THE OUTWARD JOURNEY
Previous Explorers In The Interior Of Western Australia
I had not been enjoying the comforts of civilised life for long before I
had a letter from Dave Wilson telling me how he and our mates had pegged
out, and applied for, a lease which gave every promise of doing well.
In April, 1896, I returned to Australia, and made speed to our new
property, which I found to be in every respect as satisfactory as Wilson
had told me. To be in the possession of a good mine, and to find someone
anxious to change places on terms mutually agreeable, are two very
different things. We were fortunate, however, in finding a purchaser, but
not fortunate enough to bring him up to the scratch with any promptitude.
I had hoped to have had all preparations for the projected expedition
complete by the beginning of May, in order that by the time the hot
weather came on we should be well on our way, if not at the end of our
journey. The Fates ordered things differently, and it was not until the
middle of June that I was free to turn my attention to the thousand and
one details connected with the composition and equipment of my party.
With what keenness I entered into the preparations may be well imagined,
for now at last I was in a position to undertake the expedition I had so
long in my mind. In order to explain what my object was, and what my plan
of procedure was to be, it will be necessary to give a short sketch of the
history of exploration and advance of settlement in Western Australia.
The Colony, occupying one third of the continent, has an extreme length of
1,500 miles and a breadth of one thousand miles. The length of coast-line
exceeds three thousand miles. A most noticeable feature of the coast-line
on the South is the entire absence of rivers—for nearly seven hundred
miles no rivers or even watercourses are met with. Along the Western coast
rivers are fairly frequent, the largest being the Swan, Murchison,
Gascoyne, Ashburton, the Fortescue, and De Grey. The Swan, on which the
capital is situated, is the most important—the rivers North of this are
not always running, the seasons in the country where they rise being very
unreliable. Further North again, where Warburton's Desert abuts on the
sea, we find an inhospitable sandy beach (the Eighty-mile Beach), along
which no river mouths are seen. In the far North, the Kimberley Division,
the coast-line is considerably indented by bays, gulfs, and the mouths of
rivers of fair size, which run for the greater part of the year; of these
the most important are the Fitzroy, Lennard, Prince Regent, and Ord. The
Colony can boast of no great mountain ranges, the highest, the Darling
Range, being something over 2,000 feet. The Leopold range in the north is
of about the same altitude. No mountain chain breaks the monotony of the
central portions of the Colony. In the interior hills are called
mountains, and a line of hills, ranges, for want of a better name.
The first settlement was formed on the Swan River in 1826, and gradually
spread to the South and North, until to-day we find the occupied portion
of the Colony extending along the western seaboard for about 1,200 miles,
with an average breadth of perhaps two hundred miles. In the North the
occupied country is confined to the watersheds of the two main rivers,
the Fitzroy and the Ord.
To the Eastward of Perth the populous mining towns and many scattered
mining camps and settlements extend some five hundred miles towards the
interior. In spite of the discovery of gold and the advance of the Colony
in every way, there still remains more than half the province unoccupied.
How scattered the population of the settled country is may be judged from
the fact that the average population is one individual to every six square
miles. The vast, almost unknown, interior well merits its designation of
“Desert,” and I suppose that in few parts of the world have travellers
had greater difficulties to overcome than in the arid, sun-dried
wilderness of interior Australia. The many attempts to penetrate beyond
the head-waters of the coastal rivers date from the earliest days of the
Swan River Settlement. But in every case travellers, bold and enduring,
were forced back by the impassable nature of the sandy deserts—impassable
to all except camels. Roe, Hunt, Austin, and the Gregorys made more than
one effort to solve the mysteries of the interior. Numerous attempts were
made to cross the Colony from West to East or vice versa, with the double
object of ascertaining whether the nature of the country rendered it
suitable for settlement, and of establishing some means of communication
with the sister colonies to the East.
The first who succeeded in travelling overland from South to West
Australia was Eyre, afterwards made governor of Jamaica. He started in
1841, and his route hugged the coast-line along the shores of the Great
Australian Bight, and is now closely followed by the telegraph line. In
spite of almost insurmountable obstacles in the form of waterless regions,
almost bare of vegetation, in spite of mutiny in the camp, and the murder
of his white companion by one of the black-boys, the loss of his horses,
in spite of starvation and thirst, this gallant man battled his way
across, finishing his journey on foot with one companion only, a faithful
black-boy. Lucky it was that this district is blessed with a plentiful dew
in the cool weather, otherwise Eyre's horses could never have lasted as
long as they did. This journey was successfully accomplished again in 1879
by Forrest (now Sir John Forrest, Premier of West Australia) who, keeping
somewhat to the north of Eyre's track, had comparatively little difficulty
in finding water.
Some 150 miles to the northward, the Colony was traversed from East to
West by Giles in 1876, who found it to be a flat, sandy wilderness of
scrub, alternating with open limestone plains, covered with saltbush and
These plains, first crossed by Giles, have every appearance of being
splendid pasture-lands. Unfortunately no surface water can be obtained.
The formation is limestone, in which are found “blowholes”—that is to
say, circular holes two to four feet in diameter, which go down vertically
to a depth never yet ascertained. They derive their name from the curious
booming noise which they emit, probably caused by the wind. Judging from
the growth of saltbush and other herbage it would seem likely that the
rainfall on these elevated plains is considerable, and apparently runs to
waste down blow-holes and cracks in the limestone. No doubt when other
parts of the Colony become occupied and civilisation advances, settlers
will turn their attention to this part, and possibly, by means of bores,
find a plentiful supply of water, as on the Nullarbor Plains across the
border. It seems likely that a most undesirable class of colonists will
forestall the “back blockers” from the west, for to the northward of Eucla
rabbits have been seen slowly advancing to the westward. The Government
fortunately realises the importance of checking the incursion. To my mind
the safest plan would be to run a fence, at whatever cost, north from
Eucla, for some 150 miles, until the desert was reached, and so force the
rabbits into a part of the country where, supposing they could live
(which is doubtful), they could do no harm, and might come as a welcome
addition to the diet of the wandering blacks, or might serve to break the
monotony of “tinned dog” for the weary prospector.
