WE ARRIVE AT ALICE SPRINGS AND, MEETING LORD STRADBROKE'S PARTY, PAUSE TO ENJOY SOME CELEBRATIONS AND A CORROBOREE.
THE " capital" of Central Australia, Alice Springs, does not meet the average man's conception of a capital. Still, it calls itself proudly and with confidence a capital, and when the influential stranger arrives it takes him along the " main street " and
sells him allotments on perpetual lease for thirty shillings against the moment when the coming railway will make the spires of a great city to rise out of the Stuart valley. It is a brave little township, pioneering in spirit, and civilised Australia has a certain pride in it and credits it with a magnitude to which it has no claim. Conventionally it is even supposed to be a town.
Actually, it is a few shanties supported by a stone police station and Residency combined, a hotel, a couple of iron sheds to accommodate a school of youthful half-castes who live a sort of Black Hole of Calcutta existence when they are not carrying water, and a large number of camels, which have an appearance of being vaguely intertwined with the scenery at large.
We arrived at Alice Springs at four o'clock'in the afternoon. The " inhabitants," despite the bracing
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air, was almost unanimously asleep. The surroundings of the town were very beautiful-the high basalt cliffs of the McDonnell Ranges on every side ; the tall, stately spreading trees ; the white of the little tin huts and houses against the green of miraculously nurtured gardens, and, above all, the Union jack and the Australian flag fioating over the Residency under a perfect turquoise sky, cloudlessly limitless except where the ranges cut it off at the edges; a sky with a brilliance which comes only after seven or eight rainless months, of the sort of blue that every Australian in Europe longs for with a passionate longing.
The air, moreover, was crisp and fresh, free of factory smoke, almost alpinely invigorating so that, despite the heat of the afternoon, one felt inclined to leap like a buck upon the mountains. Even Francis was merry, and the Engineer almost forgot his manners when he beheld Lady Stradbroke, the wife of the Victorian Governor, standing at the gate, wondering what this tinker's van was all about. He was distinctly inclined to carol, was the Engineer. For one thing, the conjunction of a Countess and a " capital " gave him an excuse to wash and shave and dig into the bowels of the car for a clean shirt.
As we stopped at the gate of the Residency, coincidence fell upon us. A young man came out of the house in the wake of Lady Stradbroke, and there we were in a group .
Her Ladyship and the Engineer had travelled from England on the same steamer. The young man and I had been the only two Australian civilians on the British Special Service Squadron for a period when
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it was in South Pacific waters. Here we were together quite astonishingly in the geographical centre of Australia.
The occasion seemed to warrant a holiday, and as the Earl of Stradbroke had not arrived and was still struggling through with his cars from Oodnadatta, held back by the sand of that region which Mr. Stefansson, the Polar explorer, had recently
found so fertile, I declared leave for twenty-four hours and we retired to a creek bank to lay out camp and dress for dinner. We were fully half a mile from the centre of the town and the town was not to be seen, but everyone was nevertheless in high
spirits. What cared we for towns in that exhilarating atmosphere ?
Francis sang ; the Engineer, well lathered, sang ; I sang ; Dinkum sang.
Then we went to dinner at the Residency. It was an amazing party. The sergeant of police had the head of the table, with his wife on one side and the Countess--she whom the late Secretary to the Privy Council has described as one of the most beautiful women in England--on the other. Then there were the leading authority on the Australian aboriginals of to-day, Dr. Basedow, also a well-known explorer, and Professor Ewart, one of the best-known botanists in the Southern Hemisphere, a British cavalry officer aide-de-camp, a young Scotch police constable, ourselves and sundry other people, all jumbled up holus-bolus and chattering, as someone said, " like a treeful of parrots " about everything on the face of the earth.
You might hear: " Coué? Merely a case of
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mental reaction to . . _." and then lose the rest of the sentence in the words, rising excitedly from the other end of the roo"Four red pups, so help me bob, and every one of them a mongrel, I tell you." Or Indigofera (from Professor Ewart) might link itself with the indignation of Francis at the kind of gates which interior pastoralists built out of a " piece of rusty wire and a shiver."
It was late when we retired. As I left, an anguished female form followed me into the moonlight and
whispered : " In the name of Heaven, what do you do with this thing? Does she want to drink out of it, or what?"
It was an unfortunate lady of Central Australia making her first acquaintance with a red fiannel hot-water bag, a luxury which the Stradbroke party had apparently introduced into those regions.
In the morning the sun woke us, although there was ice on the water drums and rime and hoar-frost on the trees and grey grass. By the barking of Dinkum we realised that we were not alone.
I looked out of my tarpaulin and saw an old man sitting on his haunches.
" Mornin'," he said. " Has any of yew-fellers got a pair of socks ? "
I led him softly aside.
" Socks ? "
" Yes," said our visitor, " socks. Here am I going to meet a lord to-day and I haven't got no socks to wear.
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" Whaddas a man want with socks up here? " he cried defensively, seeing me suppress a grin. " Only two things they're good for is to keep money in-and we ain't got any--or to make a puddin' in. We're not like you toffs in the cities-we don't get
lords running round us every day." I gave him his socks, and he retired to a lean Rosinante of a horse, muttering grateful thanks.
We breakfasted hurriedly and set off for the centre of the township. No word had come through about his Excellency. The telegraph man at Deep Well had never heard of him. Still, he might be there at any moment.
The township was in a bustle. The school children were all on holiday-six whites and the seventy half-castes--and Professor Ewart, a large, rosy, jovial scholar, was amusing himself by entertaining them. The sun shone more brightly than ever. The air was more invigorating than before.
Down in the blacks' camp about a hundred and fifty natives, brought in from the bush to celebrate the arrival of so many illustrious visitors with a corroboree, sat round in groups playing with their spears and boomerangs--the Queei, or ladies, on one side of the road, and the Weei, or gentlemen, on the other.
The Queei, with feminine petulance, seemed to be engaged in the pastime of kicking their dogs and abusing their husbands from afar. The Weei, consistent to male tradition, were grumbling about the world in general. Only the corroboree leader, sitting on guard before his sacred totem, himself adorned like it in red and white kopi and parrot feathers, remained silent. The rest muttered and
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chattered about the Government and the scarcity of food and their diseases and all the matters of importance which man is apt to discuss when he has an audience.
The sole motor lorry of the district, with the cars of the Stradbroke menage, drove hurriedly hither and thither. The flags fluttered. The camels ambled snakily into all the places in which they were not wanted. Alice Springs was enveloped in an atmosphere of suspense. In London, an Earl may walk down Piccadilly or Pall Mall and nobody notice him. In Alice Springs a Vice-regal Earl is an event, more exciting because his presence is an advertisement for the district and he may generally be depended on, when he returns to civilisation, to say tactfully something complimentary about the immense fertility of the trackless spaces and his surprise at the lack of enterprise on the part of the young men of the towns who prefer to sit at picture
shows rather than to go forth and conquer the wilderness. Earls are a factor in increasing land values.
About the middle of the afternoon an excited Afghan announced that Vice Royalty was in the distance, and looking down towards the gap in the ranges towards the south-west, one beheld a wisp of dust rising which might have been either a willy-
willy whirlwind or the sandy proceeds of a dog fight.
At once all was renewed bustle. Patriarchal old gentlemen with long beards beset themselves vigorously and inexpertly to the task of drawing on unaccustomed trousers which a beneficent state had provided for them in the name of civilisation. Black ladies rushed for shelter. A few extra flags
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fluttered across the roadway and there was a great shouting and adjuration as the sergeant and the constable appeared demanding that the crowd should form on either side of the road and that the bodyguard should muster to receive the distinguishedvisitors.
The bodyguard formed. It was a very ragged and very youthful bodyguard, but, as Francis afterwards had the pleasure of pointing out to His Excellency, it was unique, being drawn from the half-caste school.
" All of it," said Francis, graphically, " was half black and half white. Parts of it were half Swede and half blackfellow, and bits were made up of black people named O'Sullivan. And, besides that, not one member of it had a married mother and most of its fathers would not have recognised it except under legal pressure.
" Not even the Grenadiers," he added, with what he took to be wit, " could do better than that."
