Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia/Chapter 6
LAKE HODGKINSON TO THE STONY DESERT.
Editor's précis—January 6th, Lakes Blanche and Sir Richard—Excessive Heat—Mount Wylde—18th, Lake Hodgkinson much evaporated and undrinkable; go on to Hayward's Creek—Bathing; Creek full of Fish—23rd-26th, Excursion into the Desert—27th, 28th, Natives impatient at Party's stay: they report Moods—29th, In great numbers on the Creek—Lake Jeannie drying up and Water bad—February 8th, Rains commence—9th, Preparations for a Start into the Desert.
The expedition spends nearly four months in this remarkable region of lakes and grass. Mr. McKinlay having procured an additional supply of provisions, has been enabled to devote so much time to the exploration of this particular district, the object of his search being mainly to ascertain if there are creeks and lakes of such depth of water as to give reliance that they may prove permanent under all contingencies of climate. But during the last weeks of this protracted stay, the party had been detained waiting for rain, to enable them to get safely through the "Stony Desert." This very different and not less remarkable tract of country lay to the north, quite close to the lake and its neighbourhood where they had been encamped. We have already alluded more than once to "the Desert." We now know that there is no great central desert, properly speaking. The interior is interspersed with patches of poor soil and of sterile sand and stones, alternating with better country. In the region the party were about to enter, these sterile patches were the prevailing feature, and there seems to be a considerable belt of continuous stony desert sufficiently noticeable to maintain against this particular part, and a good deal of the neighbourhood tinged with its inhospitalities, the title of the Stony Desert. The name has descended from Sturt, but the area of "the enemy" and his terrible associations, have been very much cut down.
But, however circumscribed, the desert must not be despised. McKinlay, while waiting the much desired rain that the passing clouds often promised and as often refused, takes an excursion into this desert. Its hard features, he finds, have not been at all overstated. Stony plains in one direction, bare sand hills in another, water nowhere. Even the hardy and courageous spinifex has disappeared, or is very sparsely limited to the shady side of an occasional sand hill. And yet, with true Australian diversity, "a heavy timbered creek" is seen at some miles distance to come in upon the desert, the timber, however, ceasing as the creek emerges upon the dry open plain, But this pleasant oasis did not run in the right direction for the travellers. After four days' excursion the party return, greatly fatigued, and not less convinced that they must depend upon the clouds for a practicable passage through this considerable desert region. This waiting for rain to make some arid tract passable to the traveller is no uncommon incident of Australian travel. Leichhardt alludes to the vast waterless plains which a timely rain enabled him to get over. The bold explorer must push on, taking the providence of the hour. We may thus in imagination make a good shower into a safe ferry-boat, or a plank thrown across an impassable gorge, without whose aid the traveller must only remain where he is.
As this excursion was in the middle of summer—23rd to 26th January—the desert was certainly seen to all advantage after its own sort. How different the rain made it we shall see in the next chapter. The rain did at length come. On the 8th of February there was "splendid rain and steady," as Mr. McKinlay notes, and forthwith the party prepare to march. The natives, who were hereabouts even more numerous than before, were watching the clouds as well as our travellers, for the rain has a providence for them too. As soon as it began to pour down in earnest, they were off in all directions to the sand hills to catch the lizards and other animals that instinctively make for these higher grounds to avoid the succeeding flood. These natives had already become angry and impatient at the long stay of the expedition in their neighbourhood, and they were fain to get rid of their visitors some days before the rain had begun, by getting up a premature alarm about the coming flood. They seemed to revel in plenty of food. With nets of their own fabricating they dragged the creeks for fish, procuring large quantities. The rains seem to have been most timely for all parties and the country alike, as the waters were fast disappearing. One small lake near the camp was already emitting an unsavoury odour, which it was suspected was the cause of some bad health amongst the party, and the pretty Lake Jeannie, when revisited, was found to be fast drying up, its waters already of unpleasant taste, and giving promise to be quite unfit for use in another month unless restored by fresh rain.