Without camels as transport this expedition could not have been carried
out, which will be readily understood when we find that a waterless stage
of three hundred miles was negotiated. It is of course likely that Giles
passed by waters unknowingly, for owing to the number of camels he had
(twenty-two) and the supply of water he was enabled to carry, he was able
to push on without turning to the right hand or to the left.
In the following year Giles again crossed the Colony from West to East,
some 350 miles North of his first route, and encountered considerably
worse country, spinifex desert covered with light gravel. Between Giles's
two tracks, Forrest, in 1874, made a remarkable journey from West to East,
connecting his traverse with that of Gosse, who from the East had
penetrated some 150 miles into the Western Colony, and finally reached the
Adelaide-Port Darwin telegraph line. This journey was accomplished with
horses, and Forrest, like Stuart in Central Australia, happened to strike
a belt of country intersected by low ranges and hills in which he found
water. On his left hand was the undulating hill-less desert crossed by
Giles, on his right a wilderness of rolling sandhills. Not only was
Forrest a surveyor but a bushman as well, and accompanied by good men and
black-boys, who let not the slightest indications of the existence of
water escape them. One has only to notice the numerous twists and turns in
his route to understand that no pains were spared to find water, and thus
from rock-hole to rock-hole he wound his way across.
It seems certain that Forrest must have had an exceptional season, judging
from the difficulties that have beset subsequent travellers, even though
they had camels, over the same route. Mills, Hubbe, Carr-Boyd, Macpherson,
and Frost have in late years traversed the same country, not following
exactly in Forrest's footsteps, but visiting several waters yielding a
plentiful supply when found by him, but which were dry when seen by them.
Nevertheless if ever an overland route for stock is found from Central
Australia to the Coolgardie fields, I feel confident it will closely
approximate to Forrest's route of 1874 for a considerable distance.
Between Giles's northern track and that of the next explorer, Warburton,
there is a gap of some four hundred miles. Colonel Warburton, with a party
of four white men, two Afghans, and one black-boy, left Central Australia,
in 1873 to cross to the western coast. This he succeeded in doing after
fearful hardships and sufferings, entailing the death of sixteen out of
seventeen camels, the temporary failure of his eyesight, and the permanent
loss of one eye. One of his party lost his reason, which he never properly
recovered, and sufferings untold were experienced by the whole expedition,
the members of which narrowly escaped with their lives. Indeed they would
not have done so but for the faithful courage and endurance of Samuel
Lewis, who alone pushed on to the coastal settlements for aid, and,
returning, was just in time to rescue the other survivors. So bad was the
account given by these travellers of the interior that it was only by the
gradual extension of settlement, rather than by the efforts of any one
individual, that any part of it became better known. But for the finding
of gold it is certain that the interior would have long remained an
unknown region of dangers, so boldly faced by the early explorers.
The existence of gold was known to the Dutch as far back as 1680 or
thereabouts, and what is now known as the Nor'-West (including Pilbarra
and the Ashburton) was called by them “Terra Aurifera.” In spite of vague
rumours of the existence of gold, and the report of Austin in 1854, who
passed close to what is now the town of Cue and noticed auriferous
indications, it was not until 1868 that an authenticated find of gold was
made—at Mallina, in the Nor'-West. Since that date the precious metal has
been found now in one place, now in another, until to-day we see on the
map goldfields extending in a comparatively unbroken line from Esperance
Bay on the South, along the Western seaboard to Kimberley in the North.
Whilst prospectors were at work, explorers were not idle, and in 1892 a
large expedition, equipped by that public-spirited colonist, Sir Thomas
Elder—now alas! dead—was fitted out and put under the leadership of
David Lindsay. Sir Thomas was determined to finish what he had so well
begun, viz., the investigation of the interior, for by him not only had
Giles and Warburton been equipped, but several other travellers in South
and Central Australia. This expedition, however, though provided with a
large caravan of fifty-four camels, accomplished less than its
predecessors. Leaving Forrest's route at Mount Squires, Lindsay marched
his caravan across the Queen Victoria Desert to Queen Victoria Spring,
a distance of some 350 miles, without finding water except in small
quantities in rock-holes on the low sandstone cliffs he occasionally met
with. From Queen Victoria Spring, he made down to Esperance Bay, and
thence by the Hampton Plains, through settled country to the Murchison.
Here Lindsay left the expedition and returned to Adelaide; Wells, surveyor
to the party, meanwhile making a flying trip to the eastward as far as the
centre of the Colony and then back again. During this trip he accomplished
much useful work, discovering considerable extents of auriferous country
now dotted with mining camps and towns. On reaching the coast, he found
orders to return to Adelaide, as the expedition had come to an end. Why,
it was never generally known. Thus there still remained a vast unknown
expanse right in the heart of the interior covering 150,000 square miles,
bounded on the North by Warburton's Great Sandy Desert, on the South by
Giles's Desert of Gravel (Gibson's Desert), on the West by the strip
of well-watered country between the coast and the highland in which the
rivers rise, on the East by nothing but the imaginary boundary-line
between West and South Australia, and beyond by the Adelaide to Port
Darwin Telegraph Line.
To penetrate into this great unknown it would be necessary first to pass
over the inhospitable regions described by Wells, Forrest, and Giles, and
the unmapped expanses between their several routes—crossing their tracks
almost at right angles, and deriving no benefit from their experiences
except a comparison in positions on the chart, should the point of
intersection occur at any recognisable feature, such as a noticeable hill
Should the unexplored part between Giles's and Warburton's routes be
successfully crossed, there still would remain an unexplored tract 150
miles broad by 450 long before the settlements in Kimberley could be
reached, 1,000 miles in a bee-line from Coolgardie. This was the
expedition I had mapped out for my undertaking, and now after four
years' hard struggle I had at length amassed sufficient means to carry it
through. I do not wish to pose as a hero who risked the perils and dangers
of the desert in the cause of science, any more than I would wish it to be
thought that I had no more noble idea than the finding of gold. Indeed,
one cannot tell one's own motives sometimes; in my case, however, I
believe an insatiable curiosity to “know what was there,” joined to a
desire to be doing something useful to my fellow-men, was my chief
incentive. I had an idea that a mountain range similar to, but of course
of less extent, than the McDonnell Ranges in Central Australia might be
found—an idea based on the fact that the vast swamps or salt-lakes, Lake
Amadeus and Lake Macdonald, which apparently have no creeks to feed them
from the East, must necessarily be filled from somewhere. Since it was
not from the East, why not from the West?
