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Spinifex And Sand by David W. Carnegie

 

CHAPTER XIV

Death Of Stansmore

Where the Margaret River forces its way through the Ramsay Range, a fine pool enclosed between two steep rocks has been formed. This is a permanent pool, and abounds in fish of various kinds. Above and below it the river was merely a dry expanse of gravel and shingle; a month later it was a roaring torrent, in places twenty feet deep. Close to the pool we noticed an old dray road, the old road to Mount Dockrell. I asked Warri where he supposed it led to, and he answered “Coolgardie!” Curious that one impossible to bush in a short distance should be so ludicrously out of his reckoning. Time now being no object, since the numerous ducks and fish supplied us with food, we camped for two days at the pool, enjoying its luxuries to the full. Our larder contained a bucketful of cold boiled ducks, a turkey, and numerous catfish and bream—rather a change from the sand-ridges! As to bathing, we felt inclined to sit all day in the water. I think we enjoyed ourselves more at that pool than any of us could remember having done for a long time. The desert was forgotten, and only looked back upon as a hard task finished.

All were as happy and cheerful as could be, speculating as to what sort of place Hall's Creek was, and in what way our sudden appearance would affect the inhabitants. Charlie was sure that they would receive us with open arms and banquet us, the lord mayor and the city band would meet us, and a lot more chaff of the kind. Only eight miles, I reckoned, lay between us and the telegraph line and the Derby-to-Hall's-Creek road; and we made bets in fun whether we should reach the line before or after a certain hour; as we started our march on the 30th there was no happier little band in the wide world. Charlie followed one side of the river, carrying the gun, as we meant to celebrate the arrival at the telegraph line with a pot of kangaroo-tail soup. To pass the ridge of rock, the end of the Ramsay Range, it was necessary for us with the camels to keep wide of the river bank and descend a steep little gorge. As we started to go down we saw some kangaroos jumping off towards Charlie, and presently heard a shot. A shout from us elicited no reply, so we concluded he had missed, and continued on our march.

When we reached the river bank again, I looked out for Charlie, but somebody said he was across the river-bed in the long grass. After about an hour's travel it struck me that he should have rejoined us, or else that he had shot the kangaroo and was delayed by skinning or carrying it. No thought of any mishap entered my head, for a prolonged absence of one or other of us was of common occurrence. However, after another half-hour a nervous feeling came over me, and, stopping the camels, I sent Warri back to see what Charlie was about. Before very long Warri returned, hardly able to speak from fear mixed with sorrow.

“What on earth's come over the boy?” I said. Then he blurted out, “Charlie dead, I think.” “Good God! Are you sure?—did you speak to him, or touch him?” I asked, as we ran back together, the rest with the camels following behind. “Him dead, lie 'long a rock—quite still,” Warri answered, and he had not spoken or touched him. Panting and anxious—though even then I thought of nothing worse than a sprained ankle, and a faint in consequence—we arrived at the foot of the rocks where Charlie had last been seen, and whence the sound of the gunshot had come. Right above us, caught by a ledge on the face of the rock, fifty feet from the ground, I saw Charlie lying, and clambering up somehow at full speed, reached his side.

Good God! Warri had spoken a true word. There was no spark of life in the poor old fellow. What a blow! What an awful shock! What a calamity! I sat dazed, unable to realise what had happened, until roused by a shout from below: “Is he hurt?—badly?—not dead!” “As a stone,” I answered; and that was what we felt in our hearts, a dull weight, pressing all sense or strength from us.

How to describe that sad scene? Poor old Charlie! one of the best and truest men that God ever blessed with life; such a fine manly character; so honest and generous—a man whose life might stand as an example for any in the land to follow; from whose mouth I never heard an oath or coarse word, and yet one whose life was spent amongst all classes, in all corners of Australia; such a true mate, and faithful, loyal companion—here his body lay, the figure of strength and power, he who had been most cheerful of us all. It seemed so hard, to die thus, the journey done, his share in the labour so nobly borne and patiently executed; the desert crossed, and now to be cut off on the edge of the land of promise! Ah well, it was better so than a lingering death in the desert, a swift and sudden call instead of perhaps slow tortures of thirst and starvation! Poor Charlie! the call of death is one that none of us may fail to heed; I only pray that when I am summoned to the “great unknown” I may be as fit to meet my Maker as you were.

