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Spinifex And Sand by David W. Carnegie

 

PART III

SECOND PROSPECTING EXPEDITION

CHAPTER I

The Joys Of Portable Condensers

November 8, 1894, was a red-letter day in the history of Coolgardie, for on that date the foundation-stone of the first brick building was laid by Mr. James Shaw, the mayor. Under the stone was deposited a specimen of each coin of the realm, and these, by the way, were purloined in the night. This great day was made the occasion for feasting and jubilation, the feasting taking the not uncommon form of a gigantic “Champagne Spree,” to which the whole town was invited.

When once a wave of inebriety swept over the settlement, something a little out of the ordinary was likely to occur. Fights and rows would be started with the most bloodthirsty intentions, only to end in peace and harmony after the swearing of eternal friendships. A good fight in Coolgardie in those days would attract as much attention as a cab accident in the streets of London. The well-known cry of “A fight! a fight!” would bring the greater part of the population from their dwellings—from stores, banks, offices, bars, an excited and rushing crowd would hurry to the scene of the fray, all eager to witness a good row; they were not, as a rule, disappointed, for, as one fight usually breeds several, a fair afternoon's or morning's entertainment could be safely counted on. A mining community must have excitement; even a dog-fight would command a considerable amount of interest.

On the celebrated night of the laying of the foundation stone I had the pleasure of witnessing a rough-and-tumble fight between two of the most powerful men in Coolgardie. The excitement was intense as one seized his antagonist, and, using him as a flail, proceeded to clear the room with him; he retaliated by overpowering the other man, and finally breaking his leg as they fell heavily together out through the door on to the hard street beyond. How much ill-feeling this little incident engendered may be judged from the fact that the maimed man was employed by his late adversary as clerk until his limb mended, and subsequently held the billet for many months.

It was my misfortune to be engaged in organising a prospecting expedition at this time—misfortune, because of the impossibility of getting any one to attend to business. Camels had to be bought, and provisions and equipment attended to. A syndicate had engaged my services and those of my two companions whom I had chosen in Perth: Jim Conley, a fine, sturdy American from Kentucky, the one; and Paddy Egan, an Irish-Victorian, the other. Both had been some time on the fields, and Conley had had previous experience in South Africa and on the Yukon, where he had negotiated the now famous Chilcoot Pass without realising that it was the tremendous feat that present-day travellers represent it to be.

There are few men more entertaining than diggers, when one can get them to talk; there is hardly a corner of the habitable globe to which they have not penetrated. Round a camp-fire one will hear tales of Africa, New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, America from Alaska to the Horn, Madagascar, and other strange countries that would be a mine of information to a writer of books of adventure—tales told in the main with truth and accuracy, and in the quiet, unostentatious manner of the habitual digger to whom poverty, riches, and hardships come all in their turn as a matter of course.

Having chosen my mates, the next thing to be done was to procure beasts of burden. Of numerous camels submitted for inspection I took three, which were subsequently christened “Czar,” “Satan,” and “Misery” respectively; the first from his noble and king-like mien, the second from his wild and exceedingly unpleasant habit of kicking and striking—habits due not to vice but to the nervousness of youth—and the third from his plaintive remonstrances and sad-eyed looks of reproach as his saddle and load were placed on his back.

The price of a good pack-camel then varied from £60 to £80 —and such prices as £100 to £130 were given for first-class riding-camels. For South Australian-bred camels, the descendants of stock originally imported from India by Sir Thomas Elder some thirty years ago, a higher price was asked than for those brought into the Colony direct from Kurrachi; and rightly, for there can be no doubt but that in size, strength, and endurance, the camel of Australian birth is far ahead of his old-world cousin. Not only are Indian camels smaller and less fitted for the heavy work of the interior, but their liability, until acclimatised, to mange and other diseases makes them most undesirable acquisitions.

The near approach of midsummer, and the known scarcity of water, had induced me to include in my equipment a portable condenser, by means of which we should convert the brine of the salt lakes into water fit to drink. It seemed an excellent plan and so simple, for lakes abound—on the maps; and wherever a lake is, there, by digging, will water be found, and thus we should be independent of rock-holes and other precarious sources of supply. Plans so simple on paper do not always “pan out” as confidently expected and a more odious job, or one which entailed more hard work, than prospecting with condensers I have not had to undertake. “Prospecting” is generally taken to mean searching for gold. In Western Australia in the hot weather it resolves itself into a continual battle for water, with the very unlikely contingency that, in the hunt for a drink, one may fall up against a nugget of gold or a gold-bearing quartz reef.

On November 10th we made a start from Coolgardie, and, travelling along the Twenty-five Mile road for some fifteen miles, we branched off in an easterly direction, to try some country where I had previously found “colours” of gold, when journeying from Kurnalpi to the Twenty-five Mile. Finding that in the meantime others had been there and pegged out leases and claims, we passed on and set up our condensers on the “Wind and Water” lake, and began to get an inkling that our job was not to be of the pleasantest.

More than one hole six to fifteen feet deep had to be sunk before we struck any water. To lessen the labour we at first dug our shafts near the margin of the lake; this proving unsuccessful we were forced further and further out, until our efforts were rewarded by a plentiful supply, but alas! some three hundred yards from the shore. This necessitated the carrying of wood from the margin of the lake to the condensers. The boilers required constant attention day and night, the fires had to be stoked, and the water stored as it slowly trickled from the cooling tray. Thus the duties of the twenty-four hours consisted in chopping and carrying wood, watching the condensers, attending to the camels, occasionally sleeping and eating, and prospecting for gold in spare time. I think my readers will readily understand that it was hard indeed to find much time to devote to the proper object of the expedition, however willing we were to do so.

There were one or two others engaged on the same job at that lake, and from one party Czar sneaked a cheap drink by thrusting his head through the opening in the lid of a large two-hundred-gallon tank. His peculiar position was specially adapted to the administration of a sound beating, nor did the infuriated owner of the water fail to take advantage of the situation.

With our tanks filled and our camels watered, we set forth from the lake on November 21st, having prospected what country there was in its immediate neighbourhood. The heat was intense, and walking, out of training as we were, was dry work; our iron casks being new, gave a most unpleasant zinc taste to the water, which made us all feel sick. Unpleasant as this was, yet it served the useful purpose of checking the consumption of water. Our route lay past the “Broad Arrow” to a hill that I took to be Mount Yule, and from there almost due east to Giles' Pinnacles. Our camels were most troublesome; young, nervous, and unused to us or to each other, they would wander miles during the night, and give two of us a walk of three or four miles in the morning; before the day's work began. Two were not content with merely wandering, but persisted in going in one direction, the third in another.

One morning Conley and Egan were following their tracks each in a different quarter. I meanwhile climbed a neighbouring hill to spy out the land ahead, hoping to see the white glitter of a salt lake, for we were in likely country, ironstone blows, quartz, and diorite giving evidence of its probable auriferous nature; we were therefore anxious to find water to enable us to test it. On return to camp, after an absence of not more than half an hour, I was astonished to see it surrounded by the tracks of numerous “black-fellows.” I guessed they had paid us a visit for no good purpose, and was hardly surprised when I found that they had not only stolen all our flour, but added insult to injury by scattering it about the ground. Not daring to leave the camp, lest in my absence they should return and take all our provisions, I was unable to follow the thieves, and had to wait in patience the return of the camels.

So far had they wandered in their hobbles, that by the time we were ready to start the blacks must have gained too great an advantage in distance to make it worth our while to follow them; nor, since they started off in the direction from which we had come, was it any use tracking them with the hope of getting water. So we pushed on eastwards, through open forest of gums, scrubs, and thickets, broken by occasional small plains of saltbush, seeing no signs of water or lake, when presently we entered a belt of sandy desert—rolling sandhills, spinifex-clad, with occasional thickets of mulga and mallee.

Monotonous work it was, dragging the wretched camels for eight to ten hours at a stretch, inciting them to fresh exertions by curses and beatings, kindness and caresses, in turn. In some respects a camel resembles a bullock; not only does he chew his cud, but he loves to be sworn at; no self-respecting ox will do an ounce of work until his driver has flung over him a cloud of the most lurid and hair-raising language. Now, a camel draws the line at blasphemy, but rejoices in the ordinary oaths and swear-words of every-day life in much the same way as a retriever. There is no animal more susceptible to kindness than a camel; but in a sandy sea of scrub with the blazing sun almost boiling the water, milk-like from zinc, in the tanks, loads dragged this way and that, boilers and pipes of condensers rolling, now forward, now back, eventually to slip clattering down, bearing camel and all to the ground—with these and other trials kindness was not in us.

