Spinifex and Sand/Part V/Chapter VIII
Part V: The Outward Journey
Chapter VIII: A Desert Tribe
The next morning we were up betimes and ready to start as soon as ever the tracks were visible; presently a smoke, their first hunting-smoke of the day, rose close to us. Despatching Charlie on Satan, and Godfrey on foot, with instructions to catch a native if possible, I hastened along the tracks followed by the rest of the party. We reached their camp just in time to see the late inmates disappear into a thicket of mulga close by. Neither Charlie nor Godfrey was able to come up with the lighters of the fire unseen, and these, too, fled into the scrub, where chase was almost impossible. Their camp deserves description, as it was the first (excepting travelling camps) we had seen of the desert black-fellow.
Facing the belt of mulga, was a low wall of uprooted tussocks of spinifex built in a half circle and some two feet high. On the leeward side of this breakwind, inside the semi-circle, half a dozen little hollows were scraped out in the sand. Between each of these nests lay a little heap of ashes, the remains of a fire which burns all night, replenished from time to time from a bundle of sticks kept handy for the purpose. The nest in the sand is the bed, a double one, and not only double but treble, and more; for in it, coiled up snugly, may lie several of the tribe, higgledy-piggledy, like pups in a basket. The fire takes the place of nightshirt, pyjamas, or blanket — a poor substitute on a cold night! Scattered about were several utensils, two wooden coolimans full of water and grass — this showing that the owners contemplated a journey, for the grass floating on the surface is used to prevent the water from spilling. Two more coolimans were filled with seed — a fine yellow seed from a plant like groundsel. Close by these were the flat stones (of granite, evidently traded from tribe to tribe) used for grinding the seed. In the spinifex wall were stuck numerous spears, varying from eight to ten feet in length, straight, thin, and light, hardened by fire, fined down and scraped to a sharp point. Near these was a gin's yam-stick — a stout stick with a sharp, flat point on one end and charred at the other, used for digging up roots, stirring the fire, or chastising a dog or child. They serve, too, as a weapon of defence. Quaintest of all these articles were the native "portmanteaus," that is to say, bundles of treasures rolled up in bark, wound round and round with string — string made from human hair or from that of dingoes and opossums. In these "portmanteaus" are found carved sticks, pieces of quartz, red ochre, feathers, and a number of odds and ends. Of several that were in this camp I took two — my curiosity and desire to further knowledge of human beings, so unknown and so interesting, overcame my honesty, and since the owners had retired so rudely I could not barter with them. Without doubt the meat-tins and odds and ends that we left behind us have more than repaid them. One of these portmanteaus may be seen in the British Museum, the other I have still, unopened.
Between the camp and the well, which we easily found, there ran a well-beaten foot-pad, showing that this had been a favoured spot for some time past. The well itself was situated in a belt of mulga-scrub, and surrounded by a little patch of grass; growing near by, a few good camel bushes, such as acacia and fern-tree (quondongs, by the way, were not seen by us north of Alexander Spring, with the exception of one near McPherson's Pillar); enclosing the scrub two parallel banks of sand and stones, with the well in the valley between. Above the well, to the, North, high anthills and tussocks of coarse grass appeared. The whole oasis covered no more than three acres. The well itself resembled those already described, and appeared to have a good supply, so much so that we started at once to water the camels, which had had no drink since August 21st, a period of seventeen days, with the exception of two gallons apiece at Warri Well, where the parakeelia grew.
By midnight all but three — Satan, Redleap, and Misery — had drunk as much as they could hold. These three had to be content with a small amount, for we could not get more without digging out the well, and this we proceeded to do. The night was hot and cloudy, and constant puffs of wind made work by the light of candles so impossible that we had perforce to bear the extra heat of a blazing fire. The native well, as we found it, had been scooped out with hand and cooliman, just large enough to allow one to descend to a depth of fifteen feet, and the sides of the hole plastered back with mud, which had baked hard. To follow this hole further was not feasible, for going down on a slope as it did, any further deepening would cause the sand to fall in; we had therefore to start a new vertical shaft from the surface. After a considerable amount of digging we reached water level, and were preparing to bail the water, when with a thud the whole thing caved in, and our labour had to be recommenced. At the time the wedge of ground fell in Godfrey was working below and narrowly escaped being buried. A timely rope fortunately saved him. I never saw a man come quicker out of a hole! Now we were a bit puzzled. Our position was this: six camels were watered, three were not, our tanks were empty (my fault, for I should have first filled them and then the camels; but yet if we had water and the camels had none, would we have been better off?); our well, containing X, an unknown quantity of water, had fallen in. Query, whether to recommence digging, or to pack up and follow the blacks? Now, the well might contain a good supply, or yield no more than a gallon or two; and the blacks might or might not have gone on to a good water. It was a puzzle. Finally we compromised, and I sent Breaden and Warri to hunt up the tracks, whilst we started work again. On one side of the well was rock, and by strengthening the other by timber we hoped for success. Luckily plenty of good mulga trees were handy, and we soon had the timber ready for use. This was the second night without rest or food, and no more than a mouthful of water each, for on arrival we had given what our tanks contained to the thirsty camels.
