Journey to Horseshoe Bend
by TGH Strehlow
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Previous: October 15th

Monday, the sixteenth day of October, 1922.

DURING Sunday Allan Breaden and Heinrich had spent much time in discussing Strehlow's desperate plight, and the problem of how to bring him closer to medical help. Both men were convinced that Strehlow was far too ill to continue his journey in the buggy. Only a motor vehicle could take him to the next station; and the best plan would be for the sick man to wait for Mr Wurst from Appila to come to Idracowra.

The train on which Mr Wurst had arranged to bring his car had been due to reach Oodnadatta on Friday night; and even if he had not been able to leave the railhead till midday on Saturday, he should by now be well on his way north from Oodnadatta.

When Allan Breaden and Heinrich visited Strehlow in the blockhouse on Monday morning, both were deeply shocked to see him looking so ill. His day of rest had not improved his condition in the slightest. There was no time left for any hesitation or indecision. "Mr Strehlow," said Allan, "you can't leave Idracowra in your buggy today. Your horses are knocked-up, and this hot weather knocks hell out of any man even if he's in the best o' good nick. Tell you what I'll do. I'll send two boys to Horseshoe Bend with a letter to Gus, telling him to send the car on to Idracowra as soon as it gets to The Bend. His donks will take about six hours to pull the car over the Finke and the box gum flats for the first twelve miles. After that it's hard, solid going till the car gets here; and our donks will pull it over to the station. That'll let you have a spell here till the car comes. The old blockhouse isn't much of a place to stay in; but at least it's solid and keeps you out of the sun."

The sick man was only too ready to accept Allan's offer.

But when he was about to express his thanks, Allan quickly brushed his remarks aside. "Look, it's nothing what I'm doing. Everyone in this country would be only too glad to do the same for you. I'm only sorry I can't do more." And with those few words Allan strode out, told two of his stockmen to saddle up the two best riding horses in the yard, and sent them off with a letter to Horseshoe Bend.

Allan Breaden had spoken the truth. Though he was Joe Breaden's brother, he was merely the manager, not the owner of Idracowra Station. During the course of his long life on stations in the Centre, Allan, like some of the other pioneers, had from time to time made considerable amounts of money as a cattleman; but after spending forty seven years in the cattle industry, he was still only an employee, and not a man of property. He was now aged about seventy. All he could look forward to was to end his days on some cattle station willing to accept him as an Old Timer living on the old-age pension.

Allan David Breaden, who had been born on Booborowie Station, north-west of The Burra in South Australia, had first come into the Centre in his twenties, in the year 1875, and hence shared with "Dickie" Warburton the honour of being one of the first two Finke River pastoral pioneers.

Allan had initially gone to Glen Helen. It was he who had discovered the natural stock-paddock formed by the parallel ranges south-west of Old Glen Helen station while riding with a mate through the Upper Finke country north of Hermannsburg in 1879; and the creek running through this paddock had been named "the Seventy-Nine Creek" from the date 1879 which Allan had carved into a big gum tree close to its point of entry into the Finke. But the aboriginal population in the north-western MacDonnells had been too numerous for the taste of the early cattlemen; and, together with Gus Elliot and a number of other Upper Finke pioneers, Allan had after some years moved to stations situated downstream from Hermannsburg. After a first term at Idracowra, at that time a holding belonging to Messrs. Grant and Stokes, Allan had become manager of Mount Burrell on the Hugh River, a property which was then one of those Elder stations that went in mainly for horse breeding. Mount Burrell shared, with Owen Springs and Undoolya, the distinction of being one of the very first pastoral properties to be stocked in the Centre. Mount Burrell had originally been held by Messrs Gilmour, Hendry, and Melrose, under a South Australian Pastoral Application for Lease granted on 7th December, 1875. The local Southern Aranda had resented the intrusion of the white men and their cattle, and had resorted to cattle-spearing in order to drive them out once more. The white men retorted by going out and firing shots into the aboriginal camps. Among the victims on these shooting occasions had been Anngamilja, a woman who belonged to the star totem of Iloata. Her descendants, who later on became some of the best aboriginal stockmen on the stations situated on the lower Hugh and the middle Finke River, kept alive both her name and that of the white station man who had led the attack on the camp in which she and some other folk had been killed. "The Gilmour (or as the aboriginal pronunciation had it, "Gillimore") mob" was to be remembered for its alleged murderous misdeeds eighty years after the Mount Burrell lease had first been granted. But matters had improved by 1891, when Allan Breaden had been able to tell the members of the South Australian Pastoral Commission, on their visit to Mount Burrell on 6th April that year, "Formerly the natives were very troublesome, but they are now civilized", and add the tribute that he had found them very helpful as station workers. On all stations where Allan had worked, his dark employees, in their turn, referred to him in appreciative terms -" 'Im goodfella boss, quiet man altogether". At a later date Breaden had moved down from Mount Burrell to Henbury; and he subsequently became manager of Idracowra after its acquisition by his brother Joe.

