5th January 1933This is started on the morning we left Adelaide to go north on the train. The party consists of:
We left Adelaide early in the morning under a mild volley of press photographers and news men and ran out into the wheat belt quickly. The day, at first cool, started to warm up before we got to Terowie, where we made our first change of trains, by then it was a scorcher. The country consisted of eternal wheat fields, all in the process of being harvested, with a resulting dust that soon penetrated to every part of our carriage.
- Professor H.W. Davies
- Dr.H. Wardlaw
- Maurice Joseph
- Arthur Murch (artist)
- Hugh Barry
- Stanley Larnach (animal collector)
- & myself (John Pockley)
At Terowie, lined by high stacks of bagged wheat, we had a lunch of sorts and changed over to a narrow guaged train. The carriage contained just one compartment with the seats facing each other. We found it much more comfortable to sit on the step outside, in spite of the dust.
The largest station on this stretch was Peterborough, where the Broken Hill ore shipments come down. There were a large number of trucks carrying stuff that had been through the preliminary processes, most of them seemed to contain some lead.
The end of the afternoon's run came at Quorn, where we again changed trains, though the guage, mirabile dictu 1, remained the same. This time the change was to a really swish train, considering, complete with dining car, sleeper, observation car etc, on which we will go right through to Alice Springs. As we had an interval of about one and a half hours at Quorn we walked over to the pub and had tea.
Coming back to the train we were greeted by the mayor of Quorn, one Richard Thompson. He proudly claims to have the world's record for mayors, having been in office for 27 years. His main claim to fame seems to be the possession of a very ornate autograph book containing the signatures of Dukes, Duchesses, test cricketers, and, now, ours. His parting gift was a hardback of the Back to Quorn Week which provided us with much amusement in the weary hours to come as 'his worship the Lord Mayor of Quorn' seems to have produced it solely as a means of self-advertisment.
We went away from Quorn in the late evening, skirting the Flinders ranges, and getting out of the wheat belt pretty rapidly, as far as we could see before dark.
Early to bed. First day of the Barry and Pockley moustaches.
Woke this morning at an interesting stage in the scenery; the country was very flat and covered with a low salt bush with a few scattered and stunted trees. It was not long before we saw a few herds of camels. Their moth-eaten, outline could be seen grazing far off. Shortly afterwards we ran into Marree where there were a few Afghan camel owners getting a team in for their waggons. We were running a good bit late as the train had developed a hot box during the night.
At nearly every little stopping place was a water tank, usually supplied by artesian water where the engine liquored up, and sometimes the carriages as well. At the end of each carriage were hung a couple of water bags of simple design but very sensible pattern.
All day the country stayed flat, being mostly stony plains with a few Gidgee trees on the water scours. This type of country is interspersed with red sandy areas and in the few places where there are fences they are usually buried partially or completely by the shifting sand dunes for several miles.
An interesting feature of the run was the salt lake country, culminating in Lake Eyre. The casual mirages we had been seeing became mighty manifestations of unlimited expanses of water and this, combined with the white of the salt in the 'lake', gave the impression of a sea of breaking waves.
The country remained the same practically all day. Once we passed a fairly large outcrop of rock and loose stones, and at Coward Springs we came upon a minature oasis with palm trees growing beside an artesian water hole of perfectly clear water.
The water bubbled out of the bottom and ran away to be lost in the desert a mile or two away. There were several hundred head of cattle grouped together within a few miles of this hole and along with one other wild steer, an emu and many rabbits, they were the only animals we saw all day, apart from the black fellow's horses and the inevitable eagles, lizards and FLIES.
Everywhere one looks at any time of the day, one sees willy-willies out on the plains, sometimes towering up a conservative 1000ft into the air, narrowing as they go, like an inverted cone.
So far the weather has been quite moderate and except for the sand, everything is very comfortable, especially as dress is a very secondary consideration.
A game of bridge to-night and so to bed.
7th January 1933Woke this morning at a little railway station about 17 miles from Charlotte Waters. By the time we were up and about the train had pulled in and we were met by the local cop, (now of the Federal variety) two cattle men and three black stock boys.
The country here is still more stony than that further south. It is practically dead flat. The average rainfall is only about three inches. There is scattered grass of a sort, as well as a little salt bush. Properties up here are many hundreds of square miles in area and all the beasts one sees are in the pink of condition, although one sees literally hundreds of corpses along the track and even rabbits killed by the heat and lack of water. We spoke to the cop and cattle men, who were, on the whole, very decent types and heard them praise that part of the country very much. They said that Kidman leases a lot of the gibber plain at 4 shillings a square mile and only brings in stock when it rains. They seemed very amused at the fact that someone had got run over by a car in the Alice. These men come from up to ninety miles away to greet the fortnightly train and to collect supplies.
There are very few stations at which the train stays for less than twenty minutes and it often stays for up to an hour at some. At one there was a very pretty girl2 of about nineteen who had come in ninety five miles with two pack-horses for the station goods, mail etc. All along the line the train acts as a paymaster to the gangs of government maintenance men. It also brings them their stores and the result of the second test.
This stretch of country was a real revelation. It was entirely flat and covered with stones, there was no apparent vegetation, no trees, no visible stock, no anything. The scenery was the same from both sides of the train and here one got an insight into the dimensions of space.
Gradually, as we go north toward the Finke river, the country appears to improve. Grass is still in isolated tussocks, but the number of dried watercourses increases and a few trees make their appearance. The country is also becoming more hilly, and at the moment we are travelling through more minature forests of stunted trees, mulga for the most part.
The Finke, as we expected, was just a half mile of sand surrounded by precipitous hills of stone, the railway passes the point where the river comes out of the mountains. From here the country immediately became bare sand hills, covered with spots of salt bushand parakeelya, mixed with stunted mulga. The parakeelya is just about the only source of water for the stock for months at a time, but they seem to do very well in this country. Here the train passes through Heavitree Gap in the Macdonnell Range. The ranges appear tremendous after the miles of flat plain and seem to be made almost completely of loose stones. In some of the low outcrops the strata are perpendicular and where there is any vegetation it seems to be mostly dead mulga.
Heavitree Gap, as seems to be common to all the passes through the mountains, is enclosed by steep precipices that fall right down to plain level, passage through the gap is made at the same level as the plain without any climb at all. Huge white gums grow at the base of the cliffs and along the dry creeks and river beds in great numbers. They are beautiful trees, dead white, exuding a red gum, and any recent wound or blaze is almost scarlet.
The train was running about one and a half hours late when we approached the Alice about sunset. As we passed through the gap a party of natives came running toward the train with much noise, a mixed looking lot. We were told afterwards that many of them had come into the Alice from great distances just to see the train for the first time.
The other side of the gap opened out into a flat valley surrounded on all sides by the spurs of the ranges. And there was Alice Springs. The train whistled all the way for the last mile or so and the first sight of the town showed us all the inhabitants tearing across to the station to look and to see. As the train drew in a multitude of eyes appeared, white and black, staring as hard as possible at every one on the train.
We arose, gathered our gear together and stepped out on to the platform, all a bit self conscious. I had no sooner appeared than I heard someone call my name. It turned out to be Dr David Brown, the only medical man in Central Australia as far down as Hawker. He has been in China and has lived in the Territory for some time before coming down to the Alice on a Government job. He was the elder son of a family living in an old stone house in Berrima, near the bridge across the Wingecarribee, where we went on our holidays at Christmas around 1920. He tried to teach me to swim, without much success. He served in the First World War and came back with the rank of Major. I had not seen him since he came back from the war and started off on his medical course. He debated the wisdom of doing medicine with my father at length and found it hard going. He had a younger brother Jack. He insisted on taking me home and putting me up while we were in the Alice. The others went off to the pub which happened to be next door. He is now married with a six month old child called Micky, his wife comes from a cattle station in the territory, near Catherine, which most call CatherINE. She was younger than he, slight, attractive and told hair raising stories of buffalo shoots, and by all accounts rode and shot expertly. At that time she had only once been to Adelaide, though they planned to move on before too long. We had tea and then talked for a while before going round to the local ice-cream vendor, whose place seemed to be the centre of town life. Here they introduced the solicitor, the bank manager and several others, including a lady newspaper reporter, Ernestine Hill3, left over from the Granites boom.
The population of the Alice was about 600, officially, give or take the influx of drovers with mobs of cattle, jockeys, (mostly rubbed out in the south), destitute fossikers, conmen, and miners who come and go.
The manager of the Granites, Brayynall, was there. He came up on the train with us, with a newly aquired wife, at least 30 years younger than he was. He is taking her out to the Granites.
Next, we strolled over through wide sandy streets with huge white ghost gums, to the administrators place to see the head man of the town, one Carrington. He was a very decent chap. He told us he had just been out a couple of hundred miles to trace a chap who had been reported by the natives as having been behaving strangely. After searching all day, he found him dead about a quarter of a mile from his own place.
Last night was beautifully cool after yesterday and towards daybreak I got so cold that I had to draw up a blanket. It appears that most of the population have departed to Barrow Creek (240 miles) for the races, though there still seems to be a fair number about. I walked over to the pub after breakfast and Murch, Barry and I went for a walk round the town, which did not take very long. It was a bit bigger and a whole lot prettier than I had expected. All the Government buildings (the majority) are built of cement blocks, with a large fly proof verandah all round. There is a big hall right across the middle from verandah to verandah which is used as living room and dining room. Each house has its own well, and they are relatively airy and cool. When we had been all round the town we ran into the rest of the party at Johannson's on the verandah with Albrecht.
Johannson is a carrier and mail man and missionary. Albrecht is head of the Hermannsburg mission. We talked there till lunch time about Lasseter's 4 problematical gold reef and then Murch and I went off to lunch with the Browns.
In the afternoon Murch and I went up to the half-cast home5 a couple of miles north of the town, at the original springs, where a person called Freeman had charge. He whistled up the inhabitants, showed us all over the place and gave us a look at the kids. There are quite a number of quadroon and octaroons amongst them, the latter bordering pretty closely on white. The infants, (up to about two) show no appreciable colouring at all, developing it later, but they can generally be picked by the eyes, flattened nose and the legs. Even many pure Arundta babies are little coloured in infancy. The whole place seems to be neat and clean, but the standard of education is very low. When they leave, the inmated go out as stockboys and domestics around the Alice. Freeman said many interesting things about education and the difference from the first cross on.
In the evening the Granites man came over to have a chat and told us just what was the strength of the Granites gold boom. It wasn't very flattering to the mine.
9th January 1933H.W.D. saw the police and the administrator about doing some physiological tests on the Granite murderers last night, but was, thank goodness, turned down.
This morning we started loading the gear for the trip from the train on to a three ton truck which has also come up on the train from Adelaide and has only run about 300 miles.
The load seemed mountainous with all our personal luggage on top as well. As the loading went fairly quickly it was decided that we should make an early start, so we got away about mid-day. Murch, Maurice and myself started off in front with the driver, with Albrecht and a mechanic (Course) going out to the mission on top.
The first part of the trip was out through Heavitree Gap past the camel camping grounds which seemed to be filled with the beasts. A little further on we met a donkey team which had just come in from Hermannsburg.6
The load on our lorry started off by being too big for a gate at the camel camp, so we had to rearrange the load. This delayed us a little.
Almost the whole of the trip out to Hermannsburg was over sandy dirt plain, covered with mulga, good Mitchell grass and spinifex. Here and there were traces of a big storm of rain that had fallen a few months before. The foliage being almost luxuriant in these spots. The road was fair most of the way,firm and good in some places and very bad over the rest. The main drawback was the sandy creek beds in which we managed to get stuck badly. The remedy was to let the air out of the back tyres and when we had gained the other side, to pump them up again off the engine.
I spent four hours of the eighty mile journey riding on top in the sun and dry wind in a state of dessication, dodging branches of the mulgas as we came to them. The whole trip was parallel to the Macdonnell Ranges until Hermannsburg was reached. The ranges take the on the name of Krichauff and lie more north-south than the east-west Macdonnells.