However, the Guard of Honour formed and while the more fastidious whites were trying to place themselves in such situations that they would be able to enjoy the view, avoid the camels and be at the same time to Windward of the native population, whose aroma, in spite of vigorous official efforts, was almost mediaeval, a small black, single-seater motor car arrived in the middle of the plain with a quiet, pleasant-looking gentleman in a khaki suit and grey felt hat, sitting beside the driver.
Loyal pandemonium broke out. It was a thin demonstration beside the sort of thing that Europe can do. Indeed, the gathering looked pathetically
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lonely in the middle of the emptiness of the plain around and pathetically small against the towering ranges.
Still, it cheered and waved its flags. The white population to a man wiped its good right hand furtively upon its thigh and shook hands with the Great. The bodyguard, being invited to cheer, could not be restrained. Yells, shrieks, howls of joy and " God Save the King " told of the Centralian jubilation as the patchwork human population escorted the arrivals to the Residency. There, I regret to say, Professor Ewart destroyed the morale of the bodyguard by suddenly appearing with a
brown paper bag full of sweets and inviting them to scramble for them.
And, afterwards, there was another dinner given by his Lordship whom we lured from his own car to drive in ours to the corroboree ground where all the natives, now rotund with good Government food, awaited us in their paint and feathers.
We had our corroboree. Down by the totem or " Nganja " stick which had been set up earlier in the day so that the Spirit of the Yam might enter it, a huge fire was lit to guide Him on his way. Round the circle of the fire stood every chair and stool and
bench in the City of Stuart (which is the official name of Alice Springs). For those that did not like chairs, there was always the ground. On one side were the Vice-regal party ; to their right, the half-caste school, very amusingly noisy with the inevitable
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Professor Ewart, lover of children, somewhere in their vicinity ; next to them the " band " with their boomerangs ; next again the totem with its decorations of red and white feather-down, and, in the centre, in a felt hat (inherited), a coat and trousers (gift of some admirer) and a pair of very new tan boots (Government bribe) the King of Alice Springs tended the fire.
Out in the darkness we heard the tittering of the preparing warriors, overtoned by an occasional dog fight, interlarded by the shy talk of bushmen and the whispering of the queei, peering from a safe distance.
Then a chant arose, a queer, half Asiatic note, mournful and pleasing, and in came the dancers. Nothing could have been more impressive. Scarcely one of them was under six feet tall, their height exaggerated by their headdresses, and their naked-
ness covered only with bands of coloured down, the white thrown up by the firelight, plumes waving, the sacred helmet of the Ingada or leader nodding a stately time as they advanced. .
A word from the King. Tap, tap went the boomerangs of the band. Thump came fifty feet to ground with the precision of a Guards' detachment, and in breathless silence, except for the music, the performers began to circle round the
Every head moved in absolute rhythm with its neighbour; every body swayed in perfect unison to the music.
" Jai ra ra ja ja
Jai ra ra ja ja na,"
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sang the " band " with enthusiasm, the note swelling, the chattering of their boomerangs growing
louder, as they cried to the Great Spirit to spread the yam over the countryside that all might have enough to eat
" Wi be na na
De a re a ja betja."
The end of the verse died into a hollow whisper, half covered by the echoes of the previous lines which beat against Mount Gillen and, wailing far away, struggled for outlet in the Todd Gap.
It was all very pitiful to those who understood, these few dozen remnant blackfellows, mostly living on the bounty of the Government, hangers-on on other people's charity, lost to the manliness and vigour of old time, and now performing, at the
behest of the conqueror, one of their sacred religious ceremonies, of which quite likely they would have killed the furtive white witness thirty years ago.
The King moved hither and thither in his squeaking boots, piling logs on the fire. The performance
was repeated and repeated again. At last Francis decided that he was going to take a hand.
" I'm going to have a moving picture of this," he said, and he went for his cinema camera. Having brought it, he proceeded to take charge of the business of the evening.
" Now," he said to the King, " me like one man he sit down here; 'nother fella he sit here; flour bag fella (man with a decorated white head piece) he come thisplace; now this fella,here. Now, all you blighters stay still as rocks while I blow the whistle."
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Quite unexpectedly he lit a magnesium light. Alice Springs had never seen a magnesium light before. It hadn't expected it of Francis, either. He had such a kind face. So when the flare went up, it fell over itself with a loud howl, the band over the boomerangs, the corroboree over the totem and the King into the nearest fire.
Thereafter, Francis was master of the ceremonies. He conducted the corroboree in pidgin English to the huge delight of his listeners who shouted with laughter.
Presently he produced some crackers which we had on the car with the design of frightening unfriendly blacks if we should have got far enough off the beaten track to meet them. At every bang there was a chorus of shrill shriekings, a stampede of camels and a Greek chorus of Afghan curses in the distance.
At last the fire burnt low. The performers in their motley stepped apart. The Vice-regal party were driven back to their lodgings vowing they had not had such a fine evening's amusement for years.
Francis and I stopped behind to buy some boomerangs and other native weapons from the King.
" Have you got change for two shillings ? " asked Francis gravely, in effect, of His Majesty when the bargain was struck.
" No more," said the poor old King, using the sadly prophetic negative of North Australia, " no more nothing, no more flour, no more sugar, no more baccy, no more nothing."
And, throwing his new tan boots over his left
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shoulder and wrapping his inherited trousers round his neck, he placed our unchanged coin in his ear and stalked bitterly out into the starlight, a wretched human epitome of the Australian native tragedy.
Francis, too, had his tragedy later on when he awoke at the morning stir and remembered that he had omitted to do something to his cinematograph, with the result that all his films of the corroboree had rolled themselves up in a hopeless ball in
one corner of the machine.
He advised the camp of his loss in an extempore exhortation in the course of which he charged Providence to see that no member of the Pathé Freres family was born even unto the twenty-sixth generation without green hair and a tail.
THE AUSTRALIAN NATIVE TRAGEDY AND THE REASONS FOR IT: MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND MISTAKES
ONE of the most fascinating and at the same time discouraging matters touching the northern portion of Australia is the native problem. Thirty years ago, when I was a very small boy, it was shared by most of the rest of Australia, but everywhere else than in the more out—of—the way portions of the Territory the aboriginal himself has solved it by enthusiastically and almost unanimously turning up his toes and dying out.
Only a few decadent settlements in South States and a miserable huddle of slatternly blacks, lost to the tradition of their fathers, in one of the Sydney seaside suburbs remain to remind one that once the signal fires burnt from Cape Halifax to
Leeuwin, from Shark Bay to New Norfolk. All are gone, and the only traces of them remaining outside the museums are an occasional spaniel's eye in some ostensibly white man and a few boomerangs hung on one's study wall.
Today the native population of Australia num- bers fifty-five thousand, and the only reason for discussing it at all lies in the complete failure of those in authority to understand the essence of the factors which govern its future fate, so that the black man's doom seems to lie in the womb of the next thirty years.
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Even in western Queensland, where there are miles between the station gates, electric lighting, private telephone lines and the motor car seem utterly inconsistent with the existence of a native world, and where, in my mother's day in the later 'eighties on Cooper's Creek, not thirty years after the explorers Bourke and Wills had died there, it was the fashion for old—time ladies to go to their kitchens with revolvers swung at their belts, the tribes are literally now no more. Farther north, gone are the warlike Kalkadoon, subdued the Pitta Pitta and the savage Calverts, and the wire netting on old Wollagorang Station, which in the last couple of decades guarded the verandas against the onslaught of unwelcome spears, has been taken down.
Throughout Australia, indeed, the bookmaker is supplanting the myall ; the motor tour, the " walk-about "; the vote, the spear, the politician, the tribal chief ; for it seems that, whatever ills of the earth the aboriginal can bear, he cannot stomach
civilisation. Place him in a desert of spinifex, where he has to dig far down into the sand for a little brackish water and where the means of life are invisible to the average white man's keenest eye, and he grows six feet high. Isolate him in the damp, fever stricken forests of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and he waxes fat. Send him to the four-thousand—feet high mountain plateaux of the Central Australian zone, where he sleeps naked between two fires at night and traverses no soil softer than jagged rock,
and he flourishes like the green bay tree. Submit him to pain which would bring long illness to a white man, and he laughs and survives. But treat
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him one drink of whisky, lure him for a few weeks under a mission roof, deprive him of the right to mutilate his women in initiation ceremonies and to cut cicatrices across his manly chest with a shell ; make him full and comfortable and hand him a shirt to wear and a blanket instead of a fire or an Abishag to keep him warm at night, make it unnecessary for him to tramp weary and endless and hungry miles in search of meagre food or barter with other tribes, and, behold—he shows his gratitude by catching pneumonia or measles and expiring ubiquitously.
