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Spinifex And Sand by David W. Carnegie

 

INTRODUCTION

An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.

The following pages profess to be no more than a faithful narrative of five years spent on the goldfields and in the far interior of Western Australia. Any one looking for stirring adventures, hairbreadth escapes from wild animals and men, will be disappointed. In the Australian Bush the traveller has only Nature to war against—over him hangs always the chance of death from thirst, and sometimes from the attacks of hostile aboriginals; he has no spice of adventure, no record heads of rare game, no exciting escapades with dangerous beasts, to spur him on; no beautiful scenery, broad lakes, or winding rivers to make life pleasant for him. The unbroken monotony of an arid, uninteresting country has to be faced. Nature everywhere demands his toil. Unless he has within him impulses that give him courage to go on, he will soon return; for he will find nothing in his surroundings to act as an incentive to tempt him further.

I trust my readers will be able to glean a little knowledge of the hardships and dangers that beset the paths of Australian pioneers, and will learn something of the trials and difficulties encountered by a prospector, recognising that he is often inspired by some higher feeling than the mere “lust of gold.”

Wherever possible, I have endeavoured to add interest to my own experiences by recounting those of other travellers; and, by studying the few books that touch upon such matters to explain any points in connection with the aboriginals that from my own knowledge I am unable to do. I owe several interesting details to the Report on the Work of the Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia, and to Ethnological Studies among the North-West Central Queensland Aboriginals, by Walter E. Roth. For the identification of the few geological specimens brought in by me, I am indebted to the Government Geologist of the Mines Department, Perth, W.A., and to Mr. W. Botting Hemsley, through the courtesy of the Director of the Royal Gardens, Kew, for the identification of the plants.

I also owe many thanks to my friend Mr. J. F. Cornish, who has taken so much trouble in correcting the proofs of my MSS.

 

PART I

EARLY DAYS IN COOLGARDIE

CHAPTER I
Early Days In The Colony

In the month of September, 1892, Lord Percy Douglas (now Lord Douglas of Hawick) and I, found ourselves steaming into King George's Sound—that magnificent harbour on the south-west coast of Western Australia—building castles in the air, discussing our prospects, and making rapid and vast imaginary fortunes in the gold-mines of that newly-discovered land of Ophir. Coolgardie, a district then unnamed, had been discovered, and Arthur Bayley, a persevering and lucky prospector, had returned to civilised parts from the “bush,” his packhorses loaded with golden specimens from the famous mine which bears his name. I suppose the fortunate find of Bayley and his mate, Ford, has turned the course of events in the lives of many tens of thousands of people, and yet, as he jogged along the track from Gnarlbine Rock to Southern Cross, I daresay his thoughts reverted to his own life, and the good time before him, rather than to moralising on the probable effect of his discovery on others.

We spent as little time as possible at Albany, or, I should say, made our stay as short as was permitted, for in those days the convenience of the passenger was thought little of, in comparison with the encouragement of local industries, so that mails and travellers alike were forced to remain at least one night in Albany by the arrangement of the train service, greatly to the benefit of the hotel-keepers.

We were somewhat surprised to see the landlord's daughters waiting at table. They were such tremendously smart and icy young ladies that at first we were likely to mistake them for guests; and even when sure of their identity we were too nervous to ask for anything so vulgar as a pot of beer, or to expect them to change our plates.

Between Albany and Perth the country is not at all interesting being for the most part flat, scrubby, and sandy, though here and there are rich farming and agricultural districts. Arrived at Perth we found ourselves a source of great interest to the inhabitants, inasmuch as we announced our intention of making our way to the goldfields, while we had neither the means nor apparently the capability of getting there. Though treated with great hospitality, we found it almost impossible to get any information or assistance, all our inquiries being answered by some scoffing remark, such as, “Oh, you'll never get there!”

We attended a rather remarkable dinner—given in honour of the Boot, Shoe, Harness, and Leather trade, at the invitation of a fellow-countryman in the trade, and enjoyed ourselves immensely; speech-making and toast-drinking being carried out in the extensive style so customary in the West. Picture our surprise on receiving a bill for 10s. 6d. next morning! Our friend of the dinner, kindly put at our disposal a hansom cab which he owned, but this luxury we declined with thanks, fearing a repetition of his “bill-by-invitation.”