Jan. 6th. We started from Lake Hodgkinson this morning at 6·30 after marking a tree, under which McKinlay had placed some documents for any one of the parties who might come this way. On to lakes "Blanche" and "Sir Richard," twenty-three miles hence. The cart started first, with our little sheep also. We arrived at the lake about 3·30 through some very unprofitable looking country; we shall spell here to-morrow. About one hundred and fifty niggers round the lake. Another very cheerless camp, but there is fine bathing in the creek that rims into the lake. The water is quite clear, with a delightful taste, and makes most excellent tea.
7th. Remain at Lake Blanche. Mr. McKinlay and Hodgkinson, with black, went out to the north. Not the slightest shelter here; the sun scorching and the wind like the blast from a furnace. Mr. McKinlay returned early to-day, and soon after there was a decided attempt to drive off the bullocks by themselves. Some of us were soon in the saddle and after them, but the wily blacks were nowhere to be seen. Got the animals all safe after having been driven nearly round the lake. The bullocks broke from natives once, and they tried ineffectually to turn them, after following them some three miles. When they saw us they instantly took to flight, and easily hid themselves in the bush. Brought bullocks into camp and hobbled them short for to-night, so that they could not very well bolt again. It would be a serious thing if we lost them, or indeed any of them, as if the grub runs out they would stand to us in good stead, and you cannot depend on your gun, as anything like good game is very scarce, in fact I never saw so little in any country I have been in. Strict watch. Mr. McKinlay thus describes in his journal the employments, although not the enjoyments, of this warm region of the world:—
"Jan. 7th. At Lake Blanche; went out north with Mr. Hodgkinson and native to examine the creek alluded to, but to my disappointment found that it only formed a large valley, and, at some distance on, a dry lake, Millie Millie, to the eastward of Lake Sir Richard, over some high sand hills; returned very much chagrined, and have made up my mind to stay here a short time, although very poor shelter from the excessive heat of the sun (to-day even it blows as if from a furnace), and endeavour, with the camels, to ascertain the description of country first to the east, and probably also from here, if the camels will stand it, to the north. From tho appearance of the country about here I do not expect any water, at least for some distance; the land low, hills between the two lakes, and running northward for some five or six miles, have just the appearance of dirty drift snow heaps with heath bushes protruding; whereas those round to north-east, east, south, and south-east are a glaring red, with coarse grass and shrubs. Shortly after my return to-day a number of natives got the bullocks on the east side of the creek New Year Straits, about two and a half miles from camp, and raced them round Lake Blanche from us in sight; on seeing which, five of the party got mounted and armed, and went after them; they had taken the bullocks two-thirds of the way round the lake, and by some means they broke back from them; they did their best to overtake and turn them again for about two or three miles; when they observed the horsemen, they immediately took to flight, and where shelter was so abundant, of course were immediately out of reach and sight of the horsemen. What their intentions were was difficult to say, but it looked rather suspicious; took the bullocks to camp late and hobbled most of them. The evening before leaving Lake Hodgkinson, about 8·30 p.m., they took both horses and bullocks and raced them round from us for about three miles, but were pursued on foot by three of the party, who succeeded in getting all the bullocks and horses, after having broken three-fourths of their chains, and were in a very excited state, nor could the horses be quieted for more than two hours afterwards, but the wary savage was nowhere to be seen."
8th. Moved our camp this morning three-quarters of a mile to a little wood, and pitched. The wind fearfully hot, and the white sand distressing to the eyes. We were obliged to adopt this plan, as in the other place there was not a stick to boil or bake with. All we got was from the grave of some poor defunct native. They always pile wood over the native graves. The heat is insufferable. We shall surely get baked or cooked somehow alive, if this goes on much longer. McKinlay and party preparing to start for the east for the purpose of finding water, if he can, in that direction. The four camels to go and no horses, that is the arrangement at the present.
9th. Camp, Lake Blanche. It looks as if we should have a terrible storm, but as usual I suppose it will blow over. A heavy gale last night demolished the tents and made us all very uncomfortable; it would be all the better for us if these blows would come in the daytime, when we could see what we were about; but no, these accidents seem generally to happen in the night, when it is more difficult to get to rights again. Plenty of thunder and lightning. The gale lasted two hours or more.
10th. We had hoped that the tempest would have cooled the air a little, but it is clear we are to be cooked. All done up. No energy left hardly. The animals are all under what little shade there is; poor things, they feel the weather greatly. There is plenty of fish here, with lots of "adoo." The sunset to-night was magnificent.