From which it will be deduced immediately that he has not the adaptability of the Maoris, who in sixty years have risen from a state in which murder was a national pastime and nakedness not looked on as a fault, to one in which their leading representative is a belted knight, so civilised and versed in parliamentary custom that not long ago he addressed the Leader of the Opposition from the Treasury Bench by the epithet, " Snivelling Jimmy."
Let anybody who is shocked at his lack of moderation remember that had the Leader of the Opposition and the Maori Minister met sixty years ago, th meeting would not have ended with expletives ; the Opposition would have shortly found itself
without a leader and the Minister would have enjoyed an excellent dinner, rendered, no doubt, none the less palatable by the fact that all politicians are notoriously tough.
But—let us return to the Australian aboriginal and to the Northern Territory, where the Australian native question still exists in a qualified sort of way ; where the hunting fires still burn along the McArthur
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and Roper Rivers-certainly only pale reflections of their former glory-and the sand to the west of the Overland Telegraph line in Central Australia still boasts its savage tribes which come into the proximity of settlement only when their hunting or their bargaining leads them that way, and which usually are heard of in civilisation, when some careless prospector camps in their sacred places or weighs the reputation of their women lightly and finds himself incontinently and very thoroughly knocked on the head.
In Australia to-day there are no really wild blacks except in corners of Cape York, Arnheim Land, the Kimberleys and Central Western Australia, and when any lady motorist or gentle male traveller returns to civilisation full of tales of having settled tribal wars upon the Northern West Australian track (which is all cut up into stations) or of the fierce terror which he or she feels upon beholding the wild myall who springs out from behind a tree and makes incoherent noises by the roadside, seemingly calling for blood, the tale is generally the product of a vivid imagination or a desire to make the story of the easiest overland journey in Australia sound sufficiently hair-raising to interest the evening papers of the great southern capitals.
Outside the wilds I have named, whatever blacks there are to-day in Australia are blacks of a new tradition; a hunted, harried, debilitated huddle of misery and disease, hungry because they have been taught that they are objects of a charity which has not always been carried beyond the point of theory ; demoralised because settlement conditions have
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forced them out of the rigid tribal life to which they have been accustomed through centuries, and because they have been the prey of those " reformers " who, eager for their welfare, no doubt, have been at the same time anxious to achieve their salvation
without interfering with the " rights " of vested white interests. Professors, demagogues, missionaries and Prime Ministers have all toyed with the native question, but it is a curious fact that most of the few people who understand the native well enough to save him have either been powerless or lacked sufficient driving force and executive ability.
Let us look at the native in his pristine simplicity. His needs, perforce, have been reduced to a minimum. He has no agriculture. His trade is limited to an annual bartering among tribes. He eats no cereals-his bread is only pituri in the
inland and pandanus on the coast. He has, except where he has made contact with white man, no metal objects; he does not spin in the ordinary sense of the word. The climate in the main is such that he needs no clothes in the daytime and, at
night, either the huddle of his family close about him or a fire back and front are enough to keep him reasonably warm in the cold months. If he seeks shelter, it takes no more permanent form than a brake of bushes or a rough gunyah of paper bark.
Naturally, the life which he leads is primitive and hard. It needs incessant hunting to capture shy and scarce game with such weapons as he possesses It needs a hardy constitution to survive the rigours
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of a trying climate, marked by long dry months and short, turbulent wet ones. With only stone tools, the making of his necessities of life and his spears and boomerangs is a long business, so that, on the whole, generations of experience, back to the time of Adam, have tended to lead native thought, native qualities and native endurance out of the realm which most white people understand. Years of suffering have racially hardened the blackfellow against pain till what would kill an Englishman
merely causes inconvenience; what would undoubtedly turn into a festering, gangrenous sore in civilised man scarcely produces an occasion sufficient to give one a day's holiday from hunting.
Food has a different nourishing quality with the blackfellow than with the white, and hard work and nourishment are inter-related to a greater degree than in races which live in houses and whose only sport connected with diet is arguing about the
butcher's bill. And the necessity of missing nothing edible when covering broad areas of country in search of food has resulted in the concentration of the faculties of sight and smell and hearing.
Memory plays a part in the life of the native only so far as it enables him to hand down tribal traditions, which are observed with a rigid discipline, while every ceremony of initiation into citizenship, whether it applies to male or female, is designed to
prove the subjects' carelessness of suffering and to emphasise the penalties consequent upon the slightest disobedience to the tribal law, which enforces a Communism complete enough to satisfy any Zinovieff.
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If you ask any ethnologist about the black-fellow, he will assuredly inform you that he is low in the human scale, but a dispassionate observer, who was born among the natives, who knows a good deal of some of their languages and who has also
had a good deal of contact with ethnologists, might be inclined to reflect that scientists judge on their own canons and formulae and that, if the average wild blackfellow had enough time to waste on the (to him) absurd inclinations of a white man who gives his life to cranial measurements and the study of totem relationships, he would undoubtedly rate the ethnologist as low as the ethnologist rates him.
Indeed, he would almost inevitably look upon most white men (as he does) as devoid of culture and utility, worthy only to be taken under a shady tree and quietly knocked on the head as an encumbrance upon the workers ofthe community.
By blackfellow standards, there can be no other sane view of us, even though it may be just as mistaken as the idea which we hold of the blackfellow, who, seen in his best phases, can, when he likes, be an officer and a gentleman in the best sense of the term, good mannered, efficient and moral according to his own code.
Some people have thought that they have discovered among the natives of Australia some traces of conventional Masonry, and though the premise of that surmise is undoubtedly wrong and based on the fact that every tribe has a sign language of which the most potent signal is one of peace, strangely
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like a Masonic sign, the ordinary native's rule of life is as strict as the Masonic rule. His morals are rigidly good. He proceeds from degree to degree of accomplishment and trust, by a series of ordeals. From the moment of his birth the community watches over him, feeds him, looks after his contacts with the female of the species ; sees that he is trained to do his part in providing the tribe at large with provender and weapons, sees to it that if he is ill he has the advantage of tribal magic-or a knock on the head if he is incurable ; educates him, marries him, invests him with the authority and privileges of an elder and eventually buries him-all under a scheme of things whose severity makes the discipline of the Pilgrim Fathers sound like the disorder of Mexican irregulars.
Firstly, he is trained with the whole resources of the tribe as to hand and eye, till he can make a spear and throw it forty yards with deadly precision ; till he can see a fish under two feet of water and impale it as it flashes past. He learns to follow an animal over all sorts of country, without its being aware of it. He comes to be able to lope seventy miles on a hot day without effort.
He gets to know the footprints of every member of the tribe in all sorts of country, so that woe betide the lady who escapes from a black husband. You see her, sometimes, in Northern camps today, a wretched fugitive, trailing a leafy bough behind her so that her anxious husband may not follow her by her footsteps. If in her exile, her husband happens to march that way with his tribe, she will come to a bad end one night ; ergo, she is tied for
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ever to that piece of broom, since, if she moves one step without it, she runs a grave risk. Her foot-prints are known.
It is an uncanny faculty this supersight of the native. He will walk ahead of you and tell you that a man and two dogs went before you, three or four days ago; that one of the dogs was lame from a fight, that the man was carrying a swag and wearing
elastic-sided boots; that he stopped here to look at an insect on a tree ; there to light his pipe.
Then you will come to the place where the man camped and you will be told every one of his movements with embarrassing particularity; where he went to pick up wood; how he found a centipede in it (the remains of the ant-eaten corpse-one inch
long in ragged bits--for witness) ; what he had to eat, with a couple of minute crumbs which even the birds had missed in the undergrowth, to tell the tale ; whether he had a good night's rest and that his dog came and woke him up to tell him that something was prowling round the camp-all this particularity, mark you, in grass country in which there is nothing visible to the average ordinary white man's eye, but an odd track in the soft places and the ashes of that travelling bushman's fire.