Soon after sunset on the 27th, from the branches of a high gum tree we sighted the Pinnacles almost dead on our course; and late that night we reached the lake, and found to our joy a condenser already established, by means of which two men earned a precarious livelihood by selling water to travellers—for these lakes were on the direct track from Kurnalpi to the Mount Margaret district. Thus enabled to assuage the seven days' thirst of the camels forthwith, at the cost of a shilling per gallon, we lost no time in setting up our own plant, and were fortunate in finding water and wood easy of access. The next four days were spent in prospecting the surrounding country, but no gold rewarded our efforts, though numerous reefs and blows of quartz were to be seen in the hills which the lake nearly surrounds.

Whilst camped here, I took the opportunity of breaking in Satan as a riding-camel, and found him at first a most untameable customer, trying all sorts of dodges to get the better of me. Twisting round his neck he would grab at my leg; then, rolling, he would unseat and endeavour to roll on me; finally tiring of these tricks he would gallop off at full speed, and run my leg against a tree, or do his best to sweep me off by an overhanging branch, until I felt satisfied that he had been rightly named. At last he realised that I was master, and after that I hardly remember one occasion on which he gave any trouble; for the three years that I afterwards possessed him, we were the best of friends, and he the most gentle and biddable of beasts. Alas! that I should have had to end his days with a bullet, and leave his bones to be picked by the dingoes of the Great Sandy Desert.

Failing to find any gold, and being in need of flour, we made south to Kurnalpi, through country flat and uninteresting, and arrived at that camp just in time to secure the last two bags of flour. The town was almost deserted, and had none of the lively and busy appearance that it presented when I had last seen it. All who saw us praised our equipment and forethought in having portable condensers. I am not quite sure that we agreed with them.

Hearing that some promising country existed near Lake Roe, I decided to make for that place, and more particularly for a small rock-hole named Beri, at the west end of the lake. Very rough, stony hills covered with dense scrub surround Kurnalpi on the south; once across these, flat, open country of saltbush and samphire, rapidly changing into salt-swamp, made travelling easy; passing over another low range of diorite, from which we got an extensive view of Lake Lapage to the west and Lake Roe to the east, we reached Beri, hitting off the rock with so much accuracy that even Paddy Egan was surprised into praise of the compass. For some bushmen, be it known, can neither understand nor appreciate the use of a compass, and, being quite capable of finding their way back, are content to wander forth into the bush with no guide but the sun, taking no notes of the country, no record of their day's march, and making no observations to help either themselves or anybody else; unable to say where they have been, how they got there, or how they got home again. Some men have a natural instinct for direction, and I know some who could start, say from Coolgardie, to ride seventy miles east and return, then perhaps sixty to the north, and from that point ride across to their seventy-mile point with great ease and certainty, having no notion of the distance or point of the compass.

A good many prospectors, depending on their black-boys almost entirely, wander from one range of hills to another, dodge here and there for water, keep no count or reckoning, and only return by the help of their guide when the “tucker-bags” are empty; others make a practice of standing two sticks in the ground on camping at night, to remind them of the course they have travelled during the day and must resume in the morning. To such men as these a map or compass is useless and therefore of no value; and yet they are often spoken of by the ignorant as “best bushmen in Australia.”

In my time I have seen and mixed with most prospectors in the West, and as far as my experience goes the best bushmen not only use the compass, but keep a reckoning, rough though it may be, of their day's travel. Such a man is Billy Frost, to quote a well-known name on the goldfields, a man who has had no chance to learn any of the rudiments of surveying, and who started life as a boundary rider on a cattle station. He has shown me a note-book in which he has jotted down directions and distances from water

In mountainous country where landmarks are numerous the traveller may manage it; but no man could travel for any length of time without keeping some sort of reckoning, in a flat country like the interior of Western Australia, where for days together one sees no hill or rise, without before long becoming hopelessly lost.

Paddy Egan had been content to travel in this haphazard way, and it was long before he would acknowledge the benefits of a compass and map. That he could travel straight there was no gainsaying, for if, as I sometimes did, I pointed out our line and sent him ahead, he would go as straight as a die, with now and then a glance at the sun, and a slight alteration in his course to allow for its altered position, and require but little correction. Indeed, even when using a compass, one instinctively pays as much and more attention to the sun or the stars, as the case may be.

The rock-hole at Beri was dry, so we pushed on for Lake Roe, and, though we worked sinking holes until past midnight, and nearly the whole of the next day, we were unable to find water. It was only salt water we expected, but a stiff pipeclay, continuing to a depth too great for our limited means of sinking, baffled all our efforts. I followed the lake some six miles to the eastward, carrying a shovel and digging trial holes at intervals, but this pipeclay foiled me everywhere.

I do not know how far this lake runs east, and fancy its limits have never been laid down on the map; not that there is anything sufficiently inviting in its appearance—the usual flat expanse of mud, with banks of sand fringed with low straggling mallee and spinifex—to warrant further investigation.

Lake Roe having failed us, we turned on our tracks for the nearest point of Lake Lapage, some nine miles distant. Here we were more fortunate, and obtained a splendid supply of salt water at a depth of only three feet. Timber was not easily got—that would have been too much joy! It had to be carried nearly half a mile on our shoulders, for the camels, having travelled all day, deserved a rest. The condensers worked well, now that we had had some experience, and produced water at the rate of four gallons an hour. With our casks replenished and our camels filled, leaving the condenser standing, we turned south to some hills that were visible; we intended to be absent for four days, at the end of which the camels would again require water, as the weather was exceedingly hot.

Nothing of interest was met with until we came upon a huge wall-like reef, standing some fifteen or twenty feet above the ground, from ten to twenty feet wide, and running almost due north and south for nearly five miles, without a break of appreciable extent, as we subsequently found. Breaking the quartz at intervals, hoping at each blow of the pick to see the longed-for colours, we followed this curious natural wall, and finally camped, sheltered by it from the wind. A violent storm of dust, wind, thunder, and lightning swept over us that night, tearing the “fly” we had pitched, in the vain expectation of rain, into ribbons.

Leaving the others to continue prospecting, I turned my steps, or rather those of Satan, whom I was riding, towards Cowarna, a large granite rock, some fourteen miles distant, and due south from our camp, if I had reckoned our position on the map correctly. Twelve miles of open forest, alternating with scrubby thickets, brought me to the edge of a fine little plain of saltbush and grass, from the centre of which a bare rock of granite stood out. Arrived at the rock, I hunted long and diligently for water. Numerous rock-holes were to be seen, but all were dry, and my hopes of making this our base from which to prospect in various directions were at first short-lived; but before long I was overjoyed to hear the twittering of a little flock of Diamond sparrows—a nearly certain sign that water must be handy; and sure enough I found their supply at the bottom of a narrow, round hole, down which I could just stretch my arm.

CHAPTER II

Granite Rocks, “Namma Holes,” And “Soaks”

At this point it may not be amiss to give a short description of these peculiar outcrops of granite, without which the track from York to Coolgardie could never have been kept open, nor the place discovered, nor could its early inhabitants have supported life before the condensing plant came into general use.

The interior of the Colony, between the coast and a point some hundred miles east of Coolgardie, is traversed by parallel belts of granite, running in a general direction of north-north-west and south-south-east. This granite crops out above the surface, at intervals of from ten to twenty or thirty miles, sometimes in the form of an isolated barren rock, and sometimes as low ranges and hills several miles in extent. From them small creeks, and sometimes larger watercourses, run down, to find their way into the stony and gravelly debris which usually surrounds the rocks. Much of what little rain does fall is absorbed by the trees and scrub, and much is taken by the sun's heat, so that a very small proportion can sink below the surface soil, and only when there is some underground basin in the rock beneath will water be found by sinking, except immediately after rain.

Round the granite base a belt of grass of no great extent may be found, for the most part dry and yellow, but in places green and fresh. It is in such spots as these that one may hope to tap an underground reservoir in the rock. To these shallow wells has been given the name of “Soaks.” They seldom exceed fifteen feet in depth, though similar subterranean basins have been tapped by a well perhaps a hundred feet deep, sunk some distance from the foot of the outcrop. A good soak will stand a heavy drain for perhaps months, but not having its origin in a spring the supply ultimately ceases.

The soil, being alluvial, is in most cases easy to dig, and when the bed rock is reached it becomes an open question whether to go deeper into the decomposed rock or to be content with what supply has been struck. Many a good soak has been ruined by a too ambitious worker, who, after infinite toil, may see his priceless fluid disappear down some hidden crack beneath. Native soaks dug out with sticks and wooden “coolimans”—small troughs used as spades or as a means of carrying seeds, water, or game—are by no means uncommon, and, when holding water, are easily made more serviceable by throwing out a few shovelsful of sticks, stones, and sand, with which they are generally choked. Often the weary traveller has no such lucky help, and must set to work to dig a soak for himself and his thirsty beasts—against time, too, in a blazing sun, without the comforting knowledge that there is any certainty of finding water. I do not know of any case when a party has actually perished at the mouth of a waterless soak, but in many instances water has been struck when all hope had been given up. The skeletons and carcasses of camels and horses tell a tale of suffering that no man who has travelled can look at unmoved, and go to show that many a beast of burden has been less fortunate than his masters.