It was easy to see how the accident had happened; the marks on the rock and the gun were soon deciphered. He was carrying the gun by the muzzle balanced on his shoulder, the stock to the rear; on climbing down a steep place, his heels—his boots had iron heel plates—slipped, he fell with his back to the rock; at the same time the gun was canted forward, fell right over, striking the hammer of one barrel on the rock at his feet—the cartridge exploded, and the charge entered his body just below the heart. Death must have been instantaneous and painless, for on his face was a peaceful smile, and he had never moved, for no blood was showing except near the wound. An accident that might have happened to any one, not through carelessness, for the gun was half-cock, but because his time had come.

We buried him between the rocks and the river at the foot of a large gum tree. No fine tombstone marked his grave, only a rough cross, and above him I carved his initials on the tree,

C. W. S.
30.11.96.
Illustration 28: Charles W. Stansmore

There we laid him to rest in silence, for who was I that I should read holy words over him? “Goodbye, Charlie, old man, God bless you!” we said, as in sorrow we turned away. The tragedy had been so swift, so unexpected, that we were all unmanned; tears would come, and we wept as only men can weep. A few months past I heard that a brass plate sent by Charlie's brothers had arrived, and had been placed on the tree by Warden Cummins, as he had promised me.

In due course we reached the telegraph line, without enthusiasm or interest, and turned along the road to Hall's Creek with hardly a word. Stony hills and grass plains and numerous small creeks followed one another as our march proceeded, and that night, the first in December, we experienced a Kimberley storm. The rain started about 2 a.m., and in twenty minutes the country was a sea of water; our camp was flooded, and blankets and packs soaked through and through. The next morning every creek was running a banker and every plain was a bog. However, the camels behaved well and forded the streams without any fuss. That day we met some half-civilised natives, who gave us much useful information about Hall's Creek. With them we bartered a plug of tobacco for a kangaroo tail, for we wanted meat and they a smoke. They had just killed the animal, and were roasting it whole, holus-bolus, unskinned and undressed. We saw several mobs of grey kangaroos feeding in the timber—queer, uncanny beasts, pretty enough when they jump along, but very quaint when feeding, as they tuck their great hind legs up to try and make them match the fore.

On December 4th we arrived at Hall's Creek; the first man we met was Sergeant Brophy, of the Police—the first white face we had seen since July 21st. At Hall's Creek at last, after a somewhat prolonged journey of 1,413 miles, counting all deviations.

CHAPTER XV

Wells Exploring Expedition

The first news that we heard was of the disaster that the expedition under Mr. L. A. Wells had met with. Two of his party were missing, and it was feared that they had met with some serious mishap. Fortunately Hall's Creek can boast of telegraphic communication with Derby and Wyndham on the coast, and from thence to Perth; so that I lost no time in letting Wells know of our arrival, that we had seen no traces of the lost men, and that we were ready to do whatever he, who knew all particulars of the matter, should think best. When I told Breaden that I had put my camels and party at Wells' disposal, he said at once that he was ready to go, but that in his opinion the camels were not fit to do another week's journey; Godfrey, too, was as ready. Indeed it would have been strange if we, who had so lately come through the desert, and knew its dangers, had not been eager to help the poor fellows in distress, although from the first we were morally certain there could be no hope for them; the only theory compatible with their being still alive, was that they were camped at some water easy of access, and were waiting for relief, keeping themselves from starvation by eating camel-flesh.

For many reasons, that need not be gone into, it was thought best by the promoters of the expedition in Adelaide that we should remain where we were; and, thanking me very heartily for our proffered assistance, they assured me they would be very glad to avail themselves of it should the search-parties already in the field meet with no success. Had we felt any hope whatever of the men being alive we should certainly have started off then and there; since, however, the chances of finding any but dead men were so very infinitesimal, I agreed to wait and to put myself at their command for a given time. It will be as well to give here a short account, as gathered from letters from Wells and others to the newspapers, of the unfortunate expedition.

