20: Off From Tennant Creek Again.
Arriving at Tennant Creek at midday, Mr Dixon had lunch awaiting us, having seen us coming in the distance. The next morning, after pegging out an excellent landing ground near the station, we took our departure, thanking Mr Dixon for his hospitality and invaluable assistance.
About 10 miles out we came to a very large billabong, and, as the track ran right through it, we had to work round the foot of the surrounding hills to get to the other side. By the time this was accomplished, and we had shot a few of the numerous ducks, it was near sundown, so we decided to camp. Besides, it would be impossible to follow the track now, owing to the bog.
Next day we spent in exploring the country for miles around to find the best direction to take to avoid the bog. A very dense Acacia scrub marred our way, and it would have been easy to lose oneself when only half a mile or so away from the car. After tramping through bog and marshy country, we reached high ground away to the West, but it was covered with a practically impenetrable scrub. We were continually consulting the compass which Frank carried on his wrist, resembling a watch.
Game was plentiful and we shot several wild turkeys, but they were too heavy to carry. Dinkum was in his glory chasing iguanas and lizards, and many a game fight was put up by the iguanas before they were killed. Standing up on their hind legs, they proved to be skilful boxers, using forelegs to advantage. Missing Dinkum once, we suddenly heard him bark. We knew by the tone of that bark that he was in trouble - perhaps, a snake had bitten him. But we remembered that Dinkum was too cautious to be bitten by a snake. He always gave them a wide berth, as only sensible dogs will do. The dog that goes snake hunting usually finishes by being bitten, eventually. Many a time Dinkum had given us warning of a snake, although he was actually frightened himself. When Dinkum was a pup Frank had allowed a small carpet snake to twine itself around him and give him a slight squeeze. Hence, Dinkum's dislike of reptiles.
His bark again lead us in the proper direction, and on account of a thickness of the scrub we could not see him until we were right near him. He was frantically endeavouring to climb a tree, and, looking up, we saw an iguana 6 feet long. What a beauty! A boy would have travelled miles to get such a reptile. We both carried .22 calibre repeaters and, levelling our rifles, each fired a one-shot simultaneously. Both entered the iguanas head, from which blood spurted. Shaking the branch, it fell down. Dinkum immediately fastened his teeth into its back viciously shaking it at the same time. We wasted no time in skinning the iguana as it was one of the largest ever seen by us.
In returning to the car we discovered we were a little out in our reckoning. After climbing trees we saw no traces of the billabong or the car, and presently we were surprised to come across the car's tracks.
We followed them for 2 miles before we came to the billabong, and, to avoid the long walk around, we stripped off our shirts and trousers and entered the water. By the time we got halfway, the water was up to our chins, and we had to hold our clothes, rifles, et cetera, above our heads. By walking on our toes and keeping our mouths shut we just managed to get through the deepest part, being nearly upset at times by the long reeds which would have made swimming difficult.
I regarded this little incident as just another of our many experiences, for, had the water being only one or 2 inches deeper, we would have had a short, awkward swim, with both hands occupied in carrying out clothes, rifles, etc.
Next day, we started westward for a few miles to avoid the swamps. On reaching the higher ground we headed northward, pushing everything before us. I could now see the advantage of the heavy car, the iron girder in front of which broke down the scrub. But it was exceedingly bumpy, and at times the car stopped owing to the bushes becoming entangled in the wheels. For a considerable number of miles we pushed through the scrub, most of the time only being able to see a few yards in front. Whenever the chance occurred we would view the surrounds, but generally found the swamp to be working westward, and, consequently, we were forced to work more to the West - meaning that we were getting further away from the track.
Gradually, the country was falling away to the north, which we knew would lead us to a creek. At that point where we met the creek we found it would be impossible cross owing to the high, steep banks. We therefore followed the bank down over very rough and numerous small water courses which carried the water from the hills to the creek.
A couple of miles down, the banks of the creek flattened out slightly, and we decided it would be the best place to effect a crossing. The entrance was fairly steep, and very slowly we allowed the front wheels to drop over the bank. The back wheels pushed for a yard and then stopped and we found ourselves balanced like a seesaw with the front wheels in the creek bed, the back wheels up on the bank, and the weight of the car resting on the side members of the chassis.
At the moment I could not help but at our peculiar situation, but a couple of hours pick-and- shovel work banished all of my smiles. Although we crossed the creek with no difficulty after this, we had made little headway by sundown, the scrub being still very dense. Centipede's and scorpions were nearly as common as flies, and we had to be very careful when picking up pieces of wood for the fire, that we were not bitten. The wriggling centipede's caused me little fear, and many a bushman would rather come into close quarters with a snake than a centipede.
The deadly black scorpions were what I feared mostly. At night time it was an easy matter for a scorpion to get into our nets unnoticed - or a centipede, for that matter. You can be sure that I tucked the ends of my net under me very tightly at night, for I dreaded the thought of being awakened by a sharp, stinging pain. Most bushmen never rig their nets until they are about to retire for the reason that insects and reptiles might enter the net if rigged previously and enjoy a quiet sleep before you get in yourself. And then your suddenly waking them might hurt their feelings. In this swampy, reptile infested country we never slept without being covered by our nets, but there was always a chance of having a poisonous companion, and even the nets were not a guarantee against their entry. Except for a very few occasions, when we had a comfortable bed, our nights were spent on the ground as we did not carry stretchers. Tough Frank had for years travelled by bicycle and only carried a groundsheet, and no doubt did not think that I would require a stretcher.
It did not take me very long to get used to the ground. In fact, I had spent many nights sleeping on the beach in my sailing days in Brisbane with my mates, at times digging a hole in the sand and covering ourselves up with sand.
On this particular night Frank woke me with a start, saying that something had bitten him on the toe. A light revealed a bite, sure enough, but although we turned his clothing and net inside out, nothing could be seen. It was apparently a centipede bite, so, with a razor blade, I made a slight cut across the mark, squeezed it, and soaked it with iodine. We were soon to sleep again, and in the morning the wound showed no signs of swelling or pain. While rolling up my swag a centipede 6 inches long leisurely wriggled off, but it did not get far before I counted it out with a stick. Apparently, the thing had decamped Frank's net while we were looking for it, and thinking it more peaceful, had kept me company.
21: Banka Banka
After another morning of heavy scrub, the country began to open out into stony mountains bearing towards the East and giving every indication that we had travelled around the swamp. In the afternoon we met the telegraph line and, after travelling over rough ground for some time, we eventually struck a well defined track. By six o'clock we were on the big, well grassed plain that leads to Banka Banka Cattle Station, and shortly the buildings came in sight.
A large blob of cattle was mustered and awaiting the arrival of a drover to take it to the southern market. The brothers Ambrose who owned the station had cordially welcomed us and provided a meal which did the cook great credit. Yeast buns and scones with hard, fresh butter were first favourites with us.
In the morning, we motored out onto the plains for the purpose of photographing and cinematographing the cattle, and a great site was presented by the black boys riding amongst the cattle and cutting out several fine bullocks for us to photograph separately.
An exhibition of cattle throwing and branding provided good material for our cinema camera and, although, we spared no film in obtaining some really impressive pictures which we expected to be in use when these cattle, free from disease and ticks, would be no more - for their fate was the slaughter yard.
Ambrose pointed out several piccaninnies who rejoiced in such names as Billy Hughes, Tommy Ryan, Harry Lauder, and the like. When a piccaninny is born the lubra always comes to Ambrose to Christen the piccaninny with a white man's name. To see our white Billy Hughes, the then Prime Minister of Australia, nursing his namesake would cause a lot of amusement.
Talking of Billy Hughes (the "Little digger"), Prime Minister in World War I, I understand that for more than 60 years he deceived the world about his age, not only that, he was not even a Welshman by birth. His entry in "Who's Who in Australia" and many other reference books says - "born September 25, 1864." However, his birth certificate as registered in Somerset house (London), records that he was born on September, 1862, in Pimblico, South London.
After lunch we obtained some stores and some fresh meat, a bullock having been killed during the morning, and with our hosts good wishes we were off again - this time for Powell Creek Telegraph Station.
Easter had passed quite unknown to us. Indeed, we had never given it a moment's thought. What a contrast to the Easter holidays of previous years! The past five years I had spent the Easter vacation in cruising around Moreton Bay - in every possible way the reverse of the country in which this Easter had been spent. Fate, destiny or whatever it is, no doubt does gamble with a man's life in a manner in which he has little control.
The engine was now running very erratically, but we could not ascertain the trouble. We camped on the top of a rise in the track so as to obtain an easy start in the morning. Our meal that night was the best we had had while camping out, as it was mostly freshly cooked food brought from Banka Banka.
22: Helen Springs
It was quite chilly next morning, and, making a very early start, we slipped into our overcoats. Half an hour afterwards, we were surprised to see some station buildings of which we had not been advised. On drawing near, we found the place to be Helen Springs, occupied by Mr and Mrs Bohning and their family. We had to refuse their invitation to breakfast as we had only finished ours shortly before. The country surrounding Helen Springs was first class cattle country, thickly covered with Mitchell and Flinders grasses. We were now on the western side of the Barkly Tablelands. Very rich grazing land - on the West of us was, of course, desert and semi desert country.
23: Renner Springs
Mr Bohning informed us that we had taken the wrong track, and, following his directions, we made Renner Springs without any further trouble. Renner Springs was once the homestead of a large cattle station, but the only remains of the buildings that were still intact were a brick stove recess and chimney. Several gravestones indicated the last resting places of heroic pioneers who had come to their end through sickness or as a result of hostile natives.