With what eager anxiety the shovelsful are watched, when the expected “bottom” is nearly reached, by man and beast alike, who, utterly weary and absolutely parched, know that they are soon to learn their fate. The horses snort and plunge in eager and impatient expectation, whilst the patient camel contents himself with grunts and moans, though, as his knees are probably strapped beneath him, he cannot protest more forcibly. At length, perhaps, all are rewarded by the welcome sight of a tiny trickle in one corner, or perhaps the hole turns out a “duffer,” and the weary, weary work must be commenced again in a fresh spot.

In many cases these granite rocks have been utilised as a catchment area for tanks, into which the water is led by drains, which encircle the foot of the outcrop. Before the railway was built, such tanks, sunk by Government along the Southern Cross-Coolgardie track, enabled teamsters to bring their horses through with safety, which would otherwise have been impossible at some seasons of the year.

I append a table showing cost and contents of Government tanks excavated at the base of granite rocks between Southern Cross and Coolgardie:—
Name of ReservoirCostContents in GallonsCost per Million Gallons
Reen's Soak £3,246 900,000 £3,607
Kararawalgee 2,947 1,250,000 2,858
Boorabbin 3,025 900,000 3,461
Woolgangee 3,825 1,2501000 3,100
Bullabulling 4,118 1,250,000 3,294
Coolgardie (No, 1) 1,167 800,000 1,454
Coolgardie (No. 2) 2,110 1,400,000 1,503
Halgoorlie (half-way) 1,266 500,000 2,532
Kalgoorlie 1,554 500,000 3,108
Twenty-five Mile Tank 1,881 500,000 3,762
Forty Mile Tank 1,546 500,000 3,092
Colreavy's Tank 2,193 997,000 2,199

The above table will give some idea of the enormous expense entailed by the opening up of the interior. In addition to these, wells and bores were put down, many of which failed to strike water.

Ever-thoughtful Nature has provided, on the surface of the “granites,” small reservoirs which, after rain, may, in some cases, hold many hundred gallons of water. The Rock—or Namma-holes (I presume “Namma” is a native name, but of this I am uncertain) are usually more or less conical in shape, and vary in depth from a few inches to twenty feet, and in diameter from half a foot to several. Their sides are smooth, and slope down to a rounded bottom, where stones are often found which would suggest that they have had something to do with the formation of these peculiar holes. Beneath a hard surface layer the rock becomes decomposed and comparatively soft; and doubtless the rain of countless ages collecting round the stones, once on the surface and now found at the bottom of the holes, has at length weathered away the rock, and so by slow degrees the stone has ground out an ever-increasing hollow. I am neither geologist nor dentist, but I have often likened in my mind the formation of the Namma-holes to the gradual hollow formed by decay in a tooth. Whatever their history, their use is unquestionable—not so the flavour of their contents; for every bird or beast coming to water will leave some traces behind, and the natives, to prevent evaporation, throw in sticks, stones, and grass. Such a collection of rubbish and filth might naturally be supposed to render the water unhealthy, but apparently this is not the case, for we have often been forced to drink water, which, in civilisation would be thought only fit to be used as manure for the garden, without any injury to health or digestion. Patient search over the whole surface of the rock is the usual method for finding rock-holes, though sometimes the pads of wallabies, kangaroos, or emus, may serve as a guide to them, but game is so scarce that a man must usually trust to his own observation. Sometimes their existence may be detected from a distance by the patch of rock round the mouth showing white, owing to its being worn by the feet of birds and animals.

A typical rock was the high, barren “Cowarna,” and one that after rain would store in its depressions a plentiful supply of the life-giving water. Thankful for small mercies, I made the best of a bad job, and, having no dish or bucket from which to give Satan a drink, I was obliged to make him lie down close to the narrow hole, whilst into his willing throat I poured the water which at arm's length I scooped up with my quart pot. This tedious process finished, I still had a potful at my disposal, so, taking a long drink myself, I stripped off my clothes and indulged in a shower bath, Not a luxurious bathe certainly, and a larger supply would have been acceptable, but every little helps, and even a few drops of fresh water have a pleasant effect on one's body made sticky by the salt of the water from the lakes, and serve to remind the traveller that he has once been clean.

Illustration 10: Condensing water on a salt lake

Leaving the rock at sundown I travelled well into the night, for progress was slow through the scrub and trees in the darkness, but little relieved by the light of a waning moon. Feeling sure that I had gone far enough, I was preparing to rest awhile and find our camp in the morning, when the welcome glow of a fire shot up through the branches. Jim and Paddy, with characteristic thought and resource, had climbed to the top of two tall and dead gum trees and there built fires, fanned by the fierce draught through the hollow trunks, knowing well at what a short distance a fire on the ground is visible in this flat country. During my absence they had found no gold, but, as they liked the look of the country, we decided to return to our condensers for a fresh supply of water. Having obtained this, Egan and I revisited our previous prospecting ground, leaving Jim behind to “cook” water against our return; and a more uninteresting occupation I cannot well picture. Camped alone on a spit of sand, surrounded by a flat expanse of mud, broiled by the sun, half blinded by the glare of the salt, with no shade but a blanket thrown over a rough screen of branches, and nothing to do but to stoke up the fires, change the water in the cooling-trough, and blow off the salt from the bottom of the boilers, he was hardly to be envied. Yet Jim cheerfully undertook the job and greeted us on our return, after four days, with the smiling remark that his work had been varied by the necessity of plugging up the bottom of one of the boilers which had burned through, with a compound (a patent of his own) formed from strips of his shirt soaked in a stiff paste of flour. That night we were astonished by the passage of a flight of ducks over our heads, which Egan saw, and I and Conley heard distinctly.

A detailed account of our wanderings would be as wearying to the reader as they were to ourselves, a mere monotonous repetition of cooking water and hunting for “colours” which we never found. Christmas Eve, 1894, saw us in the vicinity of Mount Monger, where a few men were working on an alluvial patch and getting a little gold. A lucky storm had filled a deep clay-hole on the flat running north-west from the hills, and here we were at last enabled to give the camels a cheap drink; for over six weeks we had not seen a drop of fresh water beyond what, with infinite labour, we had condensed, with the one exception of the small rock-hole I found at Cowarna. My entry in my journal for Christmas Day is short and sweet: “Xmas Day, 1894. Wash clothes. Write diary. Plot course.” We had no Christmas fare to make our hearts glad and but for the fortunate arrival of my old friend David Wilson, who gave us a couple of packets of cornflour, would have had a scanty feast indeed.

Even in the remote little mining camp Santa Claus did not forget us, and spread his presents, in the form of a deluge of rain, on all alike. What a pleasant change to get thoroughly wet through! The storm hardly lasted twenty minutes, but such was its violence that every little creek and watercourse was soon running, and water for weeks to come was secured and plentiful in all directions; but so local is a summer storm that five miles from the camp, no water or signs of rain were to be seen. Our provisions being finished, nothing remained but to make all speed for Coolgardie, some fifty miles distant by road. Unencumbered by the condensers, which were abandoned as useless since the bottom of both boilers had burned through, we made fair time, reaching a good camping-ground two miles from the town on the evening of the second day, the 30th of December.

CHAPTER III

A Fresh Start

Four days sufficed to make preparations for another trip, to hear and read the news, and write letters. My first, of course, was to my Syndicate, to report our past movements and future plans, and how I intended making northward, hoping that change of direction would change our luck.

January 4th we set out with the same three camels, and rations for three months. My plan was first to revisit some known good country to the south of Hannan's, and, if unsuccessful, to travel from that point in a more or less north-north-west direction, and so follow, instead of crossing, the trend of the various formations; for in travelling from east to west, or vice versa, one crosses a succession of parallel belts, first a sand-plain, then a ridge of granite, next a timbered flat, then a stretch of auriferous country, with possibly a belt of flat salt-lake country on either side. Since these parallel belts run nearly north-north-west, it seemed to the mind of the untrained geologist that by starting in a known auriferous zone, and travelling along it in a north-north-west direction, the chances of being all the time in auriferous country would be increased, and the plan worth trying.