Illustration 2: Jarrah Forrest, West Australia

Owing to the extreme kindness of Mr. Robert Smith we were at last enabled to get under way for the scene of the “rush.” Disregarding the many offers of men willing to guide us along a self-evident track, we started with one riding and one packhorse each. These and the contents of the pack-bags represented all our worldly possessions, but in this we might count ourselves lucky, for many hundreds had to carry their belongings on their backs—“humping their bluey,” as the expression is.

Our road lay through Northam, and the several small farms and settlements which extend some distance eastward. Very few used this track, the more popular and direct route being through York, and thence along the telegraph line to Southern Cross; and indeed we did pass through York, which thriving little town we left at dusk, and, carrying out our directions, rode along the telegraph line. Unfortunately we had not been told that the line split up, one branch going to Northam and the other to Southern Cross; as often happens in such cases, we took the wrong branch and travelled well into the night before finding any habitation at which we could get food and water.

The owner of the house where we finally stopped did not look upon our visit with pleasure, as we had literally to break into the house before we could attract any attention. Finding we were not burglars, and having relieved himself by most vigorous and pictorial language (in the use of which the teamsters and small farmers are almost without rivals) the owner showed us his well, and did what he could to make us comfortable. I shall never forget the great hospitality here along this road, though no doubt as time went on the settlers could not afford to house hungry travellers free of cost, and probably made a fair amount of money by selling provisions and horse-feed to the hundreds of gold-fever patients who were continually passing.

Southern Cross, which came into existence about the year '90, was a pretty busy place, being the last outpost of civilisation at the time of our first acquaintance with it. The now familiar corrugated-iron-built town, with its streets inches deep in dust under a blazing sun, its incessant swarms of flies, the clashing of the “stamps” on the mines, and the general “never-never” appearance of the place, impressed us with feelings the reverse of pleasant. The building that struck me most was the bank—a small iron shanty with a hession partition dividing it into office and living room, the latter a hopeless chaos of cards, candle ends, whiskey bottles, blankets, safe keys, gold specimens, and cooking utensils. The bank manager had evidently been entertaining a little party of friends the previous night, and though its hours had passed, and a new day had dawned, the party still continued. Since that time it has been my lot to witness more than one such evening of festivity!

On leaving Southern Cross we travelled with another company of adventurers, one of whom, Mr. Davies, an old Queensland squatter, was our partner in several subsequent undertakings.

The monotony of the flat timber-clad country was occasionally relieved by the occurrence of large isolated hills of bare granite. But for these the road, except for camels, could never have been kept open; for they represented our sources of water supply. On the surface of the rocks numerous holes and indentations are found, which after rain, hold water, and besides these, around the foot of the outcrops, “soaks,” or shallow wells, are to be found.

What scenes of bitter quarrels these watering-places have witnessed! The selfish striving, each to help himself, the awful sufferings of man and beast, horses and camels mad with thirst, and men cursing the country and themselves, for wasting their lives and strength in it; but they have witnessed many an act of kindness and self-denial too.

Where the now prosperous and busy town of Coolgardie stands, with its stone and brick buildings, banks, hotels, and streets of shops, offices, and dwelling-houses, with a population of some 15,000, at the time of which I write there stood an open forest of eucalyptus dotted here and there with the white tents and camps of diggers. A part of the timber had already been cleared to admit of “dry-blowing” operations—a process adopted for the separation of gold from alluvial soil in the waterless parts of Australia.

Desperate hard work this, with the thermometer at 100°F in the shade, with the “dishes” so hot that they had often to be put aside to cool, with clouds of choking dust, a burning throat, and water at a shilling to half a crown a gallon! Right enough for the lucky ones “on gold,” and for them not a life of ease! The poor devil with neither money nor luck, who looked into each dishful of dirt for the wherewithal to live, and found it not, was indeed scarcely to be envied.

Water at this time was carted by horse-teams in waggons with large tanks on board, or by camel caravans, from a distance of thirty-six miles, drawn from a well near a large granite rock. The supply was daily failing, and washing was out of the question; enough to drink was all one thought of; two lines of eager men on either side of the track could daily be seen waiting for these water-carts. What a wild rush ensued when they were sighted! In a moment they were surrounded and taken by storm, men swarming on to them like an army of ants. As a rule, eager as we were for water, a sort of order prevailed, and every man got his gallon water-bag filled until the supply was exhausted. And generally the owner of the water received due payment.