While we were lunching a traveller arrived from the West where he had contracted malaria fever and was forced to return. He informed us that the country was difficult to travel over owing to the recent rains; also, the blacks were fairly treacherous. We supplied him with a couple of bottles of "Aspro", but he was unable to accompany us as he had a few horses to look after. Later in the afternoon, when we had unfortunately run into our bog, the man passed us, heading for Powell Creek Telegraph Station where he could get a supply of quinine.
Shortly afterwards, a very offensive smell in the vicinity of where we were again bogged caused us to make a search, which revealed a camel lying across the track a few yards away in an early stage of decomposition. The crows, hawks, and dingoes had had a great feast as witnessed by the State of various parts of the body. A slight breeze blowing in the direction of the car had the effect of making us accelerate our efforts to get clear of the bog, and we were not sorry when we left the place well behind.
It was in this area that I saw my first and only native burial. I did not see the actual burial taking place. The natives build a sort of bough stage in a tree, placing the body on it and covering it with branches. Crows soon find that, and Frank told me that the members of some tribes pierce a hole in the body and allow blood, et cetera, to trickle onto their bodies to drive out spirits. This native had died, apparently, a long way from his tribe's burial ground, and this was a primitive burial.
24: Powell Creek
We reached Powell Creek Telegraph Station where the officer in charge - one, Kennedy - for some unknown reason did not appear to be very friendly. He "supposed" we could despatch some telegrams if we wished to do so. Becoming disgusted with his monosyllabic answers to our questions and seemingly utter indifference to our talk, we wasted no time in leaving. We had expected a little courtesy from the man in charge of the station, which was situated on a very picturesque spot, and the buildings were the most attractive on the Telegraph line.
A few miles out we found another big swamp which would make it necessary to deviate to the west again. Rugged ranges were the order of the afternoon, and on account of the location of the swamp and ranges we sometimes found ourselves travelling direct South over the ranges instead of direct North. This was necessary to get around the swamp. The mountains were very stony and steep, and travelling around the sides was extremely dangerous. Indeed, the car nearly capsised many times owing to the angle at which we were travelling - especially when the two uppermost side wheels bump over large boulders which were impossible to steer clear of. When in this position I would not feel the danger so much if sitting on the high side. But, sitting on the low side where I could drag my hand along the ground without any undue extending, I felt that I would rather be anywhere else but there.
Towards sundown the engine was giving us a considerable amount of trouble and that heavy, rough travelling necessitated a lot of low gear work, which consequently caused a large consumption of fuel.
At last, when we camped, we had reached the summit of a high, stony hill, studded with high trees. Examination of the engine showed that two of the cylinder head jackets were cracked, which allowed air and water to enter the engine as well as allowing water to ooze out. No doubt this was mainly the result of overheating caused by the use of kerosene. Dismantling the cylinder head, we tried all kinds of remedies to close the crack, but, not possessing a blowlamp, we could not obtain sufficient heat. However, after heating the cylinder head to redhot on a fire, we contrived to close the cracks in the jackets by hammering the edges of the cracks together with the aid of a dummied cold chisel, and appeared to stop water leaking from the jackets, at least while the engine was cold.
Just as we retired, the gruesome howl of a dingo in the West prevented us from sleeping, a slight wind from that direction bringing the sound closer. Apparently, our fire had attracted the dingo, and to give one an idea of its craftiness, it worked right around to the north and then to the East of us, howling every few minutes. By working around to the East it would scent us from the wind blowing in that direction, the dingo being in the valley. We were camped on the top of the hill, and the stillness of the night all tended to make the howling sound louder. For some time the howling gradually drew nearer as he was approaching its, and a few shots in that direction put an end to the infernal noise.
Meanwhile, Dinkum had not moved, but had kept his eyes glued in the direction of the howling. I was just dozing when a sudden rush from Dinkum brought me out on my net. Dinkum had closed with the dingo before it could get its fleet legs fully going. Presently, the two dark forms of the dogs in a vicious struggle prompted me to action. At that moment Frank came hurrying towards the fray with the spare back axle, a heavy piece of rounded, pressed steel one and a half inches in diameter.
In the darkness it was hard to discriminate between the two dogs which were about the same size, although while dinkum's coat was blue, the dingo's was dark yellow. Noticing that the fight had quietened somewhat, I struck a match, and we found that Dinkum had a firm grip of the dingo's jaw, making it practically helpless. We did not venture to hit it on the back of the head as their least move might endanger Dinkum of receiving the stroke, so, when I struck another match, Frank brought the weapon hard across the dingo's back with sufficient force to knock all the fight out of it. Calling Dinkum off, we finished his work for him, immediately after which we were allowed a peaceful sleep.
Being on top of a hill gave us the advantage of an easy start (or so we hoped). We had not had the use of batteries for some hundreds of miles, and all our starting had to be done by cranking, the car also having a magneto. We had hand cranked the engine numerous times when in bog or sand, and when we were on kerosene only, the hard starting tested our tempers and nerves.
On one occasion, when Frank was giving me a spell from about half an hour's cranking and it would not start, he threw the crank handle at the car and it flew through the open windscreen, narrowly missing me as I was in the car assisting with the accelerator. However, next morning we were ready to go, and I gave the car a push, and as it gathered momentum Frank put it in gear and it fortunately started, but as the hills were stony and fairly thickly wooded, it was impossible to dodge all these obstructions at one steep descent. One object we thought to be an ant bed and did not trouble to avoid it - in any case, we could not avoid it - and, had we felt uncertain, we would have stopped, or tried to stop. Anyhow, the front axle hit the object, which turned out to be a half submerged boulder, and the car dived around out of control.
The floorboards were forced up on to the pedals and Frank had no control whatsoever. Bumping over boulders and knocking over small trees, we eventually cannoned into a large tree which stopped our progress. I was flung across the open windscreen, sustaining cuts and bruises, while Frank's face came into contact with the steering wheel. He was partly dazed, with a cut chin and nose. Both considerably shaken, we clambered out, an examination showed a bend front axle, two badly damaged mudguards, which we discarded, leaving us with only one mudguard as we had already discarded one back further.
The Boulder had been protruding about 15 inches from the ground, and the axle unearthed it, and it was still under the car when we stopped. With difficulty we dug a hole in the hard ground and rolled the boulder into it. Then, with the aid of a stout steel wire rope fastened to a tree and the front axle, we reversed the car - which had the effect of straightening the axle sufficiently enough for us to proceed. The brake rods had been bent and strain, causing their complete uselessness. So, after adjusting the brakes (which was necessary in this dangerous country) we were able to proceed once again, but progress was very slow and tiring.
I had left the city for overlanding experience and really I was receiving experience with a vengeance. But I never anticipated the work, hardships and danger which had to be overcome before I was to get back to the city. Frank said that, in the whole of his overlanding experience, he had never been confronted with such difficulties as on this expedition. The continual strain on the nerves was sufficient to test the most hardy, and we were by now no exception. Moreover, we were now approaching the malarial belt of the Northern Territory, and although Frank was a sufferer of the fever, I had no particular desire to contract it, but, if my system inclined to run down, I knew I would have no chance in combating the fever.
25: Newcastle Waters.
We arrived at Newcastle Waters mustering yards at lunchtime next day. On the large plain thousands of cattle were grazing, all awaiting their turn to be inoculated. Dozens of boys and white men were busily engaged in the inoculating yard while others were watching the cattle or driving them to or from the yard. More black boys were engaged in carrying water from a nearby creek. The cooks camp was underneath a big tree, where the ground was littered with cases of foodstuffs, bags of flour, saddles, water tanks, et cetera, and altogether the whole place was a scene of activity.
After lunch, we spent a couple of very interesting hours inspecting and photographing all the numerous incidents which are attached to a large mustering camp. The process of inoculating such a mob of cattle as a preventative against pleuro- pneumonia was a very tedious and slow undertaking for the men in charge. We were informed that these cattle were destined for South Australia, but many months would pass before they reached the southern capital.
The following 30 miles to Newcastle Waters Cattle Station were uneventful, with the exception of a slight mishap which rendered our remaining mudguard useless, and it had to be taken off. Travelling at a fair pace in the long grass, the left-hand front wheel hit a hard ant bed which threw the car off the track, bringing it into contact with a bi-forked tree, each limb about 9 inches through. The force of the collision splintered both limbs and threw them over the engine, striking the front of the hood. Luckily, the hood was up - otherwise, the windscreen would have been broken, and I shuddered to think what damage the thick broken glass would have cause to our persons.
As usual, there was a creek to cross before we could reach the station, and inspection from some distance showed us that the best possible crossing would be through 3 feet of water. The water, which was running strongly, was very milky. From bank to bank would be about 100 yards across, but the running water was only about 20 yards wide. The entrance to the water was very boggy, and the stock which had been drinking there had not improved the banks. The opposite side was steep and slippery, while the ground under the water was of a sticky, slimy, clayey substance. There was a large area of Cutta-percha trees which exude a grey like milky substance - which accounted for the colour of the water.
After tea, we decided to visit the station, which was about half a mile away. Situated on a most unattractive, barren spot in the glaring sun and unsheltered by trees, the station buildings presented a desolate appearance, but, as the sun had set when we reached the station, we failed to notice its dirtiness and unkempt condition. Mr Ross, the manager, was warm in his welcome, and he was the only white man there, all the rest being out at the mustering yards. We returned to the car after Mr Ross promised to send down a few station boys to assist us in crossing the creek in the morning.
Newcastle Waters is the end of the "Murrangi Track", over which drovers bring cattle from the big cattle stations in the Western northern territory towards the West Australian border. From Newcastle Waters they then drove the cattle East across the Barkly Tablelands to Queensland or South to Adelaide. Most mobs of cattle comprise about 1200 head and the government has provided wells at convenient stages along the routes for watering the cattle.