Passing the homestead of the Hampton Plains Land Company, where I was given valuable information and a map by the courteous and kind manager, Mr. Anderson (now alas! dead, a victim to the typhoid scourge), we continued on the Lake Lefroy road as far as the Fourteen Mile rock-hole. This contained water, but so foul that the camels would not look at it. Nor were we more successful in our next water-hole, for it contained a dead horse. Leading to this Namma-hole, which was prettily situated on a low rock at the foot of a rough, broken ridge of granite, surrounded by green and shady kurrajongs, we found a curious little avenue of stones. These were piled up into heaps laid in two parallel rows, and at intervals between the heaps would be a large boulder; evidently this was the work of aboriginals, but what meaning to attach to it we could not think. The beginning of our journey promised well for water, for we were again favoured by a local thunderstorm which, in clay-pans and swamps, left a plentiful supply. Mr. Anderson had told me of some hills in which he had found gold in small quantities, and sure enough wherever we tried a “dish of dirt,” colours were sure to result. A pleasant camp was this, plenty of water, numberless quartz reefs, every prospect of finding payable gold, and feed of the best kind in profusion—a welcome change for our beasts. They were shedding the last of their winter coats, and, as the weather was hot, I hastened the transformation by pulling off great flakes of wool with which Egan stuffed one of the saddles. Poor Misery had an uncomfortable experience here in consequence of catching the rings of his hobble-chain in the broken stump of a bush, so that he was held captive all night.

The advance of civilisation was marked by the appearance of a small herd of bullocks, evidently stragglers from “Hannan's,” and had we been further from that place I do not doubt that our desire for fresh beef might have overcome our conscientious scruples. Virtue, however, was rewarded, for on awakening one morning I saw advancing towards our camp, with slow and solemn curiosity, two emus, peering now this way, now that, examining our packs and other gear with interest and delight. Choosing the younger bird, I took aim with my Winchester, and dropped him; the report of the rifle startled my companions from their sleep with the thought that we were perhaps attacked by the blacks, for emus are even less numerous than they. But their surprise was not greater than that of the surviving bird, as he gazed spellbound at his dead mate, whom we found most excellent eating. Great as the temptation was to have a shot at the remaining bird, I resisted it, as from the one we could get sufficient meat for our requirements, and it seemed a shame to take the life, for mere pleasure, of the only wild creature we had seen for many weeks.

Tiring at length of prospecting reefs, blows, and alluvial with no better result than an occasional pin's-head of gold, we turned our faces to the north, passing again the herd of cattle wallowing in the swamps and pans of rain water.

Clay-pans usually occur in the neighbourhood of salt lakes, and are merely shallow depressions with smooth clay bottoms. Though as a rule not more than a few inches to a foot in depth, I have seen them in places holding four to five feet of water. Immediately after rain all clay-pans are fresh, before long some will turn salt; those containing drinkable water are often distinguishable by the growth of cane grass which covers the bed, a coarse, rush-like grass of no value as food for stock. Dry for three-quarters of the year, these pans, with their impervious bottoms, hold the rain, when it fills them, for a considerable period.

Salt-water pans are pellucid and clear, as the inexperienced may find at his cost. One thirsty day, having tramped many miles horse-hunting, deceived by a crystal-clear sheet of water, I plunged in my head and hands, and, before I realised my mistake, took a deep draught with most unpleasant results. I have been more careful since that catastrophe. An effective method of clearing muddy clay-pan water is by dropping into it a sort of powdery gypsum, called “Kopi” by the natives, which is usually to be found round the margin of the salt lakes—a wonderful provision of Nature, without which the water after a short time would be useless, becoming as it does red and thick, and of the consistency of strong cocoa. Amongst the many industries started on the goldfields is the novel occupation of clearing clay-water for salt. The process was carried out by means of a series of settling tanks, into which the water was led by drains, and into the last tank the kopi was thrown; the cleared water was then bailed into vessels or casks, and carted up to whatever mining camp was being thus supplied.

Whilst on the subject of industries, I may mention that of obtaining solder from meat-tins by piling them into large heaps and lighting a fire over them. The melted lumps of solder thus formed were collected by the ordinary process of dry-blowing, and sold to tinsmiths and others engaged in the manufacture of condensers. Certainly the scarcity of water was not an unmixed curse, for it gave employment to many who would otherwise have been hard put to it to gain a living. Dam-makers, well-sinkers, water-carters, tinsmiths, condenser-fitters, wood-cutters, employees on condensing plants, water-bag makers, caretakers at Government wells, dams, and soaks, engineers, and many more, all found employment either directly or indirectly in connection with water supply.

By sinking in the bed of dry clay-pans water can usually be obtained, but unfortunately it is almost sure to be salt. The difference between clay-pans before and after rain is most marked. First we have the dry, hard bed of red clay, blistered and cracked into all manner of patterns by the sun's heat; around us the stillness of death, nothing astir unless it be the constant shimmering haze of heat which strikes our faces like the blast from a furnace. Rain falls, and within a few hours the air will be filled with the croaking of frogs and the cackling of ducks. To my mind it is one of the most incomprehensible things in Nature that wildfowl (for not only ducks, but sometimes swans and geese are seen) know when and where rain has fallen.

Sir John Forrest, in his exploration of 1874, found ducks, geese, and swans on Lake Augusta—a salt lake in the arid interior, five hundred miles from the coast.

But, stranger still, how do they know it is going to fall? That they would seem to do so the following will go to show. Whilst we were condensing on Lake Lapage, one moonlight night we saw a flight of ducks fly over us to the northward. No surface water then existed anywhere near us. This was on December 16th. No rain fell in the district until December 25th, but I ascertained afterwards that rain fell at Lake Carey, one hundred miles north of Lake Lapage about the same date that we had seen the ducks. The exact date I am not sure of, but in any case the ducks either foresaw the rain or knew that rain had fallen at least two hundred miles away; for they must have come from water (and at that season there was no surface water within one hundred miles of us) and probably from the coast. In either case, I think it is an extremely interesting fact, and however they arrive the ducks are a welcome addition to the prospector's “tucker-bags.”

CHAPTER IV

A Camel Fight

Leaving Hannan's on our left, we continued our northerly course, over flat country timbered with the usual gum-forest, until we reached the auriferous country in which our camp had been robbed by the blacks; nothing of interest occurring until January 17th, when we found ourselves without water. Knowing that we must soon strike the road from Broad Arrow to Mount Margaret, this gave us no anxiety, and, beyond the necessity of travelling without having had a drink for eighteen hours, but little discomfort.

We struck the road as expected, and, following it some five miles, came to a small, dry creek running down from a broken range of granite. Sinking in its bed, we got a plentiful supply. Mosquitoes are very rarely found in the interior, but on this little creek they swarmed, and could only be kept away by fires of sticks and grass, in the smoke of which we slept.

From the granite hills a fine view to the eastward was obtained, across a rich little plain of saltbush and grass, and dotted here and there over it was a native peach tree, or “quondong,” a species of sandalwood. We had now left the timber behind us, its place being taken by a low, straggling scrub of acacia, generally known as “Mulga,” which continues in almost unbroken monotony for nearly two hundred miles; the only change in the landscape is where low cliffs of sandstone and ranges of granite, slate, or diorite, crop up, from which creeks and watercourses find their way into salt swamps and lakes; and occasional stretches of plain country.

Through these thickets we held on our course, passing various watering-places and rocks on the several roads leading to the then popular field of Mount Margaret.

All such rocks bear names given to them by travellers and diggers, though one can seldom trace the origin or author of the name, “Black Gin Soak,” “George Withers' Hole,” “The Dead Horse Rocks,” and the “Donkey Rocks,” are fair samples.

It was at the last named that we had a slight entertainment in the shape of a camel-fight. On arrival we found another camel-man (i.e., a man who prospects with camels instead of horses, not necessarily a camel-driver) in whose train was a large white bull. Misery, with his usual precocity, at once began to show fight. The owner of the white camel, a gentleman much given to “blowing,” warned me that his bull was the “strongest in the —— country,” and advised me to keep my camels away. Anxious to see how Misery would shape in a genuine bout, I paid no heed, but took the precaution to remove his hobbles, thus placing him on equal terms with his older and stronger adversary.

Before very long they were at it hammer and tongs, roaring and grunting to the music of the bells on their necks; wrestling and struggling, using their great long necks as flails, now one down on his knees and almost turned over, and now the other, taking every opportunity of doing what damage they could with their powerful jaws, they formed a strange picture. Misery was nearly exhausted, and the white bull's master in triumph shouted, “Take 'em off, beat 'em off; your —— camel'll be chewed up!” But no! With a last expiring effort, brave little Misery dived his long neck under the body of his enemy, and grabbed his hind leg by the fetlock, when a powerful twist turned him over as neatly as could be. It was now time for us to interfere before the white bull's head was crushed by his conqueror's knees and breast-bone. With sticks and stones we drove him off, and the white bull retired abashed—but not more so than his master.