11th. My legs very painful from the effects of the sun. Heat fearful.
12th. Thunder and lightning; no rain. Heat not abated one iota. If it does not get cooler soon and we don't have some rain, some of us will be getting ill I fear.
13th. A little cooler to-day than it has been. Mr. McKinlay going out to-morrow; the heat had hitherto prevented him; he goes eastward to prospect the country generally.
14th. Mr. McKinlay starts this morning, and takes three horses part of the way; Ned brings them back. The reason why they go is that Mr, McKinlay wishes to put as little on the camels today as possible. Bell taken very ill with cramp in the stomach. We thought he was going to die right off. He was quite doubled up and could not speak. I gave him some medicine which restored him in a short time. At one time we really thought it was all up with him.
15th. Bell and I very ill from dysentery. Found some dogs dead from poisoned baits placed for the purpose. They are very numerous here, and from the small quantity of wood we could not get enough to build a good yard for the sheep, and we feared they might be getting at them.
Ned with the horses returned last night about 11·30 p.m. The heat did not contribute to our recovery. The sun comes through these American drill tents (I was about to say "like") without winking.
16th. We are still very ill, and yesterday another of the party, Maitland the cook, was taken with the same disease. He suffered very much at first. It must be the weather, or the water, or perhaps both combined. Mr. McKinlay and party returned about 1 p.m., and found us on our beam ends. The sooner we are out of this nasty hot and sickly camp the better.
Mr. McKinlay, upon another of his excursions, remarks in his journal:—
17th. Intensely hot and oppressive, with the wind east of north. Not very good for the sick fellows. I (Davis) am better, but the others are not. It is the general opinion that there must be something in the water that makes us all so unwell. Thank goodness we leave this lake tomorrow for Ellar's Creek, which has been represented by Hodgkinson to have some fine water in it, distance about fifteen miles. The native name of this place is "Appocoldarinnie." Prepare for a start to-morrow, as we none of us like this place. Hurrah!
"Jan. 14th. Eastward to-day, over undulations, sand hills, clay pans, and flats, for nineteen miles, till we reached a very prominent high hill, which I have called Mount Wylde. A considerable range is visible to east, and south of east. Went on for seven miles further, over sand ridges, covered with spinifex, successive box-covered flooded flats, formed by heavy rains, through which were innumerable small creeks, no doubt, in heavy rains, forming source or tributaries to Cooper's Creek. Took the horses out this morning to make the work lighter for the camels on the march. Sent the horses back again this afternoon; gave the camels from three to four gallons of water each—they appeared as if they could have drunk all that we possessed. Distance travelled to-day about twenty-six miles. East, in the far distance, I can trace the continuance of the range.
"15th. Every appearance of a hot day. Followed over hard sand undulations, well-grassed, with some little spinifex intermixed, with a creek on our left, and crossed it at eight miles, going south-east, then apparently south—gum and box on creek, and a sandy bed. We then passed over some good grassed country, with stony flats, and latterly a stony sand hill, the ascent difficult for the camels on account of the sharp stones for ten miles; distance, making in all eighteen miles. Low hills about six or seven miles ahead, running north and south; nothing very marked about them. The heat fearful; camels not doing so well as I could wish, so will give them all the water that is to spare, and proceed toward camp this evening in the cool; they won't feed, nor stay without constant watching. Started back at 8·30 p.m. Went first to the south of west, to avoid a stony hill by going round a valley, then went on for about fifteen miles.
"16th. Started at 6 a.m., then bore for Mount Wylde. The greater portion of last night's and to-day's journey was over spinifex country. Passed, immediately after starting, a couple of creeks; drainage to the north—whether they continued that course, and gradually swerved to the east and joined a larger one under the main range to east, and formed one, and passed on to the southward to Cooper's Creek, or formed rain water lakes (vast numbers of them here, and well timbered, and often visited by natives), I cannot pretend to say. From Mount Wylde came in, on the lakes, on our outward track, and arrived at camp at 2 p.m. Found some of the party, viz., Bell, Davis, and Maitland, laid up with dysentery, the former seriously. Have made up my mind to leave this, after one day's spell for the camels, and go back to different water, as this must contain some medicinal properties that I am ignorant of, and affects all of us more or less—no doubt the weather has a good deal to do with it; the heat is fearful."