The majority of the following day was spent in cutting logs and bushes to corduroy the Creek from bank to bank, and on account of the swiftly running water it was difficult to prevent the logs floating away. Therefore, it was necessary to force the logs and bushes into the clayish bottom. Satisfying ourselves that everything was in order after securely waterproofing the engine, we made an attempt to cross, but the water in the middle of the Creek was too deep and, getting into the magneto and carburettor, stopped the engine. Our only course to follow now was the use of winding gear, so we adopted the idea of the "old Spanish windlass" of which very little is known. There seems to be no end of power to be obtained from this simple idea of the Spanish windlass, and that heavily loaded car was gradually drawn inch by inch and up the bank by only three boys.
First of all, the long, steel wire rope was fastened to a tree about 40 feet away from the car, while the other end was securely fastened to the front axle of the car. Next, a hole halfway between the tree and the car about 2 feet deep was dark, just wide enough to allow a six-foot sapling 4 inches in diameter to revolve in it. A thick sapling about 12 feet long to be used as a lever was next obtained. The rope had been left a little slack and, by making our loop over the end of the lever, the boys taking the lever in their arms walked around and around the revolving sapling and, consequently the rope wound round it. Provided the ends of the rope had been fastened securely, something had to move, and that tree refusing to be pulled over left no alternative but for the car to be moved forward, although slowly but surely, until we eventually had it "high and dry".
We lunched with Mr Ross, the meal having been prepared by the Chinese Cook. But we could not enjoy the meal owing to the numerous flies. I regret to say that I had never entered a filthnier dining room in my life. Kitchen and dining room joined each other, but the smoke had no effect on the flies what ever. Frank attempted to spread himself some bread and honey, but the flies beat him to it, for, before he could finish spreading the honey, dozens of the nuisances were bogged in it. The walls were filthy and Ross, noticing our discomfort, suggested going outside. It appeared that he was only a temporary manager and was just as disgusted at the dirtiness of the place. Indeed, he never had his meals in the dining room.
Being short of stores, we obtained only tinned foods, with the exception of flour, which was in keeping with the place. The weevils had left the flour, leaving it more resembling fine dust.
As we would be unable to follow the main track on account of bog, Ross sent a boy with us to direct us to the crossing of the 4 mile Creek. We were held up here again for some hours, but, after getting out, sent the boy back. Scarcely had we travelled a quarter of a mile down the track before it petered out, and we were in a quandary as to which direction to take. We were on the edge of Sturt's Plain, and in the distance could see a belt of scrub, so we decided to go across the plain, which was very bumpy and, in some places, wet.
On reaching the scrub, we discovered wheel tracks which we followed for some time, eventually losing them. For a number of miles the scrub was very dense and then opened out onto a huge plain, which we assumed to be Sturt's 14 mile plain, which we decided to tackle on the morrow.
As we had been gradually working to the West while in the scrub, we decided to cross the plains in an easterly direction and perhaps strike the track as it would be much more comfortable following the track and going over the bumpy plain. The black soil, which is covered with Mitchell and Flinders grasses, similar to the Barkly Tablelands country. During the wet season thousands of hoofs had trampled over the ground and the holes made had been caked hard by the Sun. We endured a very miserable slow passage before we sighted the Telegraph line. Crossing underneath the wires, we made for a belt of timber a mile ahead, but on reaching it found no sign of the track. Skirting the edge of the plain for some miles we were undecided as to which would be the more comfortable travelling as we had found ourselves in "Melonhole" country, where the ground is nothing but a series of large holes which make travelling very difficult.
After having lunch at a neighbouring waterhole we decided to make for the Telegraph line and followed it until we crossed the plain.
The bumping and shaking of the car made talking nearly impossible. We stutteringly conversed as to our chances of meeting the track when we reached the scrub in the distance. As we neared the scrub a high windmill appeared over the treetops away to the left, and assuming that the track would be nearby, we may in that direction. The bore apparently had been sunk, and I daresay was capable of supplying plenty of water, but the job was only half completed, and, the machinery being locked, there was no way to get the water out. The tanks held sufficient for our purpose, but travellers with a mob of horses would find it rather awkward if they depended on the bore for water.
Leaving the bore, we encountered some good travelling and made better progress. Evening saw us at Frew's Ironstone pond, a very large waterhole with and Ironstone bottom.
The water and trees were teeming with birdlife, while the overhanging trees casting their shadows in the setting sun made a picture that we did not lose without cameras. We had covered only 30 miles a day.
A meal consisting of tender, fresh duck boiled in fat was very acceptable, after which I busied myself catching a few fish for breakfast. Considerable difficulty was experienced in starting the engine next day, and we were late in moving. However, the track was splendid, the nature of the country having changed. Being now well away from the interior, we were getting nearer coastal country, although still several hundred miles from the coast. The country was thickly wooded, with high gum and pine trees, and the ground was very even, the only obstacles being trees here and there lying across the track, which lots of times had to be removed on account of the density of the scrub.
In building a railway line across Australia, big items in the construction would be the obtaining of sleepers. Ballast is plentiful along practically the whole route, but the country is very lacking in big timber. In fact, between Oodnadatta and Newcastle Waters I doubt whether enough sleepers could be obtained from the local timber to cover a distance of 20 miles. This would necessitate the carriage of sleepers from elsewhere - probably, Western Australia or Java.
26: Daly Waters
We finally reached Daly Waters Telegraph Station in the early afternoon, but not before the engine had nearly driven us to desperation with its irregularities. Every two or 3 miles it was necessary to jump out and give the engine a "drink" without allowing it to stop, while the escaping steam was continually showering over us.
I am afraid we presented a very travel stained appearance at Daly Waters, where the three men - Holtz, Woodroffe and Grant - were pleased to see us, Holtz being an old friend of Frank helping matters considerably. We were now only 408 miles from Port Darwin, 150 miles of which can be accomplished by railway from Pine Creek. Our old fuel problem was with this again, having arrived at Daly Waters with only sufficient to carry us about 30 miles, the rough and heavy work having used more than we anticipated.
Mr Holtz hospitably invited us to stay with them until we could get some benzine brought down to us. After a couple of days telephoning and wiring Maranboy, Katharine andMataranka we finally arranged with the manager at Mataranka to send us two drums. Mataranka which is a Commonwealth Government experimental station, was 120 miles north of Daly Waters and four days at least would lapse before the benzine would reach us. Meanwhile, we spent our time in overhauling various parts of the engine. We found another cylinder jacket to be cracked and patched it as best we could, and wired the Brisbane agents of the Hudson car to forward a new cylinder head to Darwin. The running boards and supporting brackets had become so loose, broken and damage that we took them off and discarded them.
We spent evenings in the company of the three men, one of whom (Woodroffe) was an ardent bridge player. I had heard of Woody's weakness for bridge further down the line and was not surprised on the first evening when he enquired as to whether we played the game. Frank has no knowledge whatsoever of the game, while my knowledge was limited. However, I obliged him with a trial game, after which I decided not to throw my money away as his lonely evenings spent in mastering the game proved his superiority.
To while away their lonely hours these outback man are inclined to read much more than city folk, and the library of the most up-to-date educational and intellectual works proved interesting. Moreover, nothing would please them more than an argumentative debate on the topics of the day, especially national or political affairs. During such arguments it was amusing to Frank and myself that Holtz and Woody never agreed, and became abusive towards each other when the argument had reached its height. Fourteen years of association at Daly Waters had not tended to bring them to the one manner of thinking.
One evening, Woody condescended to give us some music on a contraption he called a piano. Now, I must admit it looked like a piano, but when he started to play, the jumbled up mixture more resembled the noise of a tin can band. That Woody "had an ear" of music there is no doubt , for, when he asked me to play the latest song I knew, and I played "Bubbles", he himself played it after me, although he had never played it before. The fact that there were no pedals on the piano never worried Woody, as he stated, he had no classical music, and we were the largest audience he had played for.
A large number of boys with their gins and piccaninnies and of course, the usual assemblage of dogs, were camped half a mile from the station, and their corroboreeing night-time, together with the millions of malarial mosquitoes, made sleep nearly impossible. The blacks in these parts, who were part of a desert tribe, were the smallest statured men I had yet seen. None of them was more than 5 feet high, and it would have been an easy matter for me to close my arms around the three of them and carried them. Their skin, stretched tightly over their bones, was covered with healed the scars, representing tribal customs, while the skin on their chests was pleated, forming about a dozen tucks from armpit to armpit.
Although there are many different tribes in Australia, their customs are generally alike: the coastal and mountain blacks, who are usually of splendid physique, have the same custom of gashing their bodies about. This is done with a sharp stone or glass and healed by rubbing dirt into the wounds. The blood is used to paint the bodies for corroborees and also for sticking feathers onto their bodies.
There was a general roll up of the boys one morning when a bullock was killed. Each boy had an old jam tin, and when the animal was shot and bled a scramble was made to get the blood. These miserable looking blacks really gave the impression that their bodies could do with a few more pints of blood, as they were only "skin and bone". Just as there is no waste of a bullock in the meat works, neither is there any waste in a blacks camp, as the hoofs, head, tail and everything discarded by the whites is eagerly taken by the blacks.
The most prevalent crime of the blacks in the Northern Territory is cattle killing. This is carried on with much frequency in the Gulf country and the few troopers there are put to considerable inconvenience and difficulty in capturing the defaulting blacks. One ex-trooper gave me an account of a chase around the Gulf country which ended in the death of the culprit. Once the blacks reach the mangrove swamps and creeks on the coast it is extremely difficult to follow their tracks, although the black trackers used by the police are very clever.
Their method of roasting a bullock is to dig a big hole in which a fire is made and big logs piled on. On top of the logs are placed stones on which the bullock is placed. Whether the meat is cooked properly matters not to "Jacky", and he never troubles to clear away or cover up this bush oven when the bullock has been eaten.