The young blackfellow who cannot make a boomerang, exact in balance and symmetry, properly grooved and balanced to a fraction away from perfection, is in the native world, a clumsy fool. The warrior who cannot push the spear which his adversary in the field has forced into his leg, through and break off the barb with no more than a grimace is too tender for this life. If a plug of mud in the
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hole does not mend his wound, then " finis " has been written upon his history.
And what shall be the fate of him whose conscience or digestion cause him to toss around in his sleep ? One bitter night, when the icy monsoon is howling up through Central Australia, he will lie him down as nature made him, between the two heaps of coals which serve him as a blanket against the onslaught of Boreas and in his restlessness roll into the fire and burn himself badly upon that part of the human body which is usually regarded publicly as the monopoly of aldermen.
He must know self-restraint. He must be able to stand like a rock, invisible, in broad daylight. His continual proximity to the womenfolk of the camp enforces a rigid code of morals upon him. He cannot drink because he has not liquors and because the elders would soon come down with severity on any behaviour calculated to weaken the morale of the family. Because there are always old and helpless mouths to be fed, he learns unselfishness of necessity; tit-bits are taboo till one is a " flour bag fella " (old man with white whiskers).
Lastly comes his education in economy. Even in the good old days before fences and guns destroyed the wallaby and the kangaroo, and the tick wiped out most of the smaller ground game, the black-fellow lived hand to mouth. Now, it is no wonder
that tribes die out even in places where they need to have little contact with civilisation, for there is never anything left over, never any food or material reserve with them, except such as nature herself provides.
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No wasteful haircutting for the blackfellow. Every lock is carefully saved to make string. In some country, a dozen mussels in a day's march, a grub in half a mile of close searching-that is sufficient to earn one his dinner.
Remember that hard living is ingrained in the tribes for countless centuries; that, because they have no invention, life has changed scarcely at all for them since the beginning of things and that, therefore, they are not dowered with the blessed quality of adaptability which has more or less saved the life of civilisation under the blast of swift development of fresh modes of living, and you can found for yourself the basis of the history of tribal ruin during the past century. Add to this the knowledge that the blackfellow and livestock, which is the basis of Australia's prosperity, cannot live together and that the settler, given a choice between his cattle and the blackfellow, invariably chooses the cattle.
It must be said that the Governments have tried to be understanding, the missionaries to be kind, but the result has always been the same.
Take the case of a tribe which has occupied certain territory for centuries. Every year it has sought its game in certain spots where the grass attracts the kangaroo. Every season it has gone to a special region for its ground game. At regular intervals it has found itself by a big water carrying out its initiation ceremonies in a bora ring which has served as a sort of Westminster Abbey to it
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since the days of the missing link or thereabouts. And, that period of trial over, its smoke fires have blazed an age-old trail across the country-side as it went to carry out its bartering for pituri or wood for boomerangs or shell fish-hooks or whatever
happened to be the wants of its particular territory.
Then one day-enter the white man. He has selected a few thousand miles of country or a few hundreds. He picks, naturally, the best watered part for his homestead and that is almost certain to be near the tribal head-quarters, perhaps even on the holy ground on which the children of the country-side have for centuries been received into manhood and womanhood.
Then the trouble begins. To the blackfellow this intrusion has something the same savour as it would have to an Englishman if raiding Martians were to turn the Abbey into a cattle stall and paralyse the life of London. To the uncomprehending white man there is an unreasonable attitude of resentment on the part of the myall which is generally attributed to a brutal, native savagery.
Presently matters get worse, for cattle so hate the smell of native that they will not drink at water-holes where the blacks camp. In self-defence the white manager drives the tribe away or such of it as he cannot use for labour purposes, and they wander, thirsty, outcast and angry, through land which they have looked upon as their own. Finally the country-side finds itself incapable of carrying both stock and game, and fences go up, kangaroo shoots are organised. The very means of subsistence of the native goes. Robbed of his country,
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his sacred places desecrated, his women often violated by whites yielding to the urge of nature in a region far from white women, he has his tribal discipline completely destroyed ; he must, perforce, surrender to circumstances and become a parasite
upon the white.
So ends the first stage of his destruction. The second, reached only after some murder and a great deal of bad feeling, is attained when he has become an object of pity and when civilisation has so far advanced as to introduce the white woman, the
Government and the missionary into the picture. This last era of all is the most pathetic. The delicacy of white women is the mother of clothes for the benighted heathen and, because of his habits, clothing is the mother of dirt and disease. It is almost worse than the rum and tobacco which are doled out by those people who, in the earlier days of the west, were not ashamed to purchase a fortune in possum and kangaroo skins for the means of native self-immolation. A hateful business that kind of barter which robbed the bush of millions of its tiny and helpless furred inhabitants to supply the world with rugs and coats and which, at the same time, did a great deal to destroy the aboriginal races.
As for the missions and the Governments the less said of their success, the better. The missionaries are, in the main, good and self-sacrificing men and women, though frequently unadapted by experience to understand their problem and so far bound
by scriptural convention and the necessities of their religion that they cannot be expected to respect the
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very vital essence of tribal custom, without which native life cannot continue. Furthermore, where they do understand and would willingly make a compromise, they are hamstrung by lack of territory and by the necessity of taking the natives with whom they are concerned out of their usual environment. While, whatever their own willingness to see the light may be, their controlling boards in civilisation are invariably wedded to flannel petticoats, and reading and writing as the basis of useful work. Even if they are not, few missionaries are better adapted by training to improve the standing of the blackfellow than his own tribal elders, and all combined religion has to show for its work in Australia consists of a handful of prodigies who have become ordained deacons, a crowd of mission inmates who can recite the Lord's Prayer and say their alphabets, a few unwilling rough carpenters and inferior field labourers ; some elementary needlework in which one seeks in vain to discern any
development of native conventional design, and a host of ill-clothed, shivering station blacks, whining around the wood heaps of the north, who have sloughed the training of the missions so soon as they slipped out of reach of religious discipline.
Governments have a success equally modest. In Queensland, certainly, numbers of natives have banking accounts, but these have been achieved for them by force majeure. Occasionally one finds an odd blackfellow with the rudiments of a business instinct, but generally speaking there is too much tribal discipline in their history and too much laughter in their souls to allow them to develop as
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individualists. Not long ago the Queensland administration tried the experiment of allowing groups of " civilised natives " to buy pearling boats out of their savings compulsorily held in the savings banks. The concession was greatly appreciated. Several
boats were bought and their proud owners usually ended their careers by finding some golden beach on an unfrequented island, drawing their Argosy upon the sand, hanging their clothes on a tree and settling down to a life of laughter, sunshine and spear fishing, punctuated with long intervals devoted to the age-old industry of lying on one's back and watching the coconuts fall.
The truth is that no amount of kindly meddling, no civilised control can save the native so long as he is confined within limits to which he is not accustomed and compelled to forsake his age-old mode of life. The existing tribes, even, are doomed because the only way to save them would be to reserve the regions where they live to themselves and to prohibit the inroads of the missionary, the trader and the cattleman. Since that is impossible, in the very nature of things white, another generation will write their epitaph and the residue of a once continent-wide organisation will dwindle into nothingness. In fifty years not a black stockman will remain and even the half caste problem will almost certainly settle itself with the help of the Grim Reaper who, sooner or later, gathers in all the weaker peoples of the earth.
WE ADD A PROFESSOR TO OUR PARTY.
AT Alice Springs, when we arrived, we found standing with Lady Stradbroke on the veranda of the Residency, a big, cheerful, rosy man, garbed in City clothes, beaming through scholastic-looking spectacles at everything in general. He was introduced to us as Professor Ewart. We said we were heartily glad to meet him and we meant it.
We were, indeed, carrying his mail and had had quite a deal of trouble about it. In the Never Never anybody may be a professor. He may be a professor of the art of soldering, or of com-curing. Or he may just feel so exalted as to crave for a
title. Or somebody may have attached his description to him as a nickname, just as affection has made other mild westerners into Bloodstained Jack and Billy the Priest. So it never occurred to us for quite a long time that we were dealing with a
dyed-in-the-wool University man, and we were wont to include the Professor's letters in our usual mail delivery ritual, which was somewhat as follows :
Travelling down the clearing of the O.T. Line we would, perhaps, see in front of us a bobbing black speck, seemingly dancing about in infinity. If, presently, it proved to be accompanied by another
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speck, we knew it to be a man, because no human ever travels in those parts without a pack-horse or a black boy or both. If only one black speck remained, it might be a distant crow magnified by the mirage. So close is man to the carrion.
