Chapter 6
Haasts Bluff

28th January 1933

This 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.

Camels mother in yards

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.

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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.

Camels on the march

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.

camels resting

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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.

camel sitting

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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

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Camels resting

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.

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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.

Arthur Murch in pith helmet

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

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Murch at Haasts Bluff

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

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Aboriginal men with 2 boys

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.

4 Ngalia men sitting with weapons

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

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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.

Aboriginal men with weapons

The natives appear quite unconcerned about white people though they watched our every movement. They respect our camp and keep off their dogs.

Shadow of FJAP photographing children

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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.

15. Unfortunately all the 16mm movie film taken by F.J.A.P. was destroyed in a bush fire at Pylara (family property) along with some photos of the trip and perhaps some of Murch's drawings.

16.F.J.A.P. recalled in 1980 that one night Albrecht confessed that it was on his conscience that during this drought members 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 regretted that several thousand had died.

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