On the occasion in question the ex-trooper had come across the oven which was still warm, and some blacks in the vicinity told him that the boy who had speared the bullock had gone in a Northerly direction. After a couple of days' tracking they found him with several more boys on the Gulf Coast, but before the trooper could reach them they entered the water and struck out for an island a couple of miles off. Without hesitation the trooper instructed one of his boys to shoot towards towards the culprit and so turn him, but the shot was fatal and the culprit disappeared, no doubt making a meal for a crocodile.
As a rule, blacks arrested for cattle stealing are taken to Darwin where they are tried, invariably found guilty and sentenced to prison. But this just suits the blacks as they are provided with clothing, tobacco, and principally "tucker", and altogether have a "good time". When released they return to the bush and kill more cattle, quite content with the idea of more prison life. Therefore the Police Troopers have a thankless task in travelling backwards and forwards to Darwin.
Very reluctantly we left Daly Waters and its good fellowship with whom we had spent a most agreeable week. The morning of leaving, a native cat had been caught in a wooden trap and a little excitement was caused when he was released in the open in the yard, with dinkum eagerly waiting. On beingt released, the cat made straight for a small tree, and bounded up before Dinkum caught it. Frank shook the tree and the fell into his open shirt, causing the roars of laughter from the rest of us, while he frantically tried to get it out - Dinkum jumping about him, meanwhile. Finally, the cat bounded across the yard, only to be caught by Dinkum and roasted by the blacks.
By lunchtime today that we left Daly Waters we had reached a large billabong some 30 miles out, and pitched camp pending the arrival of the benzine from Mataranka. During the afternoon, we strolled around in the vicinity of the lagoon and succeeded in potting a few wild ducks. The brown snake about 7 feet long was also killed. Dinkum, who was walking ahead, suddenly jumped backwards, pricking his ears, satisfying us that the snake was in the bushes, and Dinkum would not go near the reptile again until we had killed it.
By the time we returned to camp and had our meal it was dark. Our nets had been rigged earlier in the afternoon when we had a slight rest before going shooting, and we had not taken them down. I suppose we had been lying down half an hour when I felt a gliding movement against my left leg. As mine nightattire consisted of a singlet and short trousers, that movement against my bare leg, I think, momentarily stopped my heart from leading. Not daring to move, I whispered to Frank that a snake was in my net and for him to come to my assistance. Remembering that, by lying still, the chances of being bitten would be considerably lessened, I lay deathly rigid, perhaps partly through fright. Presently, the snake commenced to move again and, by the time Frank had opened the corner of the net near my head, the snake was gliding along my left arm which was lying extended against my body. The suspense was awful, and I felt like jumping up and running away, but, as the snake was gradually gliding towards the opening in the net, I still lay not in attempting to wink an eyelid. The striking of a match by Frank, followed by a dull thud of a heavy stick caused my whole body to relax and I broke into a cold sweat. It was some little time before I recovered from the shock sufficiently long enough to allow me to get out and inspect the six-foot long brown snake, now dead. Sleep for the remainder of the night was impossible, although several times I dozed, only to be suddenly awakened by the imagination of my half dead brain.
It was 11 o'clock the next day, while I was sleeping in the friendly light of the day, that our benzine arrived, and we wasted no time in getting under way. The sound of the engine frightened Dugan's horses and we afterwards learnt that he had to follow them for a mile before he caught them.
Dugan informed us that the track over which we had come was covered with water for miles at a stretch, and it would be advisable for us to follow the Telegraph line away to the east. The Telegraph line traversed very rough, hilly country, and it was for this reason that the track had been made in the low-lying country, which was generally accessible, but the exceptional rains had caused creeks to swamp the low-lying country.
We followed the track for about 6 miles, when we reached a government bore, and, taking a large supply of water, we struck out direct East. And after mile of winding in an out of trees, we reached the Telegraph line running North. The country was exceedingly rough and our tyres and tubes were now in giving us a fair amount of trouble, owing to the rough country over which they had travelled. We received several punctures and blowouts, and our progress was rendered slower by the fact that neither Jack was in working order, and every time we had tyre trouble it was necessary to cut logs and levers to raise the wheel from the ground before we could remove a tyre to effect repairs.
27 :Warlock Ponds.
The night was spent in the high country, and the following evening, after an arduous day, we reached the 6 mile angle post-, where the main track meets the line which turns off to the East. We camped at Warlock Ponds, within a mile or two of the place where we met disaster about a month later. The grass in this vicinity was from 8 to 10 feet high and so thick that, if only a few yards from the car, we could not see it.
The following morning dew was very thick on the grass owing to the rather chilly evening preceeding. Gorgeously coloured pheasants were in abundance in the grass, and I was surprised at the easy manner in which they were caught as it was only a matter of walking up behind them at catching them in our hands, their feathers being too wet to allow them to fly away. Dinkum caught many. The birdlife on the beautiful Ponds in the early morning provided us with plenty of material for photography.
28: Elsey Station.
A little further on we arrived at the Creek which carries the water away from the Ponds. Pandanus palms grow abundantly and the scene more resemble some island lagoon on a tropical island. Wild buffalo are often seen grazing in the vicinity, while we saw several holes which had been rooted out by crocodiles, so that plenty of good sport can be had at times. The country as part of the old Elsey cattle station and the old homestead was situated on the other side of the Creek near a big lagoon. The new Elsey Station homestead is now situated some 80 miles away on the Roper River.
The prettiness of the country surrounding Warlock Ponds is not altogether in keeping with the reputation of the country, as it is said that a "hoodoo" or curse has been placed upon the area owing to the prevalence of accidents or sickness to white men. Mrs Gunn, the author of "We of the Never Never", lost her husband at the old Elsey Station, as his lonely grave bears witness. About 3 miles away, on the Longreach plain, Sir Ross Smith was forced to land owing to engine trouble. I have also met men who could tell of an accident to themselves or what they had witnessed. Then our own tragic accident later compelled me to admit that seemed more than coincidence.
Finding it would be impossible to cross the Creek at the main track, we proceeded on foot downwards until we found a likely crossing. While Frank went back for the car, I stayed at the spot. I could hear the car coming for some distance, but could not see it, and knowing it would be impossible for Frank to see me, I climbed a tree, from where I was able to direct him.
Our attempt to cross, however, proved unsuccessful, and as we commenced work on getting the car out, a number of blacks with their lubras came up and we obtained their help. There was no suitable tree to which we could attach our winding gear, and a stake hammered into the soft ground was of no avail, so our only alternative was to work the car out gradually by lifting it and placing logs underneath. This work occupied the whole day, and it was late in the afternoon when we were on the move again, leaving as much "tucker" with the blacks as we could spare. These blacks had seen Sir Ross Smith's aeroplane when it passed overhead, but had not attempted to go near when it landed. It was about that time that the influenza epidemic passed through the territory, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of blacks. I am not aware whether Sir Ross Smith knew of the fact, but it is certain that the blacks blamed him for the epidemic and bear considerable enmity towards him.
29: Bitter Springs.
Although it is only about 14 miles from the old Elsey Station to Bitter Springs, we did not reach the latter place until lunchtime next day, as we had a lot of tyre trouble. At Bitter Springs we found Dugan, the man who had brought out our benzine; he had his camp there and was doing some fencing for Mataranka station which was 3 miles away. As mentioned previously, Mataranka is a government experimental station, giving particular attention to sheep breeding.
Although cattle appear to thrive in the district, the officials have been unsuccessful in raising sheep, and a considerable sum of money has been lost and wasted in attempting to breed and rear sheep. Perhaps the nature of the country is partly the cause of failure, but local gossip has it that incompetent management from the beginning is the main reason.
30: Abraham's Billabong.
On account of a bad creek crossing we did not go into Mataranka and reached Abraham's Billabong 6 miles out with a loose connecting rod and magneto trouble. Owing to the bad state of the cylinder head and rough travelling the car was consuming benzine to such an extent that we were sure we would not now reach Katherine with the supply we had.
The following morning, a very athletic boy with his lubra approached and he stated he was willing to take a "paper yabber" to Mataranka. So, writing a note to the manager, we dispatched the boy with two gallon tins for some more benzine. It was near sundown when he returned empty-handed except for a note from Maurice the manager for us to go there as he was in bed helpless with an abscess on his skin and would like it lanched.
We therefore turned back, and it was dark before we reached Bitter Springs. Next morning, Frank stated he would attend to the car if I went into Mataranka. So, arming myself or the razor blade for the operation, I set out after breakfast, taking Dinkum with me. I found Maurice looking very ill, but the abscess had burst during the night. Obtaining another drum of benzine, together with a few stores, I returned to Bitter Springs in a dray in charge of the station boy. Frank had affected the necessary repairs to the car and we once again started for Katherine.
The road was fairly good, although there were several narrow creeks with steep banks to cross, and we are to stop every few miles to give the car water, as the radiator was leaking in several places. We camped about 6 miles from Maranboy, which township we reached early next morning.
Maranboy is a small tin mining township 250 miles from Port Darwin, which represents a two-day buggy journey to Katherine, and then two days buggy to Pine Creek; thence a 160 mile railway journey to Darwin, with the fortnightly train service. During the war, Maranboy could boast a fully 100 residents, but the total population would have been about 18 when we passed through. This was due to the very low price of tin which, coupled with the cost of living in Maranboy, together with the extreme difficulties and expense of getting tin to the market, makes it practicality impossible for the miner to carry on. The Commonwealth Government had erected a battery for crushing, treating and grading the tin, which is a great advantage to the miners. Maranboy also boasts of a store, a hospital, a police station and a few shacks scattered here and there.
