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Spinifex And Sand by David W. Carnegie

 

CHAPTER VII

The Great Undulating Desert Of Gravel

On August 22nd we left this kindly little oasis and directed our course to the North. We were now nearly in the centre of the Colony, and had made enough easting, a general northerly course being necessary to take us through the heart of the great unknown. It was my intention to steer due North for as long a period as possible, only deviating from it when forced by the exigencies of water-hunting, and when it became necessary, to bear somewhat to the eastward so as to hit off the vicinity of Hall's Creek. Unless absolutely forced to do so, I did not propose to make any deviation to the Westward—for from our small caravan it was incumbent upon us to waste no time, unless we could do so in country where game was procurable. So far, although our actual line of march had been through unmapped country, we had traversed a region already crossed by another party, whose route ran parallel to ours and some forty miles to the north. Not that that was of the least benefit to us any more than if we had been at sea; but it gave us the feeling that we were not in an absolutely terra incognita. From the lagoon, however, our route lay through country untrodden by any white man, with the exception of Ernest Giles, whose track we should cross at right angles, about one hundred miles North of Alexander Spring. But unless we sighted the Alfred and Marie Range, named by him, we should have no guide, excepting our position on the chart, to show us where we crossed the path of a caravan which marched through the wilderness twenty years before.

To give a description of the country that we now encountered, from day to day, would be so deadly monotonous that the kindest reader would hardly forgive me; and even if it could serve any useful purpose I should hesitate to recount the daily scene of solitude. A general account of this country, followed by any incidents or personal adventures worthy of notice, will suffice to give an idea of this dreary region.

From lat. 26°S. to lat. 22° 40´ there stretches a vast desert of rolling sand, not formed in ridges like those already described, nor heaped up with the regularity of those met with further north. “Downs” I think is the only term that describes properly the configuration of the country. “The Great Undulating Desert of Gravel” would meet all requirements should it be thought worthy of a name. In this cheerless and waterless region we marched from August 22nd until September 17th seeing no lakes, nor creeks, nor mountains; no hills even prominent enough to deserve a name, excepting on three occasions. Day after day over open, treeless expanses covered only by the never-ending spinifex and strewn everywhere with pebbles and stones of ferruginous sandstone, as if some mighty giant had sown the ground with seed in the hope of raising a rich crop of hills. The spinifex here cannot grow its coarse, tall blades of grass—the top growth is absent and only round stools of spines remain; well was it named Porcupine Grass!

Occasional clumps of mulga break the even line of the horizon, and, in the valleys, thickets or belts of bloodwood are seen. In these hollows one may hope to find feed for the camels, for here may grow a few quondongs, acacia, and fern-tree shrubs, and in rare cases some herbage. The beefwood tree, the leaves of which camels, when hard pressed, will eat, alone commands the summit of the undulations. As for animal life—well, one forgets that life exists, until occasionally reminded of the fact by a bounding spinifex rat, frightened from his nest. Day after day one or other of us used to walk away from the caravan carrying a gun on the chance of getting a shot; never once did we succeed; the rats invariably got up out of range, and after a time we voted it unnecessary labour. Had they been easily shot their small numbers would hardly have made it worth while to burden one's self with a gun; to see a dozen in a day was counted out of the common. Birds were nowhere numerous—an occasional eagle-hawk, or crow, and once or twice a little flock of long-tailed parrots whose species was unknown to any of us. Unfortunately I was unable to procure a specimen. At any waters pigeons, sparrows, crows, and hawks might be seen in fair quantities; and very rarely a turkey.

From the 22nd to the 24th we saw no signs of natives. On the latter day several smokes rose during the march. So far, we had no certain knowledge of the meaning of these smokes. They might be native signals, or from fires for the purpose of burning off the old spinifex to allow young feed to grow and so attract the rats to a known locality; or it might be that the blacks were burning the country to hunt out the rats and lizards. On the 25th a sudden change took place, and we found ourselves in a small, open thicket with a coarse undergrowth of grass, and scattered about were a few boulders of decomposed granite and occasional low outcrops of rock. Several old native camps put us on the alert, and presently we found a well—a shallow hole, 7 feet deep, and 2 feet 6 inches in diameter, entirely surrounded by high spinifex. Why there should ever be water there, or how the blacks got to know of it, was a problem we could only guess at. Everything looked so dry and parched that we were in no way surprised at finding the well waterless. Prempeh had been very unwell lately, refusing to take what little feed there was to be got. A dose of sulphur and butter was administered, poured warm down his throat by me as Breaden held open his month, grasped firmly by either lip. I believe sulphur is an excellent thing for camels, and used often to treat them to the mixture, some—Satan, for example—being very partial to it. The position of this well I found to be lat. 25° 15´, long. 124° 48´; from the edge of the mulga, one hundred yards or so to the North of it, a range of rough looking hills is visible. This I named the Browne Range, after my old friends at Bayley's Reward, and the two conspicuous points I christened Mount Gordon, after Mr. Gordon Lyon, and Mount Everard, after Mr. Everard Browne, respectively.

Mount Gordon is flat-topped; and Mount Everard a double hill, a peak rising from a flat top, bears 82° from the well. This range stood out boldly from the open country and promised well for hilly country ahead. Nor were we disappointed, for after two hours' travel we sighted an imposing-looking range, and altered our course to the highest point, a queer dome-shaped peak, which we called Charlie's Knob, since he had first seen the hills. On nearer approach the hills lost much of their grandeur. By camping-time we were close to their foot amongst rocky rises, very rough to the feet of our animals. They were rewarded for their discomforts by a small patch of herbage which they quickly demolished. That night we heard the dismal howling of two dingoes, who might either be giving expression to their satisfaction at finding water or to their disappointment at not having done so. Three miles more of rugged ground the next morning brought us to Charlie's Knob, and beyond it the range, which on close examination was not imposing, being a series of detached sandstone hills, their summits flat and slightly sloping to the South, capped with a hard reddish-brown rock (baked shale). On the cap, loose fragments of shale and thick scrub; forming its sides sheer cliffs, at most fifteen feet high, perforated by holes and caves, above rough, stony banks. The whole covered with tufts of spinifex, barren, wretched, and uninviting.

On Charlie's Knob a queer little natural pinnacle of rock stands half-way up the side, and from a hill close by, an excellent view of the Browne Range was obtained, Mount Gordon bearing 148°. With the help of my field-glasses I could make out the character of this range to be similar to that of the Young Range on which I was standing. It is of course necessary to name these hills for future reference, and this range got its name from somebody's remark that it was hardly full grown. From the knob the hills run in a crescent, a line joining the two horns being North-East. In the bend of the crescent I could see some very green-looking bloodwoods and made sure we should find a creek. First we hunted the neighbouring hills without success, and then crossed on to the bloodwood flat which had appeared like a creek. Here for the only time our patience in carrying the gun was rewarded, and Charlie shot two fine turkeys. This welcome occurrence, added to Godfrey's having seen a kangaroo in the hills and the dingoes heard the night before, made us confident that water was not far off. That night Godfrey and I took it in turns to baste the turkeys, as they were baking between two prospecting dishes. Godfrey was an excellent cook, and most particular that everything should be done cleanly and properly. I was quite under his orders in the kitchen, for the cook's art is one that I have not the patience to learn, and cordially hate.