This expedition, fitted out partly by the Royal Geographical Society, South Australia, and partly by a Mr. Calvert, was under command of L. A. Wells, who was surveyor to the Elder Expedition (1891-92). The party, besides the leader, consisted of his cousin, C. F. Wells, G. A. Keartland, G. L. Jones, another white man as cook, two Afghans, and one black-boy, with twenty-five camels. The objects of this expedition were much the same as those of my own, viz., to ascertain the nature of the country still unexplored in the central portions of West Australia, “hopes being entertained of the possibility of opening up a valuable stock route from the Northern Territory to the West Australian Goldfields, and of discovering much auriferous country” (vide Adelaide Observer, June 6, 1896). A collection of the flora and fauna was to be made, as well as a map of the country passed through. The expedition started from Cue, Murchison district, left civilisation at Lake Way, and travelled in a North-Easterly direction from there to Lake Augusta, thence in a Northerly direction past Joanna Springs to the Fitzroy River. Thus their course was almost parallel to our upgoing journey, and some 150 to 200 miles to the westward, nearer the coast. The class of country encountered was similar to that already described by me—that is sand, undulating and in ridges.

A well, since called “Separation Well,” was found in long. 123° 53´, lat. 22° 51´. At this point the expedition split up: Charles Wells and G. L. Jones, with three camels, were to make a flying trip ninety miles to the Westward; then, turning North-East, were to cut the tracks of the main party, who were to travel nearly due North.

The rendezvous was fixed at or near Joanna Springs—which place, however, the leader failed to find (until some months afterwards, when he proved them to have been placed on the chart some eighteen miles too far West by Colonel Warburton in 1873, who in his diary doubts the accuracy of the position assigned to the spring by himself, and remarks, “What matter in such country as this?”). When the latitude of the spring was reached, about a day and a half was spent in searching to the east and west without result. A native smoke was seen to the eastward, but the leader failed to reach it.

The camels were on the brink of collapse, many had already collapsed, and the leader considered that by further search for the spring he would be bringing almost certain death on the whole party. Therefore, abandoning all collections, and in fact everything except just enough to keep him and his companions alive, he pushed on for the Fitzroy River—travelling by night and camping in the day—a distance of 170 miles. They arrived at the Fitzroy River after the greatest difficulties, with one bucket of water left, and only two camels fit to carry even the lightest packs.

The flying party were daily expected, for the arrangement had been that, failing a meeting at Joanna Springs, both parties were to push on to the Fitzroy. Days passed, however, and no flying party appeared.

Before long fears as to their safety began to grow, and Mr. Wells made numerous attempts to return on his tracks. The heat, however, was too much for his camels, and he was unable to penetrate to any distance. Mr. Rudall in the meantime, who had been surveying in the Nor'-West, was despatched by the Western Australia Government to make a search from the West. He had a good base in the Oakover River, and pushed out as far as Separation Well. Nothing, however, came of his gallant efforts, for he was misled, not only by lying natives, but by the tracks of camels and men, which subsequently turned out to be those of prospectors. His journey, however, had many useful results, for he discovered a new creek running out into the desert (Rudall River), and the existence of auriferous country north of the Ophthalmia Range, besides confirming Gregory's account of the country East of the Oakover.

It was not until April, 1897, that Mr. Wells found the bodies of his cousin, Charles Wells, and George Jones. From their diaries (so much of them at least as was published) the dreadful tale of suffering can be traced. It appears that on leaving the main party they travelled westward as directed, and started to turn North-East to cut the tracks of the others. Before many miles on the fresh course, however, they for some reason changed their minds and retraced their steps to Separation Well. From this point they started to follow the main party, but before long they seem to have become sick and exhausted, and the camels to show signs of collapse. Later we read that, exhausted from heat, hardship, and thirst, they lay down, each in the scanty shade of a gum tree; that the camels wandered away too far for them to follow; efforts to recover the stragglers only ended in their falling faint to the ground, and so, deserted by their means of transport, without water, without hope, these two poor fellows laid down to die, and added their names to the long roll of brave but unfortunate men whose lives have been claimed by the wild bush of Australia.

What a death! Alone in that vast sea of sand—hundreds of miles from family or friends—alone absolutely! not a sign of life around them—no bird or beast to tell them that life existed for any—no sound to break the stillness of that ghastly wilderness—no green grass or trees to relieve the monotony of the sand—nothing but the eternal spinifex and a few shrunken stems of trees that have been—no shade from the burning sun—above them the clear sky only clouded by death! slow, cruel death, and yet in their stout hearts love and courage! Poor fellows! they died like men, with a message written by dying fingers for those they left to mourn them—a message full of affection, expressing no fear of death, but perfect faith in God. So might all mothers be content to see their sons die—when their time comes.

They had died, it appears, too soon for any aid to have reached them. Even had Mr. Wells been able to turn back on his tracks at once on arrival at the Fitzroy, it is doubtful if he could have been in time to give any help to his suffering comrades.