We pulled up at the residence of the manager of the battery and, after obtaining another few gallons of benzine, pushed on again for Katherine. At the time, we were unaware of the presence of a mission hospital or police station at Maranboy, or we would have certainly visited them. The mine manager (a Mr Struthers) had not mentioned the fact, neither was either of the buildings near the track.
32: King River.
The 50 miles into Katherine were over fairly good country with the exception of a few sandy stretches and heavy creek crossings. More especially, the King River, where there was a very steep, winding ingress and egress to the river.
At the time, a party of men was making this part of the Road more accessible for the traffic which would, within the next few weeks, be leaving for interior places with food supplies and other materials.
It was about four o'clock in an afternoon in May, 1921, that we drove into Katherine and congratulated ourselves that the worst part (we thought) of our journey had been accomplished. The only buildings in Katherine were the telegraph station, police station and store, while the permanent inhabitants were the postmaster and assistant, policeman and wife, and the storekeeper and his wife. And, of course, the usual blacks camp. There were quite a number of camps around the town making preparations for the road, as the bad season was now over and drovers had already passed through from the West with cattle for Queensland.
At last we had reached the furthest North point to which it was necessary for us to drive as there was already a railway from Darwin to Pine Creek, and, in any case, we had a lot of work to do on the car before it would be fit for the journey over to the Queensland border and thence southwards. Frank had given up the idea of going over to the West Australian border (at least, temporarily) as he considered it would be an impracticable route for a railway, taking into consideration the lush Barkly Tablelands over to Queensland and consequent lower cost of construction, and the Western Queensland open Mitchell- and Flinders-grass plains. He would decide as we progressed whether we would work in to Alice Springs or Oodnadatta, or go further South into New South Wales.
The Katherine River is a very large one, containing clean, fresh water, and in some places has very precipitous banks. A few years ago, during a big flood, the water overflowed its banks, but we were advised that this was very rare. The banks are broken away where the river is crossed, with long, winding, slight gradient-bends to the bed of the river. Big, spreading trees adorn the banks, and it was under one of these, a few yards from the water, that we made our camp on the southern bank, although we were advised it was unsafe, owing to crocodiles. Katherine River runs into the Daly River which, in turn, flows into the Timor Sea about 80 or 90 miles south Port Darwin. Crocodiles, barramundi and other fish come up with the incoming tide of the Daly River, and, although the water gradually freshens, they keep on until they get well past Katherine. We watched a black boy spear a sawfish with an 18 inch protruding saw, while we were in swimming.
We obtained the services of a fairly intelligent, black boy to do the jobs about the camp, and he (Charlie) brought along his lubra and two piccaninnies and camped under a tree about 20 yards off. Charlie seemed to be a boss among the boys, and during the next few weeks we learned a lot about the blacks as they were always congregated around Charlie's Camp. Corroborees were held nearly every night up on a plain: a large number of blacks had mustered from the surrounding country and were camped on the riverbank. Most of the blacks, however, belonged to the Mary River tribe, who were very hostile not too many years ago, and even now not to be trusted.
It had been our intention to go to Port Darwin, but for several reasons we stayed in Katherine.We had missed the fortnightly train which had left on the Thursday before we arrived, and when the next train arrived we both had an attack of malaria fever, although not too severely. Moreover, as mentioned, a lot of repair work had to be done on the car and, after all, there was no real advantage to be had by going to Darwin as we could wire to have all our requirements sent out by train to Pine Creek and Road to Katherine.
The first week was spent in car repairs. The cells in the radiator of the car were crammed full of grass seeds which were very difficult to remove. The river was running very strongly, so Frank held the radiator in a position in the river so that the rushing water would wash the grass seeds out.
Another very serious fault which we discovered was that the spiders or metalwork attaching the gearbox to the frame or side members of the car were cracked and likely to break off at any time. This would have been extremely serious for us had it happened outback where little or no assistance was to be found. Hearing that there was a blacksmiths shop at Emungalon which was 4 miles away, I journeyed across and ordered some iron bars to made for the purpose of clamping the gearbox and so make it immovable. By this time I was almost free from malaria which had not been a serious attack. These came later.
A swim in the River every day was very pleasant, especially allowing ourselves to be carried downstream by the swiftly running water, which was too strong to swim against and meant walking back along the bank.
Although I had been regularly taking quinine for some time, a week or so later found it with a violent headache, accompanied by dizziness and shakiness - a true sign of malaria and ague. Rolling into my net, I covered myself with blankets, bags, et cetera., to bring out a perspiration, taking a good dose of chlorodine and vinegar, which caused vomiting.
Anyone who has suffered from true malaria knows the uneasiness caused by a high temperature, to say nothing of the headache, stomach sickness, palpitation, aches and pains, and the deafness caused by taking quinine. Frank proved to be an admirable nurse, although he had a slight touch of fever again himself, but as it was an old complaint of his, the attack was not as severe as in my case as I had never had it before. After being in bed for four days, I felt inclined to be about again, but the fever had left me so weak that I could hardly stand. After a few days, I was beginning to feel myself again and developed an enormous appetite. Luckily, the store had all our requirements in food lines, and I practised my hand at making many little appetising table delicacies. The last week of our stay in Katherine was spent mostly in photographic and cinematograph work. A new cinema camera and a large supply of film arrived from the South and many interesting pictures were obtained. The river crossing from the top of the hill was a scene of beauty hard to imagine, and we were fortunate in securing some pictures of donkey teams crossing the river.
These teams also caused us a lot of amusement as it was a difficult proposition to get the donkeys to enter the water. The wagons carry up to 10 tons and are drawn by up to 50 donkeys. Imagine harnessing and unharnessing 50 donkeys four abreast every morning and evening and travelling, say, 10 miles a day. One of each of the teams was taking the yearly food suppliers to Powell Creek, Newcastle Waters, Daly Waters and other places along the line.
We arranged with Charlie for a sham spear fight amongst the boys, and this was duly photographed and filmed on the plain. The proceedings opened by the boys choosing sides, after which the leader of one side step forward and commenced "yabbering" in native language, which Charlie informed us was a challenge to the other side. The leader of the other side accordingly accepted after a lot of "yabbering", and then the fun started.
First of all, the wooden spears (not fighting Spears) were thrown with very little force, but as the boys warmed up to their work, the spears flew like lightning and we had to shift our positions several times to get out of the line of fire. I was beginning to wish that we had gone to the top of a neighbouring hill and used a telephoto lens on the cinema camera. When things commenced to look a little serious I gave Charlie a few pounds of tobacco and asked him to call a halt immediately. The tobacco had its effect, if nothing else would have. The smart exhibition of spear and boomerang throwing, together with a nulla- nulla fight, finished an afternoon amusement as well as some interesting and valuable films.
It had been our intention to visit the Katherine falls some 20 miles up the River and to take the boys with its the time would not allow it. Our boy Charlie had a son by his first wife, named Grant, who was about 21 years of age, married, and the most intelligent black I had yet met. He was also well built and handsome as far as the term can be applied to a black. Grant always spoke of his better half as his "wife" and not as his "lubra", as most blacks call their wives. The more civilised ones call them "the missus".
Grants wife was much older than his father's wife, but the old black man is always privileged. The black boys method of "taking unto himself a wife" is, well, just take it, and, should she refuse to go and live with him, a few beatings dispose of all opposition in that direction.
We spent a day with Grant, taking interesting pictures of native methods of obtaining food, trapping and hunting birds and reptiles, and spearing fish. The Australian black will rival the Red Indian in stalking game by stealthily creeping behind a victim and trapping it unheard. Charlie had told the boys that we would pay them in food or money for any native weapons they brought along to us or any live reptiles. The result was that we collected a goodly supply of stone implements, as well as various kinds of hunting and war spears, woomeras, boomerangs, nulla-nullas and throwing sticks, also a lot of the lubras' work, consisting of handbags, et cetera, made of coloured grasses and crocheted as neatly as work done with needles. Other boys brought along iguanas and lizards, the most interesting (although quite common) being the frilled lizard with its Elizabethan collar. After close-up photographs of the reptiles had been taken, we handed them back to the boys for food. When asked what they required for their gifts, the general answer was silver or baccy, but some preferred food.
We also arranged for a big daylight Corroboree which was performed in full war paint. I considered the musicians the most interesting, especially the boy who played the "didgeridoo". This is a piece of bamboo about 3'6" long and about 3 inches wide at one end and a 1 inch wide at the end where the musician blows. Usually the didgeridoo is not altogether straight, but is slightly bent, like a horn. There is not the least variation in the playing of the didgeridoo, the noise made being a continual low groan like "did-jer-ee-doo, did-jer-ee-doo". Nevertheless, it takes a lot of wind to keep going, and it is not every boy that can last out a whole corroboree.
The boy next to the didgeridoo player clanged two hard, round sticks together, about a foot long and keeping in time with the didgeridoo. The noise made by the clanging resembled the sound made by hitting two around Ebony rulers together.
The songster of the company commenced singing in a high-pitched loud voice which gradually fell down about two octaves, trailing off into a humming through the nose for several minutes. This tenor "singer's' knowledge of music was, I think, very limited for, during a whole Corroboree, he singing was only a monotonous repetition.
Various Corroboree's, including the "Debil Debil Wind" and "Mary River" were danced, a terrible dust being made by the stamping of feet. A few days before leaving Katherine, Charlie informed me that a very big "young man" Corroboree was being held. I might mention here that the Australian blacks follow the practice of the initiatory rite of the Jewish church. His performance is called the "young man" Corroboree, which lasts two or three days. Usually, the blacks resent the white man attending these corroborees, but my curiosity led me to the place of the operation at daybreak on the morning of the third day, where I hid behind a large tree. The two previous days and nights have been spent in corroboreeing, and the boy to be operated on was not allowed to sleep, so that, within half an hour or so after the operation he'd fall asleep from the sheer want of it. I will not remark on the "modus operandi", except that, whereas the civilised world is provided with chloroform and sharp, sterilised surgical instruments, the blacks' only instrument is a piece of sharp flint. Being forced to stay awake, I understand, also lessens the blood flow.