Cold turkey and tea for breakfast, and then I divided the party into two, Breaden with the camels being directed to a prominent hill at the end of the range there to await the arrival of Godfrey and myself, who went off to the hills to make further search for water. All day we hunted in different directions and everywhere found the same barren rocks. We had fixed upon a certain gully as a rendezvous; each gully was exactly like its neighbour. Towards the evening I returned to the gully, which I was sure was the one agreed upon, and there awaited Godfrey. He did the same, only chose another gully, equally sure that he was right. And there we sat, each impatiently blaming the other. At last, to pass the time, I fired some shots at an ant-hill; these had the effect of bringing Godfrey over the rise, and we had a good laugh at each other when we discovered that for nearly half an hour we had sat not two hundred yards apart—and each remained firmly convinced that he was right! Godfrey had shot a kangaroo and carried part of the meat and the tail; he had tracked it a long way, but could see no signs of water.

Still following the hills, we made our way towards the point where the camels should be, and presently cut a deep, rocky gorge, which we followed down. The camels had crossed this; and, as it was getting late, I sent Godfrey along their tracks to rejoin the others, telling him that I should continue down the creek, and return to wherever they made camp; to guide me to it they were to light a fire. I followed the creek, or storm channel as I should rather call it, for some four miles; climbing a tree I could see it apparently continuing for some miles, so, feeling that I had already had a fair tramp, I noted the direction of the smoke from the camp and returned to it. As luck would have it, it was the wrong smoke; Breaden on arriving at the end hill had made a fire, and this the evening breeze had rekindled; and the camp-fire happened to die down at the very time it was most needed. In due course I arrived at the hill, named Mount Colin, after poor Colin Gibson, a Coolgardie friend who had lately died from typhoid. From the summit a noticeable flat-topped hill, Mount Cox, named after Ernest Cox, also of Coolgardie, bears 76° about fifteen miles distant, at the end of a fair-sized range running S.S.W. Between this range and that from which I was observing, I noticed several belts of bloodwoods, which might be creeks, but probably are only flats similar to that crossed by us. Picking up the tracks of the main party, I followed them to camp, not sorry to have a rest; for it was ten hours since Godfrey and I had had anything to eat or drink, and the rocks were rough and the spinifex dense. I mention this, not as illustrating our hardships, but to show what training will do; any one of us would have been quite ready to do the day's tramp over again had any necessity arisen.

That night as I was shooting the stars, by which I found we were in lat. 24° 57´, long. 125° 9´ (dead reckoning), I noticed several bronzewing pigeons flying down the creek which I had followed, and on which we were camped. In the morning others observed them flying up the watercourse. As a bronzewing drinks just after dark, or just before daylight, this was pretty good evidence that water existed in the direction in which the creek ran—and probably an open pool would be found. No such luck! for we followed the channel until it no longer was one, that is to say its banks became further apart, and lower, until its wash was spread out in all directions over a flat whose limits were defined by bloodwoods and grass. Here we found an old blacks' camp and spent some time examining its neighbourhood. Little heaps of the yellow seed of a low plant, swept together on clear spaces on the ground, and the non-existence of any well, led us to suppose that this was merely a travelling camp of some buck who had been sent to collect seed. It was rather aggravating to be morally certain that water existed and yet be unable to find it; we still had hopes of the creek making again, and so followed the direction of its previous course.

Before long the tracks of a buck and a gin crossed our path, and we at once turned to follow them through all their deviations. We saw where the woman had dug out bardies from the roots of a wattle, where the buck had unearthed a rat, and where together they had chased a lizard. Finally we reached their camp. Several implements lay about, including two bark coolimans. These, the simplest form of cooliman, are made by peeling the bark off the projecting lumps so common on the stems of bloodwoods. The bark so obtained forms a little trough. In some regions they are gouged out of a solid piece of wood, but this requires a knowledge of carpentry, and probably tools, not possessed by the desert black. Another kind more simple than the first mentioned, is made by bending the two sides of a strip of bark together, so as to form the half of a pipe; then, by stuffing up the two ends with clay and grass, a serviceable little trough is made. In those we saw the clay was moist, and we knew that this was no mere travelling camp. However, search as we would we could find no water, until a flock of diamond-sparrows rose in front of Warri, and he discovered a little well hidden in the spinifex—so perfectly hidden that our own tracks had passed half an hour before its discovery within a few paces of it!

The rat mentioned here was probably a “Bandicoot,” “Boody,” or “Bilby,” the scientific name of which I do not know; I have never seen one, only their burrows, and these have always shown every appearance of being unoccupied. Most of the burrows that I have seen have been in a low mound, perhaps 30 feet across, of white powdery soil, like gypsum. The only living things I have seen emerge being a cat (near Lake Prinsep) and snakes or lizards.

There is a smaller rat, which the natives in the goldfields districts get in rather an ingenious way. This rat makes a single burrow, with a nest at the end of it close beneath the surface. When it is inside the hole it fills in the entrance and retires to its nest. This is ventilated by a little hole to the surface, the mouth of this hole being hidden with small stones and sticks. The rat, however, with all his cunning has only built a mark by which his home may be discovered by the native. I had often noticed these little heaps of stones in the scrub, and until a tame boy explained it had no notion of their meaning.

What chance has one of finding water, except by the most diligent search and by making use of every sign and indication written on the surface of the ground? This well was similar to the one already described, excepting in one important respect. This one had water. Turning the camels out we started work, and by sundown had the well in order. Tying the others down we proceeded to water each camel in turn. Picture our surprise and joy when each turned from the bucket without drinking more than two gallons. Billy rolled up like a great balloon, and one would have sworn that he had just had a long drink. What was this miracle? Here were camels, after an eight days' drought, travelling eight to ten hours daily in hot weather, over rough stones and gravel, actually turning away from water!

The answer to this riddle was “Parakeelia.” This is a local, presumably native, name in Central Australia for a most wonderful and useful plant. A specimen brought back by me from this locality was identified at Kew as Calandrinia balonensis. This plant grows close to the ground in little bunches; in place of leaves it has long, fleshy projections, like fingers, of a yellowish-green colour. From the centre grows a pretty little lilac flower at the end of a single thin stalk. The fingers are full of watery juice and by no means unpalatable. We tried them raw, and also fried in butter, when they were quite good eating. The plant is greedily devoured by stock of all kinds, and in dry tracts in Central Australia has been the means of saving many head of cattle. As we found it, it was not easily got hold of, for invariably it grew right in the centre of a hummock of spinifex. At first the camels, not knowing its properties, would not risk pricking themselves, but after we had shown them, by clearing away the spinifex, how nice it was, they did not hesitate to plunge their soft noses into the spiny mass, with what good effect I have already described. Indeed, this plant is a wonderful provision of nature, and compensates a little for the hideous sterility of the country. I am not wide of the mark when I say that given “parakeelia” every second night or so a camel would never want to drink at all, though it is not really as serviceable as water—not having the same lasting effect. A similar plant, also found in Central Australia, is “Munyeru.” In the centre of this a little bag of black seeds grows; these seeds are crushed and eaten by the natives. Munyeru, Breaden tells me, is quite a good vegetable for human consumption. Why the locality of this well, “Warri Well,” should be specially favoured by the growth of parakeelia I cannot guess.