The bodies were taken to Adelaide, where the whole country joined in doing honour to the dead.

CHAPTER XVI

Kimberley

Since we were not to retackle the sand forthwith, we laid ourselves out to rest and do nothing to the very best of our ability. This resolve was made easy of execution, for no sooner had the Warden, Mr. Cummins, heard of our arrival, than he invited us to his house, where we remained during our stay in Hall's Creek, and met with so much kindness and hospitality that we felt more than ever pleased that we had arrived at this out-of-the-way spot by a rather novel route.

Since Kimberley (excepting the South African district) must be an unknown name to the majority of English readers, and since it is one of the most valuable portions of West Australia, it deserves more than passing mention.

Hall's Creek, named after the first prospector who found payable gold in the district, is the official centre of the once populous Kimberley goldfields, and the seat of justice, law, and order for the East Kimberley division.

Attention was first drawn to this part of the Colony by the report of Alexander Forrest, who discovered the Fitzroy, Margaret, and other rivers; but it was not the pastoral land described by him that caused any influx of population. Gold was the lure. The existence of gold was discovered by Mr. Hardman, geologist, attached to a Government survey-party under Mr. Johnston (now Surveyor-General), and, though he found no more than colours, it is a remarkable fact that gold has since been discovered in few places that were not mentioned by him. Numerous “overlanders” and prospectors soon followed; indeed some preceded this expedition, for Mr. Johnston has told me that he found marked trees in more than one place. Who marked them was never ascertained, but it was supposed that a party of overlanders from Queensland, who were known to have perished, were responsible for them.

In 1886 payable gold was found, and during that and the following year one of the largest and most unprofitable “rushes” known in Australia set in for the newly discovered alluvial field. The sinking being shallow, what ground there was, was soon worked out, and before long the rush set back again as rapidly as it had come, the goldfield was condemned as a duffer, and left to the few faithful fossickers who have made a living there to this day. The alluvial gold was the great bait; of this but little was found, and to reefing no attention to speak of was given, so that at the present time miles upon miles of quartz reefs, blows, leaders, and veins are untouched and untested as they were before the rush of 1886. No one can say what systematic prospecting might disclose in this neglected corner of the Colony. There are many countries less favoured for cheap mining; Kimberley is blessed with an abundant rainfall, and the district contains some of the finest pasture-lands in Australia.

A scarcity of good mining timber, the remoteness of the district from settled parts, and the bad name that has been bestowed upon it, are the disadvantages under which the goldfield labours. Nevertheless two batteries are working at the present day, and a good find by some old fossicker is not so rare.

Setting aside the question of gold-discoveries, which may or may not be made, this district has a great future before it to be derived from the raising of stock, cattle, sheep, and horses. So far only a limited area of country has been taken up—that is to say, the country in the valleys of the Ord, Margaret, and Fitzroy Rivers and their tributaries. There still remains, however, a large tract lying between those rivers and the most Northerly point of the Colony as yet unoccupied, and some of it even unexplored. One or two prospectors have passed through a portion of it, and they speak well of its pastoral and, possibly, auriferous value.

Cut off, as it is, by the desert, the district has the disadvantage of none but sea communication with the rest of the Colony. This necessitates the double shipment of live stock, once at either port, Derby or Wyndham, after they have been driven so far from the stations, and once again at Fremantle. A coastal stock route is debarred by the poverty of the country between Derby and the De Grey River, and a direct stock route through the desert is manifestly impracticable. It seems to me that too little attention has been given to horse-breeding, and that a remunerative trade might be carried on between Kimberley and India, to which this district is nearer than any other part of Australia.

What horses are bred, though otherwise excellent, are small—a defect that should easily be remedied. The cattle, too, are rather on the small side, and this again, by more careful attention to breeding, could be improved upon.

Hall's Creek is by no means a large town; in fact, it consists of exactly nine buildings—post and telegraph office and Warden's office and court, Warden's house, hospital, gaol, police-station, sergeant's house, butcher's shop and house, store, and hotel.

Besides these there are several nomadic dwellings, such as tents, bush humpies, and drays.

A house is a luxury, and some of the oldest residents have never built one. “Here to-day and gone to-morrow, what's the good of a house?” was the answer I got from one who had only been there for ten years!