Just after sunset we came to the mission across low sand hills having passed the last dead beasts and camel about a half mile before. We could just see a few native wurlies and an aggregation of white buildings as we came. The whole population was turned out, yelling away in Arundta 7at us.
Some of them fell to and helped unload the truck, which then departed again for home. Soon after the car arrived with Davies, Wardlaw, Murch and Larnach driven by Johannson.
We had a huge tea in the German style in Albrecht's quarters and the sweat absolutely poured off us. After this, sleeping quarters were alloted. Murch and I are rooming together in the house where we will do our experiments, if any. The others are scattered about the village. It clouded over during the night, these being the first clouds we have seen since leaving Quorn. Consequently the night was very hot and we didn't sleep much. Quite a superfluous number of mosquitoes about and towards morning plenty of flies.
10th January 1933This morning we unloaded and unpacked all the gear and assembled some of it. In the afternoon the balance was set up and most things got into order. The refrigerator was got out and Davies spent all day trying to get it to go but without much success.
In the evening Davies got out his gramophone and all the lads of the village came over to listen.
During the day I was appointed meterologist and set about making a place for the anemometer and thermometers.
11th January 1933Today much the same as yesterday. Most of us loafed about while Maurice and Wardlaw played with the Haldanes8. Mrs Albrecht9 continues to pour big greasy meals into us which we seem able to get through pretty well, but with a bit of congestion inside.
The mission station was a collection of lime and rubble dwellings with a church of the same material and a few outhouses. In addition there were some 50-60 small thatched roofed huts for the natives and several wooden compounds of sorts. Every house had a rain water well beside it and was fenced off from the sandy waste in front of it by a wooden fence bound together with raw-hide and kangaroo hide straps. The natives of the station were mostly of the disappearing Arundta tribe with a sprinkling of the Loritchas and an odd Pintaby and Nallia. To a large extent they were the young of both sexes who were carefully locked up at night in separate huts. The rest were 'married' families inhabiting the huts.
12th January 1933Davies has now got his refrigerator running well and has lapsed into gin and sleep. We have got some amusement out of it by giving the 'uncivilized' natives ice.
We spent most of the afternoon talking to Rolf (Jacky of Lasseters last Ride ) and hearing from him practically what the other people connected with that show said, viz:that Lasseter knew nothing of the country and was lying about a gold reef in order to finance himself in the hopes of finding one. Rolf was able to tell all about it, up to the time that Lasseter left Ilbilla, never to return.
13th January 1933Today was Hugh Barry's 21st birthday which he and I celebrated by raiding Pete's10 supply of gin before breakfast. During the day a stockman called Miller rode in with a plant of horses and a bad arm, mainly caused by his putting turpentine and horse blister on a sore. He was duly patched up as were a couple of natives.
In the afternoon the camel mail from Rumbelara rode in and then the station stockman came back with a few brumbies off the run.
In the evening the whole crowd: stockmen, camel drivers and missionaries came over and we had a late night extracting the oil from them.
The camel mailman, one Bony Bream Tillmeth was a real wizened up man of the desert and a tremendous mine of information. He ran a vaguely fortnightly run to Oodnadatta and back, knew everyone and every station for miles on each side, used the bed if the Finke as his highway, had 10-11 camels in his string, carried goods, mail orders etc. and women and blacks bought dresses, kitchen-ware, materials, cutlery, even sewing machines from his stocks. People gave him money and orders for things they wanted from Adelaide or even Anthony Hordens in Sydney, and took delivery often six months later, knowing that he never forgot and was totally trustworthy. He was worth listening to but was talking of giving it up because of age.
14th January 1933Larnach and I were up well before light to try pumping Bony Bream some more, but he was so busy getting the train organized that we felt 'de trop.' Yet we learnt quite a bit just watching his skills with camels: some Afghan words that camels understand, some principals of loading, camel care, prevention and treatment of sore backs, and general sound advice and camel lore from an expert. I still find it hard to love camels though.
After the camel train had padded away we spent most of the morning up at the stockyards watching the black stockboys breaking and riding the nags they had brought in: a very rough and ready process and certainly the dead opposite of the right way to handle horses that I learnt at Widden from Alf Thompson and Norman Larkin. There was no great future in being a horse in the Centre.
In the afternoon Murch did a quick portrait of me for practice and then did a really good one of Bony Bream and a black boy called Billy. We managed to get a few horses later on and Murch, Maurice, Davies and myself went off to see a spring a few miles away in the mountains. We were escorted by Kurt Johannson, Miller and the mechanic called Course who was stranded in this place for a week.
We had a bit of rabbit shooting round the waterhole and then had tea. After dark we rode back a few miles and then left Miller to take Davies and the horses back to the mission. We then walked up into a gorge for a mile or so in the dark where we were supposed to find decent water. However when we got there and turned a light on it, what there was of it appeared to move away. Closer investigation showed an army of frogs moving off. We strained a billy full through Maurice's fly veil and had a drink of the foulest water that I have ever tasted.
Shortly after we got there the moon rose and showed that we were in a sandstone river bed about 40 yards wide with steep jagged rocky sides rising to a great height. The gully is called Munukeruka (Gilberts Gorge) and up to a year ago was used as a sacred spot for the celebration of corroborees and other rites by the Arundta.
As we were ostensibly after wallabies Kurt and Murch took the first watch, sitting up in the rocks above the waterhole while the rest of us went to sleep down below. At about half past one we were awakened by the 12 bore. Kurt had fired at a Euro and missed. I then went up on the rocks with Murch and we stayed there until daybreak without anything but rabbits and frogs coming down. During the night (which soon became bitterly cold) a porcupine (echidna) was discovered making a getaway. He was secured and hung on to.
15th January 1933We set off up the gully at about 6 a.m. to go to the next waterhole as we had all had as much as we could stand of the frog water. We climbed up the side of the gully and crossed a ridge of hills before climbing down into another stone watercourse which eventually led us down to the Finke which pierces the Krichauff ranges on its way to the south. The tops of the mountains carry a fair amount of grass and in a few places clumps of a species of eucalyptus something like the mallee country.
On the way down we collected a few wild plums, not quite ripe but still very good considering the nasty taste in our mouths. Also growing in spots were wild passion-fruit trees and what is called a wild cucumber plant which ripens just before winter and is said to taste like an apple.
When we got to the water hole we found it very salty, so we used it as a swimming pool and dug a soak about two feet down in the sandy bed of the Finke. These soaks when first dug were still pretty salty but if left for a time they gradually lost the salty taste. The sand of the Finke not only contained micca crystals but also glistened and sparkled with salt crystals.
The porcupine was produced and made an excellent breakfast tasting very rich and nice and tender.
We spent an hour or two shooting at crows of which there are thousands and then arose with our attendant flies and climbed and scrambled a few miles across the ranges through very bizarre and spectacular country to cut into the Finke on another part of its course. The walk entailed a climb of about 1500 ft, and from the heights we got magnificent views of the higher part of the range two to three miles off, as far as I could judge distance in this country. I found, from shooting at a target, that I was underestimating distance badly. The puffs of sand were so far short that my boasts of past income earned as a marksman in the Sydney University Regiment tickled Kurt Johannson's Scandinavian sense of humour (not easily achieved).
We climbed down onto the river bed again and walked along the soft sand in great heat and argumentative spirit for a couple of miles, passing right into the heart of the
mountains. The mountains here are very rugged and massive and many of them are very high and precipitous whilst the Finke river bed (all sand) is in places half a mile wide and runs straight off a plain through the range and then out onto the larger southern deserts where it is lost, though theoretically it runs into Lake Eyre.
Many huge white gums grow along the banks. In a few places we came across the emerald green wild orange tree. It grows a fruit pyriform in shape, perfectly green and about the size of a large mandarin. It contains a yellow slimy flesh with many huge seeds like an enlarged passion fruit. They are about the best wild fruit I have ever eaten, being very strong in their taste, but with a high sugar content. However, most people can't stomach them at all and they are supposed to be an aquired taste.
When we came to the next waterhole we found it to be a huge thing about 30 yards long and well up to the umbelicus in the middle. We spent many hours there and with Kurt's revolver we even caught half a dozen bony bream, each weighing half a pound. The ratio of flesh to bone is low and they are not a delicacy.
We left after the heat of the day and started back, stopping at our first water hole for a swim and putting up a dozen duck, which are very common on the Finke. We then walked back in a pretty good sweat to the mission station just in time for tea.
16th January 1933Today we found that a wild tribe of Luritcha had turned up during the weekend. So, (to get them to take part in the water metabolism tests) they were inveigled over to the house, shown the various instruments and given tobacco and pipes. We tried some of them with ice out of the refrigerator and also with cigarettes but the ice didn't go down too well and they blew rather than sucked at the fags.
Having set up the meterological station in the prescribed manner I found that the novelty of low humidity and high temperature was wearing off.
Today I decided to try to get out with Larnach and Murch on the camels for a trip to Mt Liebig about 100 miles away. We are going out with a black boy called Tetus who is returning to his tribe as a kind of black missionary. We are taking another black to bring us back.
I decided to try to convince Prof. Davies that the problem of finding suitable native subjects for the experiments might be best served by a first hand report of the tribes west of Hermannsburg by the least gifted member of the party. Especially as the time left for the experiments was bound to be inadequate and another attack on the problem would obviously be needed the next summer. I planned to catch him in a jovial, gin sodden mood that evening. Hugh and Maurice were willing to do the met readings, in return for my offer of sharing any booty in the way of churingas 11, artifacts etc that I managed to collect.
We find that the Arundta call anyone not of their tribe Loritcha or Luritcha and that these people who have come into the station are probably Pintaby and not true Loritcha. Loritcha may be the language that Arundta and Pintaby use when talking to each other.
The natives gave us all a name, mine was Catavelia12 (I gather a small active lizard) This enabled them to relate to us in some way as a part of the tribal grouping. So we had each a theoretical mother, father, brothers, sisters and, most importantly, aunt or aunts. The marriage taboos seemed to be based on an uncle - aunts relationship which dictated the totems. As a result there were some of the tribe we could not even speak to, and some potential allies. This was complex and hard to live by in our ignorance. It made it possible to offend unintentionally. I suspect that it was bound up to a large degree with their sense of humour because they certainly seemed to get an inordinate amount of fun out of trying to explain the logical consequences. There was also a lot of laughter at our attempts to wrap our tongues about many of their words. Especially those that started with the 'ng' sound. All names I have written are purely phonetic attempts and the validity and proper understanding of many things doubtful. For example, few of them could count beyond three. It was one two three, big mob. Big mob could be four or thousands, yet they seemed to be able to arrange corroborees and meetings, which took weeks of preparation, months ahead. I think some of this was done by moons but any explanation of anything beyond tomorrow was hard to obtain and almost impossible not to misunderstand. The stars had names, or at least some of them. The Plieades and Venus for certain but they immediately wandered off into dreamtime stories quite unconnected with any practical use of them which I suppose was natural when no crops or timing formed part of their life. They believed that the kangaroo was born in a pouch, but so do most country people, however white.
17th January 1933I obtained official sanction from H.W.D. Hugh and Maurice helped a lot. To cap it all Albrecht at breakfast suggested, off his own bat, that someone should do something with an eye to the future, and Davies, though a somewhat subdued man that morning, confirmed the previous night's arrangement.
Today was a little hotter than usual going to about 109F and the humidity was also rather high and has been rising for the last few days. When the day gets on a bit it usually clouds over and then looks very black and threatening about sunset. At sun-up however it has all blown away and left a perfectly clear day. The colours in the evening clouds stretched from horizon to horizon and range through the spectrum. Even when looking at the display one hardly believes it. The red earth, reflected back from the clouds and the dust in the light of the setting sun again colours the ranges so that the plains seem heliotrope and Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil away to the north go purple. Murch says, "If I tried to paint this, people in the south would think me mad."
The lowest temperature we have had since we got here has been 70.5F in the early morning yesterday but when it is below 80 here it is pretty cold without more clothes.