The well itself was sufficiently remarkable. Our work took us some twelve feet from the surface, and in the well we had nearly five feet of water and the probability of a deal more, as we had not reached “bottom.” The question that presented itself to my mind was whether the natives had sunk the well on a likely looking spot and been fortunate in finding a supply, or whether, from tradition, they knew that this well, possibly only a rock-hole covered by surface soil, existed. The depression in which the well is situated must after rain receive the drainage, not only from the channel we followed, but from the stony rise to the north of it. After a heavy storm—and from the way in which this creek has been torn through the sand, scouring a channel down to bedrock, it is clear that occasionally violent storms visit this region—a large volume of water would collect in this depression. Some of it would be sucked up by the trees and shrubs, some would evaporate, but the greater part would soak into the ground where, so long as the bed-rock (which in this particular case is a hard sandstone and iron conglomerate) is impervious, it would remain. I should think it likely, therefore, that on this and similar flats, not far from hills or tablelands, water by sinking could be obtained at no great depth. A good guide to this well is a bare patch of rock on Mount Colin, which bears 138° three miles distant.

This hill is visible from ten miles due North of the well, from which point it shows up prominently. Continuing a northerly march from that point we found that the gravel and stones for the next few miles became much rougher, and made walking tiring work. Occasionally mulga thickets free from stones had to be passed through; in these there often occurred very shallow depressions overgrown with grass and floored with clay. From the floors rose high, pinnacled ant-heaps, built by the white ant; these hills, grouped into little colonies, sometimes attained a height of eleven feet, and had in the distance a weird appearance, reminding me in shape, at least, of the picture of Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. Around these clay flats large white gum-trees were growing, a different species from the desert gum, having a quite smooth bark.

On September 1st we sighted the Alfred and Marie Range due East of us. I had expected to find this almost on our course; however, my reckoning differs from Giles's by eight miles, my position for the range being to the East of his. As we approached the range the country improved greatly, and had every appearance of having experienced recent rains, for green herbage (Haloragis, and Trichinium alopecuroideum) was in places abundant—that is to say, little patches of it, perhaps twenty paces across. These we saw were feeding-grounds for kangaroos and wallabies. Turkey tracks were fairly numerous; of the latter we saw six, and shot one. They are very wary birds and not easily stalked. A very good plan for shooting them is for one man to hide in a bush or behind a tree whilst the other circles round a good way off, and very slowly advances, and so drives the turkey past the hidden sportsman. He, if he is wise, will let the turkey rise before firing, as their wings are easily broken, whilst the thick breast-feathers readily turn shot.

We made camp one mile from the foot of the hills, and Charlie and I walked over to see what was to be seen. This range is of sandstone, and made up of a series of flat-topped hills of peculiar shapes, standing on the usual rough, stony slopes. The hills are traceable in a broken line for a considerable distance, perhaps twenty miles, in a North-Easterly direction. No doubt some good water-hole exists amongst these hills, judging from the tracks of kangaroos, turkeys, and dingoes. I fancy that animals and birds follow up rain-storms from place to place to take advantage of the good feed which springs into life, and it is most probable that for ten months in the year these hills are undisturbed by animal or bird life. Certainly Giles found that to be the case when he crossed them in 1876; so disgusted was he with their appearance that he did not trouble to investigate them at all. Indeed, he could have no other than sad remembrances of this range, for he first sighted it from the East, when attempting to cross the interior from East to West—an attempt that failed, owing to the impossibility of traversing this desert of rolling sand and gravel with horses only as a means of transport. Baffled, he was forced to return, leaving behind him, lost for ever, his companion Gibson. After him this desert is named, and how he lost his life is related in Giles's journals.

In 1874 Giles, Tietkens, Gibson, and Andrews, with twenty-four horses, left the overland Central Australian telegraph line, to push out to the West as far as possible. Keeping to the South of the already discovered Lake Amadeus, they found the Rawlinson and neighbouring ranges just within the Colony of West Australia. Water was plentiful, and a depot camp was formed, Giles and Gibson making a flying trip ahead to the westward. The furthest point was reached on April 23, 1874, from which the Alfred and Marie was visible some twenty-five miles distant. At this point Gibson's horse “knocked up,” and shortly afterwards died. Giles thereupon gave up his own horse, the Fair Maid of Perth, and sent his companion back to the depot for relief; for it was clear that only one could ride the horse, and he who did so, by hurrying on, could return and save his companion. With a wave of his hat, he shouted goodbye to his generous leader and rode off. “This was the last ever seen of Gibson.” It appears that the poor fellow failed to follow back the outgoing tracks, got lost in the night, became hopelessly “bushed,” and perished, alone in the desert. Giles meanwhile struggled on and on, every hour expecting relief, which of course never came. At last he staggered into camp, nearly dead.

No time was lost in saddling fresh horses, and Tietkens and his exhausted companion set out in search of the missing man. Picking up the Fair Maid's tracks, they followed them until they were four days out from camp, and it became clear that to go further meant sacrificing not only their own lives but that of their mate left behind at the depot, as well as that of all the horses. Gibson's tracks when last seen were leading in a direction exactly opposite to that of the camp. Luckily the cold weather (April) stood their horses in good stead; but in spite of this and of the water they packed for them, the horses only managed to crawl into camp. It was manifestly impossible to make further search, for seventy miles of desert intervened between the depot-camp and the tracks when last seen; and the mare was evidently still untired. So, sorrowfully they retraced their steps to the East, and the place of Gibson's death remains a secret still. I have heard that months after Giles's return, Gibson's mare came back to her home, thin and miserable, and showing on her belly and back the marks of a saddle and girth, which as she wasted away had become slack and so turned over. Her tracks were followed back for some distance without result. Poor thing! she had a long journey, and Giles must have spoken truly when he said, “The Fair Maid was the gamest horse I ever rode.”

Giles's account of this desert shows that the last twenty years have done little to improve it! He says:—

The flies were still about us in persecuting myriads;… the country was, quite open, rolling along in ceaseless undulations of sand, the only vegetation besides the ever-abounding spinifex was a few bloodwood trees. The region is so desolate that it is horrifying even to describe. The eye of God looking down on the solitary caravan as it presents the only living object around must have contemplated its appearance with pitying admiration, as it forced its way continually onwards without pausing over this vast sandy region, avoiding death only by motion and distance, until some oasis can be found.