Mud-brick walls and corrugated-iron roofs is the style of architecture in general vogue. The inhabitants are not many, as may be supposed, but those there are simply overflow with hospitality and good spirits. One and all were as pleased to see us, and have us live amongst them, as if we had been old friends. The population is very variable; the surrounding district contains some fifty or sixty fossickers, who come into town at intervals to get fresh supplies of flour and salt beef—the one and only diet of the bushmen in these parts, who, though very rarely seeing vegetables, are for the most part strong and healthy. Sometimes cases of scurvy, or a kindred disease, occur; one poor chap was brought in whilst we were there, very ill indeed. I happened to be up at the hospital, and asked the orderly (there was no doctor) what he would do for him in the way of nourishing food. “Well,” said he, looking very wise, “I think a little salt beef will meet the case.” And such would indeed have been his diet if I had not luckily had some Liebig's Extract; for the town was in a state verging on famine, dependent as it is on the whims of “packers” and teamsters, who bring provisions from the coast, nearly three hundred miles, by road. Twice a year waggons arrive; for the rest everything is brought per horseback, and when the rains are on, and the rivers running, their load is as often as not considerably damaged by immersion in the water.

A monthly mail, however, and the telegraph line places the community much nearer civilised parts than its geographical position would lead one to suppose. The arrival of the mail, or of the packers, is a great event, more especially since no one knows what they may bring. Thus a train of pack-horses arrived at a time when flour was badly needed, but each load consisted of either sugar or lager-beer—both excellent articles but hardly adaptable to bread-making. The climate, situation, surroundings, and want of means of recreation all combine to make the publican's business a lucrative one. When, as sometimes happens, a fossicker comes in with a “shammy” full of gold, and lays himself out to make himself and every one else happy, then indeed the hotel-keeper's harvest is a rich one. And since nobody cares much whether he buys his liquor, or makes it of red-pepper, kerosene, tobacco, methylated spirits, and what not, the publican's outlay in “only the best brands” need not be excessive.

Christmas and New Year's Day were, of course, great days of revel; athletic sports were held, and horse-races. The latter were not quite a success; the entries were very few, and the meeting was nearly resolving itself into a prize-fight when one owner lodged a complaint against the winner. As a rule the race-meetings are better attended; every bush township has its meetings throughout the continent, and, in remote districts, there are men who entirely “live on the game.” That is to say, they travel from place to place with a mob of pack-horses, amongst which, more or less disguised by their packs, are some fast ones, with which they surprise the community. These men, though great scoundrels, are considered to be earning a legitimate living, since no man need gamble with them unless he likes; if he is taken in by them he has himself to thank.

Christmas Eve is celebrated by a performance known as “tin-kettling,” in which all join. Each arms himself with a dish, or empty tin, which he beats violently with a stick. To the tune of this lovely music the party marches from house to house, and at each demands drink of some kind, which is always forthcoming. Thus the old institution of Christmas-waits is supported, even in this far corner of the world.

CHAPTER XVII

Aboriginals At Hall's Creek

It may not at first be very clear what the gaol and police force are used for, since the white population numbers so few. However, the aboriginals are pretty numerous throughout Kimberley, and are a constant source of vexation and annoyance to the squatters, whose cattle are frequently killed and driven wild by native depredators. A squatter, far from being allowed to take the law into his own hands, even when he catches the blacks in the act of slaying his cattle—not only for food but as often as not for mere devilment—has to ride into Hall's Creek and report to the police, and so gives time for the offenders to disappear. The troopers, when they do make a capture of the culprits, bring them in on chains, to the police quarters. By the Warden, through a tame boy as interpreter, they are tried, and either acquitted and sent back to their country or sentenced to a turn of imprisonment and handed over to the gaoler. In gaol they have a remarkably good time, fed upon beef, bread, jam, and water, and made to do useful work, such as drawing and carrying water, making roads, etc. They work in small chain-gangs—a necessary precaution since there is only one gaoler to perhaps fifteen prisoners—are clothed in felt hats and short canvas kilts, and except that they are deprived of their freedom have probably as comfortable a time as they ever had during their lives.

