By camel to Mount LiebigWe 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.
- 50 -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
- 51 -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
- 52 -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.
- 53 -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
- 54 -.
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.
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.
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. 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.
- 55 -
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.