18th. We are off from this infernal sickly hole. The cart preceding the cavalry and camel corps as usual. Very sultry, with tempest last night, and about 2·30 this morning we arrived at the creek. The country passed through much as usual, sandy and unprofitable; and just fancy our disappointment, more especially the poor fellows who were so ill, finding that instead of camping under the fine shade, and their day's work being done, they had to leave it and go on some ten miles further to Lake Hodgkinson, as the water was so very bad that neither man nor horse could touch it.
This was a dreadful blow for the poor fellows, but those who go out on expeditions of this sort ought not to know how to spell "grumble" for who can tell what will occur, or what sort of country they shall see next, or whether they will find water at the camping place, even if they tried till 12 o'clock at night? Yes, such is the lot of an explorer, and a hard life and a jolly one, no care for the morrow, no duns to fear and no debts incurred. It is a primitive life, but as before said a jolly one; but there is one thing wanting, it is the smile and solace of gentle woman!
"Oh! woman in our boors of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade,
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou."
After that I must take a cooler before dinner.
This would have been a pleasant, cool, and pretty camp, but fate and bad water conspired against us, so now after stopping a short time to rest, proceed to Lake Hodgkinson. The water had gone bad since it was visited by Hodgkinson. Very sultry, and looking like rain. I hope we shall not be disappointed. On our way to the creek we passed a fine lake, and to every appearance with water in it. The natives who were with us were even deceived, and McKinlay has called it "Deception Lake," for all of us were regularly sold by its appearance.
We arrived at Lake Hodgkinson, and found it much dried up, and the water quite bitter; so we have now to go on to Hayward's Creek, which flows into this lake, and there we find excellent water, fine feed—in fact, everything that men in our position require, beautiful shelter, almost a necessary in this latitude. The dray did not camp with us, but at the east end of the lake. We had to dig to get water for drinking purposes. A short distance from the edge of the lake, after only about four feet sinking, they found beautifully clear water and well tasted. There is splendid bathing here, the water up to your chin. This luxury will soon drive our illness away. We shall remain here till some change in the weather takes place, and also to recruit the sick. It is too hot at present for a dip, so we must wait patiently till it is cooler. A few friendly natives come into camp. The animals suffering much from the heat, and we were nearly baked in our saddles, but rewarded at last after our disappointments by everything that could gladden our eyes.
19th. Dray came in about noon to-day. Last night heavy rain, and we had to turn out and secure the perishable articles with tarpauling. Lots of rain to north-north-east, indications of more. We bathed to-day. Found crawfish here. As there is plenty of material for the purpose, we begin tomorrow to build "whirlies" with a fine bushy shrub which abounds here. Bell still ill. Bathing will soon set us all right. Many natives higher up the creek. We still keep two "black guards" with us, and very useful we find them.
20th. Hayward Creek Camp. There being a great quantity of light rushes on the creek side of our camp, we cut them down to-day to prevent a surprise, and very good beds they make. Rain to the north-north-east.
21st. Mr. McKinlay gave our two natives a sheep to have a jollification with their friends higher up the creek. A novelty to them I should imagine.
22nd. The sick slowly improving. We cut down trees to make a "good" yard for the sheep, so we shall be here some time; also plenty of a small bushy shrub, "whillaroo," to build a house over McKinlay's tent, and improve our own domiciles. We can follow the bent of "our own glad wills," for there is no one here to say anything against it; in fact, the natives absolutely come and ask permission to fish in their own waters! McKinlay goes out for a short journey to-morrow to see what effect the late rains have had on the country towards the north.
23rd. McKinlay leaves to-day, accompanied by Wylde, Hodgkinson, and the two natives. They started about 12, and took with them plenty of provisions; McKinlay says he may be away three weeks, at all events they have taken with them supplies for that time, but I don't think he will be out so long, as the rain has fallen so partially. We were building yesterday, and are still at work at the McKinlay bower, and very comfortable it will be. This is about the nicest camp we ever had, and the bathing, don't mention it. Bell is better, but he has had a stiff time of it. Only about 600 lb. of flour left, no great shakes you will say; we shall soon have reduced rations again; never mind, half a loaf is better than no bread.