By putting in crosspieces from side to side of the hole, which we soon discovered to be an underground rock-hole, and by backing these with twigs and grass, we managed to make the walls of sand secure, and at last reached water level, and lost no time, as may well be imagined, in raising a billyful and having the very best drink we had encountered for a long time. At the moment almost Breaden and Warri returned, having done their job admirably. They had followed the tracks to the next camp, away to the North — a dry camp this — and, noticing the direction the blacks had taken, returned home. After a feed and a rest we again set to work, and again the well fell in, but with less danger this time. It was clear that we could go no further without some sort of caisson to hold back the fine sand.
Charlie, with his usual ingenuity, constructed a rough but serviceable one out of the wooden guards on the faces of our water-casks and the tin-lined box lids that we had taken from Hubbe's camp at Mount Allott. Instinct had told us right — they were of use!
By this means we reached a depth of thirty feet, first sinking the caisson, then bailing the water, then continuing the timber and backing.
The hole so narrowed at the bottom that the water could only be obtained by stretching out a stick at arm's length, on which was lashed a small saucepan. It soon became clear that, labour as we would, the hole would yield but little, so, leaving the rest to work, I took Warri, and continued the search for the natives from the point where Breaden had left their tracks. After a long, tedious day of tracking, we found ourselves back at our own camp. The natives — two bucks, two gins, and three picaninnies — travelled North to a dry well, and there split, the men going one way and the rest another. We chose the bucks to follow, and presently the rest joined in, and the whole family swung round until close to our camp. We could, by their tracks, see where they had herded together in fear under a beefwood tree not one hundred yards from us. Just before sunset we again set forth, taking Czar and Satan as riding-camels, and were lucky in picking up tracks going in a fresh direction before night fell.
We camped on the tracks, and ran them in the morning, noticing two interesting things on the way: the first, several wooden sticks on which were skewered dried fruits, not unlike gooseberries; these were hidden in a bush, and are remarkable, for they not only show that the natives have some forethought, but that they trade in edible goods as well as in weapons and ornaments. These fruits are from the Solanum sodomeum, and were only seen by us near the Sturt Creek (three hundred miles away). The second, little heaps of the roots of a tree (known to me only as pine-mulga [Probably a "Hakea."]) stacked together, which had been sucked for water; we tried some, but without result, and the tree the natives had made use of did not seem to be different from others of its kind. This showed us, too, that they must be dry, and probably had had no water since our arrival at their well. About midday we rode right on to their camp without warning. Again the scrub befriended them, but in spite of this I could have got ahead of them on Satan had his nose-line not snapped. Determined not to be baulked, I jumped down and gave chase, old Czar lumbering along behind, and Warri shouting with glee and excitement, "Chase 'em — we catch em," as if we were going through all this trouble for pleasure. Happy Warri! he never seemed to see gravity in anything. It is almost incredible how quickly and completely a black-fellow can disappear; as if in a moment the whole family was out of sight. One black spot remained visible, and on it I centred my energies. Quickly overhauling, I overtook it, and found it to be an old and hideous gin, who, poor thing! had stopped behind to pick up some dingo puppies.