Not a cheerful description certainly! Every day's Northing, however, would take us further in or out of this region, as the case might be, and fervently we hoped for the latter. Whatever country was before us we were firmly determined to push on, and by the grace of God to overcome its difficulties. Again referring to Giles's journal I find that during this part of his journey—viz., near the range where we were now camped—the change of temperature during night and day was very excessive. At night the thermometer registered 18°F., whilst the heat in the daytime was most oppressive. This, in a less degree, was our experience, for the month being September the days were hotter and the nights less cold. No doubt this extreme change in temperature, combined with the dry atmosphere and the tremendous heat of the sun, has caused the hills to be weathered away in the remarkable shapes of which McPherson's Pillar is a good example. The pillar is formed of a huge square block of red rock, planted on the top of a conical mound, perhaps fifty feet in height, whose slopes are covered with broken slabs and boulders. This remarkable landmark, which, from the North, is visible from twenty-four miles distant, I named after Mr. McPherson, a well-known and respected prospector, who, though leaving no record of his journey, crossed the Colony from West to East, visiting the hills and waters on Forrest's route as far East as the Parker Ranges, and thence striking Giles's route at the Alfred and Marie, and so via the Rawlinson into Alice Springs, on the overland telegraph line. Though little of his journey was through new country, yet it had the valuable result of proving the non-existence of auriferous country in the belt traversed.

Due West of the Pillar, distant two and a half miles, situated in a scrub-covered rocky gorge, is a fair-sized rockhole. Breaden and Godfrey managed to get about two gallons of filth from it; I have swallowed all kinds of water, but this was really too powerful. Had we been hard pressed it would undoubtedly have been used, but since we had not long left water, we discarded this mixture, after trying it on Czar, whose indignation was great. In the branches of the mulga round the rock-hole I noticed what I have seen in several other places, viz., stones wedged in the forks—dozens of stones of all sizes and shapes. I have no knowledge of their true significance. It may be, and this is merely a guess, that they indicate the presence of poison in the rock-hole; for by means of a certain plant which is bruised and thrown into the hole, the water is given a not actually poisonous but stupefying property. Thus birds or beasts coming to drink fall senseless and an easy prey to the ambushed native. This is a common plan in many parts of Australia, and was described to me by a tame boy from the Murchison. Here, too, were more little pyramids, similar to those at Empress Spring. Some quaint black-fellows' custom, but what it signifies even Warri cannot explain. Breaden has a theory that they point to the next water-hole. This may be, but, unless for a stranger's benefit, quite unnecessary, as every black knows his waters; and if for a stranger it is equally peculiar, for his welcome is usually a bang on the head! It may be that messengers or those who, wishing to trade from tribe to tribe, get the free passage of the district, are thus guided on their way. The number of pyramids may represent so many days' march.

There must have been some open water besides this dirty rock-hole, but having sufficient for present requirements we did not waste time in further search, and on September 2nd turned again to the North. On this course we continued until September 6th, the country showing no change whatever, which constrained me to say of it, so I find in my diary, “Surely the most God-forsaken on the face of the earth”; and yet we had worse to follow!

Our rate of travel over the gravel was a small fraction more than two miles per hour. This I carefully reckoned by timing, taking into account every halt of ever so small a duration in our march in a due North line between two latitudes.

In lat. 23° 34´, long. 125° 16´, there rose before us, visible for several miles, high banks of stones, such as one sees on either side of the old bed of a river which has altered its course. The slopes were covered with spinifex and on the top red and weeping mulga—the latter a graceful little tree, whose bowed head adds little to the gaiety of one's surroundings. I cannot offer any explanation of these curious banks, except that, from the appearance of one or two large flat boulders on the summit, it may be that they were formed by the entire disintegration of a sandstone cliff, to which decay has come sooner than to its neighbours further South. Future experience showed us that further North the gravel becomes small and smaller until it disappears, the rolling sandhills giving place to regular ridges. If this is the case viz., that the hills and ranges are gradually rotting away until they disappear, leaving only gravel behind, which, in its turn, decays and decays until only sand remains, then in the course of ages the whole of this region will be covered with ridge upon ridge of sand formed by the wind, whose powers so far have been checked by the weight of the gravel. For the sake of future generations I hope my reasoning is incorrect.

As I stood on the stony bank, I could see several native smokes to the eastward. Determined to take advantage of any help extended to us by Nature, to spare no pains in the all-important matter of finding water, to let nothing pass that might assist us on our way, so that if it was our fate to go under in the struggle I should not be assailed by the thought that I had neglected opportunities, determined, in fact, always to act for the best, so far as I could see it, I decided to make use of this sign of the presence of natives, and altered our course in consequence. We started due East and held on that course for eight miles, Godfrey and Charlie lighting the spinifex at intervals. Some men have a theory that the blacks signal by smokes, the appearance of which they vary by using different grasses, branches, or leaves. That may be the case in some parts; here, anyway, they are no more than hunting-fires, as we later proved. If the desert blacks do go in for smoke-telegraphy they must on this occasion have thought that the operator at our end of the wire was mad! Perhaps unknowingly we sent up smokes which appeared to them to be rational messages! If such was the case our signals could not have meant “Please stay at home,” for when eventually we did find their camp they had left. Taking the bearing of the most northerly smoke we travelled for the rest of the day in its direction. The next morning, though the smoke had long since died down, we continued on our course and in a few miles reached a large area of still smouldering spinifex. Around this we searched for fresh tracks, and, having discovered some, made camp. And now I have to chronicle the only occasion on which any one disputed my orders. And this goes far to show that all I have said in praise of the loyalty and untiring energy of my companions, is not meant in empty compliment, but falls short of what they merit.

It was necessary for one to stay in camp and watch our belongings and the camels, while the rest were engaged in tracking the natives. Our zeal was so great that the camels were hardly, unloaded and hobbled before each one had set out, and it followed that one must be sent back. For no particular reason I fixed on Godfrey, who, instead of hailing with joy the prospective rest, was most mutinous! The mutiny, however, was short-lived, and ended in laughter when I pointed out how ridiculous his objection was.

Charlie and I went in one direction, whilst Breaden and Warri took another. Before long, so complicated were the tracks, we separated. A more annoying job it is hard to imagine: round and round one goes following a track in all its eccentric windings, running off at right angles or turning back when its owner had chased a rat or a lizard; at length there is a long stretch of straight walking and one thinks, “Now, at last, he's done hunting and is making for home”; another disappointment follows as one wheels round and finds one's self close to the starting-point. Such was the experience this day of Breaden, Charlie, and myself, and disgusted we returned to camp at sundown. Warri was so late that I began to think he must have come upon the natives themselves, who had given him too warm a welcome. Presently he appeared, slouching along with an expressionless face, save for a twinkle in his eye (literally eye, for one was wall-eyed). My supposition was more or less correct; he had been fortunate in getting on the home-going tracks of some gins; following these for several miles he came on their camp—so suddenly that they nearly saw him. Luckily, he beat a hasty retreat, doubtful of his reception, and hurried home.