Tietkens, Giles's first officer in nearly all his journeys, who led an
expedition from Alice Springs in Central Australia to determine the extent
of Lake Amadeus, cut off a considerable portion of that lake's supposed
area, and to the North-West of it discovered Lake Macdonald, which he
encircled. To the West of this lake he found samphire swamps and
clay-pans, which are so often seen at the end of creeks that seldom join
the lakes in a definite channel. He might, therefore, have crossed the
tail-end of a creek without being aware of it.
Should such a range exist it might be holding undiscovered rich minerals
or pasture-lands in its valleys. Anything seemed possible in 150,000
square miles. Then again it seemed to me possible that between Kimberley
in the North and Coolgardie in the South auriferous connection might
exist. A broken connection with wide intervals perhaps, but possibly belts
of “mixed” country, now desert, now lake, now gold-bearing. Such mixed
country one finds towards the eastern confines of the goldfields. No
better example of what I mean could be given than Lake Darlot, of which
one might make an almost complete circuit and be in a desert country all
the time. Should we find auriferous country in the “far back,” it was not
my intention to stop on it (and, indeed, our limited supplies would have
made that difficult), but to push on to Hall's Creek, Kimberley,
investigating the remaining portion of unknown on the way; then to refit
and increase the means of transport, and so return to the auriferous
country in a condition to remain there and properly prospect. These were
the ideas that possessed me before our journey commenced.
I do not wish to institute comparisons, but it is often said that a
prospector, or pioneer, who explores with the hope of gain to himself,
cannot be deserving in an equal degree of the credit due to those who have
risked their lives in the cause of science. I may point out that these
latter have not only been at no expense themselves, but have been paid
salaries for their services, and have, in addition, been rewarded by
grants of money and land—and deservedly so. Yet a man willing to take the
same risks, and venture the fruits of perhaps years of hard work, in
equipping and bearing all the expenses of an expedition, is credited with
no nobler incentive than the “lust of gold”—because he hopes, with a
vague chance of his hope being realised, to be repaid by compelling Nature
to part with some of her hidden treasures.
The prospector in his humble way slowly but surely opens up the country,
making horse or camel-pads, here, there, and everywhere, from water to
water, tracks of the greatest service to the Government road-maker and
surveyor who follow after. He toils and labours, suffers, and does heroic
deeds, all unknown except to the few. He digs soaks and wells many feet in
depth, makes little dams in creeks, protects open water from contamination
by animals, and scores of other services, primarily for his own benefit,
it is true, but also for the use of those who come after. Very few
recognise the immense value of the work carried out by prospectors who are
not actuated only by the greed for gold, as I, who know them, can assert.
Some wish to satisfy a longing to determine the nature of new country,
to penetrate where others have never been; others work for love of
adventure and of the free bush life; while many are anxious to win what
distinction may fall to the lot of successful travellers, though reward
or distinction are seldom accorded to prospectors. But beyond all this,
there is the glorious feeling of independence which attracts a prospector.
Everything he has is his own, and he has everything that IS his own with
him; he is doing the honest work of a man who wins every penny he may
possess by the toil of his body and the sweat of his brow. He calls no man
master, professes no religion, though he believes in God, as he cannot
fail to do, who has taken the chances of death in the uphill battle of
life “outside the tracks,” though he would perhaps be annoyed if you told
him so; and it is only by intimate acquaintance with him that you can know
that his God is the same as other men's, though called by another name.
For the rest, he lives an honourable life, does many acts of kindness to
those in need, never leaves his mate in the lurch, and goes “straight” to
the best of his ability. For him, indeed,
“Two things stand like stone:
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in his own.”
As to his work, the results remain, even though he keeps no record. Should
he find good country or gold, the land is soon occupied—sooner than if
some officially recognised expedition had reported it. For in the one case
the man is known and trusted by his fellow-prospectors, while in the other
there is not only the bushman's dislike of anything official to be
overcome, but the curious conviction, which most of them possess, that any
one in the position of a geologist, or other scientific calling, must
necessarily be an ass! In the same way, if the country met with is
useless, the fact soon becomes known amongst the prospectors, who avoid it
accordingly—though a few from curiosity may give it a further trial.
Slowly but surely the unaided and individual efforts of the prospector,
bring nearer to civilisation the unknown parts of Australia. Many are the
unrecorded journeys of bushmen, which for pluck and endurance would rank
with any of those of recognised explorers.
The distances accomplished by their journeys are certainly of no great
length, as, indeed, they hardly could be, seeing their scanty means and
inadequate equipment; and yet in the aggregate they do as great an amount
of useful work as a man who by a single journey leaves his name on the map
of Australia. It has always seemed a shame to me, how little prospectors
are encouraged. No inducement is offered them to give information to the
Government; they may do so if they like, but they cannot hope to get
anything for it in return. My old mate, Luck, not only surveyed, roughly
but accurately, a track between Southern Cross and Menzies, a distance of
nearly 150 miles, but actually cut the scrub for a part of the way, to
allow his camels to pass; shortly after a Government road was to be cut
between the two towns, and Luck sent in his map, at the suggestion of the
then head official of the Water Supply, with an application for monetary
reward for his work. His request was refused, his map never returned, and
strangely enough the new road followed his traverse from water to water
with startling exactitude. Who was to blame I cannot say; but someone
must be in fault when a man, both able and willing to do such useful work
is not only neglected, but to all intents and purposes robbed. This is not
the only instance of the apathy of the Government in such matters, but is
a sufficient example of the lack of encouragement with which prospectors
Members And Equipment Of Expedition
The most important question in the organisation of an expedition of long
duration is the choice of one's companions. Many men are excellent fellows
in civilisation and exactly the reverse in the bush, and, similarly, some
of the best men for bush work are quite unfitted for civilised life. I was
therefore grievously disappointed when I heard the decision of my late
partners not to accompany me. Dave Wilson thought it unwise to come
because his health was poor and his blood completely out of order, as
evinced by the painful sores due to what is termed “the Barcoo Rot.” This
disease is very common in the bush, where no vegetables or change of food
can be obtained, and must be something akin to scurvy. It is usually
accompanied by retching and vomiting following every attempt to eat. The
sufferer invariably has a voracious appetite, but what he eats is of
little benefit to him. The skin becomes very tender and soft, and the
slightest knock or scratch, even a touch sometimes, causes a wound which
gradually spreads in all directions. The back of the hand is the usual
spot to be first affected, then the arms, and in a bad case the legs also,
which become puffy at the joints, and before long the wretched victim
will be covered with sores and abrasions. No external application of
ointment or anything of that nature seems to do any good, though
the wounds are deep and leave but little scar. After a month or two
in the bush one is pretty sure to develop this complaint, which in
the dusty, hot weather is further aggravated by the swarms of flies,
whose poisonous nature is made evident to any one who has killed them.
