Diary 1933: 29th January 1933 cont. - the journey on foot to Mt Peculiar

source icon 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.

As 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 plain 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.

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 Sydney University Regiment 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 2 a.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.

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 whole heartedly, 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 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.

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