First, having assured ourselves that the vision was really human, we would get out the mail bag and having passed the time of day and exchanged old newspapers, the latest gossip and tobacco with our fellow wayfarer, we would " swop " names and
if his happened to be Brown, I would say to him: " Oh, I have a letter for Brown. You'll be One Eyed Bill Brown with Riley's Mob, eh ? "
Then one of two things would happen. Either he would say hastily that he was some other Brown or he would answer cautiously: " Some letters, eh ? Let's have a look at them."
You would hand him an elegant store envelope, much worn with travel, addressed, perhaps :
Mr. Bill (Wun Hi) Bron,
Ovvlan Tel. Lyne,
Wid Riley's Mobb.
He would study it carefully with the notes of passing travellers who had been asked about it scrawled on the back, such as " I know the cow" or " Left Riley's now" or " Best respects, Bill" or "Tim says the dog's alright," and either accept it or reject it.
Perhaps, again, the envelope might be a long one marked " personal and confidential " suggesting the Income Tax Department, and in that case it was unusual to find the missing heir to it.
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If you asked those to whom it was submitted where the true owner might be found, they would say sadly : " Poor old Blank. You won't find him. He pegged out long ago."
If there were a gravestone over all the supposedly dead correspondents of the Income Tax Commissioner in Centralia they would pave the road from Greenwich to Samarkand if placed end to end together.
But it was no harder to deliver income tax papers than to find Professor Ewart. Usually the answer to inquiry about him was: "Who's this ? A hawker, eh? " or " Never heard of the beggar," and though eventually we came into a region where
the inhabitants knew him as " some cow the Government has sent up to have a look at the poison plants," that brought us no nearer.
However, here was the Professor, as large as life, beaming on us with all the confidence of one who is head of the Faculty of Botany at Melbourne University, and looking for all the world as if he were going to walk down Collins Street, Melbourne, that very morning.
He smiled on the whole world and he kept on smiling on it during the whole time we were with him. He did it with so innocent an air that at first we did not take him very seriously and were ready, with the rest of the population superlicially
acquainted with him to brand him as a " new chum."
But that would not have mattered to the Professor for he was above all willing to admit his inexperience of the wilds.
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He had been up in the north on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, investigating the wholesale poisoning of cattle along the overland, and every minute of the adventure had been sheer joy to him. Alice Springs, too, he was enjoying and, in the same spirit, Alice Springs was enjoying him with his cheeriness and simplicity and air of good fellowship. Every day you could see him walking through the only street with a trail of half caste children behind him and a large, brown paper bag in his hand from which he now and then doled out sweets to deserving and undeserving alike.
All the same, when the sergeant came to me confidentially and asked me if I would take the Professor with us to the south, it was something of a bombshell. With two tired men who have travelled 5,ooo miles of the worst country in Australia, and with a car which has been bearing, over that distance, three times its static load, one hesitates to be kind in such a case.
But it was not a request to be refused outright. Firstly, I was not averse to adding a distinguished botanist, whose knowledge of plant life would be often valuable, to the party. Secondly, it is the law of the bush that you must never leave a man stranded, and the Professor was temporarily stranded through the failure of his transport.
When I put the matter to Francis, in consultation, he voted in favour of the extra passenger promptly, and strictly for the latter of my two reasons. " I don't think we should take him because he is
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a Professor," he said. " In fact I think that is a blanky good reason for not taking him. Professors ! What do they know about anything ? . .
" Once," said Francis, reminiscently, " when I was lecturing to a roomful of coves at the University of West Australia, I told 'em my theory that malaria germs sometimes live on spear grass seeds and an old fizz-gig of a Professor gets up and says to me: ' Do I understand you, my dear sir, to infer that the bacteria of malaria derives its nourishment from vegetation and hibernates thereon waiting for whom it may devour? ' (Francis' imitation was a contemptuously realistic one). 'Right,' I
" ' Well, you are quite wrong,' says the old fellow, patronisingly, as one might say. ' No organism will ever live upon a vegetable.'
" ' What about a cow, my lad ? ' I asked him." Francis paused for breath. " That settled him," he remarked with a sigh of
righteous satisfaction. "I'm told he can't walk down the streets in Perth to-day without somebody asking, ' What about a
cow ?' Got no blooming time for these theorists."
So we took the Professor on board on two conditions: Firstly, he was to allow me to sub-edit his luggage to a reasonable bulk and to submit to orders as a member of the party. Secondly, he agreed not to protest against Francis's flow of language, which our instinct told us was not the
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kind of English professors are accustomed to as a general rule.
When the Professor threw his swag on to the car and followed it, the side on which he sat went down six inches with his added weight, but although he was cramped in a corner through long and weary days and we could never allow him a place in the front seat to stretch himself, since either Francis or I, or both of us, had to be there for professional purposes, so to speak, he never murmured at the discomfort, and hardship appeared only to add to his cheerfulness.
Only as a botanist did he fail me, much to the amusement of the party. The very first day out, I tried his usefulness.
" What do you call this, Professor? " I asked him, holding up something which I believed to be a species of that useful plant, the tar vine.
" That," answered the Professor, gazing at it lovingly through his spectacles and with an air of effort, as if he were reducing his information to the simplest possible terms, " is the spiriotica jocosa " (or something of the sort--it doesn't matter).
" Quite so," I replied. " Is it-er-edible ? "
The Professor gazed at me reprovingly over his glasses. " Good heavens," his look seemed to say, " can there be such ignorance in the world ? Does this fellow not appreciate the nature of the spiriotica jocosa ? "
Then, after a crushing interval, he said meaningly:
" It is one of stereopitica " (or something equally unintelligible), as if that should convey to any
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human mind, dowered with the slightest understanding, a whole world of information.
After that we did not worry the Professor with botany, but were content with his good fellowship, which was enough.
Within twenty—four hours he was one of our little family and its arch-optimist. His fifty-odd years sat lightly on him; his attitude to all difficulties was well flavoured with hope. If we jambed in a sand drift, his great shoulder was first to the wheel. If we stayed there, our wheels turning hopelessly, fanning sand into our eyes every time the power was applied to them, it was always the Professor's voice which shouted :
" Come on! just another leetle push, lads! just another, boys."
If there was a fire to be made, nothing would prevent him making it. Fires fascinated him. If hands were bleeding and shoulders drooping with endless sand—scratching, he whistled perpetually. If we ran late into the night with an icy Antarctic
monsoon in our faces, he was the first to sing.
One of these days I hope to pick up the Professor and a gramophone recorder and to immortalise our famous independent choruses—the Professor and I singing " Gaudeamus " with our mouths full of sand; Francis murdering " The Maid of Amster-
dam," a blasphemous chantey which he learnt when he was a sailor; the Engineer switching from one party to another as fancy took him, and Dinkum giving vent to loud shrieks and howls of pleasure.
Every morning Francis and I were accustomed to rise in the dark and light the fires by turns. We
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hated the Centralian dawn for its icy coldness, until the Professor joined us, and after that no dawn was too grey or chilly for us to view, because it was worth while to get up and observe the Professor having his bath.
Always there was ice on the drums, but that did not matter. At night, after we had washed up, the Professor would have gone to bed, by the following process : Taking what seemed to us (rationed down to a single tarpaulin and one small blanket) to be all the bedclothes in the world and a shovel, he would dig himself a cavity in the sand something like a shallow grave. In this he would lay his swag and go to sleep. By morning the wind would have well-nigh buried him in sand, and he would emerge an earthy object, with something the air of a German earth—gnome rising from his lair, sputtering and smiling and protesting that he had had a splendid night.
Shaking himself free of dirt and coverings, he would stroll to the car with his quart-pot. " Clink ! " would go half an inch of cracking ice on the top of the drum-(" Bang goes more goodwater! " sotto voce from Francis)-and a moment later one would behold the Professor, like Aphrodite against the skyline. You would see his arm go up and there would be a loud splash and a sort of smothered shriek.