In my own case I have found fine white wood-ashes, preferably of the
mulga, to have a healing and drying effect. Ashes are used by the natives
for healing wounds, and I found them very efficacious in cases of sore
backs amongst camels. Nothing but an entire change of diet and way of
living can cure the “Barcoo”; constant washing, an impossibility
“out-back,” being essential. Dave, having had his sickness for some long
time, was physically unable to form one of the party, to my sorrow,
for he was a man in whom I had the greatest confidence, and one whose
pluck and endurance were unquestionable.
Alfred Morris joined his brother in a reef the latter had found, and
Charlie Stansmore was not at all well. Thus I was for the time stranded.
There was no difficulty in getting men—of a sort! but just the right kind
of man was not easily found. My old friend Benstead added one more to the
many good turns he has done me by recommending Joe Breaden, who had just
finished a prospecting journey with Mr. Carr-Boyd and was looking out for
a job. Benstead had known him from boyhood, in Central Australia, and
gave him the highest character—not higher than he merited, though,
as I hope these pages will make clear. Most of us have, I think, an
instinct that tells us at once whether to trust another or the reverse.
One can say on sight, “I have perfect confidence in that man.” As soon as
I saw Breaden I felt a voice within me saying, “That's just the man you
were looking for.” I told him my plans and the salary I could afford to
give him; he, in his silent way, turned me and my project over in his mind
for some few minutes before he said the one word “Right,” which to him
was as binding as any agreement.
A fine specimen of Greater Britain was Joe Breaden, weighing fifteen stone
and standing over six feet, strong and hard, about thirty-five years of
age, though, like most back-blockers, prematurely grey, with the keen eye
of the hunter or bushman. His father had been through the Maori War, and
then settled in South Australia; Breaden was born and bred in the bush,
and had lived his life away up in Central Australia hundreds of miles from
a civilised town. And yet a finer gentleman, in the true sense of the
word, I have never met with. Such men as he make the backbone of the
country, and of them Australia may well be proud. Breaden had with him his
black-boy “Warri,” an aboriginal from the McDonnell Ranges of Central
Australia, a fine, smart-looking lad of about sixteen years, whom Breaden
had trained, from the age of six, to ride and track and do the usual odd
jobs required of black-boys on cattle stations. I had intended getting a
discharged prisoner from the native jail at Rotnest. These make excellent
boys very often, though prison-life is apt to develop all their native
cunning and treachery. Warri, therefore, was a distinct acquisition.
Having made so successful a start in the choice of mates, I turned my
attention to the purchase of camels. My idea had been to have twelve,
for it seemed to me that a big number of camels was more a handicap than
an advantage in country where the chances of finding a large supply of
water were so small. Another excellent reason for cutting down the caravan
was the question of expense. Eventually I decided on nine as being the
least we could do with. Nine of the very best they must be, so I spared no
pains in the choosing of them. Mr. Stoddart, the manager of a large
Carrying Company, from whom I bought them, said that he had never come
across any one so hard to please! However, I meant to have none but the
best, and I got them—five splendid South Australian bulls, three of
mature years and two youngsters—all a proper match for my old train of
four. The best camels, unfortunately, are not the cheapest! The average
value of our caravan was £72 10 shillings—a tremendous amount when
compared with their cost in other countries. In Somaliland, for instance,
for the price I paid for my nine, I could get one hundred and sixty-three
camels! But the Somali camel from all accounts is a very poor performer,
compared to his kinsman in the Antipodes, his load being about 200 lbs.
against the Australian's 6 to 9 cwt.
The new camels were christened Kruger, Prepeh, Mahatma Billy (always known
as Billy), Redleap, and Stoddy. These, together with my old friends Czar,
Satan, and Shiddi, I put under Breaden's charge; and he and Warri camped
with them a few miles from the town whilst I completed preparations.
Rain was falling at the time, the wet weather lasting nearly a fortnight;
the whole country around Coolgardie was transformed from a sea of dust
into a “Slough of Despond,” and, seeing that five out of the nine camels
were bulling, Breaden had anything but a pleasant time. Amongst camels,
it is the male which comes on season, when, for a period of about six
weeks annually, he is mad and unmanageable, and in some cases dangerous.
Once, however, a camel knows you as his friend, in whatever state of mind
he may be, he will not harm you, though a stranger would run
considerable risk. The duration of this bulling depends entirely on what
work they are doing; camels running in the bush without work will remain
perhaps three months on season, and a horrible nuisance they are too,
for they fight anything they come across, and will soon turn a peaceful
camp of unoffending camels into a pandemonium. When in this state they
will neither eat, drink, nor sleep, and unless tied down or carefully
watched will wander far away, and sometimes start off full gallop, in the
shortest of hobbles, and not stop under five or six miles. The
“scotch hobble” prevents this, for by having a chain from a hobble-strap
on the foreleg to another on the hind, the least attempt at galloping
will bring the beast down on to his knees. I used this arrangement on
Satan, but found that the fixing of the chain on the hind leg was a
matter of some danger, which could only be accomplished at the expense of
being sent flying by a kick in the stomach at least once; for a camel
hates anything touching his hind legs, and any attempt to handle them soon
affords ample evidence that he can let out with great vigour with any leg
in any direction. You have only to watch one flicking flies off his nose
with his toe to be convinced of that little point of natural history.