Although the blacks are gradually dying out in Australia, there are still many thousands in the Northern Territory, and they probably will be useful when the territory is being developed. Even if their only usefulness is in connection with stock work. It is not feasible that these half civilised blacks who are living a primitive life up to a couple of score of years ago should be able to develop their minds sufficiently to put them in a position which the civilised white man has taken centuries to attain. Even the most intelligent boy I ever met in the territory had absolutely no idea of time or distance. Ask the distance to a certain place, the answer would be "only little bit long way now", or, if it was a matter of a few days travel, the answer would be "perhaps we catch him one two three times Sun come". Another boy, when asked, "what time we catch water?", Would point to where the sun would be at a certain hour.
The skill of the Australian aboriginals in finding their way through trackless country is well-known, and their usefulness in that direction must be recognised, but, apart from this and their work with stock, they have practically no other accomplishments, nor desire any, being usually lazy. They treat their lubras as beasts of burden, but are generally kind to children, while the lubras bestow their affections upon numerous mongrel dogs.
Treachery is inherent in their natures, and their partiality to spirits, especially rum, does not enhance their value to the country. White men travelling through the territory on horseback invariably make their boys travel in front of them, and it is known of boys who have asked their "boss" to travel "last time", which goes to show the instinctive lustful blood on their natures. Even old Zulu said to me, "me go first time boss".
The Wyndham track, running westward from Katherine towards the Kimberley districts of Western Australia, is noted for the number of white men who have been speared by the blacks. Only a few years ago, a man living in a small shanty was attacked and killed. His first knowledge of anything wrong was a spear which stuck into the wall of his shanty as he was sitting on the verandah. Running to his revolver, he found it missing, and was absolutely helpless, whereas he would have had a chance had he had it. It was afterwards found that his working gin had stolen the revolver, and putting it in a bucket, went to a nearby waterhole to get some water. Throwing the revolver into the middle of the waterhole, she returned to the house and later on advised the blacks what she had done. Of course, this had been arranged previously, but it is proof of that treachery of half civilised blacks. The blame cannot always be wholly attached to the blacks, because there are white men who steal the boys' lubras, and their thirst for revenge often ends in blood.
I met very few white men who favoured the several station missions in the Northern Territory for the education and advancement of the blacks. The children are taken care of when a few years old and are taught the English language. When they become about 12 or 13 years old, they are sent away or they clear out of their own accord, or their parents will have taken them away. The girls "marry" while the boys either "go bush" or get work on a cattle station, and only advantage over fellow natives being a slightly better knowledge of the language. Australia's black race matures much more quickly than the white, more especially the females, many of whom give an appearance of being old and decrepit at a little over 20 years of age.
The black boy who has had long and continual acquaintances with the white man and his methods it never surprised at the white's achievements and appears to take everything as a matter of course. For instance, when Sir Ross Smith flew over the country, a man and his boy were travelling along a track with horses when the drone of the engine was heard. The man told the boy to move the horses off the track as a motor car was coming. Quite unconcerned, the boy said "no more car, him only flying machine". To the man's surprise, he looked up and saw an aeroplane, the first he had ever seen. It transpired that the boy had seen the picture of an aeroplane in a magazine.
Of course, blacks like this are a rarity, fully met many who scampered for their lives at the first sight of our car, and could not be induced to come near. Some of the more venturesome would only come close enough to be out of Dinkum's reach. Considerable amusement was often often afforded us by getting a boy to hold a "live wire" while the engine was running. On one occasion, we succeeded in getting about 20 of them to class hands, and gave them the current. Whether or not they were delighted, I do not know, but they jumped about and jabbered, forgetting for a while to unclasp their hands.
One of our last incidents before leaving Katherine was the worst physical clash we had with natives. I was dozing in my net, when I heard one hell of a commotion. Getting out, I found Frank on the ground being belaboured by two husky natives. Running to his assistance, I was able to handle one of them, while other boys, lubras and piccaninnies were yelling and yabbering, to say nothing of their barking, mangy dogs, who joined in the fray, biting our heels or anywhere they could get a nip at us. The storekeeper came running down with a shot gun and threatened to shoot us.
Apparently, the blacks had seen Frank behind a tree near where the lubras and piccaninnies were bathing in the river, and thought he was spying on them, whereas, it was nearly filming and photographing them. Knowing Frank as I did after months with him day and night, I knew he was not interested in the black women, naked or dressed, other than studying their customs and using them as photographic material. This had been evident on a number of occasions when some wily lubras had sought our attention.
At last, our three-weeks spell in Katherine drew to a close. Benzine supplies have arrived from Darwin, as had also the cylinder head, tyres and tubes, et cetera. Another fault we had found that the cogs of the crown wheel pinion were all more or less chipped, and the spare pinion we had brought from Sydney was too small to replace the damaged one. However, we decided to risk it, and wired to the Brisbane agents to send a spare pinion and crown wheel to Uradangie, in Western Queensland. Our first main objective was Camooweal, in Western Queensland, and we had the alternative of two tracks. One goes eastwards from Daly Waters to Boorooloola near the Gulf of Carpentaria, thence south-easterly over Barkly Tablelands to Camooweal. This would be a very rough and isolated track. The other track goes from Newcastle Waters over the Barkly Tablelands to Camooweal. We decided on the latter as being the easiest and more comfortable route. Our route from Camooweal would be southerly to Uradangie, thence westerly to Hatches Creek, from where we would endeavour to strike the MacDonnell Ranges and follow the foot thereof to Alice Springs. This latter part of the journey would have been exceedingly rough in as much as a considerable amount of danger would be attached to it. Alternatively, we would go down Western Queensland to Birdsville, or even into New South Wales to Bourke or Broken Hill.
However, we were not destined to get that far, and perhaps we were fortunate in this.
CHAPTER 3 THE RETURN TRIP
Just before leaving Katherine, we received a wire from the men at Daly Waters, stating that they were short of foodstuffs and asking us if we could bring them 200lbs of flour and a case of groceries. Imagine the sight of a motor car (not a lorry) carrying four cases of benzine, ten 8 gallon drums (two of which contained water), all our photographic equipment, cases of spare parts, tools and the numerous necessities for travelling, our own supply of foodstuffs, together with the stores for Daly Waters - to say nothing of grass, soil, water and minerals samples and also the native weapons, especially the long Spears measuring the full length of the car!
Owing to the shortage of room in the body of the car, and because the running boards had been discarded, we found it necessary to fasten four drums onto the chassis frame with stout wire, and we were quite satisfied that there was no danger as the drums were raised well above the height of the front axle.
At four o'clock on Tuesday, 25th May, 1921, we left Katherine on the return journey of our expedition. Five miles out, we passed a donkey team with rations for Daly Waters and other stations, and the man in charge did not expect to arrive at Daly Waters until three weeks time, whereas we expected to arrive there on Thursday. That evening, we camped at the 20 mile waterhole which is halfway between Katherine and Maranboy. The traffic on the road had now reduced the hardened mud to a floury dust which was loathsome.
Arriving at the King River on the next day, we found it necessary to unload half of our cargo as we were frightened of seriously damaging the already chipped pinion on the long, steep hill leading from the river. We only wasted about an hour doing this, and arrived at Maranboy long before lunch. Little did we know we would be back there in five or six days time.
Returning some benzine in place of what we had borrowed from the Mine Manager, we again pushed on and had lunch and a slight rest at Abraham's Billabong. We left three drums of benzine at the Bitter Springs camp, to be picked up by the Mataranka dray. Arriving at old Elsey Station at about five o'clock we deviated to the left, intending to cross the creek leading from Warlock Ponds where we had previously crossed, as the main crossing was still under water.
Our original crossing was now dry, and on reaching the other side we stopped to take some photos of the pretty scenery. We could not help remarking over the good day's travelling we had had. On the upward journey we had been continually hampered by the wet ground and sand, and today, with a very heavily loaded car we had travelled nearly 100 miles. The engine was running splendidly and was using very little water. The holes in the radiator had been soldered and there was no leakage.
There was no suitable camping ground near the creek, and mosquitoes were bad, so we pushed on very slowly over the now bumpy ground. The grass was very long, and we were looking about for a clear patch on which to camp. Such a spot might have been seen any second, when we would have stopped. We were in very high spirits and I had just said, "What would you like for tea, Frank?" when there was a roar and a blinding yellow flash which enveloped everything. What happened in the seconds that followed would take too long to explain. Frank was driving at the time and, consequently, sitting on the right hand side of the car. Dinkum was sitting on the goods in the back portion of the car. I have a hazy recollection of seeing a wall of flame on my left, which, coupled with the momentarily stunning effect, cut off my escape. Moreover, the hood being up added to our difficulties.
With wonderful presence of mind, Frank scrambled out on the right-hand side. Although I do not remember leaving the machine, I must have done so a very few seconds after Frank did, but those few seconds sufficed to partially render me unrecognisable as I was so burned and blackened. Apparently, I got out of the car on the same side as Frank, (he may have pulled me out). Bumping the ground brought me to my senses, and I found that I was lying in blazing grass. Instantly, Frank - although burnt about the arms - dragged me away into long green grass to put out the flames. Staggering up, a ghastly sight of strips of skin and flesh some inches in length hanging from my fingertips met my gaze. It was impossible for me to bend my fingers, while my left elbow refused to bend. Frank was lucky in that only blisters arose on his arms.