The Professor, formally, at any rate, had had his bath and was prepared to face the world and its troubles.
Tyre—pumping was one of them. Our tyres, thanks to the northern climate, and the rocks and
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sharp timber, were fast going the way of all rubber. Our tubes were mere sieves. Every day, for several days, we had at least a dozen punctures. That our tyre pump was well perforated, too, did not mend matters, though it greatly increased the exercise
which we had. Every day we toiled in shifts with the vulcanisers and that pump until our backs ached, but the Professor never seemed to weary of the sport. Indeed, he almost made us believe that he had spent his life pumping tyres.
The only tribulation from which he seemed to suffer at the outset of the journey was his solemn promise to take Francis's language as he found it. The first time we got into serious road trouble after leaving Alice Springs, Francis, who was feeling
more than usually feverish, stood off and put up a really creditable linguistic performance, never seeming to pause for breath or to repeat himself for two minutes on end.
The Professor looked very white afterwards. He said to me privately that that sort of profanity seemed purposeless and quite needless. But several days later, when we had spent a morning on top of a sandhill and had fallen into a rabbit burrow which we had invaded through the thin crust of earth above it, and dealt with our sixteenth daily puncture, he shook his fist at a scandalised blue sky and, in a tone which would have done real credit to Francis at his best, he uttered these words :
" Well, as Mr. Birtles would say . . . "
There he stopped and looked at us expressively. Knowing Mr. Birtles's formulae, we were able to imagine the rest.
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The Professor travelled 1,200 trying miles with us. He stood by while Francis and I mapped tracks across multitudinous sand crossings. He commandeered my help to cut down big trees so that he might view their berries at close quarters. He cheered us when we tried to cross a railway bridge in South Australia and found ourselves jambed between the sleepers (American " ties ") over thirty feet of thin air. He risked indigestion from our johnny cakes. He risked his soul with our doings.
There was an occasion, indeed, when the Faculty in Melbourne would no doubt have been alarmed and astonished to behold one of its most distinguished authorities sitting, collarless and without socks, in the parlour of a shanty drinking amazing liquor, with the air of one to the manner born, what time the odour of the nearest camel (dead, alas, for a long time) drifted in on the evening breeze.
By the time we reached the edge of civilisation, the Professor was blood brother to us all, and, curiously enough, most of all to Francis, the Lonely One. At the little green town of Hawker, 275 miles from Adelaide, we abandoned him to the care of
Not willingly. We asked him to come to Sydney with us, but he pleaded an engagement in Adelaide in three or four days' time.
We all knew that that was mere subterfuge, and that the real reason was that he felt it unfair to hamper us any longer with his weight and his
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luggage. So, no entreaties moving him, we parted with a comrade whom we would gladly have had with us to the end.
After we had left him, the trip seemed quite lonely for a day, and Francis paid him the greatest compliment in his repertoire :
" The only school teacher I ever met," he said, " that I'd care to have for a mate. That cove walked out because he thought his extra load might break us down. He's the kind of fellow who, if you had only enough to eat for one, and there were two of you, would walk out of the camp and die, to let you have your share."
" A good mate," I said.
" Yes, a good mate," said Francis, and that was the highest compliment he could pay. It needed no elaboration.
FROM ALICE SPRINGS TO OODNADATTA; AN EPIC OF SAND AND AN EXPERIMENT IN LUBRICATION.
" THIS looks like home," said.the Professor as he sat in a wayside shanty fifty-three miles to the north of that musically named railhead, Oodnadatta. Five days before, Alice Springs had farewelled us, not ruefully but respectfully. Five days before,
Lord and Lady Stradbroke and Dr. Basedow had shaken us by the hand under the shadow of the Australian Stars and Jack, outside the Centralian Residency, and shouted " God-speed." One hundred and twenty-three hours since, the Alice Springs
storekeeper had charged us L1 per gallon for petrol, the Professor had dispersed the last of the local sweets among the local half-caste school, the weei and the queei and the King of Alice (without his tan boots) had cheered us in chorus with the Afghans,and the camels had ambled sulkily out of our way and the dogs had barked at us, and we had come southward in a cloud of dust, the populace regarding us enviously.
Southward ! Word of vain longings for the exiled Centralian ; the word which means home and comforts half forgotten, easy chairs and paved streets, bars and churches, and newspapers of a moming.
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Mount Gillen disappeared over the shoulder of the McDonnells. The little, lonely town with its fluttering flags lay hidden behind us; the walls of the tall Todd Gap rose sheer on either side of us, and at our feet lay the broad, coarse, sand bottom of the Todd River - forerunner of many inconvenient dry streams and of, somewhere in the distance, a vague terror known as the Depot Sandhills.
All the way from Sydney Francis had been saying :
" You wait till we get to the Depot Sandhills!" and even the news that the omnipotent Sergeant Stott had, with much black labour and at small cost, found a way round them, cheered us but very little.
At every turn of the wheel there seemed to be more sand : pink sand ; deep sand ; sand in which the wheels revolved like a flywheel but made no progress; sand in which the more you drove the farther you sank; that rose in sharp hillocks which called for low gear and shovels, and dropped, when you thought you had done with them, into broad rivers which seemed deliberately to amble round the corner of a mountain to tail you off. Time and again in those next few days we crossed the Hugh ; time and again the Finke.
With a light car it would not have been so trying, but even the odd light motors running to and from Oodnadatta once in a long while, were usually towed across the worst of these streams by teams of donkeys, and we had sworn that nobody but our own good engine and our own more or less strong arms should move us. Nevertheless, sand
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or no sand, we made eighty miles in the first day, emerging at dusk on to a pink hill set with desert oaks, a dreary enough spot over which the Antarctic gale howled with vigour.
In the morning we woke with our skins parched, our limbs stiff, our mouths full of grit, and a large eagle-hawk,his wing-spread proved to be over seven feet when I shot him-standing a few yards
from us, with his head meditatively on one side, apparently making up his mind whether or no we were dead. I reached for my rifle and rose ....A little while afterwards his corpse was being photographed.
We had a cynical, dusty breakfast, full of grit. The sand was everywhere. Then we drove groggily on, marking, with unhallowed joy, where the light cars of the Stradbroke party had been in difficulty. Before long we came to the Finke River.
The entrance to it was a steep road which turned quickly to the left and, with a drop of thirty or forty feet on one side, spilled itself and everything which travelled on it into the river-bed, the road across leaving the foot of the declivity at an angle
of forty-five degrees and emerging from the wilderness of soft pulver on the other side on an uncertain, crumbling bank. Across the quarter of a mile of white a narrow strip seemed to have been ploughed with a disk plough and sown with small branches. Again the light cars had had plenty of trouble, and our heavy one, with its abnormal load, seemed
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like to have some more, seeing that we had not room to adopt our usual tactics of rushing with speed up.
It was a case for stern measures, and we proceeded to take them thoroughly. First we assured ourselves of the balance of our load; then we clamped an extra wheel with U-bolts on to each of our back wheels. Finally, Francis and I set out with a faggot of small branches apiece to mark a road across, testing every inch, looking anxiously for hard spots, measuring their extent, mapping them carefully, and sticking a branch into the sand where firmness began.
After that we cut a few boughs to reinforce the soft patches and the fun started. The car was driven to the bottom of the hill and turned. With a rush in second gear Francis started on his dash for safety. As he reached each hard patch he accelerated into a sort of flying leap which carried him to the next, and as the track was naturally not straight, and the back wheels had an effect all their own upon our movement, we seemed to be leaping like a buck upon the mountains, while Francis swore like a
trooper and the sand, rising in a double sheet on either side of us, came down on our devoted heads in clouds. We reached the nether bank safely, pulling down two innocent young trees growing there in our haste and, turning, saw the Engineer
and the Professor strolling manfully in the dust cloud across the ploughed field which we had left
behind us, picking up the impedimenta which had parted company from us.
Four times in the day we went through this
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procedure, with variations, and in between gave up our time to punctures and sandhills. The sandhills were salmon pink, loose, eighteen inches of a sort of terrestrial flour superimposed on a shallow crust. Every few yards, on their steep sides, the wheels
would go round and round, the sand cloud would fly up behind and we would all get out. We would shovel the sand away from the back wheels until they rested on the hard surface below. We did it till our hands bled and cracked and our beards were floured to the roots and our backs ached and our shoulders were blue with bumps from pushing and we were weary and stiff from head to foot. We did it from morning till night in the teeth of the Antarctic gale. And each hill we scrambled over
simply gave way to another more sandy than the last.