Before many weeks “on season” a bull becomes so thin and miserable, that
it is hardly credible that he can carry a burden of nearly twice the usual
weight; nevertheless it is a fact. I remember a caravan of “season camels”
arriving at Lake Darlot, carrying an average load of nine hundred pounds,
exclusive of the saddle. The extra load that they carry hardly compensates
for the trouble of looking after them, for when in that state they fight
like tigers, especially if they have not been long together. Once,
however, the bulls become friendly, they only fight in a more or less
half-hearted way amongst themselves; but woe betide any alien who finds
himself near them—they will then band themselves together and fall upon
that stranger until even his master would not recognise him. There is no
fun attached to travelling along a much-frequented track, on which mobs
of twenty to fifty camels may be met with; and there is no sleep to be got
at night, for if, following the practice of most white men, a man ties
down his camels at night, he may be certain that they will be attacked,
and from their defenceless position, perhaps seriously injured or killed
by the loose camels of some Afghan, who has neither the energy nor sense
of fair-play to restrain the bulls under his charge.
In this troublesome state were our camels, and poor Breaden, being a
stranger to them, was treated with neither politeness nor respect;
Kruger, especially, being so exceedingly ill-behaved as not only to knock
Breaden down, but to attempt to kneel on his chest and crush him.
This disaster was narrowly averted by the prompt action of Warri, who
first dragged his master out of danger, and then chastised Kruger with a
heavy stick, across the head and neck. Kruger was equally rough to his
fellows, for as in a pioneering party, so in a mob of bull camels, there
must be only one boss.
This knotty point was fought out with bitter vehemence, Czar, Shiddi,
and Misery being vanquished in turn by the redoubtable Kruger. The others
knew their places without fighting; for old Billy, the only one of them
not too young to compete, was far too good-tempered and easy-going to
dispute anything (except the passage of a salt-lake, as we afterwards
discovered). I was naturally sorry to see Misery deposed; but for his age
he fought a good fight, and it was gratifying to possess the champion who
could beat him. What a magnificent fellow was Kruger—a very tower of
strength, and (excepting of course when in the state above described)
with a nature like that of an old pet sheep.
In the meantime I was under the sheltering roof of my old foster-mother
“Bayley's Reward Claim”—the guest of Tom and Gerald Browne.
Gerald had as his henchman a small boy whom he had taken from a tribe
away out to the eastward of Lake Darlot—a smart little chap, and very
intelligent, kept neat and clean by his master, whose pride in his “boy”
knew no bounds. He was wonderfully quick in picking up English and could
count up to twelve. No doubt by this time he is still more learned. It is
rather strange that so much intelligence and aptitude for learning should
be found in these children of the wilderness, who in their wild and
wandering habits are not far removed from animals—for neither “Wynyeri,”
the boy in question, nor any of his tribe, could by any possibility have
seen a white man before 1892. And yet this little chap in a few months is
as spruce and clever as any white boy of the same size, and, far from
showing any fear or respect, evinces a distinct inclination to boss any
white children with whom he comes in contact. The Australian aboriginal is
indeed a puzzle: he lives like a beast of the field, using neither clothes
nor house, and to the casual observer is a savage of the lowest type,
without brains, or any senses other than those possessed by animals;
yet he has his peculiar laws and customs—laws of which the Mosaic rule of
“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the foundation.
In some districts, and probably all over the continent, were inquiry made,
marriage laws of the most intricate kind are strictly adhered to; and
though his ceremonies and rites are unique in their barbarity, yet when
properly handled he is capable of becoming a useful and intelligent member
of the community. Great tact is necessary in the education of the
aboriginals. Neglect turns them into lazy, besotted brutes who are of no
use to anybody; too kind treatment makes them insolent and cunning; too
harsh treatment makes them treacherous; and yet without a certain amount
of bullying they lose all respect for their master, and when they deserve
a beating and do not get it, misconstrue tender-heartedness into fear.
The “happy medium” is the great thing; the most useful, contented,
and best-behaved boys that I have seen are those that receive treatment
similar to that a highly valued sporting dog gets from a just master;
“to pet” stands for “to spoil.” Like most black races, the native soon
develops a love for liquor; but fortunately there exists a stringent law
which prohibits the giving of drink to a black-fellow, except at the
request of his master.
It is marvellous how soon a tame boy comes to despise his own people, when
he far outstrips any white man in his contemptuous manner of speaking
about a “—— black fella.”
One visitor to Bayley's Reward Claim, brought with him from Victoria,
a highly educated aboriginal who had been born in civilisation, and who
afterwards married his master's parlourmaid. Jim was a tremendously smart
boy, could ride, shoot, box, bowl, or keep wicket against most white men,
and any reference to his colour or family was deeply resented. On his
first appearance the cook at Bayley's (the wife of one of the miners)
proceeded to converse with him in the sort of pigeon-English commonly
used, and handed him a plate of scraps for his dinner, calling out,
“Hi, Jacky-Jacky, this one your tucker,” to which Jim replied with stern
dignity, “Who the h— are you calling Jacky-Jacky? Do you think I'm
a —— black-fellow?” The cook, a quiet and ladylike little woman, who
had been a schoolmistress “at home” was not less astounded by the
excellent English, than by the delicate way in which his disapprobation
was expressed. This story of Jim reminds me of one about his master.
He was a man who liked to have everything about him smart and showy, and
was quite willing that every one should look upon him as a tremendous
swell with the purse of a Croesus. I heard some diggers discussing him:
one said he had come to buy up all the mines in the place and must be a
man of importance. “Oh,” said his mate, “any one could see 'e was a
toff—I seed him black 'is boots and brush his teeth.” “Yes, and 'e wears
a —— collar too.” Thus was exemplified the old adage “Fine feathers make
Camped near Bayley's was Godfrey Massie, a cousin of Brownes and brother
of the once famous cricketer. He had taken a contract to sink a shaft on
the adjoining lease, but, owing to the death of one of his mates and his
own incapacity to work, due to a “jarred” hand, he was forced to throw up
the job, and quickly agreed to my proposal that he should form one of my
party. People get to a very casual way of doing things on the goldfields.