At lunch some Bilbees (ngaiyaa) or striped bandicoots were brought in by the blacks and went for three bob each to Larnach who was collecting animals for the anatomy school. Murch spent most of the afternoon photographing them during which time the old man died.
A few days ago an inland crocodile or prenty lizard (goanna) was brought in by one of the stockmen and Larnach and all of us have been checkmated by the problem of killing and preserving it. The decision is now in favour of chloroform and formalin into the heart.
18th January 1933This morning Albrecht spent an hour or so discussing this trip with us and made many suggestions about things which would never have occurred to us. Larnach and I spent a fair time going over the plans while Murch was painting a couple of black kids surrounded by his usual admiring audience male and female. In fact when we went out to talk to him we found him with a couple of kids and a dog squirming in front of him, a crowd behind him and two solid lines of people right down the sides of the fairway.
We did him a good turn by taking a number to watch the killing of the prenty. We bound him down to a box, half chloroformed him injected 10ml of formalin into his heart and then opened him up and injected his arteries with formalin. Murch again had a go at photographing the surviving bilbee and her two young with little success.
In the evening a bit of a storm came up and we got several spots of rain amid the dust. Some of the camels which came in a team from the Alice two days ago have gone back to the Alice again and a few more have gone out to Gilbert Springs where they are building some yards to catch a few wild horses.
I have been making pals with the head stockman called Henke for the last week and he shouted me a short ride on his camel to get the feeling before we go out west. One sits behind the hump on a saddle with an iron frame and goat skin sides. The feet are in a pair of stirrups and one steers the animal by a rope attached on one side to a mushroomed pin through its nose. The getting up is rather astonishing at first but once up they are rather easier to steer than a horse and they have a long swinging walk which is very comfortable, at least at first.
We saw them throw a young camel which was being broken to a pack for the first time to the accompaniment of loud protests from the camel. Whenever one approaches a camel it makes a noise like being sick inside and chews the cud vigorously with the intent to spit, but as soon as they are off and away they generally stop it.
Both Bony Bream and Henke admitted that one must be vigilant with a camel. They could kick with both fore and hind legs, and given a chance, they constantly complained. A favourite trick was to stand up suddenly at the split second a foot went into the stirrup. One must keep the left foot standing on the bent foreleg until the last possible moment, and the left elbow behind their chin to stop their spitting aim getting on line. I learnt the saddling technique pretty well. The trick was not to be distracted or made careless by noise, eructations, farts, stink or attempts to bite. the price of freedom was indeed eternal vigilance. They do not naturally go without water, they have to be trained. They have to be accustomed to go without water for chosen periods, up to 10 days is possible but it takes some weeks of training. Everyone advised that it was unwise to ride a camel more than four miles the first day. The rider needed to train too.
We got news today that the donkey waggon had broken down about 30 miles away.
It seems now that we will be going out to Tetus's place on our own book, Tetus being in my opinion a bit of a fool. Hezekiel who will be our camel boy now looks a bit more intelligent.
23rd of January 1933Today it was decided that we should push off on our trip on Monday 13 evening if all goes well. I am very glad to get out of this place now as it soon palls and Mrs Albrecht gives us about twice as much to eat as we need. Her ideas of diet in a hot climate coincided with her ideas of diet in the colder parts of Germany and like all good Housfrau she was greatly perturbed and insulted if anything was left over.
We have worked out that the camel trip will cost us about the same as if we stayed here so it isn't any great expense with the camels at six bob a week. Hezekiel will get ten bob a week, his tucker and an accepted tobacco ration.
Everyone here at the mission is very congenial. There is Albrecht, a short thick, blue eyed Nordic type. He was very earnest, very keen and as broad minded as could be expected from a Lutheran Missionary. His wife was condemned to die of T.B. when they came out three years ago, but has now lost every sign of symptom. She was a tremendously hard worker, efficient, no sense of humour and as fair a Saxon as one could find. They had two small brats and an infant who were treated as equals by the native children and who seemed to have their habits as well.
The other active members of the mission are Petering, a man of 6' 3", school master, cleric and rather unfathomable (or just negative, I don't know which) and Strehlow, an expert on dialects and a decent chap.
Strehlow was the son of the previous head of the mission and had grown up with the Arundta tribe and understood as much of their language, beliefs and customs as it is possible for a white man to understand. He was a blood brother and fully initiated 14 member of the tribe and had acquired as part and parcel of himself the dreamy, impractical, carelessness and lack of foresight of the natives and yet he could on occasions give vent to wonderful tales of his tribe.
Strehlow and Petering will probably make the first two days of the trip with us before going off for a short run in another direction.
28th January 1933This is the first chance I have had to look around me and take stock since we left the mission. We have been here a couple of days now waiting for some natives to turn up so that they can come out to Mount Liebig with us and collect animals for Larnach.
We had a bit of trouble in getting a start from the station on Monday owing to some camels going bush but eventually we got a start in the evening leaving our camel boy Hezekiel behind temporarily. During the first part of the trip we were accompanied by Strehlow and Petering who are making a short trip out through the Gosses ranges.
We have four riding camels in our party and one pack camel, one of the riding camels having an infernal little calf a couple of weeks old.
The first night we made about three miles and then camped for the night, put the hobbles on the camels and let them go.
In the morning when the camels came in we loaded up and set off. We made about nine miles in the morning to the salty water hole called Luchera* Springs. We were still following the Krichauff Ranges. We took the heavy weights: flour and sugar etc off the camels and had lunch. Murch did a quick and delightful sketch of his camel here.
We waited out the heat for about an hour and then pushed on another eight miles to Gilbert Springs where a black stockman rode in to water his horse.
During the whole day we had passed one stone hill of note. It was standing like a pyramid a few hundred feet above the plain. The rest of the country was alternating sandy and stony stuff growing a few trees, mostly mulga, desert oak and a little tussocky grass, thinly interspersed with blood-wood, cork-wood and beef-wood.
The small camel calf which was with us turned out to be a bit of a nuisance as the camels refused to go without being led (the method of leading being to tie the back camel to the tail of the one in front). The damn calf kept running through the nose line. As a camel is secured by a peg driven through the nasal septum which is liable to pull out, string or hemp has to be used to tie the leading rope or reins to the peg, which again weakens the system. A camel is thus really ridden and steered by a piece of string, although the rope gives an added feeling of security to the rider.
Riding a camel must be about the most monotonous form of entertainment in the world. they walk along at their two and a half miles an hour with a rock and sway and jerk, backwards and forwards and from side to side. They follow the tracks of the camel in front accurately and chew the cud to keep themselves amused. The whole days journey can be seen in the morning if there is good visibility across the flat plains. The scenery hardly changes. After hours of this sort of thing one drops into a contemplative mood, then smack comes the camel calf through the nose line and it's "Hoosta, Hoosta" to the camel in front who gets down and squats like a giraffe swallowing a pill and bubbles and belches and protests while one ties up the nose peg again, then up again and sway, sway, sway till lunch time when the everlasting unloading and loading starts again.
As it is summer here, travel in Central Australia is generally limited to the early morning and evening. The practice is to rest in the middle of the day, at least the hot part, from half past one to three thirty.
During the day our camel boy came up on a good riding camel and brought with him a telegram handed in at the station the morning before concerning the films.15
At Gilbert Springs there was a fair quantity of mediocre water. All day big clouds had been blowing up which looked very like rain. We did get wet once when crossing a small plain. Consequently, we packed all our camel saddles together and perishable goods and spread a small tent over them. however, the rain only came in small quantities although we saw tremendous storms in the distance over the Macdonnells.
The ride to Gilbert Springs had taken us a little out of our course so we planned an early start. However, one of the camels got a bit refractory while the others lay and regurgitated and stank so we didn't get away until about half past eight.
Our course was set for the Macdonnell Ranges which could just be seen on the horizon. It passed the closer Gosses range (a horse shoe shaped mass about four miles square). The track was wholly desert over low red sand hills stretching away into the distance to form a plain with a little mulga and spinifex here and there. In some places large tracts of bare sand were visible.
We made a long stretch of the trip and covered 16 miles to come abreast of the Gosses about two miles distant. Here we struck a small sand watercourse (quite dry as usual) where me made a short stop for lunch. The last two miles of the morning's trip were through rather more 'fertile' country with some very large desert oaks and mulgas and quite a number of scattered grass trees.
The Gosses Ranges are quite spectacular as there are high stone cliffs completely surrounded by sandy plains. They have the most marvelous and varigated colouring with red predominating. This structure rises straight out of the plain with no other elevation within miles. Here Strehlow and Petering left us to continue into the Gosses while we made about six miles to an old set of stockyards which mark the boundary of the mission station. Here abouts also ended the skeletons. The mission lost at least 4000 head of cattle, all of its many thousands of sheep, all but a few goats and donkeys, and a high proportion of the Arundta tribe in the big drought.16
We believed that we would get good water here but when we dug a soak the water turned out pretty foul and smelt. However as this was the only water we had seen that day we had to make it do. We were carrying an eight gallon drum on the pack camel so we were not seriously inconvenienced. Rain again threatened but once again it fell somewhere else if it fell at all.
The boy was given his ration of flour and tea and sugar and a little jam and we turned in pretty early after baking the evening damper.
Next morning we were up and away pretty early as we always manage to wake about 20 minutes before the sun. We started a very interesting days trip. Soon after leaving the camp we started to cross the stony foothills of the Macdonnells and then following up the bed of a small creek (Rudalls) we negotiated a pass into the heart of the range. The camels were slipping and sliding about on the loose stones.
Macdonnell Range is a term used like The Great Dividing Range. It is composed of a great number of parallel ranges with plains in between and being a full days travel in width.
Rain had evidently fallen here a few days back as the foliage was very luxuriant in spots. We travelled through thick mulga woods which necessitated a continual lookout and much dodging about to avoid being scraped off.
We were still south of the main part of the range, passing during the morning Mount Sonder, Glen Helen mountain, Mount Razorback, Mount Heulin and several other quite large peaks all within a few miles of one another and all in line. Then we crossed mazes of plains and hills some just sand with nothing growing at all and others well grassed with many trees. After about fifteen miles we had a great suprise as we came on a rock pool of beautifully clear fresh water. It not only provided drinking water but a swim, a drink for the camels, washing up water and a subject for Murch to paint. There we made a stay of about two and a half hours before again pushing on.
The slowness of the trip and the fact that we were all coming into pretty hard physical condition but had nothing to do except just sit, led to spirited arguments ranging from birth control to the latest make of car. These we carried on from one camel to another and continued at length for several days. In the course of these arguments, during illustrative digressions, we probably learnt most of what Murch knew and believed about painting, a great deal of Larnach's knowledge of comparative anatomy and the works of Huxley, and also my opinions (based on ignorance) of sport, anatomy and everything else I ever seem to have been interested in. We discussed the workings of my Bell and Howell movie camera, with many novel ideas of the wave theory of light, the implications of Einstien's theory of relativity, the theories of Plank, and whether it was possible to know everything about anything. At times we became, temporarily, bitter enemies over some debate, until something turned up to break the thread, usually the camel calf.
Murch tended to sulk a bit over not getting enough time to paint. Larnach and I had to cajole him at times when he got huffed. We were continually explaining the need to push on to achieve our objectives of collecting and making native contacts and we began to reach a reasonable modus vivendi.
The country now became more rugged but still remained fairly well covered with vegetation. We had been seeing kangaroo tracks at intervals all day long, and flocks of red tailed cockatoos. Rock wallabies began to appear up on the cliffs in numbers. Towards evening the valley began to narrow and we came on some very precipitous rocks showing many peculiar formations. We decided to stop here and let Murch do his stuff in the way of painting.