From time to time there have been grave accusations of cruelty made by well-meaning busybodies against the squatters of the North and North-West. Occasional cases have been proved beyond all question, cases of the most revolting brutality. But from these exceptional instances it is hardly fair to class the whole squatting population as savage. ruffians. Since I have had the opportunity of seeing what treatment is meted out I feel it is a duty to give every prominence to what has come under my notice. First of all, let us take it for granted that the white men's civilisation must advance; that, I suppose, most will admit. This being the case, what becomes of the aboriginal? He is driven from his hunting-grounds and retaliates by slaughtering the invading cattle. What steps is the white pioneer, who may have no more than one companion, to take to protect his own? If he quietly submits his herd will be wiped out, and he and his mate afterwards. By inspiring fear alone is he able to hold his position. He must therefore either use his rifle and say nothing about it, or send perhaps 150 miles for the troopers. After a time, during which he carries his life in his hands—for a couple of hundred natives, savage and treacherous, are not the pleasantest neighbours—he succeeds in convincing the natives that he intends to stop where he is. What then do they do? Do they move to fresh hunting-grounds? They might, for there is ample room. No, they prefer to live round about the station, a source of constant anxiety and annoyance. Consequently we find to-day a large number of natives permanently camped round every homestead, living on the squatter's bounty. Too lazy to hunt, too idle and useless to work, they loaf about the place, living on the meat that is given them on killing-days, and on figs and seeds, when in season, between times. Thus, though the squatter takes their country he feeds them for ever after. A smart boy may be trained and partially educated, and becomes useful amongst the horses and so forth, and some few are always employed about the station—the rest just lie about and gorge themselves at the slaughter-yards, and then wait until they can again do so.

It has been suggested that reserves should be set apart for the dispossessed natives. This would, in the opinion of those best able to express one, never succeed, for once the white man is established the blacks will collect round him, and though, as I have mentioned, there remains more than half the Kimberley division untouched by whites, forming a reserve ready to hand, yet the natives prefer to live a hand-to-mouth existence where food can be obtained without trouble, rather than retreat into another region where game abounds, and there continue their existence as wandering savages. Round Hall's Creek there is always a camp of blacks, varying from twenty to fifty or one hundred, who live as best they can without hunting.

On Christmas Day a hundred or so rolled up to receive the Aboriginal Board's liberal bounty—a Board fortunately now reconstructed, for it was continually the cause of much friction between the squatters, the Government, and itself, in the days when it was not controlled by the Government, as it now is. Six pounds sterling was set aside for the Warden to provide food and raiment for the natives under his jurisdiction. Six pounds per annum per two thousand aboriginals—for such is their reputed number—seems hardly adequate. Perhaps if the gentlemen responsible for this state of affairs had concerned themselves more about the aboriginals, and less about the supposed barbaric cruelty of the squatters, the objects of their mission would have been better served. However, whilst the black-fellow must remain content with his scanty allowance, it is found expedient to send an inexperienced youth, fresh from England, from place to place to make a report on the treatment of the aboriginals, at a salary of £500 a year. And a fine collection of yarns he produced—for naturally no one could resist “pulling his leg” to the last degree! However, this question has at last been put into the hands of those best calculated to know something about it; for though the Government is neither perfect nor infallible, yet the colonists are likely to understand a purely local matter better than a Board of gentlemen lately from home.

They were a merry lot of people, the blacks round Hall's Creek, and appeared to see the best sides of a deadly dull existence. Their ways and habits are now so mingled with ideas gathered from the whites that they are not worth much attention. Dancing is their great amusement, and though on Christmas Day we made them compete in running, jumping, and spear-throwing, they take but little interest in such recreations. Though known to Australian readers, a description of such a dance may prove of interest to some in the old country.

“A CORROBOREE,” OR NATIVE DANCE.

The entertainment begins after sundown, and on special occasions may be kept up for two or three days and nights in succession. A moonlit night is nearly always made the occasion for a corroboree, to which no significance is attached, and which may be simply held for the amusement the actual performance affords.

Descriptions of the great dances attendant on the initiation of a boy into manhood, and its accompanying brutal rites, find a more suitable place in scientific works than in a book intended for the general reader. I will therefore merely describe some of the dances which are performed for entertainment.

The word corroboree is applied equally to the dance, the whole festival, or the actual chant which accompanies the dancing.

Men and women, the men especially, deck themselves out with tufts of emu feathers, fastened in the hair or tied round the arm, or stuck in the waist-belt of plaited hair; paint their bodies with a white paint or wash made from “Kopi” (gypsum similar to that found by the shores of salt lakes), with an occasional dab of red ochre (paint made from a sandstone impregnated with iron), and fix up their hair into a sort of mop bound back by bands of string. Thus bedecked and painted, and carrying their spears and boomerangs, they present a rather weird appearance.