About Christmas-time the water-famine was at its height. Notices were posted by order of the Warden, proclaiming that the road to or from Coolgardie would soon be closed, as all wells were failing, and advising men to go down in small parties, and not to rush the waters in a great crowd. This advice was not taken, and daily scores of men left the “field,” and many were hard put to it to reach Southern Cross. It was a cruel sight in those thirsty days to see the poor horses wandering about, mere walking skeletons, deserted by their owners, for strangers were both unable to give them water, and afraid to put them out of their misery lest damages should be claimed against them. How long our own supplies would last was eagerly discussed, as we gathered round the butcher's shop, the great meeting-place, to which, in the evenings, most of the camp would come to talk over the affairs of the day.

Postmaster, as well as butcher and storekeeper, was Mr. Benstead, a kind-hearted, hard-working man, and a good friend to us in our early struggles. What a wonderful post-office it was too! A proper match for the so-called coach that brought the mails. A very dilapidated buckboard-buggy drawn by equally dilapidated horses, used to do the journey from the Southern Cross to the new fields very nearly as quickly as a loaded waggon with eight or ten horses! The mail-coach used to carry not only letters, papers, and gold on the return journey, but passengers, who served the useful purposes of dragging the carriage through the sand and dust when the horses collapsed, of hunting up the team in the mornings, and of lightening the load by walking. For this exceedingly comfortable journey they had the pleasure of paying at least £five. It was no uncommon sight at some tank or rock on the road, to see the mail-coach standing alone in its glory, deserted by driver and passengers alike. Of these some would be horse-hunting, and the rest tramping ahead in hope of being caught up by the coach. There would often be on board many hundred pounds' worth of gold, sent down by the diggers to be banked, or forwarded to their families; yet no instance of robbing the mail occurred. The sort of gentry from whom bushrangers and thieves are made, had not yet found their way to the rush.

Illustration 3: General store and Post-office, Coolgardie, 1892

Many banks were failing at that time, and men anxiously awaited the arrival of news. The teamsters, with their heavy drays, would be eagerly questioned as to where they had passed Her Majesty's mail, and as to the probability of its arrival within the next week or so! The distribution of letters did not follow this happy event with great rapidity. Volunteers had to be called in to sort the delivery, the papers were thrown into a heap in the road, and all anxious for news were politely requested to help themselves. Several illustrated periodicals were regularly sent me from home, as I learnt afterwards, but I never had the luck to drop across my own paper!

On mail day, the date of which was most uncertain as the coach journeys soon overlapped, there was always a lengthy, well-attended “roll-up” at the Store. Here we first made acquaintance with Messrs. Browne and Lyon, then negotiating for the purchase of Bayley's fabulous mine of gold. No account of the richness of this claim at that time could be too extravagant to be true; for surely such a solid mass of gold was never seen before, as met the eye in the surface workings.

Messrs. Browne and Lyon had at their camp a small black-boy whom they tried in vain to tame. He stood a good deal of misplaced kindness, and even wore clothes without complaint; but he could not bear having his hair cut, and so ran away to the bush. He belonged to the wandering tribe that daily visited the camp—a tribe of wretched famine-stricken “blacks,” whose natural hideousness and filthy appearance were intensified by the dirty rags with which they made shift to cover their bodies. I should never have conceived it possible that such living skeletons could exist. Without begging from the diggers I fail to see how they could have lived, for not a living thing was to be found in the bush, save an occasional iguana and “bardies,” and, as I have said, all known waters within available distance of Coolgardie were dry, or nearly so.

“Bardies” are large white grubs—three or four inches long—which the natives dig out from the roots of a certain shrub. When baked on wood-ashes they are said to be excellent eating. The natives, however, prefer them raw, and, having twisted off the heads, eat them with evident relish.

Benstead had managed to bring up a few sheep from the coast, which the “gins,” or women, used to tend. The native camp was near the slaughter-yard, and it used to be an interesting and charming sight to see these wild children of the wilderness, fighting with their mongrel dogs for the possession of the offal thrown away by the butcher. If successful in gaining this prize they were not long in disposing of it, cooking evidently being considered a waste of time. A famished “black-fellow” after a heavy meal used to remind me of pictures of the boa-constrictor who has swallowed an ox, and is resting in satisfied peace to gorge.

The appeal of “Gib it damper” or “Gib it gabbi” (water), was seldom made in vain, and hardly a day passed but what one was visited by these silent, starving shadows. In appreciation no doubt of the kindness shown them, some of the tribe volunteered to find “gabbi” for the white-fellow in the roots of a certain gum-tree. Their offer was accepted, and soon a band of unhappy-looking miners was seen returning. In their hands they carried short pieces of the root, which they sucked vigorously; some got a little moisture, and some did not, but however unequal their success in this respect they were all alike in another, for every man vomited freely. This means of obtaining a water supply never became popular. No doubt a little moisture can be coaxed from the roots of certain gums, but it would seem that it needs the stomach of a black-fellow to derive any benefit from it.