Each night, the temperature at sundown sank with chilly derision till we froze in our blankets and the fire, made of stubbly shrub, blew hither and thither in the wind so that it gave us no warmth. Each morning, we woke to find a tube or two gone
rotten with alternate tropic heat and moisture and cracking Centralian cold and dryness, flat upon the ground, and the water in our water drums with half an inch of ice on top. Each noon, the sun blazed at 96 degrees.
We became adepts with the tyre pump, patched with rag and grease. We became inured to soreness and weariness of bicep. We learned more about vulcanising than we had ever learnt before, and the farther we went the more our tubes were a patch-work and the more frequent the pauses on our way,
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till at last we climbed across a sand patch near the curious half-way hotel of Horseshoe Bend, and with donkeys waiting for us in a cloud on the other side, " hee-hawing " against the moment when we should call on them, Francis and I groped and crawled and prodded for three hours in our last Finke River crossing and then zigzagged and bumped and rushed and roared through half a mile of preliminary sand and timber and up a steep, stony hill and into the very middle of the scattering asses and their disgruntled owner, who had expected to hire them to us. The Finke had been crossed for the last time. At night we drove on over sparsely timbered sandhills for the first time, too, that a car from the Alice Springs side had crossed without some animal haulage, we were told.
Now a new type of land opened up. The lowest rainfall country in Australia. A very beautiful, very terrible landscape, with flat-topped, barrow hills, crumbling, burnt-out, spilling the debris from their desiccating sides into parched river-beds and
stony, desolate washes; great, stout, gnarled gum trees, caked with sand from the winds and unwashed by rains, bent and twisted with their effort to grow; winding creeks, evidently raging torrents in the short summer rains, now empty, with cattle
skeletons along their banks, distant hills, veiled in mist, and a merciless sun overhead. Now, a creek with a little water; now, an odd station with a creaking well ; now and now and now again,
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sandhill and claypan, claypan and sandhill, slithering surface and stunted mulga. bushes, seemingly to the end of the earth, and the wind a little louder than further north.
Presently we came to Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station, unwelcoming on the middle of a stony plain, its one inhabitant feeling a bit inhospitable because of the shortness of water and the fact that his nearest wood supply was seven hours away by
On through Blood Creek-sinister name !-into the land of bores without water and stores without provisions, and passing down, across the Northern Territory border, unmarked, in the middle of another cobbled plain. We stopped for a moment and congratulated ourselves on the border, for we were the first motor party to cross the Territory completely north to south, and then went on, after trying to find our way through the sand-slough which the camel timber-wagons and others had made of Hamilton Creek. Then, bathing in the first real water-hole we had seen for weeks, we drove, on a blazing afternoon, across a corner of Sturt's Stony Desert into more sand and more stunted mulga. The only high trees visible were seen as a dark, dancing fringe in the distance. The rest was heat haze and gibber and the continual hypnotising bump of the pebbled surface. A cool starlight night met us, and just as we were thinking of camping we found that the engine had begun to eat petrol with unaccustomed rapacity. We blamed the sand, and I decided that we had better push on in the cool of the evening and make as much night running as possible, in
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preference to facing to-morrow's sun. The wind still shrieked, for all the sun had gone down. The going was not more easy. Every now and then we had to climb out of the car to find our way, and the engine became more and more greedy with our
At eleven o'clock we came to a halt after a sixteen-hour day, and next morning an overhaul showed that we were suffering lubrication trouble and that the engine badly needed fresh oil. An examination of our reserves proved that we were faced with
disaster. Our only oil tin was punctured. There was not a drop in it. Whether it had been done by some ill-disposed person or through an accidentally encountered stump or stake we could not tell, but the sad fact remained that, except for a little grease
in the grease gun, we were stranded for lubricant.
We melted and fed this in and tried to proceed, but the track was most unobligingly perverse. The hills seemed stiffer than ever, the sand deeper, and after four or five miles the position became dangerous, more especially as the heat of the day was fast climbing toward the 100-degree mark. we pulled up on a long, flat claypan as level as Lord's, with the salmon-pink sandhills round us, and held a council of war.
We decided that we were only fifty miles from Oodnadatta railhead ; that Macumba station was about forty miles away; that, reaching either, we might secure enough oil to carry us through.
It was resolved that Francis and I should leave
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the car and make a forced march for Macumba. So, piling a few necessaries into a swag and taking our light rifles and a billycan of water apiece, we set out, leaving the Engineer and the Professor to look after themselves. The Professor started promptly and happily botanising. The Engineer set about having a badly needed sleep. We looked back at them as we went, and Francis burst into a roar of laughter at the funny thought which came into his head-the temperature was not far off the hundred-that the camp looked Polar in its loneliness.
We settled down into a long-distance swinging pace, Dinkum rushing round us in wide circles, glad to be on his feet again. Francis and I are never bored together. Francis has an eye which misses nothing by the roadside-no plant, no animal, no track. Everything he sees conjures up a reminiscence, and every reminiscence would excite the envy of De Rougemont. The sand oozed into our shoes and the haze danced all about us. Near odd puddles in the creek, chattering parrots hung in the trees and famished rabbits crawled into their holes.
A rickety cow, bloodshot of eye and mad, staggered by the roadside pursued by eager crows, and along the main track were scattered the corpses of some ill-fated camel team which had not long ago come to a bad end there.
It looked as if we were about to fall off the end of Desolation into Eternal Rot. Then, just as we had got into our stride, a miracle happened. By the side of the road we saw rushes springing in a creek, and beside the creek an abandoned traction engine of immense bulk, and beside the traction engine
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what was evidently a wayside drovers' store. It was of iron and it was small. It bore, by way of pleading notice, the solitary words :
" DO DROP IN."
It had chickens walking round it and an outside fire in a brick fireplace, and beyond it rose the steam
of bore water.
" The Stevenson Bore, by gum," said Francis. " I'd forgotten all about it.
In a few minutes we had met the store's owner and cross-examined him about his stocks of grease. In half an hour we had a good lunch of corned beef inside us ; we had put a black boy on to a horse and sent him on to Macumba with a note, and we were on our way back to the car (whose occupants gave us a really hearty welcome), with half a gallon of
Incredible that a car could behave itself on such a lubricant, you say ? Hear our recipe: Take your dripping and render it down to liquid on a hot tire ; pour it into the lubricating system ; hastily blanket your scuttle and radiator with a tarpaulin to keep
the heat in and the fat from congealing, and then drive like the hammers of Hades as far as you can go while your fat is yet oil. You smell unpleasantly, but you can still travel.
The engine was just heating up as we reached the Stevenson, after a seven-mile rush, relieved that nothing remained for us to do but to wait twenty-four hours for the return of the black boy and enjoy a well-earned day of rest.
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That twenty-four hours was one of the pleasantest we had on the journey. The proprietor of the store was an old sailor. He had been lured to Australia in his boyhood by stories of gold lying in nuggets on a neglected strand, and, as he put it, "here he was nine hundred miles from the bloody sea, with a string of dead camels round him, selling jam to drovers and living on his hopes."
He proved to us that his pleading notice to " drop in " was no mere verbiage, and while we were with him we lived on the fat of the land and lazed on our backs in his parlour, reading the news of the past year, in pictures, pasted on the walls (though now and then we went out and sat up to our necks in hot bore water), until we had developed that genial familiarity with our surroundings which induced the Professor to utter those cheerful words with which this chapter begins.
Next day the grinning black boy arrived with a tin of oil. Next afternoon we were regretting the Stevenson Bore while wrestling with the sands of the Stevenson River and making plans for rushing the Alberga, last of the great sand rivers of our trek, which, in the morning, proved kind to us.
Morning saw us on its southern bank. A stony track of thirty miles or so ; a puncture or two ; a deserted landscape; high, timberless hills; a real town nestling in a valley, with goats and camels strolling about the streets; the Engineer driving like mad from sheer joy; a train whistle. To all intents and purposes our journey was over. From now onwards we were on a real railway tied at the other end to a capital. Even that barren little
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village with its camels and its raddle works seemed thorough civilisation which whetted our appetites for home. Therefore, we paused only to take on stores previously ordered and fuel awaiting us, and pushed off almost immediately into our last three
hundred miles of sand.