Sorry as I was to be rude to a lady, I had to make her prisoner, but not without a deal of trouble. "Dah, dah, dah!" she shouted, scratching, biting, spitting, and tearing me with her horrid long nails, and using, I feel sure, the worst language that her tongue could command. I had to carry this unsavoury object back to her camp, she clutching at every bush we passed, when her hands were not engaged in clawing and scratching me. After her anger had somewhat abated she pointed out a rock-hole from which they had got their water. Securing the woman with a light rope, I put her in Warri's charge, who kept watch above, lest the natives should return and surprise us, whilst I descended the rock-hole to see what supply was there. A little water was visible, which I quickly baled into the canvas bags we had brought for the purpose. The bottom of the hole was filled in with dead sticks, leaves, the rotting bodies of birds and lizards, bones of rats and dingoes. Into this ghastly mass of filth I sunk up to my middle, and never shall I forget the awful odour that arose as my feet stirred up the mess. Nevertheless water was there, and thankful I was to find it, even to drink it as it was. After half an hour's work in this stinking pit, sick from the combination of smells — distinguishable above every other being the all-pervading perfume of aboriginals — I was rewarded by some twelve gallons of water, or, more properly speaking, liquid.
I decided to take the gin back with us, as it had been clear to me for some time past that without the aid of natives we could not hope to find water. With our small caravan it was impossible to push on and trust to chance, or hope to reach the settled country still nearly five hundred miles ahead in a bee-line. Even supposing the camels could do this enormous stage, it was beyond our power to carry sufficient water for ourselves. The country might improve or might get worse; in such weather as we now experienced no camel could go for more than a few days without water. I felt myself justified, therefore, in unceremoniously making captives from what wandering tribes we might fall in with. And in light of after events I say unhesitatingly that, without having done so, and without having to a small extent used rough treatment to some natives so caught, we could not by any possibility have succeeded in crossing the desert, and should not only have lost our own lives, but possibly those of others who would have made search for us after. "A man arms himself where his armour is weakest," so I have read; that, however, is not my case. I am not justifying myself to myself, or defending a line of action not yet assailed. I write this in answer to some who have unfavourably criticised my methods, and to those I would say, "Put yourselves in our position, and when sitting in a comfortable armchair at home, in the centre of civilisation, do not, you who have never known want or suffered hardship, be so ready to judge others who, hundreds of miles from their fellow-men, threatened every day with possible death from thirst, were doing their best to lay bare the hidden secrets of an unknown region, as arid and desolate as any the world can show."
On starting back for camp the gin refused to walk or move in any way, so we had to pack her on Czar, making her as comfortable as possible on Warri's blankets, with disastrous results thereto. Arrived at camp, I found that the rock-hole was bottomed, and now quite dry. Straining the putrid water brought by me through a flannel shirt, boiling it, adding ashes and Epsom salts, we concocted a serviceable beverage. This, blended with the few gallons of muddy water from the well, formed our supply, which we looked to augment under the guidance of the gin. After completing our work the well presented the appearance of a large rock-hole, thirty feet deep, conical in shape, of which one-half the contents had been dug out. This confirmed my opinion that the native wells of these regions are nothing more than holes in the bed-rock, which have been covered over and in by the general deposit of sand. I had no time to observe for latitude at this spot, the position of which is fixed merely by dead reckoning. The rock-hole lies eight miles from it to the S.E. by E., and has no guide whatever to its situation. I christened the well "Patience Well," and I think it was well named.
From September 8th, 9 a.m., until September 12th, 12.30 a.m., we had worked almost continuously, only taking in turn what sleep we could snatch when one could be spared; and the result, 140 gallons as sum total, inclusive of mud and other matter.
We left Patience Well on the 12th, at 10 a.m., taking the woman with us. Breaden was the only one in whose charge she would consent to be at all calm; to him therefore was allotted the duty of looking after her. At eleven we reached the dry well to which Warri and I had tracked the natives. The water we were forced to use was so uninviting that I decided to make another effort to find a supply in this locality. The gin was of no use whatever, and would only repeat whatever we said to her — "Gabbi," which King Billy had understood, was wasted on her. "Gabbi, gabbi," she repeated, waving her arm all round the horizon. Leaving the rest to bottom the dry well, which might have water lower down, Warri and I again started off on the tracks of a buck, and these we followed due North on foot for four and a half hours, hoping every moment to come on a well. Soon after starting an apparently old track joined the other, and together they marched still North. Presently the old tracks changed into fresh ones, and close by I found two rough sandals made of strips of bark. One I kept, the other was too nearly worn out. There was no change in the dreary appearance of the country; through scrubs, over stones and sand we held our way, until Warri, who was now a little way behind, called, "No good, no more walk!" I could see the poor boy was knocked up, and felt little better myself; to go on did not guarantee water, and might end in disaster, so after a short rest we retraced our steps. The night was now dark and oppressive, so hatless and shirtless we floundered through the spinifex, nearly exhausted from the walk, following so close on the last few days' work. I believe that but for Warri I should have been "bushed"; my head was muddled, and the stars not too clear. What a joyful sight met our eyes as we crested a rise of sand — a sight almost as reviving as the food and water we so anxiously looked forward to. Tongues of flame shot up in the air, a fire lit by our mates, but showing that, in spite of Warri's instinct, we had not been walking in quite the right direction. No welcome news greeted our arrival — the well was dry, and the native obdurate. We all agreed she was useless, and since she refused all forms of nutriment I feared she would die on our hands, so she regained her liberty, and fled away with a rapidity not expected in one of her years.