24th. The day broke magnificently, and continued so fine that it put me in mind of a spring day in the old country. If we go on as we are, the governor will have a fairy kind of palace instead of a bower, so deliciously cool, the wind finding its way through the boughs. It is to be hoped that he won't get too comfortable, and so remain here longer than he intended, although a good spell will be of vast service to the sick and weak, for it is a frightful thing to be on a march, under a broiling sun, feeling as though you could hardly move, and nothing to look forward to in camping but the usual tea, and no chance of a "wet" just to revive you; although tea is a great drink, and I believe never enjoyed by any one of the party so much in their lives, though there is not a man who would not give a quart of it for a "pint o' beer." Some of the men shoeing horses; very cold on the morning watch, and greatcoats called out for active service; the bathing has done us a power of good; the sheep, too, are as fat as possible, and they have turned out little trumps for travelling; they know the voice of old Kirby who has the care of them as well as possible, and well he does take care of them, and no mistake.
25th. Another fine day, and cool, we could never have better; what a blessing for us who are so busy overhauling and repairing tents; large flight of ducks and teal, too high to bag any for the pot, going north-east; do they smell water after the heavy rains in that quarter? Bell much better; a "header" into cold water three times a day has worked wonders with us all; but talk about fish, they knock up against your legs as you are swimming, and one absolutely jumped out of the water and hit Wylde in the eye; he did not black it certainly, but the eye looked rather fishy. Very cold again during the night.
Sunday, 26th. Kept to-day holy, it being Sunday, and read the Bible aloud, just to put us in mind that we were, or ought to be, Christians, though in a heathen land.
2 p.m. McKinlay and party returned, having failed to cross the Stony Desert for want of water, the horses looking very badly on that account, having hardly had a drink since they left this on Thursday; the men, too, did not look well, having had very little themselves.
We here give from McKinlay's journal the account of his excursion into the Stony Desert.
"23rd. Started out at 11·30 a.m.; got to the top of a sand hill on north side of Lake Hodgkinson, about six miles from camp; camp bearing about 175°; passed (dry) Lake Marraboothana; then through flats and basins, a large one cutting our course. Changed course, and came to a dry creek, called Pantyh-wurladgie; then, on a bearing of 284°, over stony desert, for a large sand hill; a little water back about two miles, from whence we shall have to send for it, amongst the stones. Total distance travelled about thirty-three miles; to the north-east and south all stones, but sand hills bound the two latter quarters; beyond the termination of large sand hill there is nothing visible. To the west is a succession of sand hills, running north and south; and terminating in desert and stony plains. Round to 348° in the distance are to be seen some terminations of inconsiderable sand hills.
"24th. The country being short of water, I merely go out to-day to return to-morrow; leaving here all the rations I intended for our journey northward, which, for the present I had abandoned, with the intention, at a more suitable time, to try it. Natives are with me, but they declare it to be all dry; but I cannot rely on their statements at all times. The water: our supply for to-day, is about two miles off in the desert; our journey being over a succession of very high sand hills, and stony flooded flats; skirting, for the first three-quarters of an hour, the desert, to this spot, with a large, red-topped sand hill on our right, which terminates close by; have not seen a drop of water during the day, and camp without it. I return tomorrow early for the last water, which will be nearly dried up by the time I reach it. Distance travelled to-day twenty-four miles. Tops of all the hills to north-east and east are very red, quite free from vegetation on tops, and some with altogether a dreary spot. A heavy timbered creek comes in from south-west into the desert, and appears in the distance to have a tributary from east-south-east; the timber ceases as it comes on to the open desert plain, between four and five miles from this. Quite an unbroken horizon to the west of north-west for some distance. The sand hills that are in view are small and detached.on their sides. To north, termination of sand hills with stony flats; north-west, unbroken horizon; from west-north-west round towards south-west, a sand hill in the distance;
"25th. Started back, and got to water just in time to give the horses about half as much as they could drink, and a little for ourselves; rapid evaporation has taken place since we left yesterday, for then there was enough for a hundred horses, now there is not half enough for our eight, so must make for one of the permanent waters south of this to-morrow; have to close-hobble our horses and tie their heads down to them to prevent them straying too far; strong breeze from the southward.