Blinding yellow flames 40 feet in height were shooting into the air. Some idea of the blazing inferno might be imagined when it is realised that there were over 80 gallons of benzine, thousands of feet of cinematograph film and hundreds of photograph films, while the whole woodwork of the car was highly inflammable on account of it being oil-stained for months.
At the time of the accident, Frank was wearing a pair of trousers, a singlet and a pair of boots, while I had on the two former, but was minus boots. My feet and legs, therefore, suffered considerably, while the back of my neck, shoulders, back and lower portion of my back were also severely burned. From the knee to the hip of my left leg also was burnt, yet no hole was burnt in my trousers, except at the bottom.
Thinking that Dinkum was sizzling up in the car, we were surprised and relieved to see him rolling in the green grass and sniffing. His hair had been singed, but was too thick to allow the flames to penetrate to the skin.
It was almost dark, and without waiting to see the finish, and in a very desperate condition, we commenced to walk towards a nomad black's camp at the old Elsey Station nearly 5 miles away. Limping along and with many halts, I only remember parts of that agonising journey. To avoid contact of the bare flesh with the long grass it was necessary to walk with our arms extended in front of us. Frank walked in the lead as he was wearing boots, and by keeping close to Frank the long grass did not scratch my arms.
Apparently, I had taken in a mouthful or two of the flames, for my tongue seemed to swell up to the roof of my mouth while my throat had the most peculiar feeling inside. Moreover, my nostrils were burnt inside and I could not breathe through my nose.
Frank kept telling me there was nothing wrong with my hair or face, but, although I could not use my hands, I could feel the tingling of the nerves in my face, while my hair felt dreadfully short.
It was pitch dark when we stumbled to the main crossing of the Warlock Creek, and on crossing it we were walking through bog halfway up to our shins. The burns on my feet and legs suffered terribly from this, the mud becoming mixed with the flesh and blisters. Frank to coo-eed to the camp, which was now only about half a mile away. Some boys came out and assisted us in, when we collapsed.
Jim Stott, a half caste, was camped nearby, and he immediately despatched some boys to Mataranka 20 or so miles away, for relief. Meanwhile, I derived considerable comfort from smoking cigarettes made by Jim Stott and placed between my lips by the gins.
That night was passed in semi-delirium, and the good gins sat up with us and gave us a hot drink when we required it. The lower portions of my legs and feet were a conglomeration of mud, skin and flesh, and although the gins tenderly washed them, I implored them to tear away the skin which was holding the mud. But they were afraid of hurting me, and I could not use my own hands as they were merely burnt flesh. They had put flour on my face, ears and neck, and, later on in hospital when the ear burns were apparently healed, the nurses remove the flour to reveal a perfect mould of my ears.
By the time the buckboard buggy arrived next afternoon in charge of a black boy, imagine our plight. Malaria fever had me in its toils once again, and I was in a very critical condition as they lifted me into the buggy. Frank, fortunately, had not suffered to the same extent. Grass was placed on the floor and a tarpaulin was erected above for protection against the heat, flies and dust. We lay side-by-side as the buddy drove off over the rough ground. As it was not known when we would reach Maranboy, at Bitter Springs a change of horses was ready to take out on to Maranboy, and a Mr Brown from Mataranka took his seat behind the five horses and started along the track over which he had only travelled once before. Night had fallen, and without lights Mr Brown drove the horses as steadily as possible. I have very little recollection of this part of the journey, but was rudely brought to my senses when a heavy jolt would bring a burned portion of my body in contact with the side of the buggy, jolting and bumping through scrubby forests and sand patches, heaves and bumps as the wheels struck the ant beds.
After being nearly 12 hours in the buggy, at about 3.30 on the next morning (Friday), Sisters Hird and Dunlop, of the Maranboy Mission Hospital, started their fight for life which lasted for three months, and finally gave us health and strength.
My life was almost despaired of, the burns, shock, exposure, exhaustion and fever being sufficient to overcome the strongest constitution.
Arriving at the hospital roused me a little, but I was unaware of where I was, but the sight of two white girls was sufficient to put me at ease and allow me to drift off into quiet unconsciousness. Although I was too ill and weak to trouble much at all, I did think we were being taken to Darwin which is about 260 miles from Maranboy.
I remember very little of the first fortnight in hospital, but several times I do remember gaining consciousness for a few minutes to find gins fanning me. With no feeling of pain I was satisfied to shut my eyes again, fully aware that I was dying yet too weak to make a fight.
The treatment of burns in those days was hot water rag fomentations applied to the burns twice daily, so my arms and legs had this treatment, the rags like bandages being wrapped around them. For the first two weeks I did not feel much pain when the rags were removed, taking skin and flesh with them (being unconscious most of the time). However, on my return to full consciousness, it was necessary to give me morphine injections before treatment. After this treatment was no longer required it was necessary to remove proud flesh with bluestone, which stung more than pained. The nurses kept in touch with the Government Medical Officer, Darwin, through the Mine Manager, and when we first arrived at the hospital it was suggested that they be sent on to Darwin on account of the serious burns to my left arm as there was a possibility of amputation.
The nurses, however, considered that I would never stand the buggy journey to Mataranka, Katherine and Pine Creek, and felt it safer to see how I reacted to their treatment for a week or so. This information was, of course, only conveyed to me after I was well on the way to partial recovery.
I soon began to recover after the crisis was over, but Frank was out of bed some weeks before I could make the attempt, and then it took several days before I could walk a few yards. Once about on my feet I began to interest myself in the surroundings.
The Penola Home - which is the name of the hospital - is controlled by the Australian Inland Mission, and subsidised by the Government in a small way. The building was erected by the residents of Maranboy and is a credit to their workmanship. The ground floor contains the ward, kitchen and nurses' living room, while the nurses private quarters are on the upper storey.
The ward would only hold six beds at the most. I was agreeably surprised when I learned that that both the nurses hailed from Brisbane, my home town. They were both of an enterprising nature and needed to be, for the reason that the baker, grocer, fruiterer and milkman did not call every morning in Maranboy. Far from it, as the majority of the foodstuffs received in that locality is in airtight tins, and it is no wonder that one sees a herd of goats, a flock of fowls and our fruit and vegetable garden, all conducted by the girls, with the aid of a black boy "Friday", who did other chores such as cutting the firewood, et cetera.
It must not be imagined that the patients are all fever sufferers, for, while we were there for three months, 12 patients were admitted, and, considering that some of the were very serious cases, the two girls were kept very busy as they had to do all the house work and cooking themselves. Of the 12 patients; one was suffering from dysentery, hiccoughs and fever, one had a bullet in his hand, one had been speared in the leg by a black, one had a severely jarred hand, myself and Frank with burns, shock and fever, and the balance were fever cases, although one also had concussion as a result of a fall from a horse.
Only the very serious cases come to the hospital. Black boys are continually arriving for quinine for white bosses on stations up to 60 miles away. Although the aborigines have their own methods of combating fever and healing wounds it is remarkable that number who do come to the hospital for treatment. These, of course, are the half civilised blacks, and they do not stay long, and soon go "walkabout" again.
At this time, Maranboy and District had the unenviable distinction of being the worst place in the Commonwealth for malarial fever, and it was a severe fever not associated with the coastal Gulf fever known as "Filaria", which was more like influenza. Quinine was the only medicine available, and generally the fever had to take its course of up to 2 weeks, during which time one went through the cold, hot, and finally the feverish delirium stage.
One cannot speak too highly of the glorious work being done by these Sisters of the Australian Inland Mission. It would be hard to estimate the number of lives they have saved, both whites and blacks, in the remote areas of Australia.
The Penola Home is no exception, being situated in the most convenient position of that part of the Northern Territory. Neither Frank nor I could possibly have withstood the further buggy ride and another train ride for 200 miles to Darwin. The patient with concussion and fever would never have reached Pine Creek.
Sisters Jean Hird and Dorothy Dunlop, the two young Brisbane nurses, will have the thanks and blessings of a lot more patients before they return to civilisation.
Just before leaving Maranboy the girls told me they were losing their man "Friday". I taxed Friday and asked why he was going "walkabout", as he had a good job, getting free white tucker, tobacco and a few shillings. He told me, "Black fellow tell me snake kill my missus, but I know Black fellow kill her. So now I go kill him and I come back next moon." He certainly would be missed as, in addition to his other chores, he kept the punkah moving in the ward. There was no electricity in those days.
So, after spending nearly 3 months in Maranboy hospital, it was decided that I was sufficiently strong to travel to Darwin Hospital. Frank was really quite well as he did not suffer burns to the same extent as I did. We took our departure of the girls and other inmates very sorrowfully.
We were driven in a buggy to Katherine, thence to Pine Creek, where we boarded the train to take us 160 miles to Darwin, where I arrived wearing only a khaki shirt and trousers lent me by the policeman. The 160 mile journey was without incident.
My sojourn in Darwin Hospital was for one month while arrangements were being made for us to be shipped south, and eventually boarded the S.S.Marella. This was a beautiful ship, having been built for the Kaiser for his world voyage after he won the 1914-1918 War. Had the war ended in his favour, you can be sure I would never have been on his palatial yacht.
On the Marella I met Senator Harry Poll, who, I think, at the time was Minister for Internal Affairs; and he informed me he had been driven to Mataranka on government business, and while there, had gone out to see the remains of our car, which was nothing but a mass of metal, much of which was melted. In fact, it was difficult to believe it had once been a car.
I disembarked at my home town, Brisbane, and Frank went on to Melbourne. So ended an expedition which commenced so hopefully and adventurously for me, and finished up so disastrously.
CHAPTER 4: REFLECTIONS AND COMPARISONS: THE TRACK REVISITED
Not being sufficiently recovered in health to take a permanent position, I spent several months in recuperating on an island outside Brisbane, where I wrote this manuscript without any diary or nights - which, of course, were destroyed in the fire.