My companions had felt some anxiety at our continued absence, and again I had evidence of the cordial friendship existing between us.
With reference to the bark sandals, the use of which is not so far known, I append an extract from The Horn Scientific Expedition, Part IV., where we read the following:
- Arunta Tribe.
- KURDAITCHA SHOES. — When a native for some reason desired to kill a member of another camp or tribe, he consulted the medicine man of his camp, and arrangements were made for a 'Kurdaitcha Luma.'... Both medicine man and Kurdaitcha wore remarkable shoes. These had the form of a long pad made of human hair, with numberless emu feathers intertwined, and with a certain amount of human blood to act as a cementing substance.
- ... Both ends of the shoes were rounded off, and were exactly similar to one another, which has given rise to the erroneous idea that their object was to prevent the wearer being tracked....
But no other explanation is offered.
Breaden says tracks of a man wearing these emu-feather shoes are very indistinct, but has no certain knowledge of their use. Warri, looking at the bark sandals, said, "Black-fella wear 'em 'long a hot sand." Questioned about the emu-feather shoes, he gave the usual answer, "I dunno," and then added, probably to please me, as I had suggested the explanation, "Black-fella no more see 'em track, I think."
It was clear that no good results were likely to follow further search in this locality, for the tracks were so numerous, and crossed and recrossed so often, that nothing could be made out of them. The country to the North being so uninviting, I altered our course to North-East, and again to North, when we sighted a smoke, and, following tracks, camped on them.
"Mud and oatmeal for breakfast," September 14th; truly the sage spoke who remarked, "What does not fatten will fill." Such was our fare, and the only doubt we had was lest the compound should be turned into brick by the sun's heat! However, it was sustaining enough to last us all day, occupied in tracking. Two dry wells, connected by a well-trodden pad half a mile long, rewarded our labours; and here we had the conviction forced upon us that the blacks themselves were hard pressed: we could see where dust and dirt had been recently removed from the bottom of the wells, both of which were over fifteen feet in depth, and one over twenty. Were the natives hard pressed for water, or had they heard of our coming, and were by smokes guiding us to empty wells? Unpleasant speculation, when one's tanks contain nothing but a nasty brown liquid, and the country looks as if it had not known rain for years!
September 15th. Another smoke to the North-East; again we steer for it, as if following a will-o'-the-wisp. The continued semi-starvation, hard work, and heat was beginning to leave its mark. None of our friends or relatives would have recognised us now! Clothed in filthy rags, with unkempt hair and beards, begrimed with mud, and burnt black by the sun wherever its rays could penetrate our armour of dirt, we were indeed a pretty lot. That night we tied the camels down — there was no feed for them; besides, I wished them handy in the morning, for we could not be far from natives now unless the smoke had deceived us. The next day the desolation of the country was increased by vast areas of burnt ground, from which rose clouds of dust and ashes — no gravel was here to arrest the onslaught of the wind upon the sand. Towards evening we were doomed to experience fresh discouragement, for in front of us, seen from rising ground, there stretched ridge upon ridge of barren sand, black from the charred remains of spinifex. To tackle those ridges in our then plight meant grave risks to be run, and that night the responsibility of my position weighed heavily upon my thoughts. I prayed for strength and determination — for to each one of us must have come the thought of what our fate might be. I feel sure that all were ready to face boldly whatever was in store, and were resolved to do their utmost — and what more can man do?
To go forward was our only course, since we meant to get through. Before sunrise, black and weary we started, having fed on tinned vegetables, the only article amongst our provisions possessing any moisture.