"Sunday, 26th. Started at 7 a.m. for Coonhadie, a rain-water watering-place in desert, but found it quite dry; start for camp, Hayward's Creek, and arrived at 1 p.m.; distance about twenty-nine and a quarter miles direct from place to place, but we made it more, being obliged to go round to avoid sand hills and rounding Lake Hodgkinson. The horses stood much in need of water, and seemed to enjoy it much from quantity they drank, and the time they took about it. It was fortunate for us that the weather was cool for the season of the year. Wind south and east; found all right at the camp, and the men that were ailing much improved. The water in the creek is diminishing gradually, about three-quarters of an inch per day."
27th. Still at Hayward's Creek; we are employed to-day, merely to keep us in working order, in putting up a verandah to McKinlay's palace. Nice work, very, with thermometer 120° or 130°. A great argument at dinner to-day, Middleton and Palmer v. Wylde, as to distance to a certain spot; to be chained to-morrow for deciding the bets; it will be a close shave.
The natives are very much displeased at our remaining here; they are trying all they can for us to go, as no doubt we are disturbing their fishing arrangements, for we are close to the creek from our tent—one, two, three, and into the water. McKinlay is very little troubled about it, as he says in his journal, "Natives very much displeased at our remaining here, but until the weather suits my purpose better than it has done at present they must put up with it."
28th. The natives still at us to-day to decamp; they have got a fine story to-day that the floods are coming down, and that if we remain here much longer we shall be drowned, as the "arimitha," or native name for flood, is coming down, and has reached a certain place which McKinlay knows well; so he is off to-morrow to see if there be any truth in the assertion, and if there is to shift camp to some higher ground. We all hope not, as this is a jolly place, and we shall lose our splendid bath in the morning. We went out early this morning to decide the important bet of yesterday; the distance was 1376 yards, so Wylde loses £2, which never will be paid until we reach the settled districts once again.
29th. McKinlay and Middleton go out to see if there be any appearance of the said flood; it will take some time to get there from the north on account of the many lakes and creeks it will have to fill on its way. They returned about 5 p.m., very hungry, as they generally were after a trip, and had seen no signs of a flood. There is seven or eight feet of water in this creek now, and first-rate water it is, but it is receding fast, for every morning we look to the gauge, a stick stuck in the mud graduated to inches, so that it is easily determined how much it recedes per diem; it is going at the rate of three-quarters of an inch a day.
I wonder if McKinlay will order us to dig a well here also; I should not be surprised, but there is enough water, provided it does not go bad, to last us for years; never mind if he does, there is nothing like healthy exercise, is there, reader? Talk of the old English game of cricket, it is nothing to digging wells when there is water close to camp; it keeps us from mischief and growling, and that is a great desideratum.
There are, McKinlay says, any number of natives up this creek, which is five or six miles long; he saw between 400 and 500. He did not go up to their whirlies, but from the number he saw he computed them as numerous as stated. There was a small camp close by, but they were gone to join the main body, for what reason deponent knoweth not, as we have never molested them. They pass our camp with their nets to drag the creek; they ask McKinlay always before they do so, and he of course grants permission, and they return loaded with the scaly "paroo," or "multamulta" galover (native names of the fish generally caught); but they are not very generous with them, and should we get into a fix like poor Burke and party, we should fare but badly had we to trust to their hospitality.
30th. We gave our camels a good washing with soap and water to-day, and bathed them well, and are making little bags for seeds, as everybody is collecting the unknown productions of the north, and curiosities of all sorts. The flies are very troublesome, they are in millions, you may say; they bite, too, just a little nip; had we only a mosquito net large enough to get under at meal times! I have some net certainly, but not large enough to get under for protection from these pestilent little varmints. They come on your meat, and it is with difficulty that you can help eating numbers of them; but we are getting used to it now, like eels to skinning; should you happen to bite one—but, no, I will not say anything on that painful subject.
All the party, McKinlay included, with the exception of myself and Middleton, have been attacked with vomiting and griping after meals. They can keep nothing on their stomachs. Why it should be so no one can tell, as we all eat from the same meat, and live precisely alike.