By now the camels had got quite into the swing of things and were hardening up a good deal. A sore which developed on the back of Larnach's animal a few days before responded well to treatment and has now nearly gone. My camel Snowy is a huge beast although a bit rough to ride has a very placid disposition behind all the noises he manages to think up. He tried on a few stunts at first to see if he was able to get away with it. However, I hadn't talked to Bony Bream and Henke for nothing and he has been taught. Murch however is a gentle man and is now well under the control of his mount. Larnach is tied to my tail and just sits, conserving energy. My mount has two leather saddle bags slung across the front of the saddle each containing fifty pounds of flour. Murch has fifty pounds of sugar and fifty pounds of flour across his. In addition, I have my personal gear (very little), a rifle, a very long barrelled single shot 12 bore of Larnach's with a hell of a kick and tremendous range, a movie camera, one blanket, and a water bag. I also carried a razor, soap, comb, aspirin, potassium permangenate crystals and sundry first aid gear in a chamois bag. I tried not to drink between meal stops but found that I had to in the afternoon, especially if I was going off for fresh meat on foot.
Next morning we again got an early start and were away before six, but we only travelled about ten miles towards a land mark on our course called Haasts Bluff. Most of the way now lay across the edge of the desert plain which carried a little salt bush. But the first part of the trip after passing through a spectacular gorge was through a little fertile valley growing rank grass and many desert orange trees from which we collected quite a feed.
Haasts Bluff stands out as a high precipice with a mountain range leading away to the west of it. A couple of miles from the base we camped beside a creek which had water holes here and there much to the surprise of our boy who thought we would have to dig a soak. We were very glad to get it as the previous nights camp had been without water. At Haasts Bluff we decided to stop to let Murch do a bit of painting for a while so we made a decent camp and had a shave. Since we had left the threat of rain behind us every day brought a dimunition in the number of clouds in the evening. The days were also getting hotter and the nights colder.
There were many footprints of natives on the sand of the creek but so far we had seen no natives although we heard their cooees around us. However, in the evening just as it was getting dark some fine looking natives came striding up the creek bed carrying all their weapons and not wearing a stitch. They were five or six in number all men with two young recently initiated boys. We greeted them and then got the camel boy to tell them to come and camp where we were.
Hezekiel said that they were wild Luritcha who had come in to pander to the mission boy sent out from the station and about a days travel behind us. He had kept us posted as to the progress of the missionboy, though he hardly ever got out of our sight and we saw very few smoke signals.
Just after daybreak while we were finishing breakfast and suffering the early morning flies, the tribe began to arrive. They all came up the creek preceded by the head man with a few fighters. Next, followed the women with the 'baggage' and the children and then the rest of the forces behind. The women had a few stitches of clothing of very little use unless held together. They were carrying wooden pitchis on their heads with skill and grace. The rest were all naked except for one pair of trousers scrounged from somewhere and on this occasion worn with arms through the legs. They seemed to be worn by a different person every day.
They gathered round and stared so I kept them interested with the movie camera while Murch did a few quick sketches. Then we started to trade for weapons using a little flour, tea and sugar for money and in a surprisingly short time we had quite a good collection. Using signs and pigeon English we managed to get on pretty well. Most of this had to be done without Hezekiel who seemed rather nervous and went into his shell.
As the day wore on more natives began to collect round our camp some being of the Nalliae tribe from the north. They were taller, more copper coloured and thinner legged than the Arundta or Loritcha. The Loritcha seemed a good deal blacker than the Arundta. I went off and shot as many rabbits and wallabies as I could and gave most away to the natives to establish good will. Hezekiel obviously disapproved. I began to wonder if something was afoot as so many natives were gathering. The Nallia seemed to have pitchuri and this was being traded to the locals for red ochre, a few of whom got very excited and silly about it. Larnach said that he saw some men with ochre paint and white feathers stuck on with blood while I was off hunting, but they skirted round the camp, he thought some corroboree or ceremony was brewing.
The natives appear quite unconcerned about white people though they watched our every movement. They respect our camp and keep off their dogs.
The children are not at all shy and none of them appear curious. They very rarely play and seem from the tenderest age to perform quite a number of camp duties like getting water etc.
In the afternoon Tetus the missionary turned up and had a yarn with us about future plans, always an opportunist he tried to screw a bit of flour out of us, but went away unrewarded and quite happy, the natives going with him. We wondered if his visit was some sort of watch on us by the mission and felt sure that it was. At least he could have reported that we didn't touch black women, which was apparently their main concern with visitors, though how one could have co-habited with a black woman was beyond my understanding. Both he and Hezekiel seemed put out about all the blacks, not part of their flock perhaps. Titus lost no time in moving on in order to get some distance away. It rather confirmed the corroboree theory, which might have brought the wrath of Albrecht on their heads, if they took part. But we could get nothing out of either of them, though they must have known what was going on.
Towards sunset a party of Nalliae arrived, big mob, about 50. The men were plastered with red ochre and clay and a smelly sort of oil, probably emu fat and had wonderful designs worked on their chests in line or feathers stuck on with blood. these people were the real untouched variety of native and very friendly, one boasted that he could talk English, but it was a rumour. We kept them amused in various ways and managed to persuade them to camp the night, which they did.
We also shot a few more rabbits and gave them to them, and in the evening we organized a sing-song in which we led off with a few and then listened to some of the corroboree songs, the duck song and many possum songs. Some of them posed for pictures and others brought in animals.
The barriers were broken down, by our inharmonious and raucus efforts to give them the idea. Our common repertoire was pitifully limited and off key and ran little beyond one verse of God Save the King and Waltzing Matilda. I wished I had brought my gramaphone and some Bach, Mozart and Schubert songs to watch the natives reactions. However our efforts gave them the idea and reduced them to almost helpless laughter. We heard one of the most fascinating and unforgettable nights entertainments possible. Their corroboree songs or whatever they were, were so old that some of them were sung in a different language. It seemed that some songs were common to all tribes, and they could all join in. Others were purely tribal so that only the tribal groups knew them and the rest just listened. The older language ones were by far the best and had a repetitiive form almost like a sonata or canonical form. These songs were not usually accompanied by action, whilst the rather tedious noise of the local ones were explained by an appropriate dance mimicing animals, war, hunting etc. In many cases the sounds had lost any meaning for the singers, and were either archaic or distorted beyond their own recognition but each song had a meaning and there was no need to tell even the white man what it was.
We heard amongst many others the 'duck flying away' song. It is impossible to describe but it was rather frighteningly effective. Rhythm was paramount and the pitch tended to rise to a crescendo while the pace quickened in most of the verses. Forms were inverted and the character of the black mans voice gave it all something undesirable, at any rate we all knew that the ducks were resting on the water, were surprised, and took off clumsily then flew off and away but returned with a swoop at terrific speed to disappear into freedom again and peace.
When it was over I made it clear to the leader, a man of over 50 (as far as one could tell) that I knew what it was about, by signs, and gestures, flapping elbows, duck noises etc. He was delighted and I presented him with a stick of tobacco and went and woke Hezekiel, after some toing and froing he found a spectator who could talk to the old man then back to Hezekiel, then Hezekiel to me. All this took a long time and there was always a high chance of misunderstanding. In a nutshell I gathered that this song and a few others, was in a very old 'dream time language', that they did not understand the words, but that all the tribes knew the old words and the song. The implications of this are very profound to me and raise many questions. Were the blacks once a uniform people? How long does it take to develop a new language? Why are there so many quite different languages in such a small area? Did all the common laws and customs come from the dreamtime? etc
We made them sing it (the duck song) again and again and raucus, primitive and unpolished as it was I am sure no music ever told a story more vividly or charmingly. Of course once having shown our real interest the blacks were quick to know it and on and on they went into the small hours song after song rhythm after rhythm working themselves up until they were dancing with it in the light of the fire.
After this night I will always respect the blacks as the custodians of a real culture, wherever it came from and however debased it is today. As they left the camp fire they all took a burning stick and walked through the grass back to the lubras, swishing it about their ankles to keep off the devils that come with the dark. During the night I tried hard to get some knowledge of how they managed to call a corroboree and arrive at the right time and how, if at all, they used the stars and moon, but the results were sparse and so unreliable that they are worthless. Hezekiel was bent on sleep and soon left, and my 50 year old could not grasp what I was after.
Next morning we amused them by organizing sports at which they showed little ability. Murch painted a few of their faces and sketched them, which he is very clever at, and some of them brought in animals for Larnach to cure and preserve. We gave the king a medal painted by Murch which seemed to please and honour him. He strutted around vainly and certainly seemed to get much kudos and admiration from those around him. They nearly all went away in a mob to show it off to the larger gathering further off.
In the afternoon we shifted camp again in order to join up with Tetus. The move was a matter of two miles across the plain to another bend of the creek. The Nalliae soon joined up with us and we were surrounded by the full grown men and boys all carrying their tools of war and all quite naked. During the whole trip they were running about throwing their boomerangs and spears at bushes and trees and little birds. The spears were thrown mainly along the ground, whizzing along for over a hundred yards through the porcupine grass whilst the boomerangs were also made to run along the ground although it seems a practice to make the boomerang hit the ground hard in front of them and jump off into a long flight. Throwing sticks also appear to be used in much the same manner as the boomerang. Very few implements were thrown through the air but sometimes the boomerang is thrown flat-wise and makes its whole flight about four feet off the ground for a considerable distance.
At Tetus's camp there were getting on for two hundred blacks, mainly Luricha and Nalliae with a few Pintaby. The water was fair, though dirty and had to be obtained from a soak. In the evening I went out after rabbits but had to walk a long way as the natives had dug out most of the burrows near by. The others employed the evening taking in churingas made of wood from the Nalliae for a little tea, flour and sugar. The evening meal again consisted of damper, (now quite good) rabbit and tea, the rabbit being cooked native way; whole except for the guts on the ashes.
Before starting off next morning the usual casualties began to pour in, mostly minor except for one man with a very nasty looking burst abscess on the angle of the jaw. As he wore a full beard and had followed the native practice of rubbing dirt into the afflicted spot, the job was not nice but I cut away the beard, washed off the dirt with warm water and potassium permanganate and put on a dressing. When we saw him last, the thing was nearly recovered and he hung round for a couple of days in gratitude.
I went across to another camp to inspect a woman whom Hezekiel said was very sick. He came to interpret for 'the great white doctor'. I took a bottle of aspirin and some iodine. They were my total medicines apart from some potassium permanganate. She seemed to be in the last stages of pulmonary T.B. and she knew as well as I did the value of the aspirin I gave her. There was an immediate rush from all the women for the magic aspirin, and I doled out one each to quite a few. One woman with a very large baby at breast, was obviously pregnant. I asked what happened if twins were born, and Hezekiel got into a long discussion. The upshot was that the head man of this group was called in. There was much more talk then Hezekiel said that twins were no good. One always one had its brains knocked out. If a woman had a baby within two years of the last it was nearly always killed, particularly in a drought. There was much acting by the head man to confirm the bashing out of brains on the rocks, accompanied by a fierce sort of laughter. Some of the women covered their faces and seemed to cry and wail. It was a sore subject and one woman in particular, maybe 35 years old, seemed to have had the experience twice and was rather the butt of some of her female relatives, making her very irate, she screamed insults at everyone. On the whole their attitude to death was very matter of fact and ephemeral, and Larnach had no trouble getting skulls. Close relatives went off and brought back skulls of quite recently dead fathers etc for a stick of tobacco. In these parts they were wrapped in bark and put up a tree.
I then went off to the north in the middle of a very hot day taking the gun and rifle, but only two cartridges for the gun. On the slopes I found many traces of rabbits, and tried to put something up from the tussocks and spinifex and bushes. I caught two rabbits by running them down. Although they ran uphill it seemed that I stood the heat better than they did.