CHAPTER VIII

A Desert Tribe

The next morning we were up betimes and ready to start as soon as ever the tracks were visible; presently a smoke, their first hunting-smoke of the day, rose close to us. Despatching Charlie on Satan, and Godfrey on foot, with instructions to catch a native if possible, I hastened along the tracks followed by the rest of the party. We reached their camp just in time to see the late inmates disappear into a thicket of mulga close by. Neither Charlie nor Godfrey was able to come up with the lighters of the fire unseen, and these, too, fled into the scrub, where chase was almost impossible. Their camp deserves description, as it was the first (excepting travelling camps) we had seen of the desert black-fellow.

Facing the belt of mulga, was a low wall of uprooted tussocks of spinifex built in a half circle and some two feet high. On the leeward side of this breakwind, inside the semi-circle, half a dozen little hollows were scraped out in the sand. Between each of these nests lay a little heap of ashes, the remains of a fire which burns all night, replenished from time to time from a bundle of sticks kept handy for the purpose. The nest in the sand is the bed, a double one, and not only double but treble, and more; for in it, coiled up snugly, may lie several of the tribe, higgledy-piggledy, like pups in a basket. The fire takes the place of nightshirt, pyjamas, or blanket—a poor substitute on a cold night! Scattered about were several utensils, two wooden coolimans full of water and grass—this showing that the owners contemplated a journey, for the grass floating on the surface is used to prevent the water from spilling. Two more coolimans were filled with seed—a fine yellow seed from a plant like groundsel. Close by these were the flat stones (of granite, evidently traded from tribe to tribe) used for grinding the seed. In the spinifex wall were stuck numerous spears, varying from eight to ten feet in length, straight, thin, and light, hardened by fire, fined down and scraped to a sharp point. Near these was a gin's yam-stick—a stout stick with a sharp, flat point on one end and charred at the other, used for digging up roots, stirring the fire, or chastising a dog or child. They serve, too, as a weapon of defence. Quaintest of all these articles were the native “portmanteaus,” that is to say, bundles of treasures rolled up in bark, wound round and round with string—string made from human hair or from that of dingoes and opossums. In these “portmanteaus” are found carved sticks, pieces of quartz, red ochre, feathers, and a number of odds and ends. Of several that were in this camp I took two—my curiosity and desire to further knowledge of human beings, so unknown and so interesting, overcame my honesty, and since the owners had retired so rudely I could not barter with them. Without doubt the meat-tins and odds and ends that we left behind us have more than repaid them. One of these portmanteaus may be seen in the British Museum, the other I have still, unopened.

Between the camp and the well, which we easily found, there ran a well-beaten foot-pad, showing that this had been a favoured spot for some time past. The well itself was situated in a belt of mulga-scrub, and surrounded by a little patch of grass; growing near by, a few good camel bushes, such as acacia and fern-tree (quondongs, by the way, were not seen by us north of Alexander Spring, with the exception of one near McPherson's Pillar); enclosing the scrub two parallel banks of sand and stones, with the well in the valley between. Above the well, to the, North, high anthills and tussocks of coarse grass appeared. The whole oasis covered no more than three acres. The well itself resembled those already described, and appeared to have a good supply, so much so that we started at once to water the camels, which had had no drink since August 21st, a period of seventeen days, with the exception of two gallons apiece at Warri Well, where the parakeelia grew.

By midnight all but three—Satan, Redleap, and Misery—had drunk as much as they could hold. These three had to be content with a small amount, for we could not get more without digging out the well, and this we proceeded to do. The night was hot and cloudy, and constant puffs of wind made work by the light of candles so impossible that we had perforce to bear the extra heat of a blazing fire. The native well, as we found it, had been scooped out with hand and cooliman, just large enough to allow one to descend to a depth of fifteen feet, and the sides of the hole plastered back with mud, which had baked hard. To follow this hole further was not feasible, for going down on a slope as it did, any further deepening would cause the sand to fall in; we had therefore to start a new vertical shaft from the surface. After a considerable amount of digging we reached water level, and were preparing to bail the water, when with a thud the whole thing caved in, and our labour had to be recommenced. At the time the wedge of ground fell in Godfrey was working below and narrowly escaped being buried. A timely rope fortunately saved him. I never saw a man come quicker out of a hole! Now we were a bit puzzled. Our position was this: six camels were watered, three were not, our tanks were empty (my fault, for I should have first filled them and then the camels; but yet if we had water and the camels had none, would we have been better off?); our well, containing X, an unknown quantity of water, had fallen in. Query, whether to recommence digging, or to pack up and follow the blacks? Now, the well might contain a good supply, or yield no more than a gallon or two; and the blacks might or might not have gone on to a good water. It was a puzzle. Finally we compromised, and I sent Breaden and Warri to hunt up the tracks, whilst we started work again. On one side of the well was rock, and by strengthening the other by timber we hoped for success. Luckily plenty of good mulga trees were handy, and we soon had the timber ready for use. This was the second night without rest or food, and no more than a mouthful of water each, for on arrival we had given what our tanks contained to the thirsty camels.

By putting in crosspieces from side to side of the hole, which we soon discovered to be an underground rock-hole, and by backing these with twigs and grass, we managed to make the walls of sand secure, and at last reached water level, and lost no time, as may well be imagined, in raising a billyful and having the very best drink we had encountered for a long time. At the moment almost Breaden and Warri returned, having done their job admirably. They had followed the tracks to the next camp, away to the North—a dry camp this—and, noticing the direction the blacks had taken, returned home. After a feed and a rest we again set to work, and again the well fell in, but with less danger this time. It was clear that we could go no further without some sort of caisson to hold back the fine sand.

Charlie, with his usual ingenuity, constructed a rough but serviceable one out of the wooden guards on the faces of our water-casks and the tin-lined box lids that we had taken from Hubbe's camp at Mount Allott. Instinct had told us right—they were of use!

By this means we reached a depth of thirty feet, first sinking the caisson, then bailing the water, then continuing the timber and backing.

The hole so narrowed at the bottom that the water could only be obtained by stretching out a stick at arm's length, on which was lashed a small saucepan. It soon became clear that, labour as we would, the hole would yield but little, so, leaving the rest to work, I took Warri, and continued the search for the natives from the point where Breaden had left their tracks. After a long, tedious day of tracking, we found ourselves back at our own camp. The natives—two bucks, two gins, and three picaninnies—travelled North to a dry well, and there split, the men going one way and the rest another. We chose the bucks to follow, and presently the rest joined in, and the whole family swung round until close to our camp. We could, by their tracks, see where they had herded together in fear under a beefwood tree not one hundred yards from us. Just before sunset we again set forth, taking Czar and Satan as riding-camels, and were lucky in picking up tracks going in a fresh direction before night fell.

