alongside the parent stem; but the roots of this tree run along the rocks to find crevices with soil, and then a fresh growth springs up; in general it does not grow very high, twenty feet is about the limit. There was a small creek channel, and mulga scrubs to the west of it, that grew right up to the bank, and any party camping here would be completely hemmed in. I am particular in describing the place, as on a subsequent occasion, myself and the party then with me, escaped death there. I will relate the circumstances further on. Now we left the place after dinner, and the natives accompanied us; we camped in mulga scrubs at about ten miles from the rocks. These young darkies seemed very good, and friendly fellows; in all wild tribes of Australian natives, the boys and very young men, as well as the girls and women, seem to take immediately to white men. The young children, however, are generally very much frightened; but it is the vile and wicked old men that are the arch-villains of the piece, and who excite the passions of the juniors of the tribe to commit all sorts of atrocities.
These fellows were the best of friends with my men and myself; we were laughing and joking and generally having a good time. I amused them greatly by passing a stick through my nose; I had formerly gone through an excruciating operation for that purpose, and telling them I once had been a black fellow. They spoke but little English, and it was mostly through a few words that Alec Ross knew, of the Peake, Macumba, or Alberga tribes that we could talk to each other at all. After this we got them map-making on the sand. They demonstrated that the Ferdinand, which we had left, and had still on our right or west of us, running south, swept round suddenly to the eastwards and now lay across the country in front of us; that in its further progress it ran into, and formed a lake, then continuing, it at last reached a big salt lake, probably Lake Eyre; they also said we should get water by digging in the sand in the morning, when we struck the Ferdinand channel again. Soon after we started and were proceeding on our course, south 26° west, from the rock-water, the natives all fell back and we saw no more of them. In twenty miles we came to the creek, and turning down its channel eastwards we found the well of which they had told us. There was plenty of water in it, no doubt, but we did not require it. The well seemed rather deep. We followed the creek for some distance, at length it became very undefined, and the gum timber disappeared. Only a few acacia bushes now indicated the flow of the water over the grassy mulga flats, which wound about so much around sandhills in the scrub, that I left the creek, and pushed on now for the South Australian Telegraph Line.
I will now give a rapid account of what I said was a narrow escape from death at those rock-holes we had just left. I may say in passing, that what I have recorded as my travels and explorations in Australia in these volumes, are probably not half of what I have really performed, only I divide them under the two headings of public and private explorations.
In the month of December, 1882, I was in this part of the world again. During the six years that had elapsed since my last visit in 1876, a survey party had reached these ranges on a trigonometrical survey, and upon its return, the officer in charge reported having had some trouble and a collision with the natives of the Everard Range. I suppose my second visit occurred two years after that event. I was accompanied on that journey by a very young friend, named Vernon Edwards, from Adelaide, and two young men named Perkins and Fitz, the latter being cook, and a very good fellow he proved to be, but Perkins was nothing of the sort. I had a black boy named Billy, and we had twelve camels. I approached the Everard Range from the south-westward, having found a good watering-place, which I called Verney's Wells, in that direction. There, we met a lot of natives who did not belong to the Everard Range tribes. At Verney's Wells we had a grand corrobboree in the warm moonlight; my young men and black boy stripped themselves, and young and old, black and white, danced and yelled, and generally made the night hideous with their noise till early morning. After the ball a grand supper was laid for our exhausted blackmen and brothers. The material of this feast was hot water, flour, and sugar mixed into a consistent skilly. I had told the cook to make the gruel thick and slab, and then pour it out on sheets of bark. Our guests supplied themselves with spoons, or rather we cut them out of bark for them, and they helped themselves ad lib. A dozen pounds of flour sufficed to feed a whole multitude. We left Verney's Wells and made up to the well in the Ferdinand that I have just mentioned. This we opened out with shovels, and found a very good supply of water. From thence we proceeded to my old dinner-camp at the range, where, as I said before, the whole space about, was filled up with fig-trees. Almost immediately upon our appearance, we heard the calls and cries and saw the signal smokes, of the natives. We had to clear a space for the camp and put up an awning. The