Though I cannot say that I studied the manners and customs of the aboriginals at that time, the description, none the worse for being old, given to savages of another land would fit them admirably—“Manners none, customs beastly.”

CHAPTER II

“Hard Up”

During that drought-stricken Christmas-time my mate was down at the “Cross,” trying to carry through some business by which our coffers might be replenished; for work how we would on alluvial or quartz reefs, no gold could we find. That we worked with a will, the remark made to me by an old fossicker will go to show. After watching me “belting away” at a solid mass of quartz for some time without speaking, “Which,” said he, “is the hammer-headed end of your pick?” Then shaking his head, “Ah! I could guess you were a Scotchman—brute force and blind ignorance!” He then proceeded to show me how to do twice the amount of work at half the expenditure of labour. I never remember a real digger who was not ready to help one, both with advice and in practice, and I never experienced that “greening” of new chums which is a prominent feature of most novels that deal with Australian life.

In the absence of Lord Douglas, an old horse-artilleryman, Richardson by name, was my usual comrade. A splendid fellow he was too, and one of the few to be rewarded for his dogged perseverance and work. In a pitiable state the poor man was when first we met, half dead from dysentery, camped all alone under a sheet of coarse calico. Emaciated from sickness, he was unable to follow his horses, which had wandered in search of food and water, though they constituted his only earthly possession. How he, and many another I could mention, survived, I cannot think. But if a man declines to die, and fights for life, he is hard to kill!

Amongst the prospectors it was customary for one mate to look after the horses, and pack water to the others who worked. These men, of course, knew several sources unknown to the general public. It was from one of them that we learnt of the existence of a small soak some thirteen miles from Coolgardie. Seeing no hope of rain, and no prospect of being able to stop longer at Coolgardie, Mr. Davies, who camped near us, and I, decided to make our way to this soak, and wait for better or worse times. Taking the only horse which remained to us, and what few provisions we had, we changed our residence from the dust-swept flats of Coolgardie to the silent bush, where we set up a little hut of boughs, and awaited the course of events. Sheltered from the sun's burning rays by our house, so low that it could only be entered on hands and knees, for we had neither time nor strength to build a spacious structure, and buoyed up by the entrancement of reading The Adventures of a Lady's Maid, kindly lent by a fellow-digger, we did our best to spend a “Happy Christmas.”

Somehow, the climate and surroundings seemed singularly inappropriate; dust could not be transformed, even in imagination, into snow, nor heat into frost, any more easily than we could turn dried apples into roast beef and plum-pudding. Excellent food as dried fruit is, yet it is apt to become monotonous when it must do duty for breakfast, dinner, and tea! Such was our scanty fare; nevertheless we managed to keen up the appearance of being quite festive and happy.

Having spread the table—that is, swept the floor clear of ants and other homely insects—and laid out the feast, I rose to my knees and proposed the health of my old friend and comrade Mr. Davies, wished him the compliments of the season, and expressed a hope that we should never spend a worse Christmas. The toast was received with cheers and honoured in weak tea, brewed from the re-dried leaves of our last night's meal. He suitably replied, and cordially endorsed my last sentiment. After duly honouring the toasts of “The Ladies,” “Absent Friends,” and others befitting the occasion, we fell to on the frugal feast.

For the benefit of thrifty housewives, as well as those whom poverty has stricken, I respectfully recommend the following recipe. For dried apples: Take a handful, chew slightly, swallow, fill up with warm water and wait. Before long a feeling both grateful and comforting, as having dined not wisely but too heavily, will steal over you. Repeat the dose for luncheon and tea.

One or two other men were camped near us, and I have no doubt would have willingly added to our slender store had they known to what short commons we were reduced. Our discomforts were soon over, however, for Lord Douglas hearing that I was in a starving condition, hastened from the “Cross,” not heeding the terrible accounts of the track, bringing with him a supply of the staple food of the country, “Tinned Dog”—as canned provisions are designated.

Wandering on from our little rock of refuge, we landed at the Twenty-five Mile, where lately a rich reef had been found. We pegged out a claim on which we worked, camped under the shade of a “Kurrajong” tree, close above a large granite rock on which we depended for our water; and here we spent several months busy on our reef, during which time Lord Douglas went home to England, with financial schemes in his head, leaving Mr. Davies and myself to hold the property and work as well as we could manage and I fancy that for a couple of amateurs we did a considerable amount of development.