We camped on the tracks, and ran them in the morning, noticing two interesting things on the way: the first, several wooden sticks on which were skewered dried fruits, not unlike gooseberries; these were hidden in a bush, and are remarkable, for they not only show that the natives have some forethought, but that they trade in edible goods as well as in weapons and ornaments. These fruits are from the Solanum sodomeum, and were only seen by us near the Sturt Creek (three hundred miles away). The second, little heaps of the roots of a tree (known to me only as pine-mulga) (Probably a “Hakea.”) stacked together, which had been sucked for water; we tried some, but without result, and the tree the natives had made use of did not seem to be different from others of its kind. This showed us, too, that they must be dry, and probably had had no water since our arrival at their well. About midday we rode right on to their camp without warning. Again the scrub befriended them, but in spite of this I could have got ahead of them on Satan had his nose-line not snapped. Determined not to be baulked, I jumped down and gave chase, old Czar lumbering along behind, and Warri shouting with glee and excitement, “Chase 'em—we catch ,em,” as if we were going through all this trouble for pleasure. Happy Warri! he never seemed to see gravity in anything. It is almost incredible how quickly and completely a black-fellow can disappear; as if in a moment the whole family was out of sight. One black spot remained visible, and on it I centred my energies. Quickly overhauling, I overtook it, and found it to be an old and hideous gin, who, poor thing! had stopped behind to pick up some dingo puppies.

Sorry as I was to be rude to a lady, I had to make her prisoner, but not without a deal of trouble. “Dah, dah, dah!” she shouted, scratching, biting, spitting, and tearing me with her horrid long nails, and using, I feel sure, the worst language that her tongue could command. I had to carry this unsavoury object back to her camp, she clutching at every bush we passed, when her hands were not engaged in clawing and scratching me. After her anger had somewhat abated she pointed out a rock-hole from which they had got their water. Securing the woman with a light rope, I put her in Warri's charge, who kept watch above, lest the natives should return and surprise us, whilst I descended the rock-hole to see what supply was there. A little water was visible, which I quickly baled into the canvas bags we had brought for the purpose. The bottom of the hole was filled in with dead sticks, leaves, the rotting bodies of birds and lizards, bones of rats and dingoes. Into this ghastly mass of filth I sunk up to my middle, and never shall I forget the awful odour that arose as my feet stirred up the mess. Nevertheless water was there, and thankful I was to find it, even to drink it as it was. After half an hour's work in this stinking pit, sick from the combination of smells—distinguishable above every other being the all-pervading perfume of aboriginals—I was rewarded by some twelve gallons of water, or, more properly speaking, liquid.

I decided to take the gin back with us, as it had been clear to me for some time past that without the aid of natives we could not hope to find water. With our small caravan it was impossible to push on and trust to chance, or hope to reach the settled country still nearly five hundred miles ahead in a bee-line. Even supposing the camels could do this enormous stage, it was beyond our power to carry sufficient water for ourselves. The country might improve or might get worse; in such weather as we now experienced no camel could go for more than a few days without water. I felt myself justified, therefore, in unceremoniously making captives from what wandering tribes we might fall in with. And in light of after events I say unhesitatingly that, without having done so, and without having to a small extent used rough treatment to some natives so caught, we could not by any possibility have succeeded in crossing the desert, and should not only have lost our own lives, but possibly those of others who would have made search for us after. “A man arms himself where his armour is weakest,” so I have read; that, however, is not my case. I am not justifying myself to myself, or defending a line of action not yet assailed. I write this in answer to some who have unfavourably criticised my methods, and to those I would say, “Put yourselves in our position, and when sitting in a comfortable armchair at home, in the centre of civilisation, do not, you who have never known want or suffered hardship, be so ready to judge others who, hundreds of miles from their fellow-men, threatened every day with possible death from thirst, were doing their best to lay bare the hidden secrets of an unknown region, as arid and desolate as any the world can show.”

On starting back for camp the gin refused to walk or move in any way, so we had to pack her on Czar, making her as comfortable as possible on Warri's blankets, with disastrous results thereto. Arrived at camp, I found that the rock-hole was bottomed, and now quite dry. Straining the putrid water brought by me through a flannel shirt, boiling it, adding ashes and Epsom salts, we concocted a serviceable beverage. This, blended with the few gallons of muddy water from the well, formed our supply, which we looked to augment under the guidance of the gin. After completing our work the well presented the appearance of a large rock-hole, thirty feet deep, conical in shape, of which one-half the contents had been dug out. This confirmed my opinion that the native wells of these regions are nothing more than holes in the bed-rock, which have been covered over and in by the general deposit of sand. I had no time to observe for latitude at this spot, the position of which is fixed merely by dead reckoning. The rock-hole lies eight miles from it to the S.E. by E., and has no guide whatever to its situation. I christened the well “Patience Well,” and I think it was well named.

From September 8th, 9 a.m., until September 12th, 12.30 a.m., we had worked almost continuously, only taking in turn what sleep we could snatch when one could be spared; and the result, 140 gallons as sum total, inclusive of mud and other matter.

We left Patience Well on the 12th, at 10 a.m., taking the woman with us. Breaden was the only one in whose charge she would consent to be at all calm; to him therefore was allotted the duty of looking after her. At eleven we reached the dry well to which Warri and I had tracked the natives. The water we were forced to use was so uninviting that I decided to make another effort to find a supply in this locality. The gin was of no use whatever, and would only repeat whatever we said to her—“Gabbi,” which King Billy had understood, was wasted on her. “Gabbi, gabbi,” she repeated, waving her arm all round the horizon. Leaving the rest to bottom the dry well, which might have water lower down, Warri and I again started off on the tracks of a buck, and these we followed due North on foot for four and a half hours, hoping every moment to come on a well. Soon after starting an apparently old track joined the other, and together they marched still North. Presently the old tracks changed into fresh ones, and close by I found two rough sandals made of strips of bark. One I kept, the other was too nearly worn out. There was no change in the dreary appearance of the country; through scrubs, over stones and sand we held our way, until Warri, who was now a little way behind, called, “No good, no more walk!” I could see the poor boy was knocked up, and felt little better myself; to go on did not guarantee water, and might end in disaster, so after a short rest we retraced our steps. The night was now dark and oppressive, so hatless and shirtless we floundered through the spinifex, nearly exhausted from the walk, following so close on the last few days' work. I believe that but for Warri I should have been “bushed ”; my head was muddled, and the stars not too clear. What a joyful sight met our eyes as we crested a rise of sand—a sight almost as reviving as the food and water we so anxiously looked forward to. Tongues of flame shot up in the air, a fire lit by our mates, but showing that, in spite of Warri's instinct, we had not been walking in quite the right direction. No welcome news greeted our arrival—the well was dry, and the native obdurate. We all agreed she was useless, and since she refused all forms of nutriment I feared she would die on our hands, so she regained her liberty, and fled away with a rapidity not expected in one of her years.

My companions had felt some anxiety at our continued absence, and again I had evidence of the cordial friendship existing between us.

With reference to the bark sandals, the use of which is not so far known, I append an extract from The Horn Scientific Expedition, Part IV., where we read the following:—

SANDALS
Arunta Tribe

Kurdaitcha Shoes.—When a native for some reason desired to kill a member of another camp or tribe, he consulted the medicine man of his camp, and arrangements were made for a 'Kurdaitcha Luma.'… Both medicine man and Kurdaitcha wore remarkable shoes. These had the form of a long pad made of human hair, with numberless emu feathers intertwined, and with a certain amount of human blood to act as a cementing substance.