Leaving the rocks in possession of our late adversary we once more plunged into the scrub, altering our course to the west with the object of revisiting the country around Mount Ida, where Luck and I had found colours. Our way lay between salt lakes on our left, and a low terrace or tableland of what is locally known as “conglomerate” on our right. At the head of a gully running from this we were fortunate in finding water, sufficient to fill our casks, and give each camel a drink. This was on the morning of January 25th, and until the 31st about noon we saw no further signs of water. Every likely place was dry. Where Luck and I had found water before, not a drop of moisture could be seen; the holes contained nothing but the feathers and skeletons of disappointed birds. Unable to stop at Mount Ida without packing water twenty-five miles, which the prospects of the country did not warrant, we turned northwards across much broken granite country, which we vainly searched for Namma-holes or soaks. Far ahead of us we could see sharp pinnacles, standing up high and solitary above the scrub. These turned out to be huge blows of white quartz, and were no doubt connected underground, for we traced them a distance of nearly thirty miles. Interesting as these were, our thoughts were turned to water-hunting, for the weather—the season being midsummer—was scorching; the poor camels, sore-footed from the stony granite, parched with thirst, and forced to carry their loads, eight to twelve hours a day, showed signs of distress. Weary and footsore ourselves, tramping at full speed all day over the burning rocks, one with the camels, the others on either hand, scouting, our casks all but empty, our position was not enviable.

The night of the 30th our water was finished. The nearest known to us was thirty-five miles off, and a a salt lake was between—a sufficient bar to our hopes in that direction. Matters were by no means desperate, however, for thirty miles north we were bound to cut the Cue-Mount Margaret road, and having done so it would be merely a question of time, with a certainty of arriving at a watering place eventually, if we and our camels could hold out. A dry stage, however long, with the certainty of relief at the end of it, gives little cause for anxiety when compared with one on which neither the position nor even the existence of water can be known.

Next morning we followed up a small creek, and on crossing saw the tracks of several kangaroos and emus making towards two peaks of quartz. Here was our chance. It was my place of course to go, but I yielded to the persuasion of Paddy and Jim, who insisted that I had denied myself water to eke out our scanty supply (though I doubt if I had done so more than they), and must rest. So, putting the camels down in the welcome shade of a kurrajong, I lay down beside them and was presently relieved by the sound of a revolver-shot, our signal that water was found.

What a beautiful sight it was! Nestling in the hollow between two great white blows of quartz, this little pool of crystal-clear water, filled evidently by a little gully falling over a steep ledge of quartz beyond, presented no doubt a pretty picture after the rains. A soakage it must be, for no open rock-hole could hold water in such terrible heat; and its clearness would suggest the possibility of an underlying spring. A popular drinking-place this, frequented by birds of all kinds, crows, hawks, pigeons, galahs, wee-jugglers, and the ubiquitous diamond-sparrows. During the night we could hear wallabies hopping along, but were too worn out to sit up to shoot them. Though our sufferings had not been great, we had had a “bit of a doing.”

One day's rest, occupied in various mendings of clothes, boots, and saddles, and we were off again to the north, cutting the track as expected, and presently found ourselves at the newly established mining camp of Lawlers, prettily situated on the banks of a gum-creek, with a copious supply of water in wells sunk in its bed. A great advantage that the northern fields have over those further south is the occurrence of numerous creeks, sometimes traceable for over thirty miles, in all of which an abundance of fresh water can be obtained by sinking at depths varying from fifteen to fifty feet.

Towards the end of their course the well-defined channels, with banks sometimes ten feet high, disappear, giving place to a grassy avenue through the scrub, lightly timbered with cork-bark, and other small trees. It is on such flats as these that the wells are sunk. All creeks find their way into the lakes, though seldom by a discernible channel, breaking and making, as the expression is, until a narrow arm of the lake stretches to meet them. At the most these creeks run “a banker” three times during the year, the water flowing for perhaps three days; after which pools of various sizes remain, to be in their turn dried up by evaporation and soakage. In the dry weather the creeks afford a weird spectacle. Stately white gums (the only timber of any size in these districts), with their silvery bark hanging in dishevelled shreds around the branchless stems, bend ghost-like over an undulating bed of gravel; gravel made up of ironstone pebbles, quartz fragments, and other water-worn debris washed down from the hills at the head of the creeks.

What a marvellous transformation the winter rains cause! It is then that the expert, or journalist, takes his walks abroad; it is then that we read such glowing accounts of rich grass lands, watered by countless creeks, only awaiting the coming of an agriculturist to be turned into smiling farms and fertile fields.

Numerous parties were camped at Lawlers, with some two hundred horses turned out in the bush, waiting until rain should fall. Though with no better feed than grass, dry and withered, the freedom from work had made them skittish. What a pretty sight it is to see a mob of horses trooping in for water at night; the young colts kicking up their heels with delight; the solemn old packhorse looking with scorn on the gambols of his juvenile brethren, with a shake of his hardy old head, as much as to say, “Ah! wait till you've done the dry stages that I have; wait till you make your evening feed off mulga scrub and bark—that'll take the buck out of you! Why can't you have your drink soberly, instead of dancing about all over the place?”

Then bringing up the rear, far behind, just emerging from the scrub, are seen those who, from their wandering habits, must wear the bracelets, hurrying and shuffling along with a rattle of chains, tripping up in their eagerness to be even with their mates in the scramble for water: presently they pause to look about and neigh—a delay resented by those behind by a friendly bite, answered by a kick; which starts them all off at full gallop, in the approved rocking-horse style, with a tremendous clatter of hobbles and bells. Suddenly they halt, snorting, and as suddenly start aside, wheel round, and dash away, as they catch sight of our long-necked beasts. They have seen them often enough, and know them well, but they must keep up an appearance of panic, if only to please their masters, who never cease to jeer at the ungainly shape of the camel, until they possess one themselves. These unemotional animals watch the horses' play with lips turned up in derision, and hardly deign to move their heads from the bush or branch on which they are feeding. Many of the prospectors, though openly sneering at the camels as slow and unmanageable beasts, secretly envied us our ability to travel in hot weather, whilst they had nothing to do but to kick their heels and be thankful they had feed and water for their ponies. And they envied us all the more on account of the vague rumour that rich gold had been found in the neighbourhood of Lake Darlot, towards which some had pushed out only to be driven back by thirst. Seeing our evident advantage, should the rumour prove correct, in being able to get there before the crowd, I decided to steer for the lake, with the hope of picking up the tracks of the supposed lucky diggers.

A large creek, the Erlistoun, was given on the chart as running into the lake, and on it was marked by the discoverer Mr. Wells, of the Elder Exploring Expedition, 1892, a permanent pool. To cut this creek was my object, and, by following its course, to find the pool, and there make a base from which to investigate the truth of the rumour.

Leaving Lawlers February 7th we struck an arm of the lake on the 10th the country traversed being mostly sand plain, timbered with desert-gum. To reach the creek it was necessary to cross the lake; and what a job we had, twisting and turning to avoid one arm, only to be checked by another; carrying packs and saddles across what we supposed to be the main lake, only to find ourselves on an island. All things have an end, even the ramifications of a salt lake, and eventually we and our mud-plastered camels found ourselves on the northern shore; and travelling east, expected confidently to cut the Erlistoun creek. By its position on the map we should have already crossed it but to make sure we went on five miles more, when our passage was barred by another salt lake not marked on the chart. It was clear that the creek did not reach Lake Darlot. Where could it be? Was it worth while to look for it further? It was evident how it came to be so shown on the map. Mr. Wells had cut the creek near its source and seeing only one lake to the south, naturally supposed that it was joined by the creek, and so had marked its probable course by a dotted line. His work, copied on to other maps had been carelessly drawn, and the creek shown running in a defined channel into Lake Darlot. That this was the case I found afterwards on studying his original chart.

Now to decide our best course! Again our supply was all but done, but we knew of no water save Lawlers, sixty miles away, and to attempt to return to that, recrossing the lake was manifestly absurd. To the south-west we could see some hills which might or might not be granite. We were inclined to think that they were, as in the setting sun of a few nights before they had taken a ruddy glow. These rocks appeared to be our only chance.

It has always seemed to me better in such cases to make people follow one's own wishes by seeming to consult theirs, rather than by a direct order. Acting on this plan, though with my own mind made up, I consulted with my two mates. I felt sure that Jim would agree with me, from a remark he had made to a mutual friend to the effect that “he would follow me to h—l.” Of paddy I was not so sure; nor was I mistaken. He strongly advised turning back, but, having agreed to abide by the majority, said no more, and so to the hills we turned our steps.

Our hopes that the two lakes were separate were soon shattered, for before us lay a narrow neck connecting the two. There was nothing for it but to go straight ahead. The lightest-packed camel crossed without mischance, but not so the other two; down they went, too weak to struggle, and again the toil of digging them out, and driving and hauling them foot by foot, had to be gone through. Then the packs had to be carried piece by piece, for we sank too deep in the sticky mud with a heavy load, and our weary legs had to be dragged step after step from the bog. Hungry and thirsty, blistered by the glare of the salt in the pitiless sun, we struggled on, with a wondering thought of what the end would be.