water in the two lower holes was so low that the camels could not reach it, nor could we get enough out with a bucket. There was plenty of water in the holes above, and as it was all bare rock we set to work, some of the natives assisting, to bale the water out of some of the upper holes and splash it over the rocks into the lower. The weather was very hot, and some of the old men sat or lay down quite at their ease in our shade. The odours that exude from the persons of elderly black gentlemen, especially those not addicted to the operation of bathing, would scarcely remind one of the perfumes of Araby the Blest, or Australia Felix either, therefore I ordered these intruders out. Thereupon they became very saucy and disagreeable, and gave me to understand that this was their country and their water — carpee — and after they had spoken in low guttural tones to some of the younger men, the latter departed. Of course I knew what this meant; they were to signal for and collect, all the tribe for an attack. I could read this purpose in their glances. I have had so much to do with these Australian peoples that, although I cannot speak all their languages — for nearly every ten miles a totally different one may be used — yet a good deal of the language of several tribes is familiar to me, and all their gestures speak to me in English. I could at any rate now see that mischief was brewing. Near sundown we spread a large tarpaulin on the ground to lay our blankets, rugs, etc., to sleep on. When I had arranged my bed, several old men standing close by, the master-fiend, deliberately threw himself down on my rugs. I am rather particular about my rugs and bedding, and this highly though disagreeably perfumed old reptile, all greasy with rotten fat, lying down on and soiling them, slightly annoyed me; and not pretending to be a personification of sweetness and light, I think I annoyed him a great deal more, for I gave him as good a thrashing with a stick as he ever received, and he went away spitting at us, bubbling over with wrath and profanity, and called all the tribe after him, threatening us with the direst retribution. They all went to the west, howling, yelling, and calling to one another.
Young Verney Edwards was always most anxious to get a lot of natives' spears and other weapons, and I said, “Now, Verney, here's a chance for you. You see the blacks have cleared out to the west, now if you go up the foot of the hill to the east, the first big bushy tree you see, you will find it stuck thick with spears. You can have them all if you like. But,” I added, “it's just suppertime now, you had better have supper first.” “Oh no,” he said, “I'll go and get them at once if you think they are there,” and away he went. I was expecting the enemy to return, and we had all our firearms in readiness alongside of us on the tarpaulin where we sat down to supper. I had a cartridge-pouch full of cartridges close to my tin plate, and my rifle lay alongside also. Jimmy Fitz, Perkins, Billy the black boy, and I, had just begun to eat when we heard a shot from Verney's revolver. I did not take very much notice, as he was always firing at wallaby, or birds, or anything; but on another shot following we all jumped up, and ran towards him. As we did so we heard Verney calling and firing again; Perkins seized my cartridge pouch in his excitement, and I had to get more cartridges from my saddle. In the meantime shots were going off, howls and yells rent the air, and when I got up the enemy had just formed in line. Another discharge decided the conflict, and drove them off.
When Verney left the camp he found a bushy tree, as I had told him, stuck full of spears, and while he was deliberating as to which of those weapons he should choose, being on the west side of the bush, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a host of stealthy wretches, most of whom were already armed, all running down towards the camp. Some ran to this bush for their weapons, and were in the act of rushing down on to the camp, and would have speared us as we sat at supper, at their ease, from behind the thick fig-trees' shelter. Verney was so astounded at seeing them, and they were so astounded at seeing him, that it completely upset their tactics; for they naturally thought we were all there, and when Verney fired, it so far checked the advance column, that they paused for a second, while the rear guard ran up. Then some from behind threw spears through the bush at Verney. He fired again, and called to us, and we arrived in time to send the enemy off, as fast as, if not faster, than they had come. It was a very singular circumstance that turned these wretches away; if Verney hadn't gone for the spears, they could have sneaked upon, and killed us, without any chance of our escape. We must have risen a good deal in their estimation as strategists, for they were fairly out-generalled by chance, while they must have thought it was design. After the dispersion, they reappeared on the top of the rocks some distance away, and threw spears down; but they were too far off; and when we let them see how far our rifle bullets could be sent, they gave several parting howls and disappeared.