The chase led me up the slopes from where I could see the smoke of a large grass fire to the south-east. Quite a few small groups of blacks were scattered about round the fire and in a number of other directions. The natives were deliberately spreading the fire. It was obvious that they were hunting parties using the fire to chase out small animals and larger game, though the smoke and distance hid a view of the results. Around mid-afternoon the fire died down and I could see that many of them were carrying kangaroos, emus and smaller catches. I started back and shot two more rabbits on the way down and saw places where the blacks had been digging out burrows. There was a lot of noise coming from the main blacks camp and we heard bull roarers start up in the late evening. Most of the women and children, making a great noise, started running away from the camp. The noise died away as the sun set. then all of a sudden a great outburst of singing and beating of sticks came from the camp. I went over with Larnach and we could see a crowd of painted figures lined up in the light of many fires and stamping around in a circle. Larnach was keen to go closer but Hezekiel came after us and said we should come back as the bull roarers meant that we should go, as well as the women. I was all for discretion so we went back to our camp and I loaded the gun and the rifle, just in case.
The noise increased as the dancers worked themselves up, but after an hour or two some sort of row started with angry shouts and turmoil interspersed by single voices haranguing. A couple of particularly strident voices were obviously playing a very heated part in all this. It all came to a climax, there was a sudden pause, followed by great shouts, and then we heard laughter once more. The 'music' started up, the fires got brighter and then voices of women and children started to drown out the men. I sneaked over to a safe distance and saw a dance in progress and counted at least five hundred natives at the party. There was a very strong smell of roasting meat even though the wind was blowing from the north. The fires were flaring up with the burning fat. An argument broke out while I was watching and it looked and sounded very fierce for a few minutes. It was enough to make me feel safer back at our camp. I woke several times during the night and heard sounds of quarrels and much belligerence. Perhaps Pitchuri was responsible for this behaviour. The site of the corroboree seemed almost completely deserted by the time it was light enough too see clearly. One party came straight past us along the creek bed as though we were not there. Hezekiel was away until quite late, the camels having scattered more widely than usual.
We decided to make a move, so loaded the camels and set off along the course of the creek bed to the South on a very hot day indeed. By mid morning it got too hot in the creek bed, so we cut across a stony plain veering south-west, the heat haze and shimmer made it impossible to see more than a hundred yards or so. Small stones would sometimes look like overhanging cliffs and visa-versa. We were silent for once, just trying to endure. I felt an utterly insignificant pin-head in an infinity of red hot space, a sensation I shall never forget. The vortex of infinity. I lost track of time, direction and individuality. I was nothing, until suddenly a large rock and a big tree with the sun directly overhead broke into the spatial disorientation.
We unloaded and had lunch in the shade. We treated ourselves to a rare tin of peaches for lunch, but Murch had a sudden tantrum, refused nourishment and went off among the rocks to paint. He eventually came back and was glad to find we had kept his share. I passed the time by mixing a damper on the shovel and found that a very small fire was quite enough to produce an excellent loaf. A breeze got up from the west, very hot, and the air cleared enough to be able to see quite a distance, although the refraction of hot air still produced illusions and some dust blew up.
We lunched at a water hole where we attained a swim and in the afternoon and pushed on for about nine miles to a dry creek where we spent the night about a mile ahead of the tribe coming on. Here I again got a few rabbits to lessen the strain on the food supply and to keep Hezekiel happy.
Shortly after we set off again we came to a rock standing alone, with an absolutely flat top and about 5 feet high. The flat top was covered with round stones, obviously placed there. Hezekiel said that it was sacred to the honey-ant totem and that the stones hid the forbidden markings on its top. He was very uneasy about stumbling across it and would not approach. I would have been very interested in the drawings, but thought it wiser not to run the risk of upsetting the local tribe. They would have been certain to know if any of the stones were moved, and the camel tracks spoke for themselves. We also thought that the fact that we had been there and not interfered, would do us no harm and would make relations easier.
A few minutes later having crossed a stoney ridge, we came on a small plain of whiter sand and to our great surprise, on a party including the mission boy, a small flock of goats travelling with him and a mixed group of natives. He now said that he was going to mount Liebig and we joined up for a time with his party, but travelling faster, soon left them behind and followed a track that went west. We passed scattered groups of natives making in the same direction. We made an early camp on the bed of a creek, where a soak produced enough water of an indifferent but acceptable kind. Towards evening the mission boys party arrived and camped a few hundred yards away. His groups now contained about 200. In the evening I went after rabbits, but had to walk a long way, as the natives had dug put the warrens nearby. The others employed the evening taking in churingas made of wood from a little group of Nallia for a little flour and sugar. The evening meal consisted of rabbit cooked native style in its fur, damper and tea.
As Tetus was travelling with a small flock of goats we did not get very far that morning and we gave him a lift on one of the camels as a change from donkey riding.
The next day we made a very long mornings trip mainly through uninteresting mulga woods, catching up with the natives after about ten miles. While passing them it was interesting to see the women going along carrying all the family goods, often in a pitchi on their heads, with a baby on the hip and both hands full of their husbands spare hunting weapons. They travel like this all day, swinging the pitchi round on their head to pass between trees and straightening it up again without touching it with their hands.
During the morning we passed the last bit of Haasts Bluff and crossed an undulating stone plane towards an isolated group of mountains which never seemed to get any closer for hours and hours. However, we eventually came to the base of it (Muneruka) at about 2 p.m. and camped in a rocky watercourse coming down from a split in the ranges.
This ended the days trip and we spent the afternoon exploring the nearby hills from the tops of which a wonderful view of the surrounding country could be had. The plain stretched away to merge into the horizon beyond which the tops of mountains appeared to be floating in mid-air. Range after range of the Macdonnells could be seen to the north and south mostly of rock. It was very hard to judge distance, height or perspective here as the atmospheric conditions varied so much. That evening the air seemed clear, no dust and we felt sure that we could identify Central Mount Stuart, and even Ayres Rock and the Olgas to the south-south west. There seemed no doubt that the map, such as it was, was very inaccurate and Mt Liebig in particular, seemed to be quite a few miles further north of its marking on our map. We were warned of things like this before we started. As the light changed the proportions of the hills, ranges and plains changed by the minute. It is quite incredible how huge a row of hills can seem in the evening as compared to a row of pebbles in the morning light. I think that very few whites had ever been in these parts and those that had been, often made their maps in ignorance of the unreliability of their visual perceptions. the bearings were reliable enough but the dimensions were in the eye of the beholder.
We got an early start on the last day's travel to Mount Liebig, The jaw abscess chap walked along with us, emerging quietly from behind a rock as we started off. His name was quite beyond my tongue or phonetics and although he made no demands I thought that he might have expected food. We passed along a sandy creek up a valley between stone mountains and passed a characteristic rocky pinnacle called Blanche's Towers and then crossed stoney ridge after stoney ridge up the rapidly decreasing valley now about three miles wide. We gradually gained height on the scree of the northern spur, as the going to the south became too rough for the camels and was wooded. I took a snap of Murch and the valley here. It was very hot again and Hezekiel stopped and pointed out a crack in the face of the southern spur, about a mile across the narrowing valley. He said that that was where there was the best water anywhere. We left the camels with him and scrambled across with the water bags to find a most unexpected feature. The narrow crack widened out after a few yards into a rounded chamber about ten feet in diameter. In the middle was a rock pool with a few stalegtites and stalegmites of a dull colour both in and around the pool. The air was quite cool and so was the perfectly clear fresh water. A steady drip was coming down from hundreds of feet above, where the roof narrowed onto a crack. There were no signs of native drawings, or any presence in this remarkable place. We enjoyed a sort of shower but soon started to shiver in the cold. The contrast of the heat outside was shocking and our wet clothes dried almost instantly.
I walked half a mile to the west, and Larnach about the same to the east, looking for native drawings on the cliffs but without success. When we got back to the camels I asked Hezekiel about this and he put on his evasive mood. So I persisted and he showed the typical signs of the clash between missionary doctrines and his native instincts, but he disclosed that there was a legend of a Keditcha man in the dream time long ago, centered on the rock pool. Black men only went there if they were very thirsty and had company. They always left quickly.
Hezekiel was very uncomfortable when two superstitions clashed. I went to much trouble to explain that I was not a god-man and certainly would not tell the mission people about any back sliding. He seemed relieved and happy to explain about Keditcha men and the long distances they could cover to bring trouble to an enemy, without leaving any tracks because they wore Keditcha boots made of emu feathers that left no trace. This probably explained why he and Titus were so evasive about the corroboree and went to such obvious trouble to avoid getting involved. I suspected that there was a considerable confusion in the aboriginal mind between the Holy Ghost and the Keditcha man. I tried with uncertain success to convince him that I felt the same confusion about the Holy Ghost but was prepared to treat the Keditcha man with proper respect.
Mt. Liebig loomed up closer and closer until crossing a pass over one range we came in full view of its south side and made camp at a big waterhole (75 yards long and 30 feet wide) about three miles from its base. We camped on the sandy bed of Emu Creek about a hundred yards from the water hole, under the sparse shade of a young gum tree.
During one days trip when about five miles behind the tribe we passed an old woman limping along on her own, who, according to our guide, might or might not make the next camp. She was stumbling along with the use of a long stick she held half way up, she was crying and bewailing but would accept nothing, not even water. She was emaciated, half out of her mind and Hezekiel advocated leaving her alone. He looked on it as a natural way for her to go. I suppose it is, but the indifference of the tribe seemed hard. It emphasized how narrow the margin of survival was for the blacks and how they could not afford to waste efforts to ward off the inevitable. It was obviously harder for the women as one saw lots and lots of girls and young women, and lots of old women, but there seemed to be few in between. Premature age seemed to be universal in these tribes, whereas the men seemed to wear much better. They all had many keloid-like scars, particularly the men. Many of these were deliberate and ran to quite extensive patterns across the chests and down the upper arms. They were produced by cuts kept open by clay or dirt perhaps as part of the initiation process, but varying a lot in extent and pattern. The rest were due mainly to burns. In the bitterly cold winter they slept between fires to survive, and rolled into them or were burned by ashes or coals when a sudden wind came up. The average life must have been very short.
The native camp at Mount Liebig was about fifty yards from us consisting mainly of a smallish Pintaby tribe. There seemed about equal numbers of man and women and innumerable children. They had a curious genetic trait in that many of the women had duplicate nipples on one or both breasts and mothers with this frequently had daughters with some variation. I never saw a man or boy with it, so it seems to be sex linked.
In the afternoon I went out a few miles along the hills to the east of Emu Creek. I found the going terribly rough in the porcupine grass and stones and did not see a wallaby or a kangaroo. There are no rabbits out here, so all fresh meat has to be wallaby, euro or emu.
Early the next morning I went out again a bit further leaving the artist painting and Larnach waiting for the natives to bring in his animals. This time I had better luck and managed to get a couple of flying shots at wallabies which both came off. One of them had a joey in the pouch. It went into pickle after being drawn by Murch. I spent the rest of the day swimming in the hole and making damper and wallaby tail stew with onions and raisons, dried fruit and biscuits. Very rich and very good. The natives brought in many lizards and churingas of wood during the day and we took some photos of the family life. Larnach and Murch did a good trade in churingas of stone, a slate like stone, a skull and some digging sticks. All day groups of the local natives went off on hunting parties, yam digging etc. I found it almost impossible to make an accurate estimate of their total numbers.
In the evening I left Murch to stir the stew of wallaby tails and went with a party of about thirty women and children and watched them digging yams on a sandy patch south west of the creek. I bought a few back to to add to the stew. The onions, raisins, dried fruit and broken biscuits seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to soften the meat. In the end we dined rather late but found the result very good. Hezekiel however was not impressed and had a wallaby all to himself. As far as I could see he ate it half raw. He had scoffed the lot by morning.
Friday Today, I again had an unsuccessful journey after wallabies as too many natives were about. So far the natives have not shot or killed any meat at all but there was a stir among them this evening as Tetus brought in a couple of emus for them. He had a gun of which he was very proud.
Saturday Today I went out in another direction (to the south) after meat and after walking about 12 miles in a semi-circle I collected one wallaby which again relieved the position.
Today Larnach got a skull and a couple of emu heads while the natives brought in a euro. With all this exercise over the country in the heat and with plenty of swimming and good tucker I am getting into first class condition now and certainly don't notice the heat at all either in discomfort or water intake.