Here we lived almost alone, with the exception of another small party working the adjoining mine, occasionally visited by a prospector with horses to water. Though glad of their company, it was not with unmixed feelings that we viewed their arrival, for it took us all our time to get sufficient water for ourselves. I well remember one occasion on which, after a slight shower of rain, we, having no tank, scooped up the water we could from the shallow holes, even using a sponge, such was our eagerness not to waste a single drop; the water thus collected was emptied into a large rock-hole, which we covered with flat stones. We then went to our daily work on the reef, congratulating ourselves on the nice little “plant” of water. Imagine our disgust, on returning in the evening, at finding a mob of thirsty packhorses being watered from our precious supply! There was nothing to be done but to pretend we liked it. The water being on the rock was of course free to all.

How I used to envy those horsemen, and longed for the time when I could afford horses or camels of my own, to go away back into the bush and just see what was there. Many a day I spent poring over the map of the Colony, longing and longing to push out into the vast blank spaces of the unknown. Even at that time I planned out the expedition which at last I was enabled to undertake, though all was very visionary, and I could hardly conceive how I should ever manage to find the necessary ways and means.

Nearly every week I would ride into Coolgardie for stores, and walk out again leading the loaded packhorse, our faithful little chestnut “brumby,” i.e., half-wild pony, of which there are large herds running in the bush near the settled parts of the coast. A splendid little fellow this, a true type of his breed, fit for any amount of work and hardship. As often as not he would do his journey into Coolgardie (twenty-five miles), be tied up all night without a feed or drink—or as long as I had to spend there on business—and return again loaded next morning. Chaff and oats were then almost unprocurable, and however kind-hearted he might be, a poor man could hardly afford a shilling a gallon to water his horse. On these occasions I made my quarters at Bayley's mine, where a good solid meal and the pleasant company of Messrs. Browne and Lyon always awaited me. Several times in their generosity these good fellows spared a gallon or two of precious water for the old pony.

They have a funny custom in the West of naming horses after their owners—thus the chestnut is known to this day as “Little Carnegie.” Sometimes they are named after the men from whom they are bought. This practice, when coach-horses are concerned, has its laughable side, and passengers unacquainted with the custom may be astonished to hear all sorts of oaths and curses, or words of entreaty and encouragement, addressed to some well-known name—and they might be excused for thinking the driver's mind was a little unhinged, or that in his troubles and vexations he was calling on some prominent citizen, in the same way that knights of old invoked their saints.

Thus, our peaceful life at the “Twenty-five” passed on, relieved sometimes by the arrival of horsemen and others in search of water. Amongst our occasional visitors was a well-known gentleman, bearing the proud title of “The biggest liar in Australia.” How far he deserved the distinction I should hesitate to say, for men prone to exaggerate are not uncommon in the bush. Sometimes, however, they must have the melancholy satisfaction of knowing that they are disbelieved, when they really do happen to tell the truth. A story of my friend's, which was received with incredulous laughter, will exemplify this.

This was one of his experiences in Central Australia. He was perishing from thirst, and, at the last gasp, he came to a clay-pan which, to his despair, was quite dry and baked hard by the sun. He gave up all hope; not so his black-boy, who, after examining the surface of the hard clay, started to dig vigorously, shouting, “No more tumble down, plenty water here!” Struggling to the side of his boy, he found that he had unearthed a large frog blown out with water, with which they relieved their thirst. Subsequent digging disclosed more frogs, from all of which so great a supply of water was squeezed that not only he and his boy, but the horses also were saved from a terrible death!

This story was received with laughter and jeers, and cries of “Next please!” But to show that it had foundations of truth I may quote an extract from The Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia (part i. p. 21), in which we read the following:—

…The most interesting animal is the Burrowing or Waterholding Frog, (Chiroleptes platycephalus). As the pools dry up it fills itself out with water, which in some way passes through the walls of the alimentary canal, filling up the body cavity, and swelling the animal out until it looks like a small orange. In this condition it occupies a cavity just big enough for the body, and simply goes to sleep. When, with the aid of a native, we cut it out of its hiding-place, the animal at first remained perfectly still, with its lower eyelids completely drawn over the eyes, giving it the appearance of being blind, which indeed the black assured us that it was…

Most travellers cannot fail to have noticed how clay-pans recently filled by rain, even after a prolonged drought, swarm with tadpoles and full-grown frogs and numberless water insects, the presence of which must only be explained by the ability of the frog to store his supply in his own body, and the fact that the eggs of the insects require moisture before they can hatch out.