A flat, clear space being chosen, the audience seat themselves, men and women, who, unless the moon is bright, light fires, which they replenish from time to time. The dancers are all men, young warriors and older men, but no greybeards. The orchestra consists of some half-dozen men, who clap together two sticks or boomerangs; in time to this “music” a wailing dirge is chanted over and over again, now rising in spasmodic jerks and yelled forth with fierce vehemence, now falling to a prolonged mumbled plaint. Keeping time to the sticks, the women smack their thighs with great energy. The monotonous chant may have little or no sense, and may be merely the repetition of one sentence, such as “Good fella, white fella, sit down 'longa Hall's Creek,” or something with an equally silly meaning. The dancers in the meantime go through all sorts of queer movements and pantomimes. First, we may have the kangaroo corroboree, in which a man hops towards the musicians and back again, to be followed in turn by every other dancer and finally by the whole lot, who advance hopping together, ending up with a wild yell, in which all join.

Then we may have the emu-corroboree, where each in his turn stalks solemnly around with the right arm raised, with elbow bent, wrist and hand horizontal and poked backwards and forwards, to represent the emu's neck and head. The left hand held behind the back, like that of a shy official expecting a tip, stands for the emu's tail. Thus they advance slowly and jerkily with back bent and arm pointing now this way, now that, like an inquisitive emu who is not sure of his ground.

Next the mallee-hen builds her nest, and each dancer comes forward at a mincing trot, in his hands a few twigs and leaves, which he deposits in front of the “orchestra,” and, having built his nest, retires. And so they go on mimicking with laughable accuracy the more common beasts and birds.

The most comical dance in which they all joined—that is all the dancers—was one in which they stood on tiptoe, with knees bent and shaking together as if with fear, then giving forth a sort of hissing noise, through fiercely clenched teeth, they quickly advanced in three or four lines and retired trotting backwards. This ended with a prolonged howl and shrieks of laughter. The energy with which they dance is extraordinary—shaking their spears and grunting, they advance with knees raised, like high-stepping horses, until the thigh is almost horizontal, now one leg now the other, with a will, and then one, two, down come the feet together with a thud, the dancers striking their spears in the ground, growling out savagely a sound that I can only express as “woomph, woomph”—with what a smack their flat feet meet the ground, and what a shrieking yell goes up from all throats as they stop!

To enliven the performance they use flat carved sticks, some eight inches long, and of a pointed oval shape. Through a hole in one point they thread a string, with which the stick is rapidly swung round, making a booming noise—“Bull-roarers” is the general white-fellows' name for them. Amongst some native prisoners brought in from the Sturt I saw a primitive wooden horn, on which a sort of blast could be blown. No doubt this, too, has its place in their performances.

I am told they keep up these corroborees as long as three days and nights, though certainly not dancing all the time. Probably the stick clapping is kept up by relays of performers. I have heard the chant go on all one night and well into the next day, with hardly a break.

Hall's Creek is a great place for corroborees, for there are gathered together boys from all parts of Central Australia, Northern Territory, and Queensland, brought by coastal overlanders. These boys all know different chants and dances, and are consequently in great request at the local black-fellows' evening parties. Warri told me he had learnt several new songs; however, they appeared to my evidently untrained ear to be all exactly alike.

We were to have had a very swell festival at Christmas, but it somehow fell through. I fancy the blacks were not given sufficient notice.

The blacks, in addition to these simple festive gatherings, have solemn dances for the purpose of promoting the growth of edible seeds and roots, of increasing the rainfall, or the numbers of the animals and reptiles on which they feed. But more important still are those connected with their barbarous, but sacred, rites and ceremonials.

CHAPTER XVIII

Preparations For The Return Journey

Had I known how long our stay in the North was to be, I should have taken the opportunity of further studying the natives and their habits, and should certainly have visited them in their wild homes in the unknown portion of Kimberley. As it was I daily expected a message asking me to start in search of the missing men, and held myself in readiness accordingly. Our small caravan, now further reduced by the death of Czar—a sad loss, for he was one of my old friends, and one of the staunchest camels I have known (together we had seen many a tough bit of work); he fell down a steep gully at night, poor old beast, and so injured himself that he died almost immediately—was increased by the purchase of three horses, with which I intended to carry out my plan of search; since, however, it was never instituted, I need not explain its nature. It sufficiently accounts for the presence of horses in the caravan with which the return journey was made.