THE END OF THE JOURNEY
SEVEN days after we left Oodnadatta, three merry gentlemen might have been seen sitting at lunch in a leading hotel in Sydney, the second largest British white city of the world, along with their wives and families, their insurance agents, friends and admirers.
It was one o'clock. All the nobility and gentry sat about them with a disgusted air, for they were none of them very pretty. There was, for instance, among them a villainous—looking little man with a beard which stood out like porcupine quills, well
floured with pink sand which even lengthy ablutions with hot water had failed to remove. Next door to him dressed in—well, whatever a welcoming fiancee wears—was his wife-to-be, looking a little as if she really wondered whether she was, after all,
going to be his wife.
Her freshness had a charming foil in a tall, lined, thoroughly ugly, ingrainedly dirty person, whose yellow hair rendered him even more stage-scoundrelly, and next to him a streak of dark human filth distinguished, apart from cracked hands, by the
most mournful beard in Christendom.
All around those friends, relatives and associates sat looking as if they wished the wind were blowing
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another way, and the hotel manager hovered afar wondering why he had given admission to such an outfit and keeping one sharp eye on the silver.
" Give me," you might have heard the villainous little man with the fiancée say to the discreetly distant waiter, " a sole, a porterhouse, a peach Melba, some Stilton and a pint of black velvet."
Then he hugged himself and, raising his eyes to the ceiling, cried :
" My word, isn't it good to be home ! "
And the odours which his physical effort disturbed from his long—worn clothing sent his neighbours edging away from him.
Yes. We were home, and a lot of ground had run under our wheels since we left Oodnadatta. We had felt, when we drove out of it with our second last ration of petrol, that the 1,200 miles ahead of us was nothing, even though the first three hundred of it had been travelled only four times by motor-car in history.
In the first place, though we were passing along a railway line, which is soon to be extended to Alice Springs, we were not by any means in civilisation. In the second place, we were not by any means free of sand or punctures.
We had forty miles of clear running to Algebuckina and camped at sundown in a railway hut. All the railway stations along the Oodnadatta railway are mainly uninhabited huts for travelling lengths-men after four hundred miles north of Adelaide,
276 THE LONG LEAD
for the country carries next to no population and the chief train runs only once a fortnight to the terminus, which is about seven hundred miles from mthe coast.
We had barely opened this hut when we found that it was inhabited, the inhabitant, who had been out shooting, arriving in a great flurry at our presence. He was, he said, a station master from lower down the line, and he had come here for peace and quiet and his annual holiday. He was almost as delightfully full of quaint wit and reminiscence as Francis, and, intent on being hospitable and full of pride in the luxuries which we had acquired, we invited him to dinner with us, when he proceeded to match everything we could produce and to go a little better. It was a merry evening, followed by a sound sleep against the wall
of the cottage in scintillating moonlight.
Next day came the sand again, with hills growing bigger and bigger, and looser and looser on the surface. We travelled miles with double wheels; for hundreds of yards we pushed and, every now and then, our sore—tried tyres went weak and there
were literally hours with the tyre pump, these wearying proceedings interspersed with short, ugly creek crossings, which became more difficult as we went farther south. In some of them we had to lay tracks of branches, and at night we camped
in the freezing stone huts.
Occasionally the sand became so deep and heavy that we almost decided to run on the railway line. And, trying to do it, we nearly came to grief on a slippery bank.
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The worst patch of all was at the Strangways, where we encountered the biggest hills of our experience. But after that the travelling was less troublous. We had the crisp, hard salt surfaces of the below-sea—level lakes around Lake Eyre. We saw the blue of these inland seas in the distance. We clambered through the mud of their many inflowing creeks, and close to their shores we had our last really trying adventure. As we went farther the creeks became deeper, and we decided that most of them must be negotiated across railway bridges. These bridges are built of ties laid about a foot apart, on which the rails are spiked.
To take a motor across them with, perhaps, ten inches of timber on the outer side of each tyre, and with a sheer drop of thirty feet underneath, requires more than a little nerve, but all went very well until we found a loose tie, which was moved by our front wheels just sufficiently to allow the back wheel to fall down between the two timbers. Had Francis, who was driving, lost his head we should undoubtedly have been pulled round and gone over the side. All that actually happened was that we were literally anchored in the middle of that bridge, thankful for the scarcity of trains. It meant jacking the car up, making a timber platform for the wheel and starting on the bridge——no easy task, since a slight swerve or sideways leap in starting would inevitably mean a long fall and a quick burial for some of us. After two hours and a broken jack we got away, and the same day we made more than 100 miles in the day for the first time in three weeks past.
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That night we camped at the old camel town of Hergott Springs, now euphoniously named Marree. The next evening found us running through the majestic Flinders Ranges. The next we were among green grass on a fine new road, entering the town of
Hawker, and sad that in a few minutes we should part with the Professor.
Thirty-six hours later we breakfasted at Broken Hill, across the border in our home State. And, from then onward, there was very little to tell, except that each town which we reached seemed noisier ; that each smelt more of fruit and dogs and oil than the last; that Francis was able, at last, to indulge in that favourite pastime of his, of travelling like a scalded cat ; that crowds stood by the roadside in places and gaped at us ; that our day's run doubled, and, with six thousand miles behind us, we had to restrain ourselves in our last evening on the road from overrunning the mark and arriving twelve hours ahead of the time which we had fixed for ourselves many days before in Central Australia.
The blue salt-bush began to give way everywhere to verdure. We ejaculated, astonished, when, on western New South Wales roads, in country not unlike that north of Alice Springs, we saw hardy travellers without either pack-horses or black boys. We passed, curiously, the patch of road where we had been bogged on our third day out from Sydney. We bought buns at Bathurst, where we had camped our first evening away from home.
Then, in the drizzling rain and fast-closing mist, we climbed over the first stage of the Blue Mountains.
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We had no brakes. We had nothing but load and weariness and sand—sore hands, and our faithful engine. We could not see ten yards in front of us. It was ice—cold, with the rain half sleeting. At McGarry's little road—house at the foot of the Victoria Pass, not ninety miles from home, we found clean sheets and a warm welcome, but in the morning we needed no waking.
" Twelve forty-five in Wynyard Square," we had telegraphed that we should arrive in Sydney. At twelve forty—five we were determined we should be there. The road seemed very long, but not long enough for the Engineer, who was driving, and restive
like a good horse when he found a paved road under his wheels. Soon came the city—all roar, all confusion, a noise and a scatter of traffic more frightening than all the adventures of the past three months. Buses seemed to be charging at us, lorries intent on our destruction. A traffic policeman held us up ; a telegraph boy in difficulties with his bicycle delayed us on a corner. These seemed mighty incidents.
Then, as the clock in the Post Office tower in the very heart of Sydney, chimed out the quarter before one, we turned to our finishing place, 6,278 miles of travel behind us, all of us alive, dirty, dishevelled and tired, except for the engine of the Scarler Runner, which seemed to sing with satisfaction.
" Will you have them bobbed or shingled? " cried the wags at our whiskers.
" What about a decent lunch ? " said the hungry Engineer.
280 THE LONG LEAD,
" Wish there was a decent creek to camp on," mourned Francis.
It was all over—the pushings-on, the partings and reunions, the hardship, the continent twice crossed.
I looked round to see what Dinkum, who began this tale, was doing. There he was, faithful and erect on the luggage, one ear up and the other down, his goggles on his nose and his intelligent face suffused with an expression of the utmost
" Oh, these crowds," his expressive face seemed to say, " I thought I had done with them for
ever .... "
" What about a decent lunch? " said the Engineer for the second time. So, piling our friends and relatives aboard, after we had been photographed, waiting not to shave nor to tell our adventures, we drove to the nearest hotel.
Next morning, waking between clean sheets, it was like a dream. It was hard to realise that only two days before one had risen to brush the ice from one's water supply and had cooked bacon in the ashes.
One had to listen to the voice of Francis rising on the lawn, where he slept by choice, and talking to his hound about buffalo, to know that it had ever been real.