There was no formality about my arrangements; Godfrey helping me pack at
a store, and during our work I said without preface, “You'd better come
too;” “Right,” said he, and the matter was settled. Godfrey, a son of one
of the leading Sydney families, had started life in an insurance office,
but soon finding that he was not cut out for city life, went on to a
Queensland cattle-station, where he gained as varied a knowledge of bush
life as any could wish for; tiring of breeding and fattening cattle for
somebody else's benefit, he joined the rush to the Tasmanian silver-fields
and there he had the usual ups and downs—now a man of wealth, and now
carrying his load of bacon and oatmeal through the jungle on the steep
Tasmanian mountains. While a field continues to boom, the up-and-down
business does not so much signify, but when the “slump” comes it is
distinctly awkward to be in a state of “down.” It is then that the average
speculator bemoans his hard fate, can't think how he is to live; and yet
manages to do so by borrowing from any more fortunate fellow, and almost
invariably omitting to pay him back. A most lively and entertaining class
of men when shares are up, but a miserable, chicken-hearted lot when the
Some, however, of these wandering speculators, who follow from “boom” to
“boom,” are of very different mettle and face their luck like men. Such a
one was Godfrey, who, when he found himself “broke” in Tasmania, set to
work and burned charcoal until he had saved enough money to pay his
passage to Perth; and from there he “humped his bluey” to Coolgardie,
and took a job as a miner on his uncle's mine until brighter times should
come. The Australian can set us a good example in some matters, and I must
confess with sorrow that nine out of every ten young Englishmen on the
goldfields, of the same class, would not only be too haughty to work, but
would more readily take to billiards, cards, and borrowing when they
found themselves in low water—and no man sinks lower than an English
“gentlemen” who has gone to the bad, and no one despises him more than an
Australian miner, or is more ready to help him when he shows signs of
trying to help himself by honest work. I had known Godfrey long enough to
be sure that, in the bush, he was as good a man as I could get, hard as
nails, and willing to work for other people, as energetically as he would
for himself, so long as they treated him fairly.
My party was now complete, and included a little fox terrier, “Val” by
name, whose parents belong to Tom and Gerald Browne, and come of the best
stock in Australia. I had intended to take another man, but, since I could
not get one of the right sort, I had no idea of handicapping the party
with one of the wrong. At the last minute, however, Charlie Stansmore
changed his mind, greatly to my delight, for I knew him to be as sterling
a fellow as one could hope to find. Charlie, too, had knocked about from
Queensland to West Australia, now on a station, now a miner, and now
engine-driver. His people were amongst the earliest settlers on the Swan
River, and could well remember the great massacre of whites by the blacks;
subsequently they moved to Victoria, where they have farming land at the
present time. A very quiet, reserved man was Charlie, who took a great
interest in mechanical work and astronomy, a strong man physically and
mentally. Thus at last we were ready to tackle whatever the “great
unknown” had in store for us.
With hearty wishes for success from the few friends who knew where we were
bound for, we shook the mud of Coolgardie from our feet and took the
northern road to Menzies on July 9, 1896. Breaden, Stansmore, Massie,
Warri, nine heavily laden camels, and a dog made a fine show, and I
confess I was near bursting from pride as I watched them.
Who could foresee that one of us was destined never to return?
Acting on the principle of making mention of matters which I have noticed
excite an amount of interest in “Home” people, though to us, who are used
to them, their importance hardly seems to warrant it, I subjoin a list of
the articles and provisions with which we started:—
- 8 pack-camels. Bulls. South Australian bred. Of ages varying from five
to fifteen years.
- 1 riding-camel. Bull. S.A. bred. Age five years.
Average value of camels; £72 10 shillings each.
- 8 pack saddles of Afghan make.
- 1 riding saddle, made to order by Hardwick, Coolgardie, specially light,
and stuffed with chaff. A very excellent saddle.
- 1 camel brand. D.W.C.
- 1 doz. nose pegs.
- 6 coils of clothes line.
- 3 coils of wallaby line (like window-blind cord) for nose lines.
- 5 hanks of twine.
- 2 long iron needles for saddle mending (also used as cleaning-rod
- 2 iron packers for arranging stuffing of saddle.
- Spare canvas.
- Spare calico.
- Spare collar-check.
- Spare leather, for hobbles and neck-straps.
- Spare buckles for same.
- Spare bells.
- Spare hobble-chains.
- 6 lbs. of sulphur.
- 2 gallons kerosene, to check vermin in camels.
- 2 gallons tar and oil, for mange in camels.
- 2 galvanised-iron water casks (15 gallons each).
- 2 galvanised-iron water casks (17 gallons each), made with bung
on top side, without taps, for these are easily broken off.
- 1 India-rubber pipe for drawing water from tanks.
- 1 funnel.
- 3 three-gallon buckets.
- 1 tin canteen (2 gallons).
- 2 canvas water tanks, to be erected on poles to hold water
baled from soak, etc.
- 4 canvas water-bags (10 gallons each.)
- 4 canvas water-bags (1 1/2 gallons each) slung on camels' necks.
- 6 Ballarat picks and handles.
- 3 shovels.
- 1 axe (7 lbs.).
- 1 hammer (7 lbs.).
- 1 engineer's hammer.
- 3 tomahawks.
- 1 saw.
- 1 small flat iron anvil.
- 1 small pair of bellows.
- 1 iron windlass-handle and fittings.
- 1 1-inch chisel.
- 1 brace and bits.
- 1 3/4 inch auger bit.
- 1 emery stone.
- 4 iron dishes.
- 1 sieve-dish.
- 1 iron dolly.
- 1 soldering iron for mending water casks.
- 2 sticks solder for mending water casks.
- 1 bottle spirits of salts for mending water casks.
- 1 case of tools. Screwdriver, small saw, hammer, chisel, file, gimlet,
leather-punch, wire nipper, screw wrench, large scissors, etc.
- 1 case of tools for canvas work (sewing needles, etc.).