…Both ends of the shoes were rounded off, and were exactly similar to one another, which has given rise to the erroneous idea that their object was to prevent the wearer being tracked…

But no other explanation is offered.

Breaden says tracks of a man wearing these emu-feather shoes are very indistinct, but has no certain knowledge of their use. Warri, looking at the bark sandals, said, “Black-fella wear 'em 'long a hot sand.” Questioned about the emu-feather shoes, he gave the usual answer, “I dunno,” and then added, probably to please me, as I had suggested the explanation, “Black-fella no more see 'em track, I think.”

It was clear that no good results were likely to follow further search in this locality, for the tracks were so numerous, and crossed and recrossed so often, that nothing could be made out of them. The country to the North being so uninviting, I altered our course to North-East, and again to North, when we sighted a smoke, and, following tracks, camped on them.

“Mud and oatmeal for breakfast,” September 14th; truly the sage spoke who remarked, “What does not fatten will fill.” Such was our fare, and the only doubt we had was lest the compound should be turned into brick by the sun's heat! However, it was sustaining enough to last us all day, occupied in tracking. Two dry wells, connected by a well-trodden pad half a mile long, rewarded our labours; and here we had the conviction forced upon us that the blacks themselves were hard pressed: we could see where dust and dirt had been recently removed from the bottom of the wells, both of which were over fifteen feet in depth, and one over twenty. Were the natives hard pressed for water, or had they heard of our coming, and were by smokes guiding us to empty wells? Unpleasant speculation, when one's tanks contain nothing but a nasty brown liquid, and the country looks as if it had not known rain for years!

September 15th. Another smoke to the North-East; again we steer for it, as if following a will-o'-the-wisp. The continued semi-starvation, hard work, and heat was beginning to leave its mark. None of our friends or relatives would have recognised us now! Clothed in filthy rags, with unkempt hair and beards, begrimed with mud, and burnt black by the sun wherever its rays could penetrate our armour of dirt, we were indeed a pretty lot. That night we tied the camels down—there was no feed for them; besides, I wished them handy in the morning, for we could not be far from natives now unless the smoke had deceived us. The next day the desolation of the country was increased by vast areas of burnt ground, from which rose clouds of dust and ashes—no gravel was here to arrest the onslaught of the wind upon the sand. Towards evening we were doomed to experience fresh discouragement, for in front of us, seen from rising ground, there stretched ridge upon ridge of barren sand, black from the charred remains of spinifex. To tackle those ridges in our then plight meant grave risks to be run, and that night the responsibility of my position weighed heavily upon my thoughts. I prayed for strength and determination—for to each one of us must have come the thought of what our fate might be. I feel sure that all were ready to face boldly whatever was in store, and were resolved to do their utmost—and what more can man do?

To go forward was our only course, since we meant to get through. Before sunrise, black and weary we started, having fed on tinned vegetables, the only article amongst our provisions possessing any moisture.

Before long we were amongst the ridges. What a desolate scene! Ridge upon ridge of sand, black from the ashes of burnt spinifex. Not a sound or sign of life, except the grunts of the camels as they strained up the sandy slopes. Presently we sighted a newly lighted hunting smoke, not a mile from us; with my field-glasses I could see the flames of the fiercely burning spinifex lapping the crest of a high sand-ridge. Leaving the tracks I was following I rejoined the main party, and, calling to Charlie to accompany me, and to the others to follow us as fast as they could, I set off for the fire. Having anticipated reaching the scene of the smoke early this morning, we had divided up Czar's load amongst the remainder of the caravan, and for the time transformed him into a riding-camel, and so two of us were mounted. On nearer approach we pulled up to give our steeds a blow, and, unseen ourselves, we watched the natives hunting, all unsuspicious of the near presence of beings and animals so strange in colour and form.

Advancing slowly from opposite directions, we were able to get within a hundred yards of them before our silent approach was noticed. No words can describe the look of terror and amazement on the faces of those wild savages. Spellbound they crouched in the black and smouldering ashes of the spinifex, mouths open and eyes staring, and then with one terrific yell away they ran, dodging and doubling until a somewhat bushy beefwood tree seemed to offer them means of escape. How many there had been I do not know, but the tree harboured three, the man, woman, and child, that we had first singled out. All kept up a ceaseless screaming and gesticulating, reminding me of the monkey-house at the “Zoo”; but above the others could be distinguished the voice of the old gin who, with frantic haste, tried to screen the man with branches broken from their tree of refuge, and who in the intervals between this occupation and that of shaking a stick at us, set a light to the surrounding spinifex either as a signal or with the hope of keeping us at a distance; for with all her fear she had not let drop her firestick. Thinking that they would be completely overawed by the appearance of the rest of the caravan, and so make no further attempt to escape, we sat sentinel on our camels and awaited the arrival of the main party. Presently they appeared, and the trembling fear of the natives was painful to witness—never by any possibility could they have seen camels or white men, though considering the extent to which articles are passed from tribe to tribe, it is probable they had heard of the “white-fella.” Even to European eyes a camel is not the canniest of beasts, and since these people had never seen an animal larger than a dingo, and, indeed, no animal save this and the spinifex rat, their surprise may well be imagined on seeing a thing as large as their whole camp marching solemnly along.

Putting down the caravan we approached them, and from a mad, incoherent yelling their protestations gradually died down to an occasional gulp like that of a naughty child. Making soothing sounds and patting their breasts and our own in turn, in sign of friendship, we had plenty of time to inspect them. An old lady, with grizzled hair, toothless and distorted in countenance, with legs and arms mere bones, and skin shrunken and parched; a girl-child, perhaps six years old, by no means an ugly little thing, and a youngish man made up the trio; all stark-naked, and unadorned by artificial means, unless one excepts a powerfully scented mixture of grease and ashes, with which their bodies were smeared. The buck—poor fellow!—was suffering from some horrible skin disease, which spread over his chest and back. He seemed to have but little power in his arms, and a pitiful object he was, as we uncovered him from his screen of branches. Having apparently satisfied them that it was not our intention to eat them, by signs we showed them our pressing need for water—these they readily understood—doubtless because their own daily experience is one constant hunt for food or water. Evidently we had the former with us in the shape of camels, therefore we could only want the latter. The little child very soon showed great confidence, and, taking my hand, led us over a neighbouring sand-ridge. The old lady took a great fancy to Godfrey, and convinced us that flirting is by no means confined to civilisation.

Leading us obliquely across the ridges we had just passed over, some two miles from the scene of their hunting, they halted at their well. To the North of it an almost barren ridge of sand rising to a height of perhaps sixty feet, and running away East and West for possibly ten miles without a break, from the crest of which we could see a limitless sea of ridges as far as the eye could reach to the Northward (a cheerful prospect!), to the South the undulating treeless desert of gravel we had just crossed. Between the foot of the ridge and a stony slope the well was situated—the usual little round hole in the sand—a small patch of roly-poly grass making a slight difference in the appearance of the country immediately surrounding the hole. As well as this roly-poly, we were delighted to see a few scattered plants of parakeelia, and lost no time in unloading and hobbling the camels, who in their turn made all haste to devour this life-giving vegetation.