Think of us, picture us, ye city magnates, toiling and struggling that your capacious pockets may be filled by the fruits of our labour: think of us, I say, and remember that our experiences are but as those of many more, and that hardly a mine, out of which you have made all the profit, has been found without similar hardships and battles for life! Not a penny would you have made from the wealth of West Australia but for us prospectors—and what do we get for our pains? A share in the bare sale of the mine if lucky; if not, God help us! for nothing but curses and complaints will be our portion. The natural rejoinder to this is, “Why, then, do you go?” To which I can only answer that one must make a living somehow, and that some like to make money hard, and some to make it easily. Perhaps I belong to the former class.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that in the heat of the summer we were ploughing our way through salt-bogs, without water or any immediate prospect of getting any, and realised, not for the first time, that the prospector's life in West Australia is not “all beer and skittles.”

The lake negotiated, we decided to rest under the scanty shade of a mulga tree, and regaled ourselves on oatmeal washed down with a mouthful of water, the last, hot from the iron casks. At a time when water is plentiful it can be carried and kept cool in canvas bags; but it owes this coolness to evaporation, and consequent waste of water. During the hot weather, when water is scarce, I never allowed canvas bags to be used, and so saved water, not only by avoiding evaporation, but from the fact that water carried in galvanised-iron casks becomes so hot and unpalatable that one is not tempted to take a big draught, and thus the supply is eked out.

That night we camped in the thick mulga, and from one of the larger trees I could see the hills, dead on our course, and not more than two miles off. But we were too tired to go further that night, and in any case could have done but little good in the dark. The poor camels were too dry to eat the mulga we cut for them, too dry even to chew the cud; and lay silent, tied down beside us—the stillness of the night being unbroken by the rhythmical “crunch” of their jaws.

Before sunrise we were packed and away, and shortly reached the hills which we found to be, as we had hoped, bare granite rocks. Leaving the camels, we spread out, and searched every hole and corner without success. Every rock-hole was dry. One native soak we found, from which we scraped about half gallon of water none too clear, and the less tempting from the close proximity of the dead body of a gin, a young native woman, fortunately not long dead. The ashes of a native camp but lately deserted, could be seen close by; no doubt they had moved off as the supply of water was so nearly done. Whether they had left the body to become a skeleton, before making a bundle of the bones (a practice common to some Australian tribes), or whether it is their usual custom to leave the dead where they die, I do not know. I know, however, that this body was subsequently moved, not by the blacks, but by those snarling scavengers, the dingoes.

This finding of a corpse at the mouth of the only soak we had seen was hardly encouraging; but still there was a large extent of rocks that we had not yet visited. Shortly before sunset, as I stood on the summit of the highest rock, I was astonished by the sight of some horses grazing in a little valley beneath. I could hardly believe that I saw aright; it seemed incredible that horsemen should have reached this drought-begirt spot. Little time was wasted in idle speculation, and the appearance of our camels soon proved the horses to be flesh and blood, and not mere phantoms of the brain, unless indeed phantoms can snort and plunge!

The owner of the horses soon made his appearance, and, with reluctant resignation, showed us the soak from which his horses were watered. He and his mates, he said, were sinking for water in a likely spot some half-mile away; in the meantime they used the soak, though it was evident it would not last much longer. We must have water for our camels, and must use the soak, I said, until their thirst was somewhat relieved, then in our turn we would dig for soaks round the rocks. In the hottest time of the year our poor patient beasts had been eight days without food, except of the driest description, and eight days without water, struggling and kicking in the salt-bogs. It was indeed a delight to quench their thirst at last. All that night we worked without a minute's rest, digging, scraping, and bailing, and secured enough to keep the camels going. For the next two days we were engaged in sinking trial holes for soakages; no water, however, rewarded our labours until the night of the second day, when we struck a splendid supply, and for the time being our troubles were over. Pitching a “fly” to keep off the sun's rays in the daytime, we were content to do nothing but rest for the whole of the next day. Here again I was fortunate in shooting an emu, a welcome addition to our provisions.

McIlwraith and his mates (the owners of the horses) had also struck a good supply. From them we got the news which we already suspected. that a new find of gold had been made not five miles from the rocks. An apparently rich find too! How strangely things turn out. Our ill-fortune in failing to find the Erlistoun had forced us into a most unpleasant experience, and yet that ill-fortune was turning into good. For here we were on the scene of newly-discovered reefs and nuggets, at the new rush, the existence of which we had gravely doubted. We were the third party on the field, and from Messrs. Rogers and friends I heard the history of its discovery.

CHAPTER V

Gold At Lake Darlôt

About the month of October, 1894, Rogers and party, with their camels, were camped at Cutmore's (or Doyle's) Well, and, on studying the map of the Elder Exploring Expedition, they saw that Mr. Wells had marked the country north of Lake Darlot as “probably auriferous.” This they determined to visit, and, more fortunate than ourselves, were not caught in the intricacies of the salt lake.

Returning in disgust, having found no signs of gold, they passed the granites, where they got water, and camped on a promising piece of country, where they soon found gold in the the reefs. Here they worked for some time with but little encouragement, until after Christmas, when alluvial gold was found on the surface by a member of another party who came upon the original discoverers in a somewhat startling manner.

Cable, Janet, and Pickering had pushed out also from Cutmore's Well, and by finding water on a granite between the two, had reached the rocks near Lake Darlot. Here they found camped a tribe of aboriginals, to whom they showed kindness—too much kindness it appears, for the treacherous thieves, having tasted the white man's food, conceived the bold idea of raiding the camp, killing its occupants, and annexing their provisions. At midnight the prospectors were attacked, Cable and Janet being speared as they lay in their blankets, Cable through the stomach and Janet in the arm, Pickering escaping, for he had laid down his blanket under a tree, away from the packs, to get shade from the moon. He is, too, a man of exceptionally small stature, and so eluded the quick sight of the black-fellow.

In spite of the disadvantage under which they were placed by the sudden attack and wounds, the white men overpowered and dispersed their treacherous foes. In what a terrible position they were now placed, fifty-five miles from Cutmore's Well, the nearest certain water, for the chances that the water found between would be dried up, were great! Only one man unwounded and one suffering the most awful tortures of pain; and nobody with the smallest medical skill, within God knows how many miles! Death seemed certain, but while life remained they were not the men to give in, and they thought of a plan whereby the life of their mate might be saved if only their horses held out. They travelled five miles, then camped, and the available man returned to the rocks to water the horses at the risk of being again attacked by the niggers. And thus dot and go one, they hoped to reach Cutmore's.

So much endurance could not remain unrewarded and the two wounded men were overjoyed by the report of a shot (a dynamite shot as it afterwards transpired, fired by Rogers, Parks, and Lockhart as they worked on their reef), and as soon as the horses returned, the little band set forth in the direction from which the welcome sound had come, and before long saw the camp of the lucky prospectors.

Fortunately Mr. Parks had some knowledge of surgery, picked up in the African bush, where he had been a trader, and so could doctor the wounded men. Here they camped until one morning, Janet, recovered of his hurt, picked up a nugget of gold, strangely enough, close to the track from Roger's camp to the reef he was working. This nugget was the first-fruit of a plentiful harvest, and presently they went down to the coast where poor Cable could be properly attended to in hospital. Pickering and Janet returned as soon as possible, but not before some inkling of their find had leaked out; consequently when they returned, just at the time of our arrival on the scene, their tracks were followed, and a “rush” set in.

We were not long in making our camp at the new diggings, or in getting to work to hunt for gold. Being out for a syndicate, who naturally wanted something big in the way of a reef, we were precluded from the alluring search for alluvial, “specking,” as it is termed.

It seems the simplest thing in the world to find a good mine—that is, as I said before, after you have found it! On Sunday, February 17th, Paddy and I took a walk, and stepped right on to an outcrop of quartz showing beautiful gold. Quite simple! Any fool can prospect; all he wants is a little luck, and the strange inner urgings that make him examine a certain quartz reef or blow that others have passed, perhaps dozens of times, without happening to look in the right place! Roughly marking out an area, to establish our prior claim to the ground amongst those already on the field, we returned to camp and gave Jim, who had been packing water from the granites, the joyful news.

On Monday before daylight we were out, and soon had eighteen acres marked off by a post at each corner, and our notices posted on a conspicuous tree, which we had been unable to do the day before, Sunday-pegging being illegal.

Fresh parties were now arriving daily, and the consequent demand for water made it necessary for Jim to camp at the rocks, and bring us a supply whenever he was able.

This was not accomplished without some trouble, for not only were the soaks we had dug with so much labour, made use of by the new-comers, which we did not object to, but our right to the water was often disputed by some who, with small regard for the truth, said that it was they who had sunk the wells! Jim, however, was not the man to be bluffed, and, in spite of lameness from sciatica in the loins and hip, managed to keep us well supplied. Short-handed already, we were further handicapped by Paddy smashing his thumb, and thus, for a time, I was the only sound workman of the party.