Many a laugh we had round the camp-fire at night, and many are the yarns that were spun. Few, however, were of sufficient interest to live in my memory, and I fear that most of them would lose their points in becoming fit for publication. “Gold,” naturally, was the chief topic of conversation, especially amongst the older diggers, who love to tell one in detail how many ounces they got in one place and how many in another, until one feels that surely they must be either millionaires or liars. New rushes, and supposed new rushes, were eagerly discussed; men were often passing and repassing our rock, looking for somebody who was “on gold”—for the majority of prospectors seldom push out for themselves, but prefer following up some man or party supposed to have “struck it rich.”

The rumours of a new find so long bandied about at length came true. Billy Frost had found a thousand! two thousand!! three thousand ounces!!!—who knew or cared?—on the margin of a large salt lake some ninety miles north of Coolgardie. Frost has since told me that about twelve ounces of gold was all he found, And, after all, there is not much difference between twelve and three thousand—that is on a mining field. Before long the solitude of our camp was disturbed by the constant passing of travellers to and from this newly discovered “Ninety Mile”—so named from its distance from Coolgardie.

As a fact, this mining camp (now known as the town of Goongarr) is only sixty odd miles from the capital, measured by survey, but in early days, distances were reckoned by rate of travel, and roads and tracks twisted and turned in a most distressing manner, sometimes deviating for water, but more often because the first maker of the track had been riding along carelessly, every now and then turning sharp back to his proper course. Subsequent horse or camel men, having only a vague knowledge of the direction of their destination, would be bound to follow the first tracks; after these would come light buggies, spring-carts, drays, and heavy waggons, until finally a deeply rutted and well-worn serpentine road through the forest or scrub was formed, to be straightened in course of time, as observant travellers cut off corners, and later by Government surveyors and road-makers.

Prospectors were gradually “poking out,” gold being found in all directions in greater or less degree; but it was not until June, 1893, that any find was made of more than passing interest. Curiously, this great goldfield of Hannan's (now called Kalgoorlie) was found by the veriest chance. Patrick Hannan, like many others, had joined in a wild-goose chase to locate a supposed rush at Mount Yule—a mountain the height and importance of which may be judged from the fact that no one was able to find it! On going out one morning to hunt up his horses, he chanced on a nugget of gold. In the course of five years this little nugget has transformed the silent bush into a populous town of 2,000 inhabitants, with its churches, clubs, hotels, and streets of offices and shops, surrounded by rich mines, and reminded of the cause of its existence by the ceaseless crashing of mills and stamps, grinding out gold at the rate of nearly 80,000 oz. per mouth.

Arriving one Sunday morning from our camp at the “Twenty-five,” I was astonished to find Coolgardie almost deserted, not even the usual “Sunday School” going on. Now I am sorry to disappoint my readers who are not conversant with miners' slang, but they must not picture rows of good little children sitting in the shade of the gum-trees, to whom some kind-hearted digger is expounding the Scriptures. No indeed! The miners' school is neither more nor less than a largely attended game of pitch-and-toss, at which sometimes hundreds of pounds in gold or notes change hands. I remember one old man who had only one shilling between him and the grave, so he told me. He could not decide whether to invest his last coin in a gallon of water or in the “heading-school.” He chose the latter and lost… subsequently I saw him lying peacefully drunk under a tree! I doubt if his intention had been suicide, but had it been he could hardly have chosen a more deadly weapon than the whiskey of those days.

The “rush to Hannan's” had depopulated Coolgardie and the next day saw Davies and myself amongst an eager train of travellers bound for the new site of fortune. “Little Carnegie” was harnessed to a small cart, which carried our provisions and tools. The commissariat department was easily attended to, as nothing was obtainable but biscuits and tinned soup. It was now mid-winter, and nights were often bitterly cold. Without tent or fly, and with hardly a blanket between us, we used to lie shivering at night.

A slight rain had fallen, insufficient to leave much water about, and yet enough to so moisten the soil as to make dry-blowing impossible in the ordinary way. Fires had to be built and kept going all night, piled up on heaps of alluvial soil dug out during the day. In the morning these heaps would be dry enough to treat, and ashes and earth were dry-blown together—the pleasures of the ordinary process being intensified by the addition of clouds of ashes.