Camp made, we set to work on the well, sinking our boxes as before, our black friends watching us with evident interest. Presently we heard a shrill call, and, looking up, saw the rest of the family hesitating between curiosity and fear. The old gin reassured them and they approached—a man, a young mother with a baby at the breast, and two more children. There were evidently more not far off who were too timid to come on, as we heard calls from beyond the ridge. This buck was a fine, upstanding fellow, very lithe and strong, though thin and small of bone. Dressed in the fashionable desert costume of nothing at all, excepting a band of string round his forehead, and a similar belt round his waist, from which hung all round him the spoils of the chase, with a spear in one hand and throwing-sticks in the other he looked a queer figure in the setting sun—iguanas and lizards dangling head down from his hair and his waist-string—indeed a novel way of carrying game. His lady followed him with a cooliman under her arm, with a further supply of reptiles and rats.

The whole family established themselves close to us. Their camp had been near the crest of the ridge, but, apparently liking our company, they shifted their household goods, and, starting a fire within twenty yards of us, were soon engaged in cooking and eating their supper. The process of preparing a meal is simple in the extreme. The rats are plucked (for they do not skin the animal, but pluck the hair as we do feathers from a chicken), and thrown on to a pile of hot wood-ashes with no further preparation, and are greedily devoured red and bloody, and but barely warm. A lizard or iguana calls for a further exercise of culinary knowledge. First, a crooked twig is forced down the throat and the inside pulled out, which dainty is thrown to any dog or child that happens to be near; the reptile is then placed on hot coals until distended to the utmost limit that the skin will bear without bursting, then it is placed on ashes less hot, and covered with the same, and after a few minutes is pronounced cooked and ready for the table. The old lady did the cooking, and kept up an incessant chattering and swearing the while. We noticed how kind they were to the poor diseased buck, giving him little tit-bits of half-raw rat's flesh, which he greatly preferred to any food we fed him. They were strange, primitive people, and yet kind and grateful. We anointed the sick man's wounds with tar and oil (a mixture used for mange in camels), and were well rewarded for our unsavoury task by his dog-like looks of satisfaction and thanks. We had ample opportunity to watch them at night, as our well-sinking operations kept us up. They seemed afraid to sleep or lie down, and remained crouching together in their little hollows in the sand until morning. To break the force of the wind, which blew rather chilly, they had set up the usual spinifex fence, and between each little hollow a small fire burnt. The stillness of the night was only broken by the occasional cry of the baby, and this was immediately suppressed by the mother in a novel manner, viz., by biting the infant's ear—a remedy followed by almost immediate success. I beg to recommend this exceedingly effective plan to any of my lady readers whose night's rest is troubled by a teething child—doubtless the husband's bite would have an equally good effect, but the poor baby's ears might suffer from a combination of a strong jaw and a ruffled temper.

What a strange sound—that little picaninny's cry; surrounded as we were by a boundless sea of sand, it made one think how small a speck our party was on the face of the earth; it somehow took one's thoughts back to civilisation and crowded cities, and one felt that it was not just very certain if one would see such things again; and how little it would take to wipe us out, like gnats squashed on a vast window-pane! In the morning we sent the able-bodied man away to hunt, but his interest in us soon overcame his desire for game, and he returned, and presently made himself useful by carrying roots of bushes for our fire, for wood was hard to get, and the nearest tree hardly in sight. I presented the buck with an old pyjama jacket, and a great swell he thought himself too, strutting about and showing himself off to the others. In exchange for numerous articles they gave us, we attached coins round their necks, and on a small round plate, which I cut out of a meat-tin, I stamped my initial and the date, C. 1896. This I fixed on a light nickel chain and hung round the neck of the good-looking young gin, to her intense gratification. It will be interesting to know if ever this ornament is seen again. I only hope some envious tribesman will not be tempted to knock the poor thing on the head to possess himself of this shining necklace.

Amongst their treasures which they carried, wrapped up in bundles of bark and hair, one of the most curious was a pearl oyster-shell, which was worn by the buck as a sporran. Now this shell (which I have in my possession) could only have come from the coast, a distance of nearly five hundred miles, and must have been passed from hand to hand, and from tribe to tribe. Other articles they had which I suppose were similarly traded for, viz., an old iron tent-peg, the lid of a tin matchbox, and a part of the ironwork of a saddle on which the stirrup-leathers hang. This piece of iron was stamped A1; this, I fear, is hardly a sufficient clue from which to trace its origin. Their weapons consisted of spears, barbed and plain, brought to a sharp or broad point; woommeras, throwing-sticks, and boomerangs of several shapes, also a bundle of fire-making implements, consisting of two sticks about two feet long, the one hard and pointed, the other softer, and near one end a round hollow, into which the hard point fits. By giving a rapid rotary movement to the hard stick held upright between the palms of the hands, a spark will before long be generated in the hole in the other stick, which is kept in place on the ground by the feet. By blowing on the spark, a little piece of dried grass, stuck in a nick in the edge of the hollow, will be set alight and the fire obtained.

As a matter of fact this method is not often used, since, when travelling from camp to camp, a firestick or burning brand is carried and replaced when nearly consumed. The gins sometimes carry two of these, one in front and one behind, the flames pointing inwards; and with a baby sitting straddle-legs over their neck and a cooliman under their arms make quite a pretty picture.

Amongst the ornaments and decorations were several sporrans of curious manufacture. Some were made up of tassels formed of the tufts of boody's tails; other tassels were made from narrow strips of dog's skin (with the hair left on) wound round short sticks; others were made in a similar way, of what we conjectured to be bullock's hair. All the tassels were hung on string of opossum or human hair, and two neat articles were fashioned by stringing together red beans (Beans of the Erythrina) set in spinifex gum, and other seeds from trees growing in a more Northerly latitude. This again shows their trading habits. Here, too, were portmanteaus, holding carved sticks of various shapes and patterns, emu-plumes, nose-bones and nose-sticks, plaited bands of hair string, and numerous other odds and ends.

In the evening we watered the camels, and lucky it was that the parakeelia existed, and so satisfied them with its watery juice that they were contented with very little, Satan and Misery not swallowing more than two gallons each. Lucky indeed, because even with another night's work we were only just able to get a sufficient supply to carry us on for a few days, and but for the parakeelia either we or the camels would have had to go short.

We did not completely exhaust the water in the well—not, I fear, because we studied the convenience of the natives, but because our makeshift appliances did not enable us to sink deeper. So we bade adieu to our simple black friends, and set our faces to the sand-ridges. On leaving camp in the morning I found a piece of candle lying on the ground. I threw it to the buck, and he, evidently thinking it good to eat, put it in his mouth, holding the wick in his fingers, and, drawing off the tallow with his teeth, swallowed it with evident relish.

Next Dr. Leichardt's Lost Expedition