CHAPTER VI

Alone In The Bush

By March 4th we were satisfied that the appearance of the mine was good enough to warrant our applying for a lease of the area already marked out. So leaving Czar behind, to enable Paddy and Jim to pack water, I, riding Satan and leading Misery, loaded with specimens from the reef, set forth for Coolgardie, to apply for the lease, and get a fresh supply of provisions, of which we were sadly in need. My departure for Coolgardie was taken advantage of by several who wished to bank their gold, and thus I became an escort.

Coolgardie lay almost due south, 220 miles on the chart, but nearly 300 miles by the track, which deviated from water to water. Speed being an object, I decided to strike through the bush to George Withers' hole. Here, by the way, poor Alec Kellis had just been murdered by the blacks—not the pleasantest of news to hear, as I started on my solitary journey. I followed a horse pad for fifty-five miles, mostly through thick scrub, to Cutmore's Well, where several parties were camped, who eagerly questioned me as to the richness of the new field.

Leaving Cutmore's, I struck through the bush, and before long the sickness I had had on me for some time past, developed into a raging fever. Every bone in my body ached and shot with pain. I could neither ride nor walk for more than a few minutes at a stretch; I was unable to eat, nor cared to drink the hot water in my canteen. I struggled on, now riding, now walking, and now resting under a bush, travelling in this fashion as long as daylight lasted, from five in the morning until six at night. Afraid to let the camels go at night lest they should wander too far, or, while I was following them in the morning, my packs should be raided by the blacks, I tied them down, one on either side of my blankets; and thus I had not only a protection against the wind, but the pleasure of their companionship—no slight blessing in that solitude.

How lonely I felt, in that vast uninhabited bush! Racked by pain, I tossed from side to side, until sheer weariness kept me still; so still that the silence of death seemed to have fallen upon us; there was not a sound in all that sea of scrub, save the occasional sleepy grunt of one of the camels, until the quiet night re-echoed with the hoarse call of the “Mopoke,” which seemed to be vainly trying to imitate the cheerful notes of the cuckoo. How could any note be true in such a spot! or how could a dry-throated bird he anything but hoarse! At last morning came, heralded by the restless shuffling of the camels, and another day's journey began.

Illustration 11: Fever-stricken and alone

Tying the camels down at nights necessitated the cutting of scrub and bushes for them to feed upon, and I doubt they got little enough to eat. Before long I was too weak to lift the saddles off, and could only with difficulty load and unload the bags of quartz, and, weakened as I was by illness, my labours were not light. Yet further trouble was in store for me, for presently a salt lake barred my way. Then I began to understand the meaning of the word despair. Neither kindness or cruelty would induce my camels to cross; I was therefore forced to follow the banks of the lake, hoping to get round it, as I could see what I supposed was its end. Here I was again baffled by a narrow channel not ten yards wide. It might as well have been half a mile, for all the chance I had of crossing it. The trend of the lake was north-west by south-east, and I was now at the north-west end, but stopped, as I say, by a narrow channel connecting evidently with another lake further to the north-west.

There was nothing for it but to retrace my steps, and follow along the margin of the lake to the south-east, and eventually I got round, having been forced some ten miles out of my course.

I was fortunate in finding water without difficulty, in a small rock-hole amongst some granite hills in which “Granite Creek” takes its rise. From these I had still eighty miles to travel before I could reach a settlement, Coongarrie (the 90 mile) being the nearest point. Could I do it? I had to succeed or perish miserably, and a man fights hard for his life. So I struggled on day and night, stopping at frequent intervals from sheer exhaustion, cursing the pitiless sun, and praying for it to sink below the horizon. Some twenty miles from Coongarrie I was relieved by striking a track, which did away with the necessity of thinking where I was going.

A few miles more, and—joy unspeakable—I found a condenser and a camp. The hospitable proprietor, whose name I never learned, did all he could to make me comfortable, and I felt inclined to stay, but despatch was imperative, for not only must the lease be applied for forthwith, but Conley and Egan must be provisioned. At Coongarrie I gave a swagman a lift, and he helped me with the camels and loads, until at last Coolgardie was reached.

Giving my camels in charge of the first man I could find willing to look after them, an Afghan, Neel Bas by name, I finished my business at the Warden's office. Then, yielding to the persuasion of my friends in Asken and Nicolson's store, I retired to the hospital, for indeed I could fight against my sickness no longer. Here I remained some three weeks under the kind care of Miss O'Brien (now Mrs. Castieau) and Miss Millar, the pioneer nurses on the goldfields. No words can express the admiration I, and all of us, felt for the pluck and goodness of these two gently nurtured ladies, who had braved the discomforts and hardships of the road from York to Coolgardie—discomforts that many of the so-called stronger sex had found too much for them—to set up their hospital tent, and soothe the sufferings of poor fever-stricken fellows.

The services of these kind ladies, and of many that subsequently followed their example, were badly needed, for the typhoid fiend was rampant—carrying off the young, and apparently strong, men at a rate too tremendous to be credible. Funerals were too common to call for even passing notice. “Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung,” they went to a nameless grave.

My chief anxiety was for my mates. How could I send them relief, incapacitated as I was? Fortunately, my friend David Wilson offered to go for me, in consideration of a certain interest in the mine we had found. This was a great help, and now I could rest contented; not altogether though, for Neel Bas had some hesitation in giving up the camels, and had a violent row with Dave Wilson, all of which he would insist on explaining to me in broken English, as he sat cross-legs on the floor of my tent. The doctor happily arrived and kicked him out, and I was left in peace. In less than three weeks I was able to go by coach to Southern Cross, and thence by train to Perth, where, under the kind roof of Colonel Fleming, the Commandant, I soon regained my health.

When I mention that my syndicate never even offered to defray the cost of my illness, my readers will understand that my statements as to the ingratitude of those who benefit by the prospectors' toil are not unfounded. Unfortunately for me, my old mate, Lord Douglas, was absent in England, and, in consequence, much misunderstanding resulted between the syndicate and myself.

CHAPTER VII

Sale Of Mine

During my convalescence in Perth, I occupied my time by drawing in the Government offices, a map, compiled from the various notes and journals I had kept during the prospecting expeditions in which I had been engaged. I also took the opportunity of getting some knowledge of astronomical subjects, likely to be of service in the more extended expedition I had in my mind. My thanks are due to Mr. Barlee, chief draughtsman, and Mr. Higgins, of the Mines Department, for the kindness they showed in helping me in this work.

It was not very long before I felt it was necessary to return to my duties at Lake Darlot. Timing my arrival in Coolgardie to coincide with that of Mr. Wilson from the mine, we met; and from him I was pleased to hear how well the claim was turning out.

Since it was not necessary for both of us to be on the spot, I took one of the camels, of which we now had five, and made all speed to a reported “new rush” near Lake Lefroy, that was causing much excitement. Knots of men could be seen in every corner of the town eagerly discussing the news; gold, to the tune of 30,000 ounces, was being brought in; was in the town; was actually in one of the banks! Many had seen it (or said so). Where was this Eldorado? Every man knew; every man had directions how to get there, from quite unimpeachable sources. It was actually in the local papers; indeed, there could be no doubt about it. I knew of course that all this must be discounted, but the matter was worth looking into, and I was fortunate to get the very latest information from one who was an old mate of the supposed lucky digger. I found my travelling companion had equally well authenticated information. On comparing notes we soon discovered that our directions were entirely at variance.

To make a long story short, we at length found that, like hundreds of others, we had been fooled, and that the whole thing was bogus. The diggers' indignation was righteously intense, the office of the offending newspaper was attacked, and much damage narrowly averted. One unfortunate man, on whom fell the wrath of the crowd, returning from the supposed rush, lied profusely when “in drink,” said that he had found the spot, that hundreds of men were gleaning rich gold in fabulous quantities, that the world had never seen so wonderful a find, that gold would soon be as cheap as lead in the market—in fact told a thousand and one similar fairy tales, engendered by whisky and excitement. When sober he foolishly stuck to what he had said; and, in consequence, was sent by the diggers, under escort, to point out the spot, which of course he could not find. His reception in Coolgardie may be imagined! Doubtless on the Western goldfields of America, “lynching” would have been his portion. Even in order-loving Australia he might have had an unpleasant time, had not Mr. Finnerty, the popular Warden, quelled the turmoil, and placed the offender under Police protection. For want of the real article, a well-attended procession burnt this idiot's effigy, and thus the great rush ended.

It was supposed by some, if I remember rightly, that the fire which gutted nearly half the town had its origin in this effigy-burning. What a blaze that was to be sure! Tents, shanties, houses of hessian, shops of corrugated iron and wood, offices, hotels, and banks, consumed in one sheet of flame in a matter of half an hour or so, the blaze accompanied by explosions of dynamite caps, kerosene, and cartridges. Nothing could be done to stay its fury. To save the town, houses were demolished, to form wide gaps across which the flames could not reach. It was the general impression that corrugated iron was more or less fireproof. However, it burnt like cardboard. Ruinous to some as the early fires were, they benefited the general community, as more substantial buildings were erected, and hessian shanties forbidden.