Like Bill Stokes (who had been one of the first and most important part-station owners in those early days) and must of the other pioneering cattlemen of the Centre, Allan had never known how to save money. He had preferred to enjoy his pay cheques to the full whenever they came in; and so his money had soon "gone west" on liberal drinking bouts and on trips to the southern cities, where grog and other diversions had quickly emptied his pockets. For most of the Central Australian cattlemen hotels such as the Black Bull Hotel in Hindley Street, Adelaide, had too often represented not only journey's end, but money's end, too. But to go through one's money as soon as it had been earned was what every true Central Australian bushman was expected to do; and Allan, like the others, had never been restrained in his easy spending habits by any worries or fears about the future.

Once the hard-earned money had gone, these cattlemen had returned to the Centre and to the loyal companionship of their dark and coloured women. The latter were universally known as "kwiais", - "kwia" being the Southern and Eastern Aranda term for a girl. After returning to their old haunts, the pioneers had gone back without complaints or regrets to their tough life of work and hardship, relieved by the friendship of mates. In the eyes of the white population the vast spaces of the Never-Never were stripped of many of the terrors of its bush isolation by the knowledge that in times of need every man in the Centre could be counted on to come to the rescue.

After Allan Breaden had left him, Strehlow was able to give himself up to his self-questionings and to even deeper reflections on the problems of pain and the nature of man's relationship towards God. Now that the letter had been sent to Horseshoe Bend, there was nothing left for him to do but to wait and to think. His wife remained in the room with him to attend to his needs, and his meals were brought to him from the station kitchen. In any case, he had little appetite left for eating any food. His upper body had been wasting away for weeks, as was becoming painfully apparent from the hollowness of his cheeks and the strange new bony appearance of his once strong and heavy hands. Loss of appetite, lack of sleep, a grossly swollen lower body, and his never-ending struggle against pain, had reduced him to a state of near helplessness. But his powerful heart was still beating strongly, and his clear brain was more active than ever.

On this morning Strehlow knew that only a miracle could save him; and he knew also that it was beyond his power to bring about that miracle. Not even prayer could guarantee, let alone compel, an answer from God. Like Job, he could only sit and wait for whatever answer would come from God, the supreme Lord of life and death. And in his heart he was growing more and more certain that the answer would be death. If so, it would be death either here or at some other station on the track; he would never reach the railhead at Oodnadatta. His grave would be dug in this desert waste.

And then what would become of the faithful wife, so utterly dependent on him, who was sitting by his side, completely unaware that he was a dying man? Or of the son whom he had prepared to the best of his ability for a good secondary education in Germany? Both would be left penniless and without a single relative in Australia. With Germany itself in chaos and political turmoil, and writhing in the iron grip of galloping inflation, no relatives over there were in a position to come to the rescue of the two persons whom he would be leaving behind him when he died. They would have no protector save God to take pity on them.

God: there was the problem. What was man's relationship to God? The Book of Job had not answered the problems of human pain, of human calamities, and of those shattering blows that sometimes overwhelmed even the finest and best men and women in human society. On the contrary, Strehlow's own experience had convinced him that it might well be the finest and best people in the community, and those who had loved God and trusted Him beyond everything, who sometimes were subjected to the most cruel experiences possible and to calamities which ended only in their own final agony and death. The history of the early martyrs of the Church, and the history of the persecution of God-fearing men and women at the behest of the organized churches in previous ages, gave many eloquent proofs of that.