Sunday Another trip after meat met with great success as about four miles out I got a long shot at an old man euro who kindly died of loss of blood from the lungs. I had gone due south in nondescript country and found a cave in a small outcrop about a hundred yards from a stony watercourse winding up a low hill. The cave was very deep and very dark and there was a lot of possum and wallaby dung about. I could see very little inside but I could hear some form of life scuffling about at the back of the cave. I was about to try a blind shot from the mouth of the cave when I saw two large euros coming slowly up the creek bed. He was too heavy for me to lift, so I went back to get Murch to help me skin and dismember him and carry him back. He was very reluctant and I had to lie through my teeth about the distance involved. I pointed out the state of our larder and the necessity to keep Hezekiel happy and the natives co-operative by our largesse. I had remembered to carry a water bag for him but by the time we had got half way there he was lagging. He complained of sore feet and was very difficult. When we were about a mile away from the carcass he jacked up. I left him with the water bag, intending to collect as much as I could manage and pick him up on the way back.
I was half way through skinning and dismembering when he turned up apologetic and even interested in the internal anatomy of the animal. He manfully shouldered a load of meat and set off while I bundled up as much of the rest as I thought I could manage. Even with half each in a bag he was a big weight to carry four miles over rocky country Murch made a surprisingly good pace, like a horse going home, and we arrived back together very amicable. Larnach was back from Titus' camp with more specimens. He took over the butchering and neatly dissected the corpse and then distributed the large surplus to our needs to Hezekiel and to the native camp where they showed great pleasure. Meanwhile, Murch and I wallowed in the water and I saw that his feet were rather badly blistered. I prescribed potassium permanganate, in the army style, and my technique of two pairs of socks at all times, which stood me in good stead. In the evening we gorged ourselves on meat roast and in a stew.
The day was successful in other directions as well, as the natives brought in dingo skulls, bilbees, kangaroo rats and all sorts of lizards. The geckos or 'desert dragons' are very beautiful, can change colour like a chameleon, absorb water through their skins like blotting paper and are quite harmless. I was fascinated by them and thought them the nicest things in this country.
The WalkAs we now had a good reserve of meat I set off for a prominent hill to the south, on foot. Something about it caught my eye when we were favoured by the panoramic view and I had seen it again from a ridge a couple of days before. I doubted if I could make it as, at my best guess, it was about forty miles away and I knew water would be a problem. I decided to walk as much as possible at night and took a full water bag, a rifle and one blanket, rolled as a swag. I had shot off all my film for the camera round the native camp and it was too heavy to carry anyway. I knew that there would be enough moon and that I could steer by Pavo. The others were all against it, but I felt that it was something I had to do, largely because I was half scared and had had it on my mind for days, with a growing fascination. It was decided that I had to be back by Thursday mid-day at the latest. I started off about five o'clock, having baked a large damper, drunk all I could at the waterhole and filled a water bag to the last drop. I hung the water bag to the swag and eventually reached the spot where I had shot the euro. The sun was getting low. From the top of the ridge the hill I wanted to reach was visible, but looked further away than I had thought. I walked until midnight, finding the water bag very difficult to tote and tried many different ways until I slung it over my back high up under the swag. There was plenty of light although cloud passed over the moon now and then (about a quarter old moon). I heard a dingo or two and at about midnight had a large cup of tea and a slice of damper when I came to a small clump of mulga trees and firewood. The going was quite good as the country flattened out. I passed a small claypan. It was quite dry with salt shining very white from a long way off. The plain seemed to be going slightly downhill although it looked quite flat. I decided to push on until the moon set and went across the same sort of country until about 4 a.m. All I saw was a large dark snake and a few shapes that looked like kangaroos crossing in front of me. The level stated to rise gradually and after a few miles I came to a rocky ridge and found a soft place on the west side of an outcrop on the top and went to sleep. I hoped that I would sleep on in the shade of it when the sun came up but I woke before dawn as usual. When the light got strong enough for me to see my objective quite clearly, it did not look much closer. I could see a number of big red kangaroos on a mulga covered sandy plain ahead. I decided to go on a bit towards the trees where there would be firewood. I had just started when I nearly stepped on an echidna. It was not a big one, but with damper and a big mug of tea, it made a wonderful and ample breakfast. I reckoned that I had made twenty or more miles. The day was getting hot and the flies numerous. My tree gave me some shade so I arranged the fly veil and dozed at intervals well into the afternoon. Then I had another mug of tea with the remains of the echidna and a handfull of dates and damper. There were the inevitable eagles circling around and lots of crows and reptile tracks amongst the trees. I waited a while and then went on slowly with the plain gradually rising until the trees thinned out and a broad sand hill ended at a height where I was glad to see my hill again and know that I was right on course. this time it looked definitely closer. There were a few more sandy ridges and then a desolate looking flat pain with scattered claypans especially to the west. The plain looked about ten miles across in the heat shimmer and seemed to be bordered by what looked like trees on a ridge at the far side. There were also a lot of red kangaroos and a few emus amongst them. I went on at a faster stride and before long came to a clay pan with water in it, very salty, but lots of water insects and frogs, and a patch of sparce reeds. About an hour and a half later I came to a much bigger one, also very salty but much the same as the first, and surrounded by kangaroo and emu tracks. Just as the sun was setting I saw another to the west and found to my joy that the water was relatively fresh and drinkable. I filled the still pretty full water bag again and debated whether or not to stop and shoot a small kangaroo, but decided to push on until I came to some firewood. I seemed to be climbing gradually again and thought that I could see a darker band ahead. In a surprisingly short time I found quite a stand of quite big casuarinas and an enormous number of cockatoos, parrots, corellas and birds of all sorts. There was much more stone, some grass and parakeelya and I thought I could smell honey. I stopped, lit a good fire and ate some of the euro meat I had brought with me, with rice and tea. I slept a while after, but felt restless and decided to make use of the moon light while it lasted and started to climb quite a steep ridge, then down the other side and up a longer and steeper one. Then I realized that I was in a garden where heavy rain must have fallen during a storm. The perfume and luxuriance was incredible. It became hard to push through some patches or to see the ground and mosquitoes appeared in great numbers. As the moon got low I decided to stop. The mosquitoes were bad but I arranged the blanket over my head and neck and slept very soundly. I woke with a jerk to find the sun nearly up, and tremendous noises from the birds. there were several smallish birds with a lovely song, black and white, some sort of butcher bird I think. They seemed to be able to imitate other birds as well. There were lots of brightly coloured parrots big and flowers beyond the imagination. Pink, white and blue ones in great drifts, some clumps of Sturt's desert pea, brown and gold, everlastings, daisy types so many in fact that my limited knowledge and almost disbelief was soon distracted by the insects: butterflies and moths, beetles and wild bees amongst many other creepy crawlies. I thought of collecting samples but time pressed and I was getting worried about the short time I had left, so pushed on up the hill to the crest, to find that the other side ran downward for about a mile or two to the foot of the hill I had been aiming for and the jungle was not nearly so heavy though still pretty lush. I could not believe my luck and had to jump about and yell and recite poetry aloud like a lunatic. I lit a fire, ate and found that my billy had a small drip at the base. I had a breakfast of dried fruit soaked in water, cold rice from the day before and tea with one slice of damper. I could see that if I made for the eastern edge of my hill that there would be an easy climb to the more or less flat top. The area where the rain had fallen was mostly to the west and the country to the east looked quite dry with a mixture of rock and sand. I went straight down to the slope of the base of the cliffs, which looked quite high from close up and guessed about 12-1500ft high. The rock was mostly a pink and yellow mixture of a sort of sandstone and once again I was ashamed of my ignorance of geology, which is even greater than my botanical ignorance. I knew more of the Antarctic through reading Edgeworth David than I did of these parts. I started to walk to the east along the base of the cliff that came right down to the valley level and found a pool of quite fresh water about 50ft long against the rock. It tasted quite flat after all the salty water we had been drinking for so long, so I just added it to the water in my bag, which was still 3/4 full. I had a good wash, washed my shirt and trousers and put them on wet for the climb. The sun was getting hot so I skirted along to the slope on the eastern edge, and found that a lot of the hollows in the rock were half full of water. I shot a small wallaby just before starting the climb and put him in a shady crack to collect when I came back. The climb only took about an hour. I decided not to stop and look at the view until I got to the top. The rain had obviously fallen on the mount as there were pools in every possible trap in the rocks and I could see places where running water had scoured the sand and grit. When I got to the top, which was almost level, I found that the surface of the mainly stone area was smooth and rounded where it was exposed There were sandy spots and some grass and stunted bushes and mulga trees growing in little valleys and depressions all over the top. I looked to the south and was rewarded at once by a clear view of the tops of what could hardly be anything else but the Olgas on the far distant horizon, though I could not be certain that Ayers rock was visible to the east of it. The visibility was extremely good, the sun still low in the east but a ridge in the middle distance intervened just about where Ayers rock should have been. There was no doubt that some terrible country lay between me and the Olgas (if they really were the Olgas) But I was looking at a wished for target more than a hundred miles away. I reckoned that I had walked over 45 miles from our camp, more likely 50 and what I was looking at was at least three times further away. I resolved that one day I would reach the Olgas, climb one and look this way and know if I was right. I could see mount Liebig quite clearly to the north-north-east and the salt plain that I had crossed. To the east-north-east I could also see the Macdonnell peaks.
The jungle patch I had come through extended 10-15 miles to the west and then stopped like a knife cut. There was no sign of such rain to the east or south. In fact the south side of this hill looked much drier than the way I came up. I spent about an hour on the top and then started to feel the need to push back as fast as I could. I even thought of staying longer and exploring more, but only for a wistful moment. I started the descent rather hurriedly and slipped and cut my right knee. No great harm but a sudden return to sanity and the need for prudence and care.
At the bottom I found my wallaby, opened it up and cleaned it and washed off the mess in a nearby pool. I decided that it would be quicker to go slightly east of my outward course by skirting the end of the 'jungle' area and set off straight up the hill I had come down, further west. About half way up I found the wallaby a bit cumbersome and heavy, so I rather roughly, cut off the tail, and the four limbs, and decided to take along only the fore-limbs. As I stood up I saw a party of natives, two men, three women and three or four children about 300 yards away to the east. They were watching me, so I picked up the carcass and hind legs and held them up so that they could see, put them down on a rock and went off straight up the hill, after waving to them. When I looked back from the top one of the men had collected the meat and was starting back to the others, who stayed where they were. I waved and shouted from the top and thought I heard one of the women cooee back. What they thought I have no idea, but I hadn't time nor the wish to contact them. The two men were carrying spears, I had no idea of their language or tribe. I hope they enjoyed the meat and that we parted friends. I saw no more of them, as the ridge hid them from then on. I soon dropped into a pleasant rhythm of walking and reeled off mile after mile until I was well out on the dry plain past the trees and the rain area. The going was good and though it was very hot my mind was so occupied with the great luck of finding a clay pan with drinkable water, then the 'garden', then reaching the objective, finding fresh water, perhaps seeing the Olgas and then the natives that I hardly noticed either the heat or anything but my line of direction. I felt elated and went over and over the image of the line on the horizon that might have been broken by the Olgas, but a nagging doubt persisted. I wondered how to convince the others about the rain storm area. I kicked myself for not collecting a butterfly or two, picking up some beatles and even a few flowers, though they would have been well withered by the time I got back. I began to feel hungry, but it was some time before I saw a few sparse trees slightly further to the east than I wanted. I stopped and lit a fire and had a huge meal of one of the fore-legs of the wallaby, a lump of damper, the last of the dates, and tea with lots of sugar.