- 2 lbs. of copper rivets.
- 1 box copper wire.
- Strong thread.
- 1 1/2 lbs. 3-inch nails.
- 1 lb. 2-inch nails.
- 50 feet of rope.
- 1 duck tent, 6 ft. x 8 ft.
- 4 flies, 10 ft. x 12 ft., for covering packs.
- 4 mosquito nets.
- 3 saucepans.
- 3 quart pots.
- 6 pannikins.
- 6 plates, enamelled tin.
- 6 knives, forks, and spoons.
- 1 stewpan.
- 1 frying pan,
- 1 small medicine case (in tabloid form).
- 7 lbs. Epsom salts.
- 6 bottles of Elliman's embrocation.
- 3 bottles of carbolic oil.
- 3 bottles of eye lotion.
- 3 bottles of eucalyptus oil.
- 2 galvanised-iron concertina-made boxes for perishable goods,
e.g., ammunition, journals, etc.
- 2 twelve-bore shot-guns.
- 4 colt revolvers, .380 calibre.
- 4 Winchester repeaters, .44 calibre.
- 200 twelve-bore cartridges.
- 300 Winchester do.
- 200 revolver do.
- 1 bicycle lamp (for night observations).
- 1 5-inch theodolite and tripod.
- 2 prismatic compasses.
- 2 steering compasses (Gregory's pattern).
- 1 telescope.
- 1 pair field-glasses.
- 1 map case.
- 1 drawing-board.
Drawing materials, note-books, etc.
- 1 binocular camera, with films. (N.B. Not good in hot climate.)
- 1 tape measure.
- 14 50-lb. bags of flour (700 lbs.).
- 35 doz. 1-lb. tins of meat (420 lbs.).
- 5 doz. 1-lb. tins of fish (60 lbs.).
N.B.—Not fit for consumption—thrown away.)
- 200 lbs. rice.
- 70 lbs. oatmeal.
- 6 doz. tins of milk (condensed).
- 8 doz. tins baking powder.
- 4 doz. 1-lb tins of jam.
- 140 lbs. sugar,
- 40 lbs. salt (for salting down meat—kangaroo, etc.).
- 30 lbs. tea.
- 2 doz. tinned fruit.
- 2 doz. tinned vegetables.
- 10 lbs. currants.
- 10 lbs. raisins
- 40 lbs. dried apricots.
- 6 doz. 1-lb. tins butter.
- 4 doz. Liebig's Extract.
- 1 1/2 doz. pepper (1/4-lb. tins).
- 1/2 doz. curry-powder (1/4-lb. tins).
- 9 packets Sunlight soap.
- 1 box of candles.
- 6 lbs. cornflour.
- 28 doz. matches.
- 50 lbs. tobacco.
- 100 lbs. preserved potatoes.
- 4 bottles good brandy.
- 1 bottle good rum.
- 1 hair clipper.
- Blankets, boots, flannel shirts, trousers (Dungaree and moleskin); etc.
The stores were calculated to last six months with care and longer should
we encounter good country where game could be shot. Everything that could
be was packed in large leather bags, made to order. Other expeditions have
carried wooden brass-bound boxes; I do not approve of these—first on
account of their own weight and bulk; second, when empty they are equally
bulky and awkward; third, unless articles are of certain shapes and
dimensions they cannot be packed in the boxes, which do not “give” like
bags. Wooden water casks are generally used—my objections to them are
that they weigh more than the iron ones, are harder to mend, and when
empty are liable to spring or warp from the hot sun.
It will be seen that a great part of our load consisted of tools which,
though weighty, were necessary, should we come on auriferous country, or
be forced to sink to any depth for water: a great many of these tools were
left in the desert.
The average load with which each camel started, counting the water casks
(the four large ones) full, was 531 lbs., exclusive of saddle. Kruger and
Shiddi carried over 750 lbs. including top loading and saddle.
These loads, though excessive had the season been summer, were not too
great to start with in the cooler weather; and every day made some
difference in their weight.
The brandy was for medicinal purposes only. Even had we been able to
afford the room I should not have carried more; for I am convinced that
in the bush a man can keep his health better, and do more work, when he
leaves liquor entirely alone.
The Journey Begins
The week's rain had made the roads in a terrible state, where dust had
been there was now a foot or so of soft mud, and the ground, which had
been hard and clayey, was now so sticky and slippery, that it was not easy
travelling for the camels. We passed several camps of Afghans, squatting
miserably under huge tarpaulins, waiting for the roads to dry before
starting their caravans, loaded with stores for some distant district.
There are one or two things that camels are quite unable to do, according
to an Asiatic driver; one is to travel in wet weather. However, Europeans
manage to work camels, wet or fine; the wily Afghan says, “Camel no do
this,” “Camel no do that,” because it doesn't suit his book that camel
should do so—and a great many people think that he must know and is
indispensable in the driving of camels; which seems to me to be no more
sensible than to say that a chow-dog can only be managed by a Chinaman.
There is, perhaps, a small amount of risk in travelling in wet weather,
for when a camel does slip he does so with a vengeance; each foot seems to
take a different direction and thus, spread-eagled under a heavy load, he
might suffer a severe strain or even break a bone. Redleap fell once, but,
happily, neither hurt himself nor the load.
The winter had caused a transformation in the appearance of the bush;
everywhere little patches of green grass or saltbush could be seen, and
wherever a teamster had stopped to bait his horses, a miniature field of
oats had sprung into life. How we hoped that the rainfall had extended
towards the interior!
If only we could have started sooner, we should have benefited by the cool
weather for a great part of the journey. But though the days were warm
enough, there was no doubt about the coldness of the nights. Our blankets
were white with frost in the mornings, and our canvas water-bags frozen
into a solid mass. My thermometer registered 17°F. just before
dawn on the coldest night. Unhobbling the camels and loading them was
freezing work, during which our fingers were quite numbed. Shivering, we
walked along until the sun was above the trees, then in a little its rays
warmed to their work, and we would peal off now a coat, now a jersey or
shirt, until in the middle of the day the heat was too great to be
pleasant. Poor little Val hated the cold nights, and, as I always sleep
away from a fire, she used to crawl into my blankets and lie up against
my back, which was quite pleasant for both of us. Most men like to sleep
alongside a roaring fire in the winter, but I have always found that after
the fire burns out and the night becomes colder, the change of temperature
becomes unbearable. If the fire burned all night it would be a different
matter; but to do so it must be replenished, and this entails leaving warm
blankets to carry wood. It is amusing to see two men camped by a fire
which has burned low, both lying awake, and watching to see if the other
will get up and attend to it.