As time dragged on it became clear that the missing men could no longer be living, and since there were two search parties already in the field, I felt that I was only wasting time by staying longer in idleness. We were too far off to make any search except by a protracted expedition, and, since I was morally sure of the men's death, I did not feel called upon to expose my party to the risks of the desert when no useful object could be accomplished. Had the intervening country been unknown I should have been quite ready to start forth, for in that case, whatever the result of the search, I should have felt rewarded for any losses incurred, by the knowledge that we had been the means of opening up a further tract of an unexplored region. As it was we should only have followed a route previously traversed by Warburton, from which, unless we achieved the melancholy satisfaction of finding the scene of the disaster, no useful results could follow. I determined, therefore, to leave the search to those who could best afford the time and expense, and set about planning our return to Coolgardie. We had four routes open to us—either the road to Derby and thence by steamer: the road to Derby and thence along the coastal telegraph line: the way we had come: and an entirely new route, taking our chances of the desert. The first was dismissed as feeble, the second as useless, and the third as idiotic. Therefore the fourth remained, and though it was natural enough for me to wish to win distinction in the world of travel (and I daresay this was the motive that inspired me), surely it speaks well for them indeed, that Breaden and Massie were willing to accompany me.

Without the slightest hesitation, though knowing full well what lay before us, that we might even encounter worse difficulties than before, without any thought of prospective gain—for their salary was no fortune—they signified their readiness to return by whatever route I proposed. This is a point that I should like to make clear to all who may read this, for it is indicative of a trait often lost sight of by those accustomed to having, in novels and so forth, the more mercenary side of the Australian's character pointed out to them. A common subject of speculation is whether or no Australians would make good soldiers; as to that my belief is, that once they felt confidence in their officers none could make more loyal or willing troops; without that confidence they would be ill to manage, for the Australian is not the man to obey another, merely because he is in authority—first he must prove himself fit to have that authority.

If, therefore, we are deserving of any credit for again tackling the sand, let it be remembered that my companions are more worthy of it than their leader—for they had nothing to gain, whilst I had at least the distinction of leaving my name upon the map—and though I made plans, without good and true men I could not have carried them out. There seemed to me to be a slight chance of finding better country to the eastward of our first route, and, besides the geographical interest, there would result the proof of the practicability or otherwise of a stock route to the southern goldfields—a route which would be such a boon to the Kimberley squatters. I may as well state at once that such a route is quite out of the question, and that I would hesitate to undertake the journey with a mob of more than twenty camels, let alone cattle.

Fortunately I was able to purchase three more camels, the property of the South Australian Government, which Mr. Buchanan had brought from the Northern Territory for the purpose of looking for a stock route. However, a day or two beyond the end of Sturt Creek satisfied him as to the impracticability of the scheme, and he returned to Flora Valley, a cattle station close to Hall's Creek, that is to say, twenty-five miles away. At the time of our arrival Mr. Buchanan was out with Mr. Wells, and did most valuable service in the search for the missing men. After his return he was very glad to get the camels, which he neither liked nor understood, off his hands.

With eight camels and three horses our caravan was brought up to strength. In the matter of provisioning, equipment, and way of travelling, I made some alteration. Everything was considered with a view to lightness, therefore only absolute necessaries were carried. All tools, except those used in “soak-sucking,” and so forth, were discarded; the provisions consisted of salt beef (tinned meat being unprocurable), flour, tea, sugar, and a few tins of condensed milk (damaged and unfit for use in the ordinary way). All possible room was given to water-carrying appliances, so that we could carry in all about one hundred gallons. Had it not been for my former plans I should not have taken horses; but they are animals easier to buy than to sell, and would certainly be most useful if only we could find food and water to keep them alive. With sorrow and regret I had to part with Val, for only a few days before our departure she gave birth to a litter of pups, and had of course to be left behind. However, the Warden, to whom I gave her, promised to be kind to her, as indeed I am sure he has been—nevertheless it was a sad wrench. In her place I took a small mongrel which belonged to the Warden, an “Italian greyhound,” as some one suggested, though I never saw a like breed! He rejoiced in the name of “Devil-devil,” because, I suppose, he was quite black.

I made no attempt to replace poor Charlie Stansmore, since there were no men willing to come whom I should have cared to take. I cannot say enough in gratitude for the hospitality that we met with at Hall's Creek, from the Warden, whose guests we were the whole time, and every member of the small community. I shall look back with pleasure to our stay in that faraway spot.

Next Appendix To Part V