After a good deal of unpleasant business over the mine at Lake Darlot, which the syndicate wished to abandon, for reasons best known to themselves, I was at length on the road for that district, with the agreeable news that our mine was for sale, and would soon be off our hands.

I had a rather more enjoyable journey than my previous one, for not only was I free from fever, and the mine in a fair way to being sold, but winter had changed the face of the bush from dull dead yellow to bright smiling green, dotted here and there with patches of white and pink everlastings. One could hardly believe it was the same country. Instead of the intense heat a bright warm sun dissipated the keen and frosty air of early morning, while the hoar-frost at night made one glad of a good possum rug to coil oneself up in. I did not envy the cyclists, for sometimes, failing to hit off a camp on the road, they had perforce to make the best of a fire as a substitute for a blanket, and to be content with a hungry stomach, in place of having a meal.

Before the erection of telegraph wires, which now connect all the more important mining towns, cyclists made good money by carrying special messages from Coolgardie to the outlying districts. Except where the sand was deep they had a good track, well-beaten by the flat pads of camels, and could do their hundred miles a day at a push. Travelling at express rate, they were unable to carry blankets or provisions except of the scantiest description, and took their chance of hitting off the camp of some wayfarer, who would always be ready to show what hospitality he could, to messengers of so much importance. To have to part with one of your blankets on a cold night for the benefit of another traveller, is one of the severest exercises of self denial.

These little kindly services are always rendered, for a man in the bush who would not show courtesy and hospitality to a fellow-wayfarer is rightly considered a cur. No matter what time one strikes a man's camp, his first thought, whether for stranger or friend, is to put on the “billy” and make a pot of tea.

Arrived at Lake Darlot, I found work being carried on well and with energy, as could not fail to be the case where Dave Wilson was concerned. Poor Jim and Paddy had had hard times, before Wilson arrived, to make the provisions last out. Nevertheless they had worked away on the reef without complaint, while others around them were waxing rich on the alluvial.

The population had increased to some two thousand men during my absence: two thousand men working and living in order and peace, with no police or officials of any kind within two hundred miles—a state of affairs of which we may justly be proud.

Evil-doing, however, was not entirely absent, and occasional cases of robbery of gold, or pilfering of tents occurred; the offenders in such cases were usually caught and summarily dealt with.

A “roll up” would be called, and those who cared to put themselves forward, would form judge, jury, police, and all. The general verdict was notice to quit within so many hours—an order that few would dare to neglect. A case in which this did happen occurred at Kurnalpi when a man was caught passing bad notes in the “Sunday School.” He refused to budge, and, seeing that he was a great giant with the reputation of being the roughest and hardest fighter in the country, the question arose who should “bell the cat.” The man who had been swindled was a stranger, and unwilling to fight his own battle; who, therefore, would volunteer to get a sound hammering from one of the toughest blackguards in Australia.

The “roll up” slowly dispersed, every man muttering that it was not his business, and that, after all, passing a “stiff 'un” on to a new chum was no great crime as compared to stealing gold or robbing a camp. In this I think they showed sound judgment. The prize-fighting gent, however, became too bumptious, and was eventually hustled out of the place.

Our camp at Lake Darlot was rather pleasantly situated on rising ground by the side of the blow; behind us, sheer cliffs of conglomerate, worn and weathered into queer little caves, the floors of which were covered inches deep by the droppings of bats and small wallabies; and, stretching away to the South, an open plain enclosed in an endless sea of scrub. Every morning we witnessed the strange phenomenon of a lake appearing in the sky to the South, miles away, above the scrub, a lake surrounded by steep white cliffs. This mirage would last perhaps half an hour, and was, I suppose, a reflection of Lake Darlot, which lay at the back of us, some five miles distant to the North.

Our camp consisted of the usual tents and bough-shades and for the first, and probably the only, time in our lives we cooked our pots on a golden fireplace. To protect the fire from the wind, so that a good pile of ashes should collect for baking purposes, we had made a semicircular wall of stones. The nearest available stones, quartz boulders from the blow, were used, and so it came about that we had a gold-studded fireplace! We used to have a curious visitor from the caves—a small black cat, which was tame enough to wander between our legs as we sat round the fire, but too wary to be caught. I can hardly imagine a prospector carrying a cat as companion, and yet how else did it get there? Its shyness inclined us to think it had strayed from civilisation. Jim tried to catch it one evening, and not only got scratched and bitten for his trouble, but so startled the beast that it never returned. Our party was now increased to five; for an extra hand, Alfred Morris, had been engaged. Between us the duties of the day's work were divided.

Our daily labours included hunting up the camels, lest they strayed or were stolen, cutting timber for mining or firewood, packing water from the rocks five miles away, and working on the mine.

I had occasion to make a journey to Lawlers, where a Warden, Mr. Clifton, had lately been established, and I mention here an illustration of one of the many intelligent traits in the character of camels.

Not wishing to follow the road in its many turns from water to water, I cut through the bush for some fifty miles. The first part was over hard, stony ground, then came sand, then more stones, and then I struck the road again about two miles from Lawlers. I stayed there two or three days, intending to return on my tracks. Wishing to test the intelligence of my camel Satan I allowed him a free rein, either to keep on the track or turn off for a short cut. As soon as we came to the spot where we had first struck the road, he turned into the bush without hesitation with his nose for home. After some eight miles of stones, on which I could distinguish no trail, we came to the sand, and at once I could see our former tracks right ahead, which little Satan had followed with the precision of a black-fellow.

In repasssing old camping-places on the road, camels will often stop, and look surprised if made to go further. They have, too, an excellent idea of time, and know very well when the day's march should come to an end. With what sad reproof they look at one with their great, brown eyes, that say, as plainly as eyes can speak, “What! going on? I am so tired.” I fancy the reason that camels are so often described as stupid and vicious, and so forth, is that they are seen, as a rule, in large mobs under the care of Indian or other black drivers, whose carelessness and cruelty (so far as my experience goes) are unspeakable. For that reason I never have had an Afghan driver in my employ, nor can I see any advantage in employing one, unless it be on the score of cheapness. Camels are infinitely better managed and treated by white men—of course, I speak within my own knowledge of Australia—and in consequence their characters develop, and they are properly appreciated.

In due course the expected inspecting engineer came to see our mine, and, as he had several reports to make, we had the pleasure of his company at our camp, and very glad we were to do what we could for such a fine specimen of an expert and gentleman as Mr. Edward Hooper. He was satisfied with what he saw—indeed, he could hardly have been otherwise at that period of the mine's existence; and on our arrival in Cue, wither we had travelled part of the way together, a bargain was struck, and before many days Jim and I returned with the glad tidings that the mine was sold, and would be taken over forthwith.

The road from Cue was as uninteresting as all others on the goldfields— miles of flat, sandy soil covered with dense scrub, an occasional open plain of grass and saltbush round the foot of the breakaways, and cliffs that are pretty frequently met with. Travellers on this road had been kept lively by a band of marauding black-fellows, most of whom had “done time” at Rotnest Jail for cattle-spearing, probably, on the coast stations. Having learnt the value of white-fellows' food, they took to the road, and were continually bailing up lonely swagmen, who were forced to give up their provisions or be knocked on the head, since hardly any carried firearms. The finest prize that they captured was a loaded camel, which in some extraordinary way had got adrift from the end of a large caravan, and wandered into the scrub. The Afghans, when they had perceived their loss, tracked up the camel, only to find it dying in agony, with its knees chopped nearly two. This was Jacky-Jacky's way of putting the poor beast down to be unloaded. Happily, after a Warden was appointed at Lawlers, a trooper was sent out, who broke up the gang and captured most of them, at the expense of the life of one black tracker.

One of these thieves paid our camp a visit, but the sight of a rifle, combined with a smart blow on the shins with a stick, quite satisfied him that he had come to the wrong place.

Returned to Lake Darlot, we impatiently awaited the arrival of those who were to take over the mine from us. At last they came, and it only remained to pack up our traps, take the road to Coolgardie, and finish up all business connected with the syndicate. There we parted, Conley and Egan leaving with their shares; and with regret on both sides I think, that our ways no longer lay together: for months of close companionship in the bush, facing hardships and sometimes mutual dangers, make a close tie of friendship between men, that is not easily broken.

Wishing to pay a visit to the old country, and yet not caring to part with the camels which had been my property for some months past, and of which I was very fond, we formed a syndicate, composed of Dave Wilson, Charles Stansmore, and Alfred Morris, who found the money, and myself, who found the camels, the profits of the venture, if any arose, to be divided in a proportion agreed upon. I could depart, therefore, with the satisfactory feeling of knowing that my faithful animal-friends would be well cared for.

Shares were rising, the mine was sold, and the work done, and it was with a light heart that I booked passage for London in October, 1895.

Next PART IV - MINING