Before long we were amongst the ridges. What a desolate scene! Ridge upon ridge of sand, black from the ashes of burnt spinifex. Not a sound or sign of life, except the grunts of the camels as they strained up the sandy slopes. Presently we sighted a newly lighted hunting smoke, not a mile from us; with my field-glasses I could see the flames of the fiercely burning spinifex lapping the crest of a high sand-ridge. Leaving the tracks I was following I rejoined the main party, and, calling to Charlie to accompany me, and to the others to follow us as fast as they could, I set off for the fire. Having anticipated reaching the scene of the smoke early this morning, we had divided up Czar's load amongst the remainder of the caravan, and for the time transformed him into a riding-camel, and so two of us were mounted. On nearer approach we pulled up to give our steeds a blow, and, unseen ourselves, we watched the natives hunting, all unsuspicious of the near presence of beings and animals so strange in colour and form.
Advancing slowly from opposite directions, we were able to get within a hundred yards of them before our silent approach was noticed. No words can describe the look of terror and amazement on the faces of those wild savages. Spellbound they crouched in the black and smouldering ashes of the spinifex, mouths open and eyes staring, and then with one terrific yell away they ran, dodging and doubling until a somewhat bushy beefwood tree seemed to offer them means of escape. How many there had been I do not know, but the tree harboured three, the man, woman, and child, that we had first singled out. All kept up a ceaseless screaming and gesticulating, reminding me of the monkey-house at the "Zoo"; but above the others could be distinguished the voice of the old gin who, with frantic haste, tried to screen the man with branches broken from their tree of refuge, and who in the intervals between this occupation and that of shaking a stick at us, set a light to the surrounding spinifex either as a signal or with the hope of keeping us at a distance; for with all her fear she had not let drop her firestick. Thinking that they would be completely overawed by the appearance of the rest of the caravan, and so make no further attempt to escape, we sat sentinel on our camels and awaited the arrival of the main party. Presently they appeared, and the trembling fear of the natives was painful to witness — never by any possibility could they have seen camels or white men, though considering the extent to which articles are passed from tribe to tribe, it is probable they had heard of the "white-fella." Even to European eyes a camel is not the canniest of beasts, and since these people had never seen an animal larger than a dingo, and, indeed, no animal save this and the spinifex rat, their surprise may well be imagined on seeing a thing as large as their whole camp marching solemnly along.
Putting down the caravan we approached them, and from a mad, incoherent yelling their protestations gradually died down to an occasional gulp like that of a naughty child. Making soothing sounds and patting their breasts and our own in turn, in sign of friendship, we had plenty of time to inspect them. An old lady, with grizzled hair, toothless and distorted in countenance, with legs and arms mere bones, and skin shrunken and parched; a girl-child, perhaps six years old, by no means an ugly little thing, and a youngish man made up the trio; all stark-naked, and unadorned by artificial means, unless one excepts a powerfully scented mixture of grease and ashes, with which their bodies were smeared. The buck — poor fellow! — was suffering from some horrible skin disease, which spread over his chest and back. He seemed to have but little power in his arms, and a pitiful object he was, as we uncovered him from his screen of branches. Having apparently satisfied them that it was not our intention to eat them, by signs we showed them our pressing need for water — these they readily understood — doubtless because their own daily experience is one constant hunt for food or water. Evidently we had the former with us in the shape of camels, therefore we could only want the latter. The little child very soon showed great confidence, and, taking my hand, led us over a neighbouring sand-ridge. The old lady took a great fancy to Godfrey, and convinced us that flirting is by no means confined to civilisation.
Leading us obliquely across the ridges we had just passed over, some two miles from the scene of their hunting, they halted at their well. To the North of it an almost barren ridge of sand rising to a height of perhaps sixty feet, and running away East and West for possibly ten miles without a break, from the crest of which we could see a limitless sea of ridges as far as the eye could reach to the Northward (a cheerful prospect!), to the South the undulating treeless desert of gravel we had just crossed. Between the foot of the ridge and a stony slope the well was situated — the usual little round hole in the sand — a small patch of roly-poly grass making a slight difference in the appearance of the country immediately surrounding the hole. As well as this roly-poly, we were delighted to see a few scattered plants of parakeelia, and lost no time in unloading and hobbling the camels, who in their turn made all haste to devour this life-giving vegetation.