I decided to keep watch to-night; there was a star passing the meridian soon after eleven, and I wished to take an observation by it. I told the others to turn in, as I would watch till then. Nearly at the time just mentioned, I was seated cross-legged on my rugs facing the north, taking my observation with the sextant and artificial horizon, when I thought I saw something faintly quivering at the corner of my left eye. I kept the sextant still elevated, and turned my head very slowly half way round, and there I saw the enemy, creeping out of the mulga timber on the west side of the little creek channel, and ranging themselves in lines. It was a very dusky, cloudy, but moonlight night. I dared not make any quick movement, but slowly withdrawing my right hand from the sextant, I took hold of my rifle which lay close alongside. A second of time was of the greatest importance, for the enemy were all ranged, and just ready balancing their spears, and in another instant there would have been a hundred spears thrown into the camp. I suddenly put down the sextant, and having the rifle almost in position, I grabbed it suddenly with my left hand and fired into the thickest mob, whereupon a horrible howling filled the midnight air. Seizing Verney's rifle that was close by, I fired it and dispersed the foe. All the party were lying fast asleep on the tarpaulin, but my two shots quickly awoke them. I made them watch in turns till morning, with orders to fire two rifle cartridges every half hour, and the agony of suspense in waiting to hear these go off, kept me awake the whole night, like Carlyle and his neighbours' fowls.
Our foes did not again appear. At the first dawn of light, over at some rocky hills south-westward, where, during the night, we saw their camp fires, a direful moaning chant arose. It was wafted on the hot morning air across the valley, echoed again by the rocks and hills above us, and was the most dreadful sound I think I ever heard; it was no doubt a death-wail. From their camp up in the rocks, the chanters descended to the lower ground, and seemed to be performing a funereal march all round the central mass, as the last tones we heard were from behind the hills, where it first arose.
To resume: we left the almost exhausted channel of the Ferdinand, and pushed on for the Telegraph Line. In the sandhills and scrub we came upon an open bit of country, in latitude 27° 35´ 34´´, and found a shallow well, at which we encamped on the evening of August 11th. In sixty miles farther, going nearly east by north, the nature of the country entirely altered; the scrubs fell off, and an open stony country, having low, flat-topped ridges or table-lands, succeeded. This was a sure indication of our near approach to the Telegraph Line, as it is through a region of that kind, that the line runs in this latitude. I turned more northerly for a waterhole in the Alberga, called Appatinna, but we found it quite dry. There were two decrepit old native women, probably left there to starve and die by their tribe. I gave them some food and water, but they were almost too far gone to eat. From thence, travelling south-easterly, we came upon the Neale's River, in forty miles. At twenty miles farther down the Neale's, which was quite dry as far as we travelled on it, going easterly, we arrived at Mount O'Halloran, a low hill round whose base the Trans-Continental Telegraph Line and road sweeps, at what is called the Angle Pole, sixty miles from the Peake Telegraph Station. We were very short of water, and could not find any, the country being in a very dry state. We pushed on, and crossed the stony channel of a watercourse called the St. Cecilia, which was also dry. The next water that I knew of, between us and the Peake, was a spring near Hann's Creek, about thirty miles from the Peake. However, on reaching Hann's Creek, we found sufficient water for our requirements, although it was rather brackish. Moving on again we reached the Peake Telegraph Station on the 23rd of August, and were most cordially received and welcomed by my old friend Mr. Chandler, Mr. Flynn, the police trooper, and every one else at that place.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50