I never heard whether Frank made any report or recommendation to the Government as, owing to my illness in Brisbane and in 1922 going to North-Western Queensland jackarooing on a large sheep station, I lost track of him. In his book, "Lonely Lands", written after his bicycle ride through the Centre from Queensland to Darwin and thence to Adelaide, he was not in favour of the line through Central Australia. He said "there was no pastoral or agricultural land worth talking about, being mostly desert sand". Generally, I would agree with him. The Pine Creek - Bourke route would be the most direct route of good country, only about 300 miles of same being poor country. Some of the proposed routes run through terribly wet and mountainous country, where as the route from Tennant Creek to Camooweal over the Barkly Tablelands, thence through the well grassed Western Queensland Mitchell and Flinders grasses South to Cunnamulla and to Bourke or Broken Hill in New South Wales, which was already linked up with Sydney and Adelaide and, if necessary, Melbourne could be linked up through the New South Wales and Victorian railway systems.
However, these were our thoughts and we discussed them on quite a number of occasions. After a few years of jackarooing and learning all aspects of station line, I joined a pastoral company and spent many years travelling Queensland and New South Wales, inspecting sheep and cattle properties, and my journeys took me from the Gulf and Cape York Peninsular to into New South Wales and from the coast through Central Queensland and the Far West and South-West, and down to Bourke and well into the Central and Western New South Wales districts.
After my retirement, I travelled by car nearly a million miles, so, after my Central and Northern Territory experiences I came to the conclusion that Frank's idea of a railway, coincided with mine. My being a Queenslander would have no bearing on this - I think!
However, now in October, 1975 - after 54 years - I have again been to Alice Springs, and have lived to see the railway line and road at Alice Springs, and how it was built through Heavitree Gap. It will be remembered that, earlier in this book, I hoped I would live to see the day that this would happen.
While the railway line, however, more or less follows the Overland Telegraph line, the main road the South from Adelaide and Kingoonya goes through Coober Pedy and varies from about 60 to 80 miles west of the railway, the point nearest to Oodnadatta being approximately 80 miles and gradually, for the last 150 miles, bearing back to the railway, finally finishing at Alice Springs.
So far, there does not appear to be any movement for carrying the line further north. Of course, there is a beautiful bitumen road leading North through the range (and no natives in chains being required to help one through). Obviously, the greatest changes were the bitumen roads and the growth in the towns of Alice and Tennant Creek, also the number of roadside service stations, caravan parks,overnight cabins, cafes, et cetera.
Leaving Dalby, on the Darling Downs, and travelling with my daughter and son-in-law through to Charleville, Longreach, Winton, Cloncurry, Camooweal, Tennant Creek to Alice Springs in a Mercedes, we took only three days.
The whole road was bitumen, except from Winton to Cloncurry through Kynuna and McKinlay, which is all practically black soil and good, fast travelling while dry; but, on our return journey, rain had fallen and, although we were never bogged, we were very close to it. In the wet season, tourist buses and other travellers can be held up here for weeks, but there is an alternative route from Mt Isa to Winton through Boulia, mostly bitumen, but much longer. We were advised at Mt Isa that rain had fallen over our route, but we preferred to risk it, rather than take the longer route. I had driven over most of this route as far as Mt Isa on a number of occasions (mostly before it was bitumen) and was quite happy to sit in the car and let the other two drive; although I wanted to take my turn at the wheel, they would not allow me.
The old Telegraph station brought back pleasant memories, and it is now a national park, with many of the old buildings still standing (some restored), particularly the Postmaster's Residence and Kitchen, the old Telegraph Room with all the old instruments and the batteries room.
The Station was occupied from 1872 until 1932 when the new Post Office was built in the town and until 1963 was used as an aboriginal settlement and by the army, and from then on as a Place of Historical Interest and for Recreation, restoration continually taking place.
I was particularly interested in the bronze plaque depicting the offices in charge from 1872 to 1932, and the name of J. A. Price 1916 to 1924, and a happy evenings I spent with these good people. There are numerous places of interest for the visitor, such as art galleries, aboriginal art, "Pitchy Richi" Sanctuary, the aboriginal translation being "a break in the Range".
While in the Alice my grandson took us on a four-day Land Rover drive to the many places of interest, particularly to the many beautiful gaps and gorges in the Mac Donnell Ranges, various mission stations, tourist camps, Tempe Downs Station with an area of about two thousand square miles - which it is rumoured that the government is purchasing for approximately 1 million dollars for the aborigines. We also visited a couple of oil wells at Moononee, where there are nine or ten, all discarded, with their machinery still there but the wells locked down. You can smell the gas before you reach the wells.
One has to visit the Alice and its surroundings to realise the beauty of the spectacular Ranges. Their formations and colourings are beyond belief in the gorges and gaps, after probably millions of years of the elements, have transformed them into unbelievable grandeur.
The "Stuart Arms" Hotel is still there on the same site, but not the one I stayed at. I was told there has always been a "Stuart Arms" Hotel, but over the years several have been burnt down.
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION AND COINCIDENCES.
While in North Queensland I was getting two to three monthly bouts of malaria, during which I could not work for up to two weeks, and my life was a misery, never knowing when and why the attacks would occur, because I was not in malaria country. However, a relative, a former nurse recommended me to see Dr. Baient in Townsville, who was a Tropical Diseases Doctor. I went down to see him and he told me he had had malaria in various countries in the world, and, although I had the worst form of malaria to his knowledge, surprisingly it was the simplest to cure, provided I followed his advice strictly. He, therefore, prescribed a mixture - which, of course, contained quinine, apart from other drugs, I returned to the station and have not had an attack since.
Frank graphically describes an attack he had in Darwin Hospital in his book,"Lonely Lands", written in 1909.
A couple of years ago, being a member of the Caloundra Lions Club, I addressed the club at dinner meetings on my experiences. Recently, I had a telephone call from a member one Sunday morning, who mentioned he was at a small party of friends the previous evening to meet the mother of his host's wife. He asked me on the phone - "Who was that Chap I was with out in the Territory?" He had forgotten. I told him - Francis Birtles. Apparently, the lady he met at the party was relating her experiences as an Australian mission nurse in the Northern Territory over 50 years ago. She stated that her most vivid memory was one early-morning when a black boy in a buggy brought in Francis Birtles and a young fellow who had been terribly burned and was in a very desperate condition. He was carried in with skin hanging from his fingers and feet and was the worst case she had ever nursed.
Pricking his ears, he said, "That would not be Roy Fry, would it?" and she said,"Yes." So he told her I was in Caloundra. I immediately went up to see her and renewed a loving memory of Dorothy Dunlop and Jean Hird who had saved my life over 50 years ago. Dorothy had married a station owner - Mr Giles, a descendant of an early pioneer - but he died some years previously.
Frank's brother, Clive, who had travelled the outback on several occasions, was staying at a caravan park in Caloundra owned by me. He and his wife had their own van and Clive's daughter, married to Harold Carswell, also lived in an adjoining van. This was about eight years ago. I used to see them and talk with them every day for the three months they were there, but I understood his name was "Clyde". It is hard to credit that I never associated him with Frank until, one afternoon when talking with Harold the Northern Territory was mentioned. I said I had been there with Francis Birtles. Harold gaped and said, "Don't you know, that is 'Clive" Birtles outside?" Clive would be about 10 years older than I. His eyes had deteriorated, otherwise, his health was good. So we went downstairs and Harold asked Clive - "Do you know who this is?" Clive said, "Yes - Roy." "Roy who?" "I don't know - only Roy". When Harold mentioned "Roy Fry." he thought for a while and came closer to me, and remembered. I had stayed with the family in Melbourne back in 1920, while preparing for the trip. Actually, Clive taught me to drive in the short while I was there.
I will bore you with one more coincidence before closing this narrative.
In 1925, while I was in Hughenden, I became very friendly with a station owner the same age as myself. His name was Bill Allen (now Sir William Allen). He was new to the district and always came to see me when in town.
On one occasion - it was the picnic race meeting, and he asked if I could get a girl for him for the ball. I was going with a party (we were both unmarried) and arranged for a girl for him -whom, incidentally, he married later. However, he and I often talked of our previous lives, and I had naturally talked of my trip with Birtles. After leaving Hughenden I only saw Bill during Brisbane Show Week. He always attended it, as did I. However, a couple of years ago, when I met him there, he said he had recently been in Sydney and he met a lady whose name he apparently did not hear or notice on introduction. However, after talking for a while she said to him - "Queensland and Brisbane are big places and I know very few people there. But I did know a young man 50 years ago who was best man at my wedding to Francis Birtles back in 1920 in Melbourne." Bill said, it would be Roy Fry, wouldn't it? And of course she said, "Yes." Clive had told me that they had been divorced , but Bill did not know whether Mrs Birtles had remarried or was still Mrs Francis Birtles. Her Christian name, by the way, was "Frances".
Frank, by the way, died in 1941, and, apart from his Australian overlanding, he drove by himself, in 1927 a Bean car, from London to Australia - a distance of 15,000 miles by road and 2000 miles by water - the journey taking him approximately 9 months. I have a map of the route he took.
So, as I have said, 54 years have passed since I was at the Alice, and this trip prompted me very belatedly to fossick through my belongings and find the manuscript which I wrote on my return to Brisbane when I was 22 years old.
There are still probably quite a lot of old-timers who will remember Francis Birtles and his writings, and it is of my experience with him that my adventure is about. It was a national and well publicised expedition at that time. I am pleased I recorded that when I returned while my memory was fresh, and fortunate to have lived so long, surviving a number of motor car accidents, two coronary occlusions and a near death electrocution.