A strange appearance these fires had, dotted through the brush, lighting up now a tent, now a water-cart, now a camp of fortunate ones lying cosily under their canvas roof, now a set of poor devils with hardly a rag to their backs. Oh glorious uncertainty of mining! One of these very poor devils that I have in my mind has now a considerable fortune, with rooms in a fashionable quarter of London, and in frock-coat and tall hat “swells” it with the best!

How quickly men change to be sure! A man who at one time would “steal the shirt off a dead black-fellow,” in a few short months is complaining of the taste of his wine or the fit of his patent-leather boots. Dame Fortune was good to some, but to us, like many others, she turned a deaf ear, and after many weeks' toil we had to give up the battle, for neither food, money, nor gold had we. All I possessed was the pony, and from that old friend I could not part. The fruits of our labours, or I should say my share in them, I sent home in a letter, and the few pin's-heads of gold so sent did not necessitate any extra postage. Weary and toil-worn we returned to Coolgardie, and the partners of some rather remarkable experiences split company, and went each his own way.

It is several years since I have seen Mr. Davies; but I believe Fortune's wheel turned round for him at length, and that now he enjoys the rest that his years and toils entitle him to. I have many kindly recollections of our camping days together, and of the numerous yarns my mate used to spin of his palmy days as a Queensland squatter.

CHAPTER III

A Miner On Bayley's

Returned from the rush, I made my way to Bayley's to seek employment for my pony and his master. Nor did I seek in vain, for I was duly entered on the pay-sheet as “surface hand” at £3 10 shillings per week, with water at the rate of one gallon per day. Here I first made the acquaintance of Godfrey Massie, a cousin of the Brownes, who, like me, had been forced by want of luck to work for wages, and who, by the way, had carried his “swag” on his back from York to the goldfields, a distance of nearly 300 miles. He and I were the first amateurs to get a job on the great Reward Claim, though subsequently it became a regular harbour of refuge for young men crowded out from the banks and offices of Sydney and Melbourne. Nothing but a fabulously rich mine could have stood the tinkering of so many unprofessional miners. It speaks well for the kindness of heart of those at the head of the management of the mine that they were willing to trust the unearthing of so much treasure to the hands of boys unused to manual work, or to work of any kind in a great many cases.

How rich the mine was, may be judged from the fact that for the first few months the enormous production of gold from it was due to the labours of three of the shareholders, assisted by only two other men. The following letter from Mr. Everard Browne to Lord Douglas gives some idea of what the yield was at the time that I went there to work:—

I am just taking 4,200 oz, over to Melbourne from our reef (Bayley's). This makes 10,000 oz. we have brought down from our reef without a battery, or machinery equal to treating 200 lbs. of stone per day; that is a bit of a record for you! We have got water in our shaft at 137 feet, enough to run a battery, and we shall have one on the ground in three months' time or under, Egan dollied out 1,000 oz, in a little over two months, before I came down, from his reef; and Cashman dollied 700 oz. out of his in about three weeks and had one stone 10 lbs. weight with 9 lbs. of gold in it, so we are not the only successful reefers since you left. I hope you will soon be with us again.

If you are speaking about this 10,000 oz. we have taken out of our reef in six months, remember that Bayley and Ford dollied out 2,500 oz. for themselves before they handed it over to us on February 27th last, so that actually 12,500 oz. have been taken out of the claim, without a battery, in under nine months. The shoot of gold is now proved over 100 feet long on the course of the reef, and we were down 52 feet in our shaft on the reef, with as good gold as ever at the bottom. The other shaft, which we have got water in, is in the country (a downright shaft). We expect to meet the reef in it at 170 feet.

Besides Massie, myself, and Tom Cue, there were not then many employed, and really we used to have rather an enjoyable time than otherwise. Working regular hours, eight hours on and sixteen off, sometimes on the surface, sometimes below, with hammer and drill, or pick and shovel, always amongst glittering gold, was by no means unpleasant. It would certainly have been better still had we been able to keep what we found, but the next best thing to being successful is to see those one is fond of, pile up their banking account; and I have had few better friends than the resident shareholders on Bayley's Reward.

What good fellows, too, were the professional miners, always ready to help one and make the time pass pleasantly. Big Jim Breen was my mate for some time, and many a pleasant talk and smoke (Smoke, O! is a recognised rest from work at intervals during a miner's shift) we have had at the bottom of a shaft, thirty to fifty feet from the surface! I really think that having to get out of a nice warm bed or tent for night shift, viz., from midnight to 8 a.m., was the most unpleasant part of my life as a miner.