After moving off slowly and rather sluggishly I began to get severe colic pains that culminated in a large bowel action. The first for three days, It almost immediately made me feel strong again and I covered the rest of the plain and well into the ridges beyond without stopping, feeling almost hypnotized by the rhythm of movement. The sun was setting when I looked back again to my hill which looked a long way off again. I went on while any light lasted, now finding that it took a bit of will power to push myself along. I stopped in bushy country, lit a fire and had another big meal of wallaby, nearly all the remaining damper, and dried fruit well soaked in the billy, which leaked no worse, than before. There was no moon, so I waited about half an hour, but got impatient and started off rather slowly, because every muscle seemed stiff and the going over the ridges rougher, though it seemed a better surface than on the way out. I had made quite a distance before the moon came up, and though it was less than a half moon it gave all the light one needed. I started to need rests and took an hourly break, putting my feet up in the best S.U.R*. style and wished that I had the sense to do it earlier on. The rest of the walk was a battle and seem to go on forever. Once I went sound asleep on the hourly break, but judging by the moon not for very long. Soon after I came to what I thought was the spot where I shot the euro, which meant only four miles to go, but I must have been wrong because I had to stop twice before finding the real spot again. I dragged over the last four miles, even emptying the waterbag to lighten the load (except for the last half pint). It must have been about 2a.m. when I came to Emu Creek and passed the waterhole to our camp. I did not wake the others and just had the energy left to take my boots off before letting go. *Sydney University Regiment. Thursday: I woke that morning with the sun in my eyes and found the others just waking too and very surprised and relieved to see me. I pointed out that they needed me as an alarm clock and they started where they had left off about my folly in going off. I agreed wholeheartedly, apologized and agreed that they were right all along, but made the price of my agreement a promise not to tell the Prof. when we got back. I could see that they were right and that I was obsessed with an idea.
They had one very good idea while I was away and that was to cut up the euro meat into very thin slices and dry them on a rock in the sun. This preserved the meat and made it tender and taste very good.I had some for breakfast. The whole day went in my account of the journey, in and out of the waterhole. The main topic was my description of the lush area which Larnach thought was due to a single event. he said he had heard of the amazing speed with which this sort of thing can happen. How life cycles are speeded up enormously for frogs insects and even flowers and then the resulting seeds and products lie dormant, get blown about by winds over a wide area and then spring into mad activity when the next rare wet comes along. he gave many examples including the little frogs who go rapidly through their cycle and as it dries up, store water in bladders and hibernate in the sides of the pool deep in the earth. The natives dig for them in dry times and get water from the bladders to drink. Kurt Johannson had already told me about this and dug a few out in the Krichauffs. The water was quite good.
I described the natives I had seen to Hezekiel and he said they could have been Pind-dgin-djara but could have been Arundta. No-one thought that I could have seen the Olgas.
During the day Murch did a sketch of me sitting naked on a rock by the waterhole in an unconcious pose, like Rodin's thinker, which he gave me.*
Larnach was doing great business with his collecting, and I took part in helping to raise interest in his dearest ambition: to collect the Noctoryctes or blind marsupial mole, of which he said there was only one in the British Museum. To get one would have been a great and profitable triumph. So far no luck, so the price of * Probably lost in the fire with the movies see previous footnote (28th Jan) tobacco was going up. I thought that the mole was to Larnach what Mt Olga was to me and dearly wanted him to get one. He wanted to hang on here but we agreed that we had to leave on Monday. he planned to stay in central Australia either at the mission or in the area because the mole was well known to the natives.
Saturday: I had a leisurely trip on foot to Mount Liebig and climbed easily to the top. It was a dry, hot, windy day and the dust stopped any view when I got there. The blowing sand made the back of my hands and face quite sore.
Sunday: Another expedition for fresh meat resulted in two large wallabies. Hezekiel was delighted. Larnach and I spent some time working out the loads for the camels. It was not so much weight now but bulk. Nearly all the black twist tobacco was gone except for Hezekiel's ration. Larnach had done pretty well here especially for skulls and bones. We had some surplus flour but very little trading tea and sugar. I took a walk over some rough country to the north-west and shot another wallaby so we had fresh meat for the journey back.
Monday: This was our last day here and as the meat question was solved I spent the day in the water hole, cleaning up the camp and cooking. It was another nasty windy dusty day. Our relations with the natives here had been ideal. We kept away from their camp and they from ours but the traffic around the waterhole was constant.
With regard to swimming, the morals of the place are quite high class. One swims and walks about without anything on, and so does every man, woman and child. No-one takes the slightest notice. Even the mission people regard nakedness as just a lack of clothes. Of course when I went off hunting I wore a shirt and trousers etc. for protection against prickly grasses, snakes, sun and sandpapering by sand storms.
We got some good photos of the natives today and yet another skull and a few churingas, water carriers, death bones and such like.
Tuesday: We got an early start in the morning and spent the whole day on the camels after being farewelled by all the natives. In all we covered two days of our outwards trip in the one day and arrived after sunset at an old dried up creek. Murch's camel became very fractous during the day and did a couple of bolts but settled down a lot after she got tired. We saw many euros and wallabies during the day and towards evening saw a couple of big emus quite close.
Wednesday:* This morning I got up early and put the billy on and then took the gun out just as it was getting light. There were many tracks of euros and emus in the sand and quite a number of blacks tracks round the rabbit warrens. There was also a large dingo who stopped and stared for a long moment before melting into the background. As I was in a hurry I only troubled to shoot one rabbit for Hezekiel and then hurried back for breakfast. As the camels had wondered a bit in the night we didn't get off until about 7.30 a.m. We arrived fairly early at the Haasts Bluff waterhole. Here we had a swim and Murch took the gun out without success. One of our many discussions and arguments started about Medelism this time but we had to cut it short to get a start on.
This time we got the camels more into the swing of things although Murch kept dreaming and dropping a long way back. Once when he was trying to catch up she broke into a gallop and strewed a lot of gear over the plain. However, we arrived at the gorge about sunset, giving just enough light for me to get a couple of rabbits for our tea. The desert oranges in the valley had become over-ripe during this time and we found them unfit for human consumption.
Just as we were coming through the gorge we put up a couple of rock wallabies but I could not Hushta slow old Snowy in time to get a shot. After another couple of hundred yards we came up to a euro on the rocks about twenty yards off but by the time I had untied the gun he was off as well. The argument at this camp centered around the future evolution of man whether man could advance in the animal scale or not. This soon got bogged down in * (Also following page) In the pencil manuscript Tuesday has been crossed out and replaced by Wednesday, Wednesday by Thursday and Thursday by Friday. philosophical by-ways. We did end up agreeing that democracy had the fundamental defect of reducing everything to the lowest possible denomenator because the stupid and ignorant always outnumbered the gifted and informed. No answer to this came up that was half as good as the one Plato came up with long ago. We also agreed that all religions and their dogmas were more likely to reverse evolution that to promote it.
Thursday:* Today we got a very early start and reached the rock hole about eleven a.m. Murch and I filled our water bags but we left the drum two thirds full and Larnach did not fill his bag as we expected water further on.
On the way to the rock hole I counted eighteen wallabies on the rocks but we saw no other game. The water in the pool itself had sunk about four feet in the week we were away purely by evaporation and wild animals drinking. All the stock round here were killed by the big drought.
Pushing on again for half a dozen miles we had lunch at a dry waterhole without much shade to speak of. Another long stretch in the afternoon brought us out of the Macdonnells to arrive down close to the Gosses just before sunset. During the day we put up an amazing number of euros but owing to the lack of time to skin one I didn't try a shot. However, in the evening three more rabbits kept us in fresh meat for the day. We intended to get water here but found the waterhole dry and had to dig very deep to get a soak which even then only made about half a billy full an hour.
A hot dry westerly wind continued and I found that my hands and face were quite sore from the blowing sand. It struck me that we looked like a party of Bedouins as we had all wrapped rags round exposed parts by instinct.
Friday:* Since Murch wanted to do a painting of the Gosses we stayed until about half past nine believing from what the camel boy had said that it was only about sixteen miles to the Finke Gorge. As the soak was so slow we could not fill the waterbags and pushed off without water.
We had a good morning's trip across the plains, skirting the foothills of the Macdonnells. We began to get quite a number of red kangaroos which never came within our range. After a dry lunch we pushed on again into a devil of a wind which has been getting steadily dryer and dustier for the last week.
Towards sunset there was no sign of any water and the gorge still seemed a long way off. When questioned, Hezekiel said we would make the gorge that night, and we did too. Luckily there was a full moon which came up before we sighted the Finke river. Still we had to follow it up for several miles, riding mostly on the white sand in the moonlight, in absolute silence except for the swish of the camels feet in the dry sand and the rattle of the hobbles and gear. This was easily the best way of seeing the gorge for the first time, as the hills were most impressive and very rugged and scoured out.
Up the gorge both the fresh water springs were dried out and we had to go right up to the rock hole in the middle of the Glen Helen Gorge itself. The water here was fairly salty, but one could keep it down if tea was not put in it when you did put tea in it, it tasted awful. The wind and getting near home had upset the camels all day. Murch's camel had to be swapped for Hezekiel's after reducing Murch to desperation and tears and time really got away. The pack camel also broke away twice and had to be repacked. It was too dark to see much of the rock hole but we could hear lots of duck quacking about. The camels were so tired that they hardly raised a murmer while we unloaded them and we were pretty dry and tired too. I made a couple of dampers and we had a real good tea on the strength of our good progress. Evidently the camel boy had meant twenty six miles and not sixteen as he had said ten and then more, meaning ten and then more than ten after that. Numbers are very unreliable with all blacks. It is far safer to deal in days rather than hours and miles. Once we asked Hezekiel how long to the next water. He said, "Two-three days boss." After three days we asked again, "Two-three days boss." Two hours later we arrived at the water. He meant two or three days since we last asked and thought our confusion rather funny.
Saturday: It was just light enough to see when I got up this morning and the waterhole was wholly covered with duck. However we had plenty of meat and I was brought up not to shoot sitting birds, so I had a swim instead, the duck staying on the water until I actually got in. The rock pool is a huge affair, about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. It is over twenty feet deep along almost the whole of one side and is enclosed on each side by high perpendicular strata cliffs. I climbed up the west side and saw a building about a quarter to half a mile from the northern opening of the gap which is the head quarters of the Glen Helen Station owned by an old man of the name Ragart. We did not see him but several of his black stock boys came across and from one we got a skull in good condition and an almost complete set of bones. We spent the day here in and out of the pool and Murch did a couple of paintings of the gorge and one of Mt Sonder in the distance. We sounded the depth of the pool very carefully below some rocks which made a natural diving tower and soon had all the natives in the district cheering us on at the diving. I was not the star performer being hardly able to swim. We had dug a soak the night before in the sand near the hole which came through just as bad as the rock hole water. However, this morning it had improved a little, but the addition of tea made it foul, rather than clearing it up.
Sunday: Today, the last day of the trip was hot as hell, with the wind blowing at gale force sometimes making one as dry as a bone. We were late in starting as the camels had gone off a long way during the interval, but we eventually got a start about 8 a.m. and backtracked through the gorge along our own tracks for a couple of miles. In the daytime the sand had a dirty look rather than white as it seemed at night and a lot of the impressive features of the hills was lost.
Leaving the white gums of the Finke we cut across country towards Mt. Hermannsburg now showing up plainly in the Krichauff Ranges. We were back into Mulga country crossing many small tributaries of the Finke running down from the adjacent foothills of the Macdonnells. Soon striking an old road. We covered about 18 miles before stopping for a quick lunch under a clump of desert oaks.
Being now on the main part of the mission station we saw about 15 head of cattle in the pink of condition and 19 brumbies of a rather heavy and ugly stamp. They galloped off through the mulga as soon as they saw us. Coming off the foothills onto the sand we were about a mile from the mission before we saw it as it is situated in a bit of a hollow. It was quite a shock to see a group of white houses again, but the place looked deserted, as church was on. We unloaded the camels for the last time and sorted out our personal gear and trophies, leaving the boy to unsaddle. The mission seemed a very unpleasant spot after the open country, as the sand is lighter and churned up by many feet so that there was a regular dust storm going on all the rest of the day and from the look of things they had had the same conditions for the last fortnight ever since the wind started. Larnach immediately chuffed off to borrow a smoke, as we ran out of tobacco almost a fortnight ago, but I did not even notice the lack of it. The main reason being that I found smoking made one drink more and too much water in the daytime seemed to make one weak.