The best recipe for avoiding cold is to sleep soundly; and to sleep
soundly one must be tired. As a rule night found us in this state, for we
all discovered walking rather trying at first, none of us having done any
for some time. We were all pleased, I think, when our stage of seven or
eight hours was finished—especially Breaden, who had given himself a
nasty strain in loading the camels, and who had a deal more weight to
carry than we thin people. Australian bushmen do not, as a rule, make good
walkers—their home has been the saddle. It was the more necessary,
therefore, that we should start on foot at once and carry out a system of
training, in which I am a great believer; thus we never ate or drank
between breakfast at daylight and tea at night—from nine to eleven hours
afterwards. Stopping in the middle of the day wastes time, and entails the
unloading of the camels or putting them down with their burdens on, a
very bad plan; the time so spent at midday is far more valuable in the
evening, when the camels can employ it by feeding. Then again, a meal,
really unnecessary, during the day soon makes an appreciable difference in
the amount of provisions used. Breaden and Godfrey consoled themselves
with tobacco, but Charlie and I were not smokers. I used to be, but gave
up the practice because it made me so dry—an effect that it does not have
on every one, some finding that a smoke relieves not only hunger but
thirst. I have only one objection to a smoker as a travelling companion,
and that is, that if by some horrible mishap he runs out of tobacco, he
becomes quite unbearable. The same holds with an excessive tea-drinker.
I was specially careful, therefore, to have a sufficient supply of these
articles. A large amount of tea was not required, since Godfrey was the
only confirmed tea-drinker.
On July 15th we reached Menzies, having followed the telegraph line to
that point. And a very badly constructed line this is, the poles being
timber and not sunk sufficiently deep into the ground—a contract job.
The iron poles which are now used in the Government-constructed lines are
a vast improvement. Menzies was the last town we called at, and was not
so specially inviting that we regretted leaving it. Niagara, the next
city, we avoided, and turned up the old Lake Darlot road, some fifteen
miles to the west of it. Between Menzies and Sandy Creek, close to where
we turned, the open, saltbush plain which fringes the salt lake, Lake
Prinsep, was looking quite charming, dotted all over with patches of
splendid green and yellow herbage, plants like our clover and dandelion,
and thousands of pink and white everlastings. There can be no doubt that
with a better rainfall or with some means of irrigation, could artesian
water be found, a great part of the goldfields would be excellent pastoral
land. As it is, however, a few weeks suffice to again alter the face of
the country to useless aridity. We camped a day on Sandy Creek, to allow
our beasts to enjoy, while they could, the luscious green feed; I embraced
the opportunity of taking theodolite observations for practice. The pool,
some eighty yards long, and twenty wide, fringed with overhanging bushes
and weeping willow with its orange-red berries, made a pretty picture;
turkeys evidently came there to water, but we had not the luck to
The northern track from Sandy Creek deviated so much on account of
watering-places, thick scrub, and broken rocks, that we left it and cut
through the bush to some clay-pans south of Cutmore's Well; and
successfully negotiated on our way the lake that had given me so much
trouble when I and the fever were travelling together. All through the
scrub every open spot was covered with grass, that horrible spear-grass
(Aristidi), the seeds of which are so troublesome to sheep and horses.
I have seen sores in a horse's mouth into which one could put two
fingers, the flesh eaten away by these vicious little seeds. When turned
out on this kind of grass, horses' mouths should be cleaned every day.
Camels do not suffer, as they seldom eat grass unless long, young, and
specially succulent. We, however, were rather annoyed by the persistent
way in which the seeds worked through our clothes and blankets; and before
much walking, our trousers were fringed with a mass of yellow seeds, like
those of a carter who has wound wisps of straw round his ankles. Truly
rain is a marvellous transformer; not only vegetable but animal life is
affected by it; the bush is enlivened by the twittering of small birds,
which come from nobody knows where, build their nests, hatch out their
young, and disappear! Almost every bush held a nest, usually occupied by a
diamond-sparrow. Her nest is round, like a wren's, with one small entrance
and is built roughly of grass, lined with soft, small feathers. The eggs,
numbering four to five in the few nests we disturbed, are white and of the
size and shape of our hedge-sparrow's. I am pretty sure that the nesting
season depends entirely on the rain. After rain, the birds nest, however
irregular the seasons.
As well as small birds, teal had found their way to the clay-pans, and
gave us both sport and food. These water-holes are the tail-end of
Wilson's Creek, on which is sunk Cutmore's Well, where splendid water was
struck at a depth of about eighty feet. Flood-waters from the creek spread
out over these flats, and eventually reach the lake already mentioned,
to the South. The caretaker at the Well occupied his spare time by growing
vegetables, and our last meal, with white men near us, for many months to
come, was accompanied by pumpkins and turnips. Camped here, too, was a mob
of cattle, about 130 head. The stockmen told us they had started from the
head of the Gascoyne River with 2,000 sheep and 150 bullock's. Leaving the
station, some four hundred miles to the N.N.W. of Cutmore's, they
travelled by Lake Way, where a fair-sized mining community was then
established, and Lawlers, where the advance of civilisation was marked by
numerous “pubs.” Their stock had not suffered from want of food or
water—in fact, a very general rain seemed to have spread from Coolgardie
to the Nor'-West. The cattle and our camels seemed quite friendly; the
latter were settling down to work, and could now be allowed to go in their
hobbles at night, in place of being tied down. Only an occasional fight
disturbed our sleep; but at the the clay-pans two strangers, wild and
savage, caused a deal of trouble, necessitating one or other of us being
up all night. However, we would soon be beyond such annoyances. At this
point our journey might be said to begin, for here we left the last
outpost of civilisation, and saw the last white face for some time to