Illustration 4: The first hotel at Coolgardie

As recreation we used to play occasional games of cricket on a very hard and uneven pitch, and for social entertainments had frequent sing-songs and “buck dances”—that is, dances in which there were no ladies to take part—at Faahan's Club Hotel in the town, some one and a half miles distant. “Hotel” was rather too high-class a name, for it was by no means an imposing structure, hessian and corrugated iron taking the place of the bricks and slates of a more civilised building. The addition of a weather-board front, which was subsequently erected, greatly enhanced its attractions. Mr. Faahan can boast of having had the first two-storeyed house in the town; though the too critical might hold that the upper one, being merely a sham, could not be counted as dwelling-room. There was no sham, however, about the festive character of those evening entertainments.

Thus time went on, the only change in my circumstances resulting from my promotion to engine-driver—for now the Reward Claim boasted a small crushing plant—and Spring came, and with it in November the disastrous rush to “Siberia.” This name, like most others on the goldfields, may be traced to the wit of some disappointed digger.

The rush was a failure or “frost,” and so great a one that “Siberia” was the only word adequately to express the chagrin of the men who hoped so much from its discovery. Being one of these myself, I can cordially endorse the appropriateness of the name. What a motley crowd of eager faces throngs the streets and camp on the first news of a new rush—every one anxious to be off and be the first to make his fortune—every man questioning his neighbour, who knows no more than himself, about distances and direction, where the nearest water may be, and all manner of similar queries.

Once clear of the town, what a strange collection of baggage animals, horses, camels, and donkeys! What a mass of carts, drays, buggies, wheelbarrows, handbarrows, and many queer makeshifts for carrying goods—the strangest of all a large barrel set on an axle, and dragged or shoved by means of two long handles, the proud possessor's belongings turning round and round inside until they must surely be churned into a most confusing jumble. Then we see the “Swagman” with his load on his back, perhaps fifty pounds of provisions rolled up in his blankets, with a pick and shovel strapped on them, and in either hand a gallon bag of water. No light work this with the thermometer standing at 100°F in the shade, and the track inches deep in fine, powdery dust; and yet men start off with a light heart, with perhaps, a two hundred mile journey before them, replenishing their bundles as they pass through camps on their road.

“Siberia” was said to be seventy miles of a dry stage, and yet off we all started, as happy as kings at the chance of mending our fortunes.

Poor Crossman (since dead), McCulloch, and I were mates, and we were well off, for we had not only “Little Carnegie,” and who, like his master, had been earning his living at Bayley's, but a camel, “Bungo” by name, kindly lent by Gordon Lyon. Thus we were able to carry water as well as provisions, and helped to relieve the sufferings of many a poor wretch who had only his feet to serve him.

The story of Siberia may be soon told. Hundreds “rushed” over this dry stage, at the end of which a small and doubtful water supply was obtainable. When this supply gave out fresh arrivals had to do their best without it, the rush perforce had to set back again, privations, disaster, and suffering being the only result. Much was said and written at the time about the scores of dead and dying men and horses who lined the roads—roads because there were two routes to the new field. There may have been deaths on the other track, but I know that we saw none on ours. Men in sore straits, with swollen tongues and bleeding feet, we saw, and, happily, were able to relieve; and I am sure that many would have died but for the prompt aid rendered by the Government Water Supply Department, which despatched drays loaded with tanks of water to succour the suffering miners. So the fortunes, to be made at Siberia, had again to be postponed.

Illustration 5: The “Gold Escort”

Shortly after our return to Coolgardie a “gold escort” left Bayley's for the coast, and as a guardian of the precious freight I travelled down to Perth. There was no Government escort at that time, and any lucky possessor of gold had to carry it to the capital as best he could.

With four spanking horses, Gordon Lyon as driver, three men with him on the express-waggon, an outrider behind and in front, all armed with repeating rifles, we rattled down the road, perhaps secretly wishing that someone would be venturesome enough to attempt to “stick us up.” No such stirring event occurred, however, and we reached the head of the then partially constructed line, and there took train for Perth, where I eagerly awaited the arrival of my old friend and companion, Percy Douglas. He meanwhile had had his battles to fight in the financial world, and had come out to all appearances on top, having been instrumental in forming an important mining company from which we expected great things.

Next PART II - FIRST PROSPECTING EXPEDITION