As I before mentioned that I thought the rations would soon be reduced it has come to pass, and next week they will be reduced to 5 lb. of flour a week, and I dare say very soon to 4 lb. It is better than having none. There are rations waiting for us at Finnis' Springs, to south-west, about 300 miles from our present position. Water is getting scarce below. I hope we shall not be locked up for the want of it. However, McKinlay Lake will be a good stand by, as I don't think that can ever go dry, on account of its depth, though it might go bad like the others, and we should be in a fix with bad water and reduced rations.
McKinlay says: "I wish it would rain, that I could start through the desert out of this, and get on to the waters north and west of this, and be doing something, as this sort of life is worse than hard work on the constitution." There is one thing, this detention here has enabled us to have the backs of the working animals attended to better than we otherwise could have done, and they are on splendid feed; but the flies and the excessive heat of the sun are two things against them, on account of the sores and wounds some of them have, and they will not readily heal. Several of the horses have been bled, but from the heat and flies the necks of the animals have swollen much. This is the devil's own country for insects.
31st. Went out after camels, to see how they were getting on, and also to see that they had not rambled far from the feeding ground. On my return found McKinlay, Middleton, and "Nelmilly," native, gone off to "Cann-boog-o-nannie" Lake (Lake Jeannie), to see how the water was, and also to find an easier road for the cart to go towards "Moolionboorrana" Lake. They found a pretty good road, but the water quite unfit for use. The horses would not touch it, so they dug a little hole about eighteen inches from the water's edge, found most excellent water, and made some tea. What is it that turns the water bad? When we were there before it was first-rate. Is it the accumulated dung of the wild fowl, and the excessive heat of the sun, or what is it? This I leave to more scientific men than myself. Lots of natives round this lake. Found innumerable small fish, of the "parro" kind, washed up by the ripple of the lake; perhaps they are killed by the effect the water had on them.
Feb. 1st. Had a long walk with Ned this morning, and brought in the camels to get another cooling. Yes; orders are issued, the mandate has gone forth! a well is to be sunk to-day. Sunk it about five or six feet deep; awfully hard the ground. The fellows still sick after their meals; Ned very bad, also Maitland, but I have escaped the infliction. Betting going on to-day on all kinds of events; weather continues awfully hot, but the bathing is delicious; it cools us in the evening, and sets us up for the next day.
A circumstance occurred to-day that highly amused us all; our second in command had often said that the natives had real respect for him, and I believe he thought so; he was, however, doomed to be undeceived; he was ordered to tell some of the hangers-on to decamp. They certainly went, but jabbering something and applying the polinar face of the dexter hand sharply over the region of the glutus. I wonder what they said to him—a high compliment, I dare say. This may be a custom of the country and a mark of respect; I don't think he will put any more trust in the blacks, or spin yarns about their great respect for him. He must have felt very small when the roar of laughter from the camp reached his ears.
Feb. 2nd. Camp Hayward's Creek. Wylde ill to-day. The sickness still sticking to some of them. Camels washed again to-day. Hodgkinson and Middleton shot 27 pigeons to-day. They were in flocks of 100, feeding on the seeds of the grass, and rose the moment you got close to them; consequently the slaughter was greater than if they had been frightened. They made a nice change for our dinner and supper; some done on the ashes, some stewed, and some put into a pie. They were exceedingly nice, and very fat. The water in the creek decreasing fast, bathed as usual. Of course did not work at the well, being Sunday.
3rd. When bringing in the camels to-day saw a flock of geese; had two shots at them with ball, but they were very shy, and we could not get near enough to them.
At the well to-day. Hard and hot work. Came to water; although only a few yards from the creek, which was fine, nice water, that in the well was as salt as brine; so much so that you could not touch it, so all our labour is thrown away. McKinlay thinks that if all the water be baled out in the morning it may come fresh afterwards. I don't expect any such result, but seeing is believing; perhaps he may be right. The only motive for digging a well was that a change of water was desirable, as McKinlay fancied it was the water in the creek that had something to do with the sickness; but we must still stick to the creek, and make the best of it. I rather think a change of diet would do some good; constantly eating the same thing day after day is bad, I know. No vegetables. The greater part of our food is flesh, with a small modicum of bread. No wonder we get indisposed.