Not that he was afraid of death. His physical condition actually made him long for release from that shocking feeling of water-logged internal heaviness that reached from his abdomen to his swollen feet, from the pains that racked his chest when he took a slightly deeper breath or his back whenever he attempted to rest for a moment against his chair, and from those occasional paroxysms of asthmatic breathlessness during which he was gasping and choking helplessly to get sufficient air into his lungs. Death would mean a merciful termination of his sufferings. But why should that God, Whom he had endeavoured to serve so faithfully, abandon him and his family out here, in these lonely desert wastes, to die one of the most cruel deaths imaginable? Without medical assistance little could be done even to ease the pain of his last days. God could have helped him greatly by merely permitting the weather to keep cool during his journey to seek aid. It was still only October - a month in which long heat waves were most unusual. But the weather had turned unseasonably hot shortly after he had set out on the road; and there seemed to be no prospect of a break in the series of scorching days that were helping to turn his final brief span of time into a long stretch of almost unbearable misery. In his present condition, and particularly because of the heat that made his body run with sweat hour after hour, he should have been washed and had his body moved into different sitting or lying positions several times a day. But because only sitting in a certain posture still enabled him to breathe with any degree of comfort, he was compelled to stay in this attitude day and night, without any chance of lying down even for short periods of respite. As a result, his skin was breaking out into sores in many places under the unnatural weight of swollen flesh. A cool change could at least have put an end to his day-long sweating bouts, and made the agony of his slow, but relentless death struggle a little more bearable. Instead the sun's fire was being stoked remorselessly day by day: the God of mercy seemed to have no compassion left for him. Kyrie eleison - Christe eleison - Kyrie eleison: he had intoned these prayers so often before during the Hermannsburg church services. These cries for God's mercy had formed an integral part of Christian church worship since the earliest centuries of the Christian era; and their position at the beginning of the liturgical part of the service indicated the high importance in which they had been held by all past generations of Christian worshippers. They were so old, and so well known, that the Western Church had never translated them from the original Greek either into Latin or into any of the other vernaculars. He himself, like his predecessors at Hermannsburg, had intoned them every Sunday in Greek during the Aranda service. Now he had come to know why these cries for God's mercy had been regarded as providing the most appropriate opening for Christian worship in the liturgical service.

If God demanded from him to give up his life in the desert, could He not at least have shown him more mercy during the agony of his final days? Could not God have been more generous to a man who had always believed himself to be God's servant, and at the very least permitted him to see his own country once more and to leave his wife and son behind among relatives, before death took him away from them? He had been so very young when he had first come to Australia - a young man aged only twenty. Most of the next thirty years had been spent in hardship, loneliness, and frustration. Throughout this time he had believed himself to be battling resolutely in God's service: was this cruel death to be his very last experience, when God could so easily help him to slip out of life's troubles in peace? And yet it was both foolish and unworthy of his rock-like faith to argue against God in this way: that was one lesson which had been demonstrated with startling clarity in the Book of Job. An ant was clever only in the ways of an insect; but its understanding was always limited by the very nature of its tiny thinking organ. Any ant that had strayed into the room of a great mathematician, a great musician, a great scientist, or a great thinker, could certainly have perceived this man to be a human being and sensed those of his actions which affected its own existence; but it could not have fathomed the tremendous fullness of the human mind. Similarly man could not hope to comprehend God. Man's highest and deepest thoughts were limited by the bodily structure of his mortal brain: what was infinite and immortal could not be grasped by an instrument that was finite and mortal. To protest or to murmur against God was hence not only wrong but utterly futile, since the very reasoning that lay behind it was the result of man's insistence on envisaging God merely as a glorified and apotheosized human being.

Whatever his tormented brain might think about it all, Strehlow knew that there was only one Christian answer to his problems of doubt and fear: to pray with all sincerity that hardest, gravest, and darkest of all the petitions in the Lord's Prayer - "Thy will be done". He had prayed the Lord's Prayer many thousands of times in his life - in German, English, Dieri, and Aranda; and he had often read it also both in Latin and in its original Greek. He had preached sermons on it, and believed himself to be aware of all its awesome implications. It was only now, however, that its full and limitless command to the human spirit to surrender and to subordinate all its wishes and aspirations to the will of God had begun to throw out its iron-fisted challenge at him.

Rock-like faith was not enough in the eyes of God. Indeed, men whose faith had the strength of granite were often men of strong personal will as well; and it was precisely these men who were often subjected to the hardest tests by God - to tests designed to break their will and to force them to submit themselves without any reservations to the supreme will of God.

Perhaps he had been too conscious in the past of the strength of his personal faith, and now his Master was testing him in a furnace heated to its grimmest fire by hot blasts of pain and by paralysing sensations of his state of absolute forsakenness. Each day it was getting harder, not easier, for him to pray in full honesty that grave petition - "Thy will be done"; and yet he felt that he must learn to do so, without faltering, without doubts, and without any secret personal reservations.

Next: October 17th