Camp made, we set to work on the well, sinking our boxes as before, our black friends watching us with evident interest. Presently we heard a shrill call, and, looking up, saw the rest of the family hesitating between curiosity and fear. The old gin reassured them and they approached — a man, a young mother with a baby at the breast, and two more children. There were evidently more not far off who were too timid to come on, as we heard calls from beyond the ridge. This buck was a fine, upstanding fellow, very lithe and strong, though thin and small of bone. Dressed in the fashionable desert costume of nothing at all, excepting a band of string round his forehead, and a similar belt round his waist, from which hung all round him the spoils of the chase, with a spear in one hand and throwing-sticks in the other he looked a queer figure in the setting sun — iguanas and lizards dangling head down from his hair and his waist-string — indeed a novel way of carrying game. His lady followed him with a cooliman under her arm, with a further supply of reptiles and rats.
The whole family established themselves close to us. Their camp had been near the crest of the ridge, but, apparently liking our company, they shifted their household goods, and, starting a fire within twenty yards of us, were soon engaged in cooking and eating their supper. The process of preparing a meal is simple in the extreme. The rats are plucked (for they do not skin the animal, but pluck the hair as we do feathers from a chicken), and thrown on to a pile of hot wood-ashes with no further preparation, and are greedily devoured red and bloody, and but barely warm. A lizard or iguana calls for a further exercise of culinary knowledge. First, a crooked twig is forced down the throat and the inside pulled out, which dainty is thrown to any dog or child that happens to be near; the reptile is then placed on hot coals until distended to the utmost limit that the skin will bear without bursting, then it is placed on ashes less hot, and covered with the same, and after a few minutes is pronounced cooked and ready for the table. The old lady did the cooking, and kept up an incessant chattering and swearing the while. We noticed how kind they were to the poor diseased buck, giving him little tit-bits of half-raw rat's flesh, which he greatly preferred to any food we fed him. They were strange, primitive people, and yet kind and grateful. We anointed the sick man's wounds with tar and oil (a mixture used for mange in camels), and were well rewarded for our unsavoury task by his dog-like looks of satisfaction and thanks. We had ample opportunity to watch them at night, as our well-sinking operations kept us up. They seemed afraid to sleep or lie down, and remained crouching together in their little hollows in the sand until morning. To break the force of the wind, which blew rather chilly, they had set up the usual spinifex fence, and between each little hollow a small fire burnt. The stillness of the night was only broken by the occasional cry of the baby, and this was immediately suppressed by the mother in a novel manner, viz., by biting the infant's ear — a remedy followed by almost immediate success. I beg to recommend this exceedingly effective plan to any of my lady readers whose night's rest is troubled by a teething child — doubtless the husband's bite would have an equally good effect, but the poor baby's ears might suffer from a combination of a strong jaw and a ruffled temper.
What a strange sound — that little picaninny's cry; surrounded as we were by a boundless sea of sand, it made one think how small a speck our party was on the face of the earth; it somehow took one's thoughts back to civilisation and crowded cities, and one felt that it was not just very certain if one would see such things again; and how little it would take to wipe us out, like gnats squashed on a vast window-pane! In the morning we sent the able-bodied man away to hunt, but his interest in us soon overcame his desire for game, and he returned, and presently made himself useful by carrying roots of bushes for our fire, for wood was hard to get, and the nearest tree hardly in sight. I presented the buck with an old pyjama jacket, and a great swell he thought himself too, strutting about and showing himself off to the others. In exchange for numerous articles they gave us, we attached coins round their necks, and on a small round plate, which I cut out of a meat-tin, I stamped my initial and the date, C. 1896. This I fixed on a light nickel chain and hung round the neck of the good-looking young gin, to her intense gratification. It will be interesting to know if ever this ornament is seen again. I only hope some envious tribesman will not be tempted to knock the poor thing on the head to possess himself of this shining necklace.
Amongst their treasures which they carried, wrapped up in bundles of bark and hair, one of the most curious was a pearl oyster-shell, which was worn by the buck as a sporran. Now this shell (which I have in my possession) could only have come from the coast, a distance of nearly five hundred miles, and must have been passed from hand to hand, and from tribe to tribe. Other articles they had which I suppose were similarly traded for, viz., an old iron tent-peg, the lid of a tin matchbox, and a part of the ironwork of a saddle on which the stirrup-leathers hang. This piece of iron was stamped A1; this, I fear, is hardly a sufficient clue from which to trace its origin. Their weapons consisted of spears, barbed and plain, