Section 1: Aiming For Alice And Back O'Beyond.
1:In The Beginning
When I met Francis Birtles in Melbourne in 1920, I did not realise that this meeting would alter the course of my life from that of a city-born young man to an adventurer into the dead heart of Australia and places where white men had never been.
I was a Law Clerk in Brisbane and went by train to Sydney and Melbourne for my fortnight's holiday, and while in the latter city met Mr. Birtles in a cafe. He was at that time negotiating with the then Prime Minister, Mr W M (Billy) Hughes, to lead an expedition to Darwin - more particularly to explore the country East and West of the overland telegraph line and report on the type of country and engineering difficulties that would be encountered if a railway line were constructed from Oodnadatta to Darwin via Alice Springs.
This proposed line had been a highly controversial matter between South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland for years - South Australia wanting a direct line through the centre, Western Australia wanting a diversion to its border, and Queensland similarly wanting a line to Camooweal, thence through Western Queensland and back to Alice Springs, or further south, to link up with Bourke in New South Wales. This would have suited New South Wales also.
The same controversies and jealousies existed back in 1859. Morse telegraph cables were snaking around the world, linking countries and continents, spanning the Atlantic and running through Europe, South East Asia and ending at Java.
Queensland had won separation from New South Wales and made strenuous efforts to have the cable run through Torres Straits to Normanton in the Gulf and thence down to Brisbane. South Australia wanted it to come in near Darwin and down the centre of Australia. New South Wales (which still had the Northern Territory attached to it) backed Queensland. West Australia had a proposal to end the cable on its coast and build a West-East line. Although all states were linked by 1869, starting in 185 4 from Melbourne to Williamstown in Victoria, it was not until 1870 that South Australia won the battle by contracting with the British Australian Telegraph Coy. to build the line down the Centre to Adelaide if the British Company would extend the cable from Java to Darwin. South Australia then asked London to annexe the Territory to South Australia , and won. The line was eventually officially opened on 22nd August, 1872, with eleven repeater stations between Darwin and Adelaide.
However, it was eventually arranged that Mr. Birtles (whom I shall refer to as "Frank") be supplied with a Hudson Super Six Tourer Car and certain funds, and he was to arrange his own companions. I was fortunate in that he asked me. There were two others - one Bert Borella, V.C., who was a Territorian, and the other a Major Scarlett. However, for personal reasons, these latter two withdrew, leaving only Frank and myself.
Being of an adventurous nature, I was greatly please with this opportunity. My youthful days were not limited to studying Law. Depending on the seasons, I played Rugby Football, sailed on the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay, cycled, and spent evenings training and doing gymnasium work.
Frank was at that time a very well-known Explorer and Overlander, having ridden a push bicycle criss-crossing Australia many times, and I, being only 21 at the time, felt I could trust this hard, tough, sun-baked man who was 20 years my senior, and who, I felt, could handle any emergency which was sure to occur once we left the beaten tracks.
I had often read his articles in various Australian Magazines, but it never occurred to me that one day I would be his companion on his greatest exploit.
Anyhow, the day was fast approaching when we were to leave Melbourne on this important expedition. But for a short space I must wander. Frank was in love; after all the years of loneliness in the bush and wilds of the Commonwealth he was to be married, and only a couple of days before we left Melbourne he was married in St. Paul's Cathedral. I was his best man.
So we left Melbourne, Sydney-bound via The Prince of Wales Highway, with Frank, his wife, her sister, Major Scarlett and myself - on Frank's honeymoon.
This was certainly a new life for me. I had only ridden in a motor car a couple of times before, when learning to drive, and here I was travelling from Melbourne to Sydney - which, in fact, in those days had been travelled by very few people. There were no bitumen roads then.
As we had a month before leaving our official starting place (Oodnadatta) in Northern South Australia, we made the most of this interim, and took a leisurely 6 days to reach Sydney, and spent a fortnight at Bondi. Many a time in the months that followed did I wish I was at Bondi, or on the hard Princes Highway instead of plugging through floods and deserts.
2: Enter Dinkum
So, after picking up our supplies which included two cinematograph cameras, ordinary still cameras, film, a large supply of spare parts for the car, 4 spare tyres and tubes, two extra batteries, and not least, Dinkum, we left Sydney on 21st December, 1920. Saying goodbye to our friends in front of "Dalgetys", we would have preferred to remain a few more days and spend Christmas in Sydney. What kind of Christmas Dinner would we have, and where?
Dinkum was looking forward to the adventure as much as we were. We had already taught him the meaning of "all aboard" and "all out", and he never needed any second bidding. As Dinkum was a big, blue, one-lop-eared cattle dog of the best breed, he did not expect us to lift him in and out of the car on every occasion of starting or stopping.
Dinkum proved to be a most faithful, intelligent and obedient animal and companion. In fact, he seemed to understand everything we said, so that we credited him with a child's intelligence.
Our route now was practically direct West across N.S.W. to the South Australian Railway Line running to Oodnadatta. If possible, we intended to strike this line about Hergott Springs (now Marree), but in this we were a long way out.
3: Bathurst, N.S.W.
Our first nights camp brought us to a pretty little pool some 10 miles east of Bathurst. We passed through the Blue Mountains and Katoomba during the afternoon and evening, and although I did not see much of the scenery as I would have liked, I was just as much impressed as I was with the Pacific Highway. The great Blue Mountains have only too aptly been described by numerous writers and are world-famous.
Frank told me that he once had trouble with his car while traversing the Blue Mountains and that he had to cover the latter part of the journey in reverse gear. This was a gravity fed "T" model Ford, and, by reversing, the petrol naturally gravitated to the carburettor. I was extremely thankful that our car was in perfect condition as I did not relish the thought of what might happen to anyone in a car out of control on those mountains.
Our first night camping out near a lagoon I must say, was extremely cold, and we needed all our spare clothing and rugs to keep a warm. Nevertheless, the long days travelling had tired us and we slept well. We awakened very early next morning, feeling very fresh in the keen air. We had both been hoping to sample the water at first, but being too chilly we settled for a good wash. What a contrast to the previous morning's before breakfast dip at Bondi.
Dinkum was very alert very early, chasing rabbits which were numerous, and we were consequently delayed for a while during his Lordship's pleasure. However, we got aboard eventually and started off. It still been early, the bunny seemed quite surprised that our intrusion into their early morning frivolities and many stood stupefied in the middle of the road, courting suicide.
We arrived in Bathurst, only to find the town still sleeping so we anchored for a while near the park. Presently, dinkum came hurrying towards us with a large bone between his jaws, having found a butcher shop. Early-morning motoring gives one an appetite, and you can be sure we were not long in placing ourselves in front of a hearty breakfast and doing it full justice
Having had plenty of rain, the plains presented an appearance of a big lawn for miles as far as the eye could see, but the rain had not tended to improve the condition of the dusty roads, and by the time we reached Orange, we were pretty grimy in appearance. However, a cleanup and a cup of tea refreshed us. Dinkum found a butcher's shop, so we purchased a few pounds of state which we later grilled on coals.
Although I did not dislike my first coal-grilled steak, I must admit that I preferred the pan grilled steak I had for breakfast at Bathurst.
Leaving Orange, we picked up a horseshoe nail in the front tyre, which was soon replaced, but nearing Forbes we were expecting trouble owing to the flooded state of the country.
It was not until we passed Forbes and were some 20 miles or so east of Condobolin that we encountered the first water covering the road. After a few miles of slow travelling, we came to a large expanse of water in which the road was completely lost. In some places there was a depth of 2 feet and as we charged through, after waterproofing the engine, the car resembled a battleship as it cast the water from side to side. For about 4 miles, we pushed on without bogging, and just about sundown, as we were nearing the end of the water we could see the dry road plainly ahead, the back wheels started to skid and down the rear of the car sank into soft mud.
This was my first experience of "Bog". After a cup of billy tea and a bite, we worked unsuccessfully until 12 o'clock with the aid of jacks, battery lights and logs in the slush and water. Mosquitoes meantime literally eating us. Eventually, nigh exhausted, we lay down on the damp road about 100 yards away and slept, or at least tried to sleep. I never expected to see mosquitoes so numerous, but I was to be disappointed in the months that followed.
However, we managed to snatch a couple of hours sleep in the early morning, and without any breakfast, after three hours work managed to release the car from her slushy bed and were soon in Condobolin where we appeased our hunger. Here we found that the Lachlan River, which runs through Condobolin, was in flood and was the cause of the flooded state of the roads. Although running strongly, it did not hinder us from bathing and thereby ridding ourselves of a few pounds of mud.
As we would be leaving civilisation behind for a time on leaving Condobolin, we took the precaution of filling our food boxes, and also took a supply of benzine aboard.
Travelling all day in excessive heat, we finally pitched camp outside a little township called Mt Hope, passing through that town late in the evening. Pitching camp merely meant sleeping on the ground near the car as we did not have stretchers.
The roads now were in a poor condition, which necessitated careful driving. We drove all next day, scarcely seeing anyone, although the whole of the country along the road, was apparently selected, as witnessed by the numerous gates that required opening for us to pass through. The temperature was over 120° F. mark and there was a grasshopper plague in the district. At times, the grasshoppers were 6 inches deep at our feet on the floor of the car and they were flying at us in all directions. An occasional hit in the face was most annoying and hurtful. The grass in places was some four or 5 feet high for miles at a stretch. Yet not one head of stock did we see. Apparently, this was caused by the drought preceding the heavy rains. All the dams, which were numerous, will well filled, the water being clayish, and the majority contained a dead rabbit or two.
4: Christmas at German Tank
Although satisfied with damper and jam for breakfast, we were sincerely hoping that before long we would happen on a habitation where we might enjoy a repast suitable to the occasion. This was Christmas day. Our hopes were not long in being fulfilled, when shortly after 12 o'clock we sighted a shanty in the distance, which proved to be the homestead of a small selector named Dow.
Mr Dow cordially welcomed us, and after introductions to his wife and daughter, asked us if we should like a drink. Expecting a glass of water in this out of the way place, imagine our surprise and delight when we were confronted with a glass of frothing lager. These people were very homely, and although such disadvantage, believed in honouring Christmas Day in the grand old English style. Of course, their ham and turkey would not cost the same as it would in Sydney as they raised their own fowls and poultry and vegetables. After a meal of these items, together with fresh bread, hot scones, pudding - and, of course, cake - we rested for a while and then were escorted round the buildings and yards viewing cattle, pigs, sheep, a dog, cat, cockatoo, native bear, fowls, et cetera. Before taking our departure, we photographed the homestead and family, Mrs Dow modestly holding the three-storey Christmas cake in one hand and the cockatoo in the other. We learnt that this place was named German Tank - so called on account of a German who, in the days of the "rushes" always kept a large supply of liquor there for sale to the thirsty travellers.
The heat was now terrific, the temperature being 127° F, in the shade, and a slight, hot wind was blowing. We had divested ourselves of our clothing, wearing nothing except bathing trunks, and we took advantage of every waterhole we passed by plunging into it, but the refreshment derived therefrom was only for a few minutes.
Shortly before six o'clock we pulled into Ivanhoe, a small township, where we obtained some stores. After directions as to the right track, we pushed on again until we reached a dam 6 miles out. It was now dark so we partook of a light meal and clean up and started off again. Before going many miles we came to a spot where the track took two directions nearly parallel and we were undecided as to which we should take. After traversing the right hand for several miles, and although it was dark, we concluded we were travelling by North too much to be on the track that would lead us to Menindee. It was here, therefore, that our compass first came into use and showed that we had been travelling for some miles a little to the west of North.
Turning back, we returned to the intersection and followed the left-hand track for a number of miles before making our camp, finally falling asleep with reminiscences of previous Christmas Days.
In the early afternoon of the next day I received my first experience of travelling through sand and sandhills. Although the stretch of sand on the east of Menindee is only a few miles, it is very heavy and being bottomless necessitates labourious work in getting a car through. The help of bags, broken up benzine cases, and stout saplings, however, got us over in good time, but the heat and flies hindered us not a little.
Presently, we saw on the horizon a belt of trees which clearly represented the Darling River, but before we reached there, we were held up several times owing to the softness of the ground caused by the overflow of the Darling's floodwaters.
Evening saw us grimy and dirty, running into the yard of a homestead about 10 miles off Menindee where, after a bath, we were treated to a feed royale which again surpassed our expectations. But when home-made wine was brought out after dinner, Boxing Day, I must admit, ended much better than we expected. Our attention was called from the dinner table by a terrific barking and scuffling outside, and enquiries showed that Dinkum was trying conclusions with two of the station dogs. As we wanted to reach Menindee before dark, if possible, we reluctantly took our departure and, after minor boggings, reached the ferry about eight o'clock. The ferryman happened to be on the opposite side of the river so we shouted, whistled, and sort of Morse coded him with our head lights. While waiting for him to come across, we filled our water tanks at a house adjoining and were treated to a goodly supply of apricots, plums and peaches.
Once across the river, we soon were chatting with a police constable and other residents who joyously remembered the occasion a few years ago, when Franks Bulldog, "Wowser", scattered a large string of camels belonging to Afghans. It appears that Wowser resented the kick of the camel and immediately sank his teeth into "the stern of the ship of the desert". This camel immediately bolted with Wowser hanging on, and as all of the camels were tied together, they all bolted. The affair finished up with the portions of the camels' loadings strewn everywhere along the roads, and the Afghans gathering together their faithful animals and cursing meanwhile we have typical outback fervour.
On another occasion it is recorded that, in Menindee some years ago, a camel was one night tied to a usual small outhouse and the whole community was awakened in the morning by a terrific clattering through the streets, and found the said camel, with outhouse attached, post-hasting for the bush.
6: Broken Hill
Next day dawned with the usual heat and we started off for Broken Hill. The road was fairly good, although we encountered some heavy patches of sand. I was greatly surprised when there appeared on the horizon what apparently was a large city. Since leaving Sydney we had passed through several small township and the station dotted here and there. And since leaving Menindee there had been practically no habitation. Then suddenly a big, compact town appears - so you can imagine my surprise. I was still more surprised to find that, after leaving the town, habitation disappeared just as quickly as the town had appeared.
Broken Hill - the "Silver City" of Australia - is in the heart of the Barrier Silver field, and is about 800 miles west of Sydney. Broken Hill is also the third largest town in NSW, having a population of over 30,000 and only being surpassed by Sydney and Newcastle (in 1920).
From Sydney, Broken Hill was reached by rail to Cobar, thence a long and monotonous coach journey through Wilcannia, but the most convenient and fastest journey was by rail through Melbourne and Adelaide, whence a railway runs direct to Broken Hill. This railway has been instrumental in securing to Adelaide practicality the whole of the Broken Hill trade. Although it was Sunday when we reached the town, the postmaster and other officials very courteously attended to our requirements. We were soon on the way again and crossed the South Australian border near Cockburn.
7: Fox Hunt
Up to the present we had sighted very little game, with the exception of rabbits which were numerous and seemed as though they would be more so in South Australia. An occasional wallaby or kangaroo, too far away for a sporting shot, had been the only game to be seen. But now we were getting onto the open plains where the horizon seemed to connect with the flat ground on all sides, we were expecting to get plenty of sport, and so we did.
Most unexpectedly of all, the fox was our first blood. On both sides of the track grass abounded and for miles across the plains the track was clearly defined, running zigzag fashion and more resembling a winding river. Suddenly, about a quarter of a mile ahead a large brown fox, which I thought at first a dingo, literally flew across the track, apparently having been frightened by the noise of the car. He headed away from us diagonally, and Frank, who was at the wheel, immediately accelerated and left the track in pursuit of the fox. My attention was more than occupied with Dinkum, who I think would have jumped out of the car had I not held him. We gradually bore down on the fox, but directly we got near the cunning brute, he suddenly swung round and started off in the opposite direction. By the time we had turned the car and were in pursuit again Mr Fox was some hundreds of yards away and for a short while was travelling at the terrific pace of 35 miles per hour which our speedometer registered, while travelling at this pace we kept about 50 yards behind. Although the ground was quite even, the rabbit warrens were fairly numerous in this part, and we could not accelerate any faster. The fox gradually reduced his speed by becoming exhausted and we had almost run him down, when he again swerved and started off in the direction he had first taken. While we were turning he again got a good lead, but after a short while his speed was reduced to 10 miles an hour, when we stopped the car. Although it was the first fox Dinkum had seen, he took no time in leaping from the car before it had stopped and raced after the fox where a lively bout followed.
By the time I reached the scene Dinkum had a good hold of the back of the foxes neck, pinning it to the ground, the back of the fox being too big for Dinkum to get in his jaws. We agreed that a fox hunt by motor car was far more exciting than on horseback. Dinkum was reluctant to leave the fox - perhaps being fascinated by the peculiar smell which comes from its carcass, and which Dinkum was perfumed with for a week after. Although we were only in at the death of one fox, we chased several others, to our own misfortune. One in particular kept us in pursuit of several miles when we came to a thick nest of rabbit warrens, and before we could turn our back wheel broke through the thin crust and half an hour elapsed before we excavated the car. Of course, the fox was in his lair by then. Other foxes did not seem to mind being chased for a mile or two and then diving into rabbit warrens and ferreting the rabbits out. However, we'd had our excitement and we were quite satisfied with the days mileage.
Just before sundown we noticed ahead of us an elderly man on horseback behind a few cows, and a little further ahead a house surrounded by fruit trees and vines. This proved to be Yadmalon Station, owned by Mr Smyth. Mr Smyth provided a splendid meal, after which we chatted for a while, Mr Smyth informing us that Hawker was only a couple of score of miles away, and the road was good. He used it quite a lot with his own car, as he obtained all his supplies from Hawker. Hawker was on the main line from Adelaide. Resisting our kind host's invitation to stay overnight, we left Yadmalon about eight o'clock and soon again our powerful headlights had rabbits foolishly squatting in the middle of the road, seemingly hypnotised, but as the car neared them and they were out of the focus of the lamps they never hesitated to scurry in all directions, but more than one was too slow to regain his sight and senses.
At last we had reached Hawker on the railway line running from Adelaide to Oodnadatta and the OTL running to Darwin. Hawker is 276 miles from Adelaide, which meant approximately 400 miles from Hawker to Oodnadatta.
We had just missed the fortnightly train to Oodnadatta, and rather than wait another fortnight, we decided to go by road; all being well, we should reach Oodnadatta in two or three days' time. In this we were doomed to disappointment as we had not been advised of the very recent rains Northward and never anticipated the trouble which later befell us.
Having satisfied ourselves as to the correct track, we left Hawker and its people celebrating the Boxing Day holiday (Monday), and hardly gone 3 miles when we found we had been given the wrong directions. Turning back, we found the right track and after several miles of excellent going we were rising a slight incline from a narrow, shallow creek, when we met a four horse buggy at the top of the bank. We immediately swung off the road on to the grass, thereby leaving the turnout the whole road to himself. Why or wherefore as the driver passed us he brought his long whip to play about our persons. Requiring an explanation, and as our friend kept going in the opposite direction, Frank swung the car round and started in pursuit. I was just beginning to understand what had happened, for I had a cold in my eyes and had been cuddled up on the floor of the car asleep, the noise and sudden swerve having awakened me. Our friend laid the whip about his horses and careered down the slope across the gutter and was up the other side by the time we got close to him. He zigzagged and manoeuvred his horses in such a way that it was difficult to pass him. However, by the time he reached the top of the slope we manage to pass him to the accompaniment of cutting slashes from his whip. We then succeeded in getting in front of his horses and compelling him to draw rein.
Jumping out of the car, we hastened to the man before he could get under way again, but, before I could ask any questions, Frank had wrenched the whip out of his hand, and it was a case of striker struck. The lash of the whip must have reached the rear horses' flanks for they started off amidst shouting and protestations from the driver, and were a long way off when we started again in the opposite direction. The the whip was in our car and remained with us until the end.
The following days proved to be much cooler, but still the heat was quite sufficient to raise the thermometer above the hundred mark. The road - if it could be called such - kept near to the railway line mostly, but in places where the country was rough, broken and in bad condition owing to the rains, we had to guess our way. In any case, for the whole way the track was only a guide to us, there being very little traffic to leave a distinguishable track. The travellers in this part always travelled by train. The country was looking a picture of wealth owing to the recent rains. There was little or no birdlife owing to the absence of trees. Kangaroos, wallabies,emus and cassowaries were plentiful, and many a fair sized kangaroo gave us an exciting chase before he dropped from sheer exhaustion.
Although we found the emu and the kangaroo to be not as fleet as the fox, either of them can maintain a gait of 25 to 30 mph for some miles. A very amusing scene took place about this time will stop we were pursuing a fair sized female kangaroo when we noticed a big, old man kangaroo coming towards us in the opposite direction. What his intentions were at the moment we were unaware of, but, as he and female came close together, he turned around and hopped alongside the female for about 50 yards when he gradually fell back and allowed the female to go on ahead of him.
By now we were fairly close, and, as we were running up alongside I grabbed the tomahawk and jumped out onto the running board, holding onto the car with my right hand. I viciously struck at the old man with the tomahawk in my left hand, which succeeded in turning him off towards the West. At the time it did not occur to me that he was close enough to claw me. Probably, the old chap was more frightened of the car than of me. A cinematograph picture of this incident would have been amusing, but it would have required another actor as Frank was driving and my attention was on the kangaroo.
Arriving at Beltana we obtained stores and benzine while Dinkum prowled round looking for cats. He found a large one at the post office and we succeeded in obtaining a few photographs of their various poses while each was waiting for the other to make the first move. The cat showing its teeth and back well up in the air and Dinkum standing on three legs with head on one side photographed excellently. The incident terminated with a cat on top of the roof and Dinkum endeavouring to follow suite. Leaving practically the whole of the inhabitants of the town laughing, we bid them goodbye, the cat and Dinkum watching each other until well out of sight.
The following day brought us many stops owing to the bad state of the road which suffered severely from heavy rains, and we decided that, when we reached Lyndhurst Siding, we would wait for the northern train and truck the car for the remainder of the distance to Oodnadatta. A brick cottage at Lyndhurst in which the railway gangers were housed (sometimes with their wives) came into view, and on arriving we were informed that the road further on would be an improvement, so we decided to risk it further.
As a matter of fact, the condition of the road did improve as we were getting into higher country. At intervals of from 3 to 10 miles along the railway, government brick cottages are to be found, some of which were vacant in some occupied, according to the State of repair of the railway. The occupied cottages contained mostly men only, who proceeded to their work along the line daily leaving a male cook in charge. Sometimes, their work -which includes repairing, ballasting, weeding and cleaning -carried them several miles from home, in which case they travelled by trolleys carrying their lunch with them. Towards evening we were informed that Copley was about 15 miles ahead, and as it was getting dark then we decided to push on and have a late meal at the Hotel there and stay the night.
The track was dry enough, the very broken, and our lights were none too bright owing to the batteries having continually been wet -consequently, weakening them. We had been following a moderately good track for some time, which eventually became nothing short of two trenches which showed that the road had been washed out and formed into to water courses. It took us a considerable time before we could regain the level ground again, during which time the car performed some very peculiar stunts and more than once nearly succeeded in falling over on its side.
However, once we managed to drive (or, rather bump) it out we soon reached Copley, but not before a back wheel came into contact with a large, submerged stone, which, although we did not attach much notice to it at the time, proved to cause considerable trouble a couple of days later.
Feeling very hungry and dirty, we drove up to the hotel in anticipation of a hearty meal and a good nights rest on a soft bed. It was now about eight o'clock and on enquiry at the hotel for accommodation we were informed that dinner had been served some two hours ago, but they might be able to prepare us a meal. Whether or not it was considered too much trouble, I do not know, but, as absolutely no steps were taken to show us to rooms nor any indications as to a meal for us, we decided we were not wanted and left the town very shortly after, with no directions as to the correct road. We were in no good humour when about a mile out we found that the track we have been travelling on had petered out, and on pulling up found no trace of any likely roads.
I suggested that we should camp for the night as I was desperately hungry and tired. We found enough sticks to boil the billy, and after rummaging through the larder managed to find about half a loaf of bread, a little cheese and jam - which would not have satisfied my appetite let alone Frank, who is no small eater, to say nothing of Dinkum.
While contemplating the meal before us, and thinking of a breakfast of Copley air (we decided not to return to the inhospitable township, if possible), a buggy drew near with a party of about eight men, women and children. The man in charge stated that they had come in to Copley from an outside station and were in Copley when we left there. They were going back to the station now, and as he had noticed that we had taken the wrong road, he had followed us to put us right, as he knew we would have to stop when the road petered out. We warmly thanked our informer, and while he was apparently taking stock of our meal on the ground, he mentioned something to his companions about the frugal meal and one of them brought out, from under the seat of the buggy a goodly supply of sandwiches, cake and fruit, the remains of their party. Hardly knowing how to thank them, we bid our wellwishers good night and a happy New Year as they drove off into the darkness.
This was a true sample of the hospitality of the real outback, who, knowing about our cool reception into Copley, these people had deliberately gone out of their way to do us a good turn. I might mention here that the fact that this was a Commonwealth Government Expedition rather partly was the cause of our being received on different occasions in an offhand and cold manner, as we came into contact with more than one who severely criticised the expedition because it was sent out by the Commonwealth Nationalist government, and they disagreed with anything and everything Nationalist, whether to their own benefit or not. Whether the objects of the expedition were to be successful, or otherwise, was a matter that could not be settled until the whole of the journey was completed and our report in the hands of the Government. Billy Hughes, of course, was most unpopular with Labor supporters as he had forsaken the Labor Party and joined the National Party.
11: New Year's Eve At Farina.
The following morning we were in a better state of mind, and having received directions the previous evening as to the correct track, we were soon well on our way to Farina. New Year's Eve and we were supposed to leave Oodnadatta tomorrow (300 miles away). We had already had our share of bad luck and should have been in Oodnadatta ere this, had the roads been in good condition. However, it could not be helped, but we would push on as fast as possible. Our midday camp finished our food supply and in the late afternoon we arrived in Farina, the biggest township since we left Hawker. The people here were hospitality itself and after a good, hot dinner at the hotel, we decided to stay overnight. Farina boasts of a public hall and shortly after dinner the townspeople, as well as inhabitants the surrounding district, gathered there and commenced celebrating New Year's Eve in high glee.
To the accompaniment of a fairly ancient piano, round and square dancing were the order of the night. Jazz was excluded - probably, because it had never been danced in Farina. However, there is no doubt that the dancers enjoyed themselves just as much and probably more than they would have done had they been in the Cabaret at Coogee. Too tired to join the fun myself, I looked on for a while, and about 10 o'clock, when the first excitement of "the hop" had calmed a little, I retired to my first soft bed since leaving Sydney, not to sleep however, for the mosquitoes were rather plentiful, and no nets were provided. Moreover, the dance hall was situated next door to the hotel and our room happened to be on the nearest side. I think I must have been just dozing at midnight when shouting next-door arouse me, followed by the whole crowd rushing out into the street to the tune of a tin can band. What a din! Any other night, hardly a soul would be seen on the streets after eight o'clock. The sleepy town was awake with a vengeance, and it was a long time before the shouts and noise died down in the streets, only to be resumed in the hall. By sleeping in late in the morning I managed to snatch a few hours' sleep. We intended leaving after breakfast, but after doing a few small jobs on the car and cleaning up a little of the mud it was near enough to lunchtime to justify our waiting. And what a meal! A hot dinner of turkey and ham followed by Christmas pudding and sauce and preserves. I must admit that we felt like an hours' respite before again pushing on.
Farina boasts of a motor garage when we got our supply of benzine. The owner informed us that a couple of days ago he got bogged with his car a few miles out. He left the car, being unable to move it, and was going out this afternoon to endeavour to retrieve it. He readily accepted our offer to come with us and, picking up a couple of his mates, we started off.
On reaching the stranded car it proved to be in a very awkward position and would have taken the three men a day or more extricate it. Yet, within ten minutes of our arrival, we all were gratified to see the car up on firm ground ready to be driven home. With the aid of a double length of stout fencing wire, our sturdy Hudson had pulled the other car out of a heavy bog with a minimum of exertion from the men.
With a few minor delays we reached Marree (formerly known as Herrgot Springs) just as the crowd was dispersing after an afternoon of sports. Marree is about 30 miles a little to the West of North from Farina and is the larger township, and an Eastern track (known as the Birdsville Track) leads to Birdsville, Queensland and Wilcannia, New South Wales. The people were in a pleasant mood after the sports meeting and welcomed us warmly. As it was certain that Marree would be celebrating that night, we decided not to stay as we had no particular desire to spend a night similar to the previous night at Farina. Rather than offend the good people, we had a few drinks and before they could overwhelm us with their generosity we hurriedly took our departure. Our New Year's Day terminated about 10 miles north of Marree in sandy and low country as we were now in the vicinity of the southern extremity of Australia's inland sea - Lake Eyre South, which adjoins Lake Eyre North.
We had only travelled 30 miles next day when misfortune again overtook us. The car had had some heavy pulling to do and had not responded to the work as we had expected it to do. The country had been hilly for some miles, small hills, but fairly steep. We were near the end of this series of hills, when the car refused to climb and we immediately concluded that the trouble had come from the back gearing.
Making an examination, we found that the full set of differential gears had been stripped, and then remembered the submerged stone which we had hit when approaching Copley, which no doubt started the trouble.
Before leaving Melbourne we had made a list of all spare parts required and had them packed in a case. Diving into this case we were dismayed to find that we had spares for practically every part of the car, but no differential cogs, which had apparently been overlooked. Thinking the difficulty might be temporarily overcome, we proceeded to "lock" the differential, and while working to this end a buggy drawn by four mules came in sight. The occupants; a woman, her two sons and a half caste boy, who were going to a station 50 miles away, enquired if they could be of any assistance, and we thought, if we could get towed to the top of the pinch there would be every possibility of proceeding to the nearest railway siding (which we were informed was Stewart's Creek siding, 20 miles ahead).
We therefore proceeded to unload the car to make it easier for the mules, the weight of the car alone being 3500 weight, and the loading would reach the 3000 weight mark this time. After considerable trouble and patience we managed to hitch two mules to the car, but on starting the engine the mules bounced forward and broke the chains and careered away, leaving us behind. Eventually capturing the mules, they objected strongly to come near the car, so by attaching the extra four tyres to the wheels, and the extra manpower we got over, and allowed our friends to get well out of sight with their turnout as we had no desire to cause them any further trouble with the mules.
After reloading the car we started very timidly, and rounding corners was made difficult by the absence of the differential gears; but we were doomed to disappointment as, before we traversed a mile, some more small, steep sandhills were encountered and the car would not budge. How nice - nearly 40 miles from Marree and 20 from Stewart's Siding! We only had a couple of days rations which we had purchased at Farina. Walking over to the railway line which was a couple of hundred yards distant, I noticed a post denoting 460 miles from Adelaide. After leaving Marree we passed a number of gangers cottages at intervals of several miles, but none of these had been occupied. Expecting that we would be able to reach Stewart's Siding, we had given our friends two telegrams to be despatched. One to Adelaide for the necessary spare parts, and one to the storekeeper at Marree for a week's supply of rations. This was Sunday and the train would leave Adelaide on the following Thursday, arriving at Stewart's Creek on Friday. We spent the remainder of the day in dismantling the back gearing and cleaning the car; the next day, carried our bedding and the little food we had left to the shade of a small tree half a mile away. The car was in a patch of sand and the terrific heat, together with the numerous flies, was more than we could stand when a little shade suggested itself.
A small claypan of dark, soupy yellow water which was 6 inches in depth in the middle, afforded little refreshment in the way of a bath, but Dinkum was quite content to lie in it all day, occasionally ducking his head under to clear his face of the flies. A smoke fire seemed to have no effect on the flies whatsoever, and it was useless to endeavour to lie down for long, and shortly after midday we had taken our place with Dinkum in the water. By midday on Tuesday we had hardly enough flour left for one meal, and realising that dumplings would go the furthest, I proceeded to make them.
The country was remarkable for its numerous claypans. These are small, shallow rainwater holes, the water as I stated above being thick, soupy and dark yellow. We were obliged to drink this as there was no other. I obtained and put some water in a kerosene tin on the fire and when it was boiling placed the dumplings in it.
The rusty coloured water had the effect of forming a rusty froth and discolouring the dumplings. Not that the colour mattered to us. It was when we wanted to eat them - although perfect as far as the lightness was concerned - I found I had used salty water. Some of the claypans contained salty water, and some sweetish water. Having our choice to eat or go hungry, we had to do the former without any sweets, too. Even Dinkum ate a little with a sour face.
Although the country was fairly flat there was a peculiar rocky hill on the west of the railway line about 400 feet high, so, after this glorious meal, I climbed the hill, the sides of which were fairly steep. Looking to the east, I noticed a small house and outbuildings about 2 1/2 miles away. With a ray of hope flashing through me I quickly descended the hill, slipping now and then on the pebbly stones and informed Frank. Without a moment's delay we started walking in the direction of the homestead, but we were a long time in reaching it owing to a swamp which was nothing less than a quagmire, and we had to make a big detour to the north before we could safely reach the homestead. As we were nearing we could not help noticing the absence of animal and human life and were discouraged to find the place locked up and no sign of life. Nothing daunted, we broke in, cheering ourselves that we would find food of some description, but the only foodstuff we could discover was some dripping. The homestead gave every appearance of having been deserted within the last week or so, and we had no alternative but to leave a message written in charcoal on the wall and return to the car. Trudging back, the numerous crows seemed to have resented our appearance at the homestead and the whole way followed us flying just over our heads. Screeching their hideous "Ah! Ah!" in our ears, some of them were audacious enough to swoop down at Dinkum with the intention of pecking him. But that gentleman, being extremely hungry, was in a bad mood and caused us a little amusement by occasionally jumping into the air as a crow would descend on him. But I think he had as much chance of catching one in his mouth as a crow had of pecking him. There is no doubt that those crows had been in the habit of feeding at the homestead and now were very hungry seeing that the homestead was deserted.
With nothing in the larder and nothing in sight we decided to walk along the railway line to Stewart's siding. As it was only 20 miles we intended to walk as far as possible tonight and finish the remainder in the early hours of the morning. Taking a billycan, water bag and a rifle we started off about five o'clock, and Dinkum - by now desperately hungry -scouted out in all directions on the off chance of some game. Before a mile had passed he secured a nice iguana about 5 foot long and our hopes began to rise. Shortly afterwards, a large lizard was added. Well, these two would make a meal tonight and we would see that Dinkum got his share. Although I had never tasted this delicacy, Frank (who had) explained that it was not too bad and that he did not require to be extraordinarily hungry to eat it, and I was looking forward to a delicious meal.
13: Bopeechee Siding
After we had covered about 4 miles, a ganger's cottage came into view, and as we were studying it from a distance for signs of habitation a rush in the grass drew our attention immediately, followed by Dinkum in pursuit of a rabbit. Half mad with delight we dropped our billy, rifle, et cetera, and started after them.
The chase lasted fully ten minutes before Dinkum finally laid it by the heels, brought it to us and waited to be patted, then off again rummaging after more. Picking up our belongings again, we made for the cottage, finding it as we expected unoccupied. While Frank cleaned the rabbit I made a fire put some water on in the billy, finally breaking the rabbit up and putting it in.
Although, just rabbit boiled in water, I fancied it more than the iguana or lizard and they were put in abeyance. Poor Dinkum. He would have eaten half a dozen rabbits, but not only did he have his third share, he also ate the bones which we could not eat. The water tanks provided clean rainwater, and by the time we were ready to tramp again we felt considerably easier and fresher than we had been for some time.
Just as we were starting I noticed that the cottage was connected with the Telegraph line, so we immediately searched for admittance. Finding an unlocked window we opened it and scrambled through, and after passing through several rooms discovered what we wanted - a telephone. Amongst the mass of indecipherable writings and figures I gathered the words, "Line party three long rings", and acted on that instruction.
I was immediately answered by about a dozen "hello's". I explained who we were and asked for the nearest habitation. I then ascertained that we were at Bopeechee siding and that Gregory siding was 4 miles further on, a gang of men being there, and if we walked on we could get what food we required to carry on with. I hardly need to mention that we covered those 4 miles in record time and were not long in having a good square meal prepared by the male cook.
The men would not hear of our leaving that night, and after an interesting chat, they provided us with a stretcher each and we were soon well asleep after a pretty strenuous day.
Before leaving for work in the morning the men instructed the cook to assist us as far as possible, so our first thoughts were food. It appeared that a special train had gone through yesterday from Marree for Oodnadatta and had dropped our goods at Stewart's siding. As that train was returning the next day (Thursday) the cook telephoned Stewart's siding and asked to replace our goods on the train and instruct the guard to drop them at the 460 mile post. It was also necessary to telephone Marree to instruct the guard on the train from Adelaide to drop our spare parts there also. This done, we sincerely thanked the cook, obtained from him rations enough to keep us alive until the next day, and started back again for the car.
The oversight in omitting to supply us with the differential gears was undoubtedly inconveniencing us to a great extent. Being in no hurry, we lunched at Bopeechee and got back to the car to find that crows had been in possession and were still sitting around.
Next morning, we got everything in readiness for an immediate start when the spares arrived on Friday. It was not until after dark that we heard the whistle of a train and running to the line were handed our rations by the guard and the good things provided supper for us that night before retiring. Shortly after breakfast next morning (Friday) the Adelaide train whistled her arrival and without stopping, the guard dropped spare parts, and within a few hours they were fitted and once again we were on the move, the numerous crows making a great noise and flying in all directions.
14: Crossing Bridges
Our progress was badly retarded owing to the bog, and the next couple of days were to try our nerves and systems to the utmost with the worst of Overlander's trials. On reaching Stewart's siding we discovered that the Creek was about 200 yards wide, and where the road crossed it, it would be impossible to get the car across owing to the depth of the water and the softness of the mud. On foot we explored the Creek for about a mile each side of the railway bridge, but found no possible crossing. The Creek was bridged by a sleeper bridge, the sleepers being from 1 to 3 feet apart, and there was no supporting handrail of any description on either side of the bridge. After serious consideration our only alternative was to cross the bridge as we had no desire to wait for the Creek to dry up any more than a desire to wait for the next train exactly a fortnight hence. As a strong wind was blowing from the side we put the hood down so as to lessen any danger to the undertaking. Being a big car the wheels were fairly wide apart, and as the gauge of this railway is 3'6" the two rails fitted inside the car wheels with a few inches to spare between each.
This left but a matter of 9 inches or so on either side of the car between it and the edge of the sleepers. Outside that was a drop of about 30 feet into the Creek. Once on the bridge we would have to keep going as it would be absolutely impossible to reverse the car. Such a proceeding would mean certain disaster. For the first few yards the sleepers were only about 1 foot apart, and having big tyres we bumped over fairly easily, although the steering was made extremely awkward by the bumping motion. The sleepers gradually became wider apart, making progress well-nigh impossible. For instance, the four wheels would happen to become placed between the wide sleepers and rest on the supporting girder beneath. Then, as a little power was applied the wheels would skid, having nothing to grip, and with a bound the car would bump over the obstructing sleeper and the wheels would settle down between the next pair.
The force of the driving wheels was apt to interfere with the steering, while the front wheels were forced over the front obstructing sleeper. We overcame this difficulty by using old sleepers which were stacked beside the line near the entrance to the bridge and jamming them under the rail between the wide sleepers, thus reducing the gap to a foot or so. Then, by driving the car some yards, we would retrieve these extra sleepers and place them under the rails between wide sleepers and repeat this performance until we eventually crossed the bridge. It was a dangerous operation, as, apart from carrying the sleepers, we had such a confined area in which to work between the side of the car and the edge of the sleepers, there being no handrails to hang on to. We had quite a number of "close shaves" during the operation and, from the time we entered onto the bridge to the time we left it, over six hours had elapsed.
Imagine the tension on a man's nerves for those six hours during which the car was doing its best to jump over the side of the bridge. On more than one occasion did the front wheels turn in that direction. But the greatest danger was the chance of the ends of the sleepers breaking off. That part of the sleeper between the rails as well as those parts outside the rails were substantial enough, but the mere few inches onto which the rails were bolted stand the whole strain, and as the wheels of the car were on the outside of the rails we recognised that our three ton weight might easily snap the ends of the sleepers off at the weak places where the rails were bolted to them.
That night an awful nightmare that came to me in consequence of that day's strain, is still very clearly embedded in my brain.
Sunday brought us another lengthy bridge to cross. This was a bridge crossing Peake Creek and proved to be much longer than the bridge over Stewart's Creek. This was the same type of bridge, except that the sleepers were all too wide apart, and we had no extra sleepers to assist us.
We overcame this difficulty by removing the iron plates running along the centre of the railway line for gangers to work along. These plates were six or 7 feet long, fastened down with dogs spikes. We would remove six or eight plates at a time and, with one of us at each end, gingerly carry them (tucked under one arm and hanging on to the side of the car) place them in front of the car, thus being able to drive a few yards, and then retrieve them and carry on the same operation until we finally crossed the bridge. It was a difficult, heavy and dangerous operation. We worked strenuously from 5 AM until 5 PM, the last hour or so being dark, but our lights gave us some assistance.
After safely crossing the bridge we found we could not leave the rails on account of their height from the ground, the line having been built up some 10 or 12 feet to enhance its safety from possible large overflows of the Creek. It was, therefore, necessary to travel nearly a mile before we could safely leave the line will stop
Morning revealed that we had unknowingly passed over half a dozen massive culverts from 4 to 5 feet wide and spanned only by sleepers with ballast on top. We had missed the edges of sleepers by as little as 3 inches and had one of the wheels slipped over it would have meant disaster.
Before proceeding, however, it was necessary to carry all the plates we had used back to the entrance to the bridge and replace them. Fortunately, no special trains came along during these proceedings.
The following day after this incident we noticed that the country was gradually rising and large sandhills loomed up in the distance, but, although we realised the toil those sandhills would cause, it would undoubtedly be a vast change from continual bog.
15: William Creek
An old man in charge of a railway siding apparently directed us onto the wrong track for, after following his directions to some miles, the tract petered out, so we cut across country in a direction we believed would take us to the railway line. We travelled many miles in this direction and we were getting a little disheartened at not striking the railway line. It would be useless turning back because the country was very stony and it would be impossible to follow our tracks. We therefore headed direct south-west as we concluded that the line must have taken a sharp turn to the West. Our efforts in this direction were soon rewarded as we shortly sighted the Telegraph line. We were much surprised by the absence of game or birds of any description, other than crows, for the last few hundred miles, but, on reaching William Creek Station, were struck by the numerous galah parrots which swarmed on the roofs of the few buildings and Telegraph lines. The inhabitants of William Creek were the station master and two engine drivers whose duty it was to take charge of the Adelaide train to and from William Creek to Oodnadatta, the southern engine drivers resting at William Creek meanwhile.
We obtained a case of benzine from the station master and on Monday afternoon reached Boorthana siding (unoccupied) just as the last drop of benzine was used. Owing to the heavy work the car had had to do since leaving William Creek, the benzine we had obtained from the station master literally ran away. We had travelled through the Strangways drift sandhills, although I must admit that we found it necessary more than once to travel along the railway line. Even then we had to clear the sand away several times as it had completely drifted over the rails and so, to avoid the labourious work required to be done by us to get over bottomless sandhills, one of which took us six hours before we reached the other side - by which time we were fairly raving with the effects of the heat and the hordes of flies which are continually at every exposed part of your body and chiefly your eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Had there been a cool spot under a shady tree we could have had a few minutes respite at times, but to find a tree in this part would be harder to find than the proverbial needle in the haystack. I consider that the Strangways sandhills are just as difficult to cross as the famous Depot sandhills in Central Australia, which we would encounter later. I understand it was a common thing for passengers on the "Ghan" to have to shovel sand off the line to enable the train to proceed.
Frank told me, that some few years previously, Dutton and Aunger attempting to negotiate the south to north track had railed their car from Marree to Oodnadatta, thereby avoiding the Strangways, and later on, when they reached the Depot sandhills between Horseshoe Bend and Alice Springs in the N.T., they were unable to negotiate them under their own power and were pulled through by a team of donkeys. We negotiated the hills, as I will describe later, and when we got through Frank said that, although we would have many more difficulties to surpass, we would be the first motor car to complete the South North route under our own power. (More of this later).
While awaiting the arrival of the train next morning we passed the time in writing private letters, and when the train arrived we soon had the benzine tanks filled and were ready to push on. Taking our seats in the car we noticed that we had forgotten to give our letters to the guard to post for us, and the train had been gone several minutes. But Frank was equal to the occasion, knowing of the slowness of the travelling of the train on this line, and particularly on this section. Sprinting along the line he soon caught up with the train and handed the letters over to the guard. Returning, Frank mumbled something about this railway service being mentioned in the Bible and, on my asking his meaning, he stated that the Bible says, "The Lord made all creeping things". Having a sense of humour, I laughed heartily, as, had the train not been a "creeping thing", our letters would have been delayed for a fortnight. So much for the "Adelaide - Oodnadatta Express" (known as the "Ghan").
16: Mt Dutton
Lunch saw us at Mt Dutton railway siding where, the Cook was expecting us, and had a first-class meal awaiting us. We were now only a couple of score of miles from Oodnadatta and the Cook informed us that there were two roads - one via the line and the other veering off to the east through Allendale Cattle Station. It would be impossible for us to traverse the former road, he said, owing to the roughness of the country, and a gorge had to be passed through, whereas the latter road was very even and plain and was used the most. Why, only yesterday Mrs Low and Mrs Henderson had been to Mt Dutton and returned to Allendale where they lived. As this latter road is only a few miles longer we decided to follow it. Allendale Station was reckoned to be about 10 miles, and when within a few miles of it we stopped at a deep waterhole where we shaved and cleaned up generally as we expected to meet ladies at the Station.
Shortly after pulling up at the door, Frank was agreeably surprised that the manager, Mr low, was an old friend of his and he had never surmised that he was in these parts. Of course, we must stay the night and have a look around, and we heartily accepted the invitation.
The Lows and Hendersons proved to be admirable hosts, and wishing us luck we left them next morning and about 10 o'clock reached Oodnadatta, 680 miles from Adelaide and the terminus of the railway.
The nice, soft bed at the hotel was a pleasure and one of the few beds we had slept in since leaving Sydney. Our nightly sleep was on the ground wherever we happened to stop, often in sand or, if the car was bogged, we would find a dry spot. I was certainly getting the experience I had longed for, but started out very green and did not expect it to be so harsh.
At the hotel was a real old stager from the outback. I think he was a drover just passing through. However, looking at the car, he said he did not like or trust these newfangled things, saying that they were only useful in the cities on good roads and he guaranteed that he could take the buggy and pair where we could never take our car. I countered this by saying he could not take his buggy and pair where we are just a couple of days ago taken our car. He ridiculed this, but after I explained how we crossed the bridges, he admitted he could not do this, but still argued he could traverse country which we could not, and after I admitted this could be so, we adjourned to the bar and drank to each other.
Oodnadatta boasted of two stores, a hotel, a mission hospital and a number of cottages mostly occupied by Government Servants, and a population of about 100. The surrounding country was the most barren and stony I had ever seen. The theatrical scene which I had witnessed in Melbourne vividly flashed through my head. One party on the stage had boasted that he had travelled all over the world, and, on his partner asking, "Have you been to Oodnadatta?", the audience laughed heartily. Having seen Oodnadatta and the barren district around, I now discovered the reason theatricals used it as a joke, and remembered the old saying, "It is the last place God made".
As our work included the selection of landing grounds for aeroplanes we drove to the stony flat at the rear of the Afghans' quarters of the town - the pegged out site which, were it not for the numerous pebbly stones, would have been an ideal landing ground, but it would suffice, and we considered it quite safe.
So we were at last that our official starting point, and were to find later that it was practically a joyride compared with what we were to experience.
Alice Springs, 350 miles northward, would be the next township in which we could purchase stores, so it was necessary to obtain a good supply before leaving Oodnadatta. Half a dozen cases of benzine, foodstuffs and a hundred and one different things, including a mosquito nets, were stacked into the car, leaving the storekeeper with a fat cheque.
We lunched at the hotel after having met a station owner by the name of Syd Staines, who informed us that he had just returned from Sydney and was that day starting for his station "Erl Dunda" on horseback.
18: Enter "Thor"
He had a big, black boarhound pup about six months old which he stated was not hardened enough to follow on foot, and asked us if we would carry it in the car as far as Horseshoe Bend. As Horseshoe Bend was on our track we readily agreed, but, before many days, we would have got rid of that dog had it been our own. With a considerable amount of trouble we lifted the heavy brute into the car and found it necessary to attach a chain to him, and with the order "all aboard", Dinkum jumped in, only to give a vicious growl of jealousy at finding another occupant of his portion of the car. "Thor" (that was the name of the boarhound) lazily stretched himself out as though he completely owned the car, and after we got started Dinkum continually kept falling over the back of our seat and landing between us on to the floor.
Although Syd with his man Alf Butter and black boy left some hours before us, we overtook them within an hour from the time we left. The black boy, who was only a lad of 13 or 14, was in charge of the pack-horses, the men riding some few hundred yards in front. Apparently, it was the first motor car a boy had seen for, as we came near at a slow pace, he gave us one scared to look and galloped off for the skyline in another direction, leaving the pack-horses to look after themselves. As we stopped, Syd and Alf galloped off after the horses and succeeded in rounding them up some distance away, meanwhile shouting for the boy to return. He did return, but very timidly, and could not be induced to come within a few hundred yards of the car.
I might mention here that Syd was a cripple, one of his legs being withered, and he used a stick to help him along. Yet, he was an excellent horseman. He had been away in the city for some months and had softened a little, a few hours ride from Oodnadatta in the scorching sun having tired him not a little, so he gratefully accepted our offer to ride with us as far as Horseshoe Bend, from which his station was in a westerly direction and our road would lead us northerly.
19: Alberga Creek - Mosquitoes
Alf stated that he would camp at Alberga Creek that night, and advised us that it was a wide, dry, sandy creek and to get over it we might require the use of his horses. On reaching the Alberga we attempted to cross it, but only could proceed half way owing to the heavy, bottomless sand, and rather than "work our passage" with branches and boards, we decided to await Alf's arrival and get towed over by his horses.
Alberga Creek we were to find was similar to many large and small creeks which, during the wet season, carry large, swiftly running volumes of water to Lake Eyre, but in the dry season was nothing but arid, sandy tracks, which always caused labourious work cross should the car stop before reaching the opposite side.
While awaiting Alf's arrival we prepared a meal and hung our cheesecloth mosquito nets as the mosquitoes were already very thick, a large billabong some few hundred yards away providing a breeding place for them. Dinkum had given vent to his wound up jealousy by viciously attacking Thor who, although twice Dinkum's size, lay on the ground whining like an overgrown, childish boy. Tearing Dinkum away, he gave a contemptuous sniff and, without looking at Thor, ambled away and stretched himself out by the fire. I think that, had Thor tried, he could have knocked Dinkum off his feet with one blow of his large, powerful legs, and his mouth was large enough to close over Dinkum's head. Of course, the dog was young and inexperienced in roughing it, where as Dinkum was a hardened "old man" and would shirk at nothing.
I have spent many a sleepless night in parts of Moreton Bay when pleasure sailing, owing to prevalence of mosquitoes, but I can safely say that never in my life have I encountered the pests in such swarms as existed at Alberga.
Alf arrived just after sundown, by which time we had made a large smoke fire of green leaves. We endeavoured to have our meal near the fire, but the smoke had no effect whatever on the black hordes which were so thick that, by extending a hand, we could catch 100 or so. The smoke was also more than we could bear and, with watering eyes and noses, we crawled into our nets taking our food with us. Music hath charms, but this continual buzz was not sweet and soothing enough to have the effect of singing us to sleep. Moreover, the nets were not exactly invincible, a good number finding a way inside, and at Alf's suggestion we worked them into one corner and passed some time tickling their tails with matches.
Dinkum, who usually seemed immune to worryings of mosquitoes, had, after walking around for a few hours, settled himself between Frank's and my nets which were about 6 inches apart, and it was not until a slight cold snap in the early morning that one by one snores took the place of talking.
We are told that everything on earth has its use, but I maintain that mosquitoes at any rate have absolutely no use and do not fit into the scheme of things whatever.
Morning found us with inflamed eyes, and our arms, faces and necks a mass of lumps which were very irritating. Very timidly we approached the billabong for a wash where we knew the mosquitoes would be resting and perhaps gloating over the trouble they had caused and comparing their stocks of blood sucked from us. After the boy had brought the horses in, Alf singled out the quietest and which was also the strongest, and with a little difficulty we attached him to the car with the aid of chains.
So far so good, but it would be impossible for the horse to tow us through the sand without the aid of the car's own power, and as the self-starter was out of order, it was necessary to start the engine by cranking from the front. Quite easily, yes, but with the hindlegs of a fresh bush horse only three or 4 feet in front of the car, I had a queer feeling that I might go sprawling on top of the engine. Someone suggested that the horse might not hear the engine at first, but I disillusioned him on this point as we had discarded the silencer from the exhaust. However, keeping a wary eye on those hoofs and immediately I felt by the compression that the engine would start, I gave a short jerk with the handle and tried to jump clear. But the horse was too quick for me and instantly jumped forward at the sound of the engine, thereby tightening the chains which had been lying slack on the sand. In my attempt, therefore, to jump clear, one of the chains came into contact with my shins and sent me sprawling in the sand. I think the horse got quite a surprise when he found he could not move.
However, the engine conked out, and after many crankings we got it started again, but the horse would have nothing of it; so we attached four extra wheels, and with bushes to help grip and the manpower we got over, and another day's journey commenced, leaving Alf's men to follow with the horses.
The country was still very barren and stony - no animal life whatever, and only a little life was to be found about the few waterholes which we occasionally encountered. The track in some places was practically obliterated owing to washaways caused by the rain and also the stony nature of the ground would not too easily take the imprint of traffic.
20: Blood's Creek and Charlotte Waters
Reaching Blood's Creek Station we were informed that the owners were away, but our informant, who was a travelling German parson, was in charge. Being an exceedingly hot day, we were feeling thirsty, but it took the persuasive abilities of the three of us before we could induce the good man to oblige us with a little refreshment which was kept on the premises. We also obtained a supply of fresh and salted meat, and after inspecting the parson's travelling van - all over which appeared biblical phrases in large letters - we left for Charlotte Waters on the border of the Northern Territory.
We had been looking for a suitable camping place for miles where we could get wood to make a fire before we had noticed a dead tree over half a mile off the track. While Syd pulled branches down to make a fire I laid the eatables out on the ground. Opening a tin of jam I placed it with the other eatables and proceeded to fry some bacon, and about five minutes afterwards noticed the jam had disappeared. Making a search, we found Thor behind a bush with the tin between his paws, but the jam all gone. Had Dinkum done this we would have beaten him, but our time would have been wasted on Thor and we were sorry he did not swallow the tin, and he did seem gluttonous enough to do so. Dinkum was too well-behaved to steal; we would unhesitatingly leave meat lying about and, provided it gave the appearance of not being for him, Dinkum would never touch it.
We were travelling now in what is known as gibber country, where the stony plains stretched from horizon to horizon.
A half an hour's run brought us to Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station, which is just on the border, so we were now in the Northern Territory about 160 miles from Oodnadatta.
We selected another landing ground similar to that at Oodnadatta, except, if possible, but the ground was more stony. The construction of the building claimed our attention. It was made of stone, having been built back in the early seventies. In those days, the blacks were dangerous and not to be trusted. It was, therefore, constructed so as to give the operators the best defence possible from likely attacks by the blacks, and with this end in view the only entrance to the building could be gained through heavy iron gates which led into a courtyard, whence access is obtained to various rooms. There were also a number of holes about eight inches square on the walls of the building near the roof, from which the possibly besieged men could fire at the blacks without exposing themselves to their deadly spears. These precautions would not, of course, being necessary in those parts now as the blacks generally are quite docile.
21: Crown Point
Crown Point Station, in charge of Tom Pearce, was reached at lunchtime, and the watermelon, grapes and figs we received were very acceptable. Indeed, the station boasted of a very fair orchard, the likes of which we had not seen for hundreds of miles.
After lunch we were treated to a rare exhibition of buck jumping, the black boys being splendid riders, showing their superiority of willpower over the many fiery colts by riding them to a finish. One little weed of a boy mounted a horse that was too strong for him and, although the horse was fairly quiet in the small yards, once the gate was open and he rushed out, and after a series of wild prancings during which the lad was thrown high from the saddle a few times, only to regain it again, the horse succeeded in throwing him and galloped off. Picking himself are, the lad limped back to the yard, but would have willingly mounted the horse again had he been allowed. When brought back a big husky boy was persuaded to take the mount, and rode it to a finish.
22: Enter "Bluey"
Before leaving Oodnadatta the storekeeper had informed us that a string of camels was leaving for Crown Point the day we left, so we arranged to send six cases of benzine with them. Pearce now informed us that he expected the camels to arrive within a few days and would immediately send them on to Alice Springs where we would await their arrival. As this would mean only about a week's delay in Alice Springs we were quite satisfied, and thanking Pearce we started for Horseshoe Bend about 50 miles further on, taking with us a little cattle dog pup which Pearce was sending to the police office at Alice Well. We could hardly refuse the hospitable Pearce and were now unencumbered with two extra dogs which increased Dinkum's jealousy.
Owing to the depth of the water in the Creek near the station it was impossible to follow the main track, and we found it necessary to follow the Creek downwards for some miles before we could find a suitable crossing. Shortly after reaching the main track again several formidable whites sandhills appeared. We contrived to cross the first, but the second held as up, and by nightfall we had made practically no further headway, except that we were near the top. This point was attained by reversing the car to the level at the bottom of the hill where the sand was only a few inches deep and then charging the hill at a high speed. When the car stopped near the top I noticed the little pup, "Bluey", was missing, and alighting I found the poor little dog hanging by his chain over the back of the car. Apparently, he had been thrown out by the rolling of the car, or he had objected to the rough bumping and jumped out. He was bleeding badly from the mouth, and on being released was unable to stand, so I laid him near a bush in the shade and gave him a drink. About a quarter of an hour afterwards he was gone, and although we got Dinkum onto the scent we were unable to find him, and on retiring that night we never expected to see Bluey again, thinking that he would either find his way back to Crown Point or would make a meal for some dingoes.
The only consolation one receives from a hard day's work in glittering, hot sand is a soft bed at night, which I must admit is very comfortable, and on this note in particular the mosquitoes were conspicuous by their absence, the atmosphere having a decided "whiff" in it. Awaiting early, we were considerably surprised to find Bluey snugly curled up between us, apparently none the worse for a little adventure.
Shortly after arising, a curious black boy could be seen about half a mile off, and, presuming there would be more about, we signalled to him. He approached very timidly while I held Dinkum, and in pidgin English we learnt from him that there were quite a number of boys with their lubras (wives) a few miles away. In an hour or so we had the whole gang cutting and pulling out shrubs and bushes to make a track over which the car would run fairly easily. The blacks worked with a will as they know "plenty tucker and baccy" would follow their labours. On starting the engine the boys scattered in all directions, and as we were on a gradient we wanted them to help the car start by pushing. While Frank took the wheel I gathered the boys together again and placed in various positions around the car where they could push to advantage. Very shortly, therefore, we were over the top but not before Dinkum had caused trouble by silently heeling the boys who were really helping considerably. Once over the top the steepness of the hill acted against the heaviness of the sand and the car rolled down the other side, followed by the screaming blacks running alongside now thoroughly enjoying the joke. From the top of the hill I trained the cinema camera onto the scene, the boys attired only in shorts, the lubras with their frail skirts held well above their knees, and a naked piccaninnies presenting a very humorous spectacle.
The car stopped about halfway up the next sandhill and, while reversing, the clumsy Thor got in the way and would not move. Attacking him with the whip only made matters worse, for he went under the car and would not shift. Dinkum, looking on, seemed to understand and did not hesitate when we sooled him on to the Thor with the object of removing him. The Thor only whined and would not move and we had to call Dinkum off. The angry Frank at the wheel, unable to put up with it any longer, started to reverse the car and Thor, getting caught between the front axle in the sand, shrieked pitifully; while in this helpless position we contrived to drag him out and threw him into the car with Bluey. While traversing Bluey fell over the back of the car and I was surprised to see the little fellow bob up in front unscathed, the car having passed right over in.
Charging again, we got no further than on the previous occasion and while laying down sticks and bushes some blacks appeared with two donkeys. But the donkeys would have nothing of it, and with the use of the extra wheels, and bushes, and the boys, and our men, we were able to get over.
23: The Finke
With our larder considerably diminished by the blacks we made a start of Finke River, instructing the blacks to follow us and bring the donkeys as we were anticipating difficulty in effecting a crossing. It was only a matter of a few miles to the Finke and on reaching it we lunched and awaited the arrival of the blacks.
Inspecting both banks of the river for several hundred yards, we decided on a crossing which we thought would present the least difficulty. The water in places was about 2'6" deep and quicksands appeared to be dangerous, so that it was necessary to be careful where we walked. Bring in the car to the river's edge we proceeded to unload it thereby diminishing the weight considerably. We attached the four spare tyres one to each wheel with rope and straps to lessen the possibility of bogging in the sand. The Finke River, which is probably 1000 miles long, rises in the MacDonnell Ranges with numerous tributaries running into it; it carries an enormous volume of water to Lake Eyre in the wet season. A month or so ago the raging torrent, 3 miles across, with foaming waves, more resembled the mouth of a large river running into the ocean. It is hardly credible that such a phenomenon should exist in the heart of Australia. Although I did not actually see it myself, I was shown a photograph taken the time and would have quite believed that it was taken from a point overlooking the ocean had I not been told otherwise.
When the donkeys and boys arrived we spent fully an hour adopting all manner of tactics in endeavouring to induce them to enter the water. When we found them unwilling to enter Frank and I each took charge of one. Placing a rope around their necks blindfolding them was useless, so with their eyes still covered tried to back them into the water. Finding this of no avail we turned them again and set Dinkum on their heels. Lashing out and jumping about, Frank's donkey suddenly bit him on the arm, and getting free started off, cannoning into me and knocking me backwards into the water and mud, forcing me to let go my hold on the rope of my donkey. We were both justifiably upset and cursing (mildly), but Syd, who had been unable to help owing to his crippled leg, roared with laughter while the boys seem to fully appreciate the joke and our humiliation. By this time there was no sign of the donkeys. Knowing that an Afghan was camped not far off with a camel team, we despatched one of the boys to bring a camel. After waiting for another an hour or so, we decided to charge the river under the car's own power, and if we bogged - well, there was plenty of manpower, and a camel would arrive soon, so we disconnected the fan belt and placed a waterproof sheet over the engine and radiator. Before we could actually realise it, we had crossed the deep patch of water; we drove up the river bed to the spot where we could leave the river.
Here we stopped as the sand was fairly firm, and examined the bank. As the bank was very steep and about 6 foot high, we had to cut it away a good deal before attempting to mount it. Then, charging as fast as the sand would permit and with the boys pushing, we mounted the bank - not before raising a cloud of dust through which it was impossible to see. This was caused by the front axle striking the bank with such force that it hit the soft ground which it scattered in all directions.
While the boys were carrying the loading across the river we lunched, and after reloading the car the camel in charge of another boy appeared. Although we did not now require the camel we gave the boy a few sticks of tobacco for his trouble and he was quite satisfied.
The country was now developing into a dry, sandy desert, grassed with spinifex (one of the drought resistant grasses in the Territory). Although not favoured when other grasses are abundant, stock eagerly devour it during drought seasons. Spinifex is a tufty-bottomed grass long, coarse, sharp pointed blades, growing several feet in height. Owing to the heaviness of the sand we found it necessary to continually leave the track and proceed over the Spinifex, and although we found it exceedingly bumpy and uncomfortable, it was more acceptable than "working a passage" in the hot sand. On the tufty grass the driving wheels would get an admirable grip, whereas in the bottomless sand there was nothing for the wheels to grip, therefore causing skidding and burying. However, our progress was extremely slow and the continual use of the low gears caused the engine to become very hot; consequently, a lot of water was consumed and by nightfall we were about 5 miles from Horseshoe Bend. We attempted to travel with the aid of our lights, but they were very weak, and so we decided to camp.
24: Horseshoe Bend
A cup of tea would have relieved the headaches from which we were suffering, but we had only a little water, and the car would require it all to deliver us safely to Horseshoe Bend, so we had a dry meal followed by a restless sleep, and you can be sure we started very early in the morning. Luckily, we have stopped the car on the top of a hill all we would have had difficulty in starting as it was extremely cold. As it happened, the releasing of the brakes and a push started the car downhill and in gear the engine started without any trouble. Within half an hour Horseshoe Bend Station appeared, and as we rounded the somewhat dangerous "horseshoe bend" we commented on the prettiness of the picture in the early dawn.
Looking down from our elevated position into the peaceful valley the only sign of life was a thin blue smoke ascending from one part of the compact buildings. A creek running alongside its banks evenly wooded, naturally added to the picture. But our thoughts did not lead us to delay too long and we were soon provided with a cup of tea preliminarily to breakfast. The main building had a room set apart for the purpose of a bar, but we preferred the cup of tea to any of the contents of that bar. The owners of the station - Messrs. Elliott and Sargent - with their wives provided us with the usual hospitality, and after breakfast we were shown around. At the time my right eye was severely bunged, the cause being a fly, but I considered myself lucky when we approached, one of the station hands finding his way around with a stick we observed that he had both his eyes bunged to such an extent that the lashes could not be seen.
As surely as you leave a fly rest in the corner of your eye then just as surely shall you suffer. But what are you to do when your hands are both engaged, or covered with grease or mud? Blinking, or blowing upwards is of no avail, and you cannot rub the corner of your eye against a post or some other object as you can any other part of your body.
We stayed at Horseshoe Bend all morning, doing odd repairs, and finally bathing in the creek. As we were leaving Syd and his dog Thor here, we were expecting to have more room to ourselves, but Mr Elliott informed us he had an old man of 70 with him who was wanting a lift to Alice Springs, so with the same hospitality that we had received everywhere, we agreed to take old Pat Burns with us. Taking about 10 gallons of water with us, we were wondering whether the famous Depot sandhills between Horseshoe Bend and Alice Well (25 miles) were going to give us any more trouble than the previous sandhills. As there was a large rock hole 20 miles from Horseshoe Bend we thought that 10 gallons of water would be more than sufficient to carry us there, but, of course, never anticipating a breakdown of the car.
Three miles after leaving the station we encountered the first of the 22 sandhills in a distance of 15 miles, 13 of which were in 4 miles. The double wheels again proved a great advantage, but while crossing the second hill, one of the rear extra tyres became loose and ran back down the hill much faster than we were ascending. Old Pat, who is remarkably agile for his age, went after the tyre while we cleared away the sand in front of the back wheels, and placing down a few boards to give the necessary starting grip, soon reached the top. The steaming car was standing up to the work well, only stopping when near the top of each hill. A little sand scratching and a few boards would then suffice to take it over the crest and down the other side. But the engine was heating terribly and literally drinking water. When about 10 miles from Horseshoe Bend a knocking in the engine warned us of a loose connecting rod, and while Pat prepared tea Frank and I examined the interior of the engine, and found that the white metal had been completely run out of one of the bearings. This necessitated replacing new bearings, and as it was getting dark we decided to wait till the morning before doing the job. Some of these sandhills were 50 feet high, with grades of one in three.
A hard morning's work in the sweltering sun with the flies swarming in unusual hordes saw the new bearings fitted, but the engine would not start, and our water supply had run out. Some days previously I had put a tin of Cementol into the radiator as it had several small holes in it. Now, with not a drop of water left, we had to drain what was left in the radiator. The smell and taste of this water making it impossible to drink, we boiled it and made tea. Even so, it was extremely objectionable, but we had to make the best of it, although the two dogs absolutely refused to drink it. The Rock-hole was about 10 miles ahead, but it would be useless walking there as we would have been unable to carry sufficient water back with us; moreover, there were still eight more bottomless sandhills to cross, we decided to foot it back to Horseshoe Bend. The hardy old Pat would accompany us, as would Dinkum. But little Bluey would have to stay behind as the sand would be too hot for his paws. Leaving a little of the obnoxious tea and some meat for Bluey, we started our 10 mile march through the worst part of Australia's desert country. I do not think that Frank and myself were at all sorry that our progress was retarded by the elderly Pat, and after the fifteen minute stages we were quite eager to lie down and rest under an occasional friendly shady desert oak tree. The temperature in the shade at three o'clock was in the vicinity of 115° F., and Dinkum suffered terribly.
He adopted an attitude of trotting for a few hundred yards at a time and resting under a shady spinifex bush until we overtook him. We would have fared better had the flies only given us peace, but the seething masses were intent on adding to our discomforts and not only are they irritating, but they also tend to tire one, for you must continually brush and fight them. A man on his own in these parts would surely go mad - not only through loneliness, but more because of the flies - and one must really experience the viciousness of these flies at that time of the year to know their effect.
Old Pat, who was not exactly a teetotaller, caused perhaps a little humour. Before leaving Horseshoe Bend we obtained a bottle of whiskey (quite a useful article sometimes), and we were now carrying it with us in case it would be required. I need hardly mention that Pat was not carrying the bottle. However, Frank found that, by saturating his hair and sprinkling his face, neck and arms with the whiskey, the flies did not worry him so much. I followed suit, as it were, but, although the flies still attacked me, I am sure there attacks gradually subsided; whether they objected to the smell or got intoxicated, I am unaware. In any case, humour was caused by Pat flatly refusing to waste the drink on flies, and I can still see the longing look in his eyes as we lavishly splashed whiskey over ourselves.
We would also light a clump of spinifex and jump through it, and this would remove some of the flies from our bodies, but there was a limit to the number of times we could do this, which was rather a risky operation and, in any case, only seconds later they would be at us again.
Frank told us that in 1905 he rode his bicycle through the Centre and had to carry it through the Depot and other sandhills - which we could easily understand.
Rumour had it that old Pat, who had driven the first bullock team between Adelaide and the Far North, was once entrusted to carry a case of beer from one station to another. Pat was several days late in arriving, and when he did arrive the case contained empty bottles. At the time of this little whiskey episode, the sun was just setting, and the flies had started their last vigourous attack. But, with only a few more miles to the station and the atmosphere being somewhat cooler, we could afford to see the humour in this situation.
When we reached the creek it was too dark to find our way to the station which, from this point, was about a mile away, so we were quite content to sleep on the banks and await daybreak. Why should we not be satisfied now that we had the most precious article on earth - WATER!" Dinkum was swimming about in the creek long before we reached it, and had run back to meet us joyfully barking the news.
We were in high spirits next morning, but Elliott and Sargent were not exactly surprised at our return. In fact, before we had left, they had warned us that we would not get through. A few others had tried, but had had to get a donkey team to pull them through. Rather, they had expected us back sooner and had not credited our boast that we could survive the Depot sandhills under our own power. They gave the impression of being elated and thought we had returned for their team of donkeys to tow us through, but when they discovered our trouble had been water, they quickly became sympathetic and offered us their assistance. Therefore, after breakfast, we packed two 8 gallon and two 5 gallon drums of water on pack horses, and with a riding the horse each once again set out. In a very sceptical manner did I at first proceed as this was the first horse I had ever ridden. But I soon got accustomed to the seat and finishing the journey in one stage, I felt no soreness, although Frank had tried to make me believe that I would not be able to sit down for a week. Dinkum had a bad journey back to the sand and many a time gave us a pitiful gaze which it was impossible not to understand.
On reaching the car we found Bluey had not touched the water we left him, so we immediately gave him a drink of fresh water.
That same night we camped at the big rock hole which is surrounded by precipitous cliffs quite out of place in this, sandy desert. Although we were aware that the country was sandy practically the whole way to Alice Springs, we were thankful that the worst part had been crossed, and felt proud of the fact that we had traversed the dreaded Depot sandhills unaided, as it was thought an impossible feat for a motor car.
Dinkum had now dropped his surly attitude - perhaps, because Thor had gone. In any case, we were surprised to see him running about and playing with Bluey. Perhaps, both being of the cattle dog breed caused the friendliness, and we were extremely sorry when we had to part with Bluey, who was already giving promise of being a good heeler under Dinkum's excellent tuition.
25: Alice Well
Leaving the rock hole early next morning we had to cross the winding Hugh River five or six times before reaching Alice Well. From Horseshoe Bend to Alice Well there were only a couple of hundred yards of solid ground. Although the river was dry, we were held up at one crossing where the sand was wet and shook like jelly as the back wheels settled down. Two hours were then spent "working our passage". Our method of overcoming these sandy creeks was to "charge" them at high speed, and the momentum would invariably carry us across, or nearly so. Within a mile of Alice Well we were met by Constable Sherman, who had expected us a few days previously, had become anxious as to our safety, and had just started out with horses, packed with water, to meet us. We were extremely grateful for his forethought and were soon lunching with him and his wife at their little cottage. They were quite pleased with the little dog and decided to call him Bluey as we had named him. I hardly think the way of life out here would suit our city girls, as Mrs Sherman (who appeared so very young) has to spend weeks alone at times when her husband is away attending to his duties.
After Mr Sherman, who is an ardent photographer, took several photos of us and the car we made our departure, carrying with us a case of vegetables for Maryvale Station.
Another crossing of the Hugh River five miles out from Alice Well brought us to a standstill, and the sand was so heavy that it was 10 o'clock at night before we had effected the crossing. Before retiring, Pat made a billy of cocoa, and as I had told him to make it strong, he had put a quarter pound tin into a 6 pint billycan, the result resembling melted chocolate. I am afraid that cocoa gave me a horrible nightmare, during which I was awakened by the gruesome howl of a dingo not far from our camp. The wail coming at an appropriate moment of my dreams and breaking the stillness of the night as it did, momentarily unnerved me.
The next instant a low, painful shriek set me into action and grabbing the first article my hands touched in the darkness -an axe -I ran to the spot where I could hear a scuffle taking place. Frank was already there with his rifle, and as I approached, the dingo broke away from Dinkum's savage grip, and with remarkable fleetness raced up the creek bed. Dinkum, taken unaware for a moment or so, followed for about a hundred yards, but the hardy dingo, although perhaps not Dinkum's master at close quarters, was too fast on his feet. Moreover, the wary Dinkum would never go more than a hundred yards or so from the camp after dark, unless with one of us, as he knew as well as we did that a pack of dingoes would soon make short work of him; and even this episode, which nearly cost the dingo its life, may have been a trap to lure him away. As dingoes are accredited with more cunning ways than the fox, this is quite probable.
26: Maryvale Station
Maryvale Station was reached at lunchtime next day. The owners were away, but the cook provided us with a first-class meal and as much milk as we wanted to drink. Filling our water tanks and obtaining a supply of meat, we left for Deep Well. For several miles the country was rough, hilly and rocky, after which the usual sand.
I must remark on the various types of country that we had passed through up to the present. Firstly, the extensive and highly productive, fertile plains of the South; further north, the barren, salt lake studded depression, the lowest part of which contains Lake Eyre, the surface of which is 28 feet below sea level. These lakes -some of which are over a hundred miles in length -are of no service to the country, and vary in outline and depth. They are the catchment of a considerable amount of water from the Central Australian and Queensland fresh water rivers in the wet season, when the water becomes very brackish on entering the lakes, and in some cases more saline than the waters of the ocean.
As these lakes spread over a vast area of flat country they are very shallow and in the dry seasons are liable to be dried up, but are mostly swamps of saline mud. When we passed through that country Lake Eyre was full, the water within a few hundred yards of the railway line; and looking out over the water where it met the horizon I could scarcely believe that such a large sea would be found inland, to say nothing of the numerous seabirds. Walking into the water for several hundred yards my ankles were still just covered, and it is probable that a few score of miles' walk towards the interior of the lake would have shown only a depth of a few inches.
Still further north we have the barren, stony, treeless, monotonous country, which can only boast of an average rainfall of 7 inches. Then, finally, the sandy desert with its huge, rolling sand ridges and terrible heat and hot winds. It is well-known that, when Captain Sturt explored this part of the country, he hung a thermometer on a tree, shaded from both Sun and wind. After graduating to 128° F the Mercury still rose to a burst that tube. The temperature could possibly be the highest yet recorded in any part of the world. Although doomed to perpetual aridity, this country may not be perpetually sterile. Conservation of water from the rivers when in flood would certainly open up more land for grazing.
The sand continued to Deep Well, the last few miles being long, low hills which, once under way, we crossed at a speed of 20 to 30 miles an hour, old Pat holding on tightly and seemingly losing his breath. As this was the fastest rate of speed at which old Pat had ever travelled, his little nervousness could be excused. He had been over this track many times, but his travelling was limited to a few miles per hour on horseback or camel.
27: Deep Well and Heavitree Gap
Arrived Deep Well, we were treated to a cup of tea by Mrs Johannsen who, with her husband and children, seemed quite happy, considering the lonely surrounding. As we were only about 50 miles from Alice Springs, the centre of Australia, we started off in the light spirits, declining an invitation to stay overnight. After about 30 more miles the sand rather abruptly gave way to stony, saltbush country, and looming up in the distance from east to west we saw a big, blue line which we knew to be the MacDonnell Ranges. Drawing nearer, Pat informed us that there was a big gap to pass through before reaching Alice Springs on the other side, and I must confess I was a little nonplussed for, when only a few miles off, I could see no opening - the whole range appearing to be continuous. Nevertheless, I was extremely happy, as a formidable range seemed to be sending out friendly greetings. It was just dark as we reached Heavitree Gap, as it is known, and as there were two heavy sandy crossings of the Todd River which runs through the Gap, we decided to wait till morning.
TO BE CONTINUED.