Mount LiebigDuring 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 65 -We got some good photos of the natives today and yet another skull and a few churingas, water carriers, death bones and such like.
- 66 -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.
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.
- 67 -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 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.
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.
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.
- 68 -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.
- 69 -.
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.
- 70 -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.
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
- 71 -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.