Monday: Today is the last day of the experiments on the blacks and the Pintaby and the Nalliae are still here. I took over the reading of the instruments again. The whole day was a hell of a day with thick dust much worse than the willy willies we met on the trip. Murch and Maurice have been out in the Krichauffs every night after wallabies but have had no luck so far. This morning Kurt and I went out a couple of miles along the Finke with rifles. I got one duck and Kurt a rabbit and we met the hunters coming home empty handed. However one of the blacks came in a little while later with a euro.
I have just woken up to the fact that the chatter amongst the boys and girls when one walks past is a repetition mostly of ones name bestowed by the natives shortly after our arrival. Murch is Etanga meaning some form of lizard, Davies is Chornba or prenty, Maurice something meaning big eyes as he wears glasses, Barry is Indakuma or white ant, Larnach is Ratya or kangaroo rat and I am Cupailja* another form of lizard. Murch got his name because he once went to sleep in the sun and Davies because of his head movements. The rest are rather hard to get at even from the girls but they explained Cupailja as small and quick. Wardlaw was called frog before he went back which seems the most suitable of the lot. It is rather strange to be addressed by the more civilized ones as Mr Cupailja.
I was quite sure that much of the fun was associated with the very downright an earthy implications of our tribal relationships which sprang from this identification. It was just as well that we didn't understand too much of it, but I was clearly introduced to the wizened up old hag who was my tribal mother, midst much laughter from all of us and hysterical laughter from her.
Tuesday: It has been raining in isolated showers all around the *In later versions FJAP wrote this as Catavelia mission and early in the night we got a small storm of about twenty two points which hunted me inside as I was sleeping on the sand outside in the cool.
Today we started to pack up the gear and dismantle the balance and spent the rest of the day busy packing.
Murch and I were subjects for a urea concentration test but after all the preliminaries the dust storm got up again making things impossible.
Wednesday: Our test, which was some sort of control, was done early this morning to dodge the dust, but it did not start today following a couple of points last night. Miller and a station owner called Macnamara have come back. Macnamara is the owner of a station called Bosun's Hole 16 miles south of the Gosses. We travelled across his property during the trip. He gave me a couple of photos of the man up on the murder charge, taken on his place a year or so ago and was very interested to hear the state of the water holes out Mt. Liebig way, telling us that he knew of only two whitemen who had gone out by that route before. One was Cramer and the other Albrecht.
I told Macnamara privately about the rain area south of Mt. Liebig and my walk. He spent some time lecturing me about the folly of it, but also said that he had seen such areas once or twice himself and reckoned one good storm could do it. He said that it was too far out for him to use it even temporarily for his cattle and too risky, as they might get stranded. He thought the natives were not in Arundta territory and must be others. He had never been out that far himself as it was believed to be useless country.
Thursday: Murch and Maurice and Davies pushed off today in Mr Johannson's car to see the Finke Gorge and stay a night there. They were driven by Kurt but came back after a few hours saying that they could not find the track. They started off again with one of the black boys as guide but only with five gallons of petrol.
I got one of the old men across in the evening to see if his interpretation of my churingas was the same as the one I got from the wild ones. To my surprise he agreed exactly on all but one small point, where I could easily have misunderstood. That settles their truthfulness for good.
Considering the fact that most of this had been done in sign language I felt freed from the suspicion that they were making it up as they went along. It also checked on the old man too. He had been a source of many legends that we half thought he was inventing.
He also bought a pair of keditcha boots across with elaborate secrecy. They would be a wonderful thing to have, but he wants ten bob for them and a promise not to let anyone see them until we get south. He told us many tales of the use of them however and all this was substantiated by Course. These are made of womens hair and emu feathers and possess the property of leaving a track from which it is impossible to tell the direction of travel. Also all the natives are afraid to follow the track of Keditcha boots as the tracks may be made by a spirit or a man who will not hesitate to kill anyone following the track.
Cramer himself could not induce his boy to follow the tracks in the murder case and apparently arrived just too late to prevent it.
Maurice and I have bribed Miller to keep his plant here in case it rains before we get off and holds up the car. In which case we can get back into the Alice in two days on his horses, which are now in pretty good nick.
Friday: I had a long discussion with Albrecht about what he believed was the future of the natives in this country last night and was very interested in what he said. He seemed to recognise that we had no sympathy with religious dope and confined himself almost entirely to food supply, birth rate, etc. He says that almost every native in Australia has now come in contact with white men, either by hearsay or by actual exposure and that their natural curiosity will inevitably lead them all into rail heads and outlying stations, thus leaving their home country to which they will mostly never return.
At the stations they were generally cared for, trained as stockmen or domestics and paid enough to keep their relatives. But the stations found that most of them went walkabout, often just when they were needed and that only a handfull were reliable. Those who got to the towns, like the Alice soon discovered alcohol and before long reached the metho stage, living in squalid dumps like Heavitree Gap and worked only to buy liquor. The women fell into the hands of the lowest type of white for money. It was also quite true that many better types of whites on stations, dovers and others took a lubra along as a matter of course.
His argument is that the mission forms a buffer between these myall blacks and the whites, which is certainly so. But it gives no explanation of his policy of sending black missionaries out to break down the tribal religions. He was a good man but, while he could criticise other sects, especially catholicism, he was an equally blind evangelist who saw everyone else as benighted. He knew not what he did.
I dismantled the meterological gear today and collected a few little things from the natives. The Finke Gorge party have not arrived back yet but will probably turn up in the morning. It will do Pro. Davies a bit of good to have to sleep in the sand a couple of nights.
Notes:1: In three subsequent versions of this journal F.J.A.P. sometimes expanded on the original (pencil) manuscript. In order to distinquish these, all departures from the original are in italics.
2: FJAP recalled that this intriguing woman had ridden alone for nearly a week to meet the train. Usually this was a man's job but the men on the station were attending to some emergency. She had taken the trouble to change her clothes and on entering the train was asked if she would like anything."Gin and Tonic" she replied. The men were agog. After the horses were loaded she was off again.
3: Ernestine Hill (21.1.1899 - 22.8.1972) was one of Australia's most popular writers. Concentrating on travel or landscape writing, her published works include The Great Australian Loneliness (1937), My Love Must Wait (1947) and The Territory (1951). As a zealous journalist, she contributed for almost 30 years to most magazines and newspapers in Australia. The Granites boom was a gold rush fueled by wishful thinking and wild speculation. It centered around a small mine discovered 30 years before.
4: Lewis Hurbert Lasseter, born in 1880, claimed in 1929 that 18 years earlier, he had discovered a vast gold bearing reef in Central Australia, at the western edge of the Macdonnell Ranges. He later changed his story, giving a date that would have made him 17 at the time. In 1930 he accompanied an expedition that turned back after finding nothing. Lasseter remained with one man, with whom he quarrelled. Left alone, he watched his two camels bolt into the bush. He lived with Aborigines for the next four months but died of starvation. Rescuers found his body and buried it. His diary claimed that he had rediscovered his lost reef and pegged his claim.
5: Ideas of racial purity are now out of favour in some circles. Earlier this century (until 1963) thousands of part-descent children were separated from their families (sometimes by force) and placed in government and mission institustions. Government policy reflected prevailing genetic theories. Occasionally parents placed their children in these institutions by choice. Sometimes the mother would also enter the home and work as a domestic.
In the Northern Territory many of these children were placed in two 'half-caste' homes - The Bungalow in Alice Springs and The Kahlin Half-caste Home in Darwin.
After protests about living conditions at the Bungalow the children were moved to Jay Creek in 1928 and from there in 1932 to The Old Telegraph Station, 5 kilometres from Alice Springs.
6: Early in 1933, many of the Hermannsburg people made a trip into Alice Springs. Young and old, men, women and children made the exodus - some walking, some by donkey wagon, a few by camel. Many had not been there before, and were keen to see 'The big fella snake', as they called the train, and other emblems of town life. Alice Springs was a potent atttraction for Aboriginal people from the mission and elsewhere. The government now handed out better rations than the mission could provide, and it was an easy way to escape the irksomeness of work routines or community discipline.
Albrecht thought it better that they experience the 'wonders of civilization' as a group and with his approval, since there was no real way to keep them totally away from Alice Springs. But he felt that the town environment was becoming a worse and worse influence for Aboriginal people generally. Drinking, prostitution and venereal disease were increasing, and normal tribal and family cohesion disintegrated at an alarming rate. Albrecht often had the impression that Europeans regarded the instability and prostitution among Aborigines in Alice Springs as insignificant, remarking that in their old state, Abrorigines often exchanged wives or changed marriage partners after a quarrel. He felt, however, that under traditional law such things might be accomodated within the marriage class system, and the basic tribal organization remain intact. But in the settled districts, all tribal organization was broken down, and he felt stringly that if family life was not protected there, the Aboriginal community would cease to exist.
Barbara Henson, A Straight-out Man F.W. Albrecht and Central Australian Aborigines, (University of Melbourne Press 1992) P.77-78
7: Spelling usually attempts to reflect pronounciation. Variants include: Arrentte Arunta Arundta Arranda
8: The Haldanes was a sensitive balance used in the water metabolism experiments.9: A seven-man expedition from the University of Sydney under the leadership of Professor H.W. Davies arrived. They were studying Aboriginal needs for water. Albrecht felt he could not refuse their request for accomodation and camels teams for a six-week period, though he knew that feeding them would be difficult. It was at the height of summer and there were no fresh vegetables. Trying to provide for everyone was difficult for Minna. Every nook and cranny seemed to have someone sleeping in it. Barbara Henson, A Straight-out Man F.W. Albrecht and Central Australian Aborigines, (University of Melbourne Press 1992) P.78
10: Professor (Pete) Davies career was unfortunately marred by alcholism. 11: A churinga or tjurunga was a secret-sacred object carved in stone or wood. Some traced ancestral histories back for generations. Each contained a story about the family of the man who carved it and about his position in the tribal group.
12: In the pencil manuscript F.J.A.P. writes this as Cupailja. 13: The 23rd of January 1933 was a Monday. 14: Much could be written about T.G.H. Strehlow. Although he was considered a member of the tribe, he himself said that he was never initiated. He left Hermannsburg at 14 after his father's death in 1922 and went to school in Adelaide. After graduating from Adelaide University with Honours in English he returned to Hermannsburg on a grant from the Australian National Research Council to Study Aranda culture.
In May 1933 Gura (Tjenterama) the last of the great ceremonial chiefs of the gura bandicoot centre known as Ilbalintja confided in Strehlow that neither he nor any of the other old men had sons or grandsons responsible enough to be trusted with the secrets of their sacred objects (tjurungas) and ceremonies. They were worried that all their secrets would die with them. Strehlow was asked to accept responsibility for the preservation of all their sacred activities. He agreed and began systematically recording the religious beliefs, social systems and history of what was left of the songs, myths, chants, and legends of the Aranda people. Even in 1933 there were groups where all the fully trained elders had died and the only source of information was from the old men who had acted as ceremonial assistants.
Strehlow witnessed and recorded hundreds of sacred ceremonies, most of which are no longer practised. His academic stature grew with the publication of Aranda Traditions (1947). This work had been assembled in 1934 but Strehlow delayed publication until all his informants were dead. He gained considerable recognition for the linguistic work which his father had begun. In 1971 he published a monumental work Songs Of Central Australia. Strehlow's career and his role as the custodian of Aboriginal secrets has been dogged by controversy which has followed him beyond the grave. He died in 1978.
15. Unfortunately all the 16mm movie film taken by F.J.A.P. was destroyed in a bush fire at Pylara along with some photos of the trip and probably Murch's drawings.
16.F.J.A.P. recalled that one night Albrecht confessed that it was on his conscience that during this drought member of the western tribes had come in to Hermannsburg having heard that food was available. He had fed them a white man's ration ie. flour, sugar, etc. but nearly 3000 had died.