4th. We baled out the water this morning. This well is now some fifteen feet deep, layers of sand chiefly, so it is continually caving in. The water flows in fast, but as salt as ever, though, strange to say, it lathers well with soap. Men mending their shirts; some of us have variegated ones already with the different coloured patches; no one was ill to-day after meals.
McKinlay went off on a ramble to-day to look up the niggers and see where they had gone. As they all seem to have left our vicinity, he fancies that it may be a ruse to lull us into a feeling of security, and so put us off our guard, and some night come down and give us a dressing. Poor deluded gentlemen of colour! if such be your notions, believe me, you have the wrong man to deal with if you think to catch our leader napping. Just after McKinlay started some five or six came down to fish in the creek.
5th. I drew a bucket of water from the well this morning, and it was as salt, if not more so, than before. Mending clothes and cribbage the order of the day. The weather warm towards six; hot indeed.
6th. Wind warm to-day, with thunder and lightning. It appears to be raining in various places, though it does not appear likely we shall get any. We have been so often deceived that it is no use going by appearances any longer up here. The wind chopped round to the south, and it became very hot and oppressive.
Middleton and Hodgkinson are to start off to-morrow morning for Lake McKinlay, to ascertain for certain if that lake still continues to hold abundance of water, and also if it be good; and also on their way, , to see if Lake "Moolion-boorrana" will suit for a stage to camp at on the way to Lake McKinlay, should we go there, as it did not contain much water when we were there last, and he has his (McKinlay' s) doubts on the subject. McKinlay is quite certain that the water here is affecting us, and he wishes to go to the lake for a change, and remain there till it rains, so as to be able to cross the desert. Natives that come into camp to-day report that lots of rain has fallen to the east and north-east beyond Lake Sir Richard and Lake Blanche.
7th. Mr. Hodgkinson and native started at 7·30 this morning for Lake McKinlay, to see, as before mentioned, the supply of water there. Weather on the change, I think; it blew very strong from the south-east last night. Very cloudy, but no rain to speak of all day; it has been cloudy and cool, and there is really now some chance, I think, of our getting some rain. Plenty of thunder and lightning to-day.
8th. Raining splendidly; steady down-pour last night, with strong wind from south-east; some thunder. Everything looks refreshed; the little birds are chirping merrily, and the old crows pleading their own cause vociferously. The flies, however, are worse, being driven into the tents and whirlies by the rain. The walking this morning was anything but pleasant, the mud being up and over our ankles, and it stuck so to our boots that it was with difficulty we could get ahead at all; and having to go three miles to bring up the camels, it became a very tiring job. The camels themselves could hardly make a walk of it at all, and were more like cats in walnut-shells on ice than anything I recollect having seen.
I expect we shall be able to start for the Desert to-morrow or the next day, as there must be abundance of water now in the claypans and holes, more than sufficient for our purpose. McKinlay has ordered all horses that require it to be shod, so I suppose the Stony Desert is the trip before us, and then on to Finnis' Springs to get our rations. Some of the flour we have been eating lately has had a very peculiar taste; indeed, some of it had got a touch of the naphtha or paraffine that was put on top of it, in its transit from Port Augusta to Blanchewater, and perhaps that has been the cause of the illness, and not the water. Middleton, Hodgkinson, and native returned. They report lots of rain-water this side of Lake McKinlay, and plenty in the lake itself, and good, with lots of natives on the banks; but as the rain has fallen so well and abundantly, we shall not go there, but proceed at once to the Desert.
9th. It is still raining, and the ground as soft as possible—in fact, too soft to travel over, so we shall not go to-day. The blacks are all away over the sand hills to catch lizards and other things to eat. The rain has proved a godsend to them, as well as to us. No holiday to-day, for we have had to work like coolies to get all ready for to-morrow, as we shall certainly start in the morning if it does not rain. McKinlay thinks there will be abundance of water to take us across this time. I hope he will not be disappointed. We shall all miss our nice bathing, which I am sure has been the means of keeping us all much better than if we had been without it. All ready for a start by tea-time, so there will be nothing to delay us in the morning that we know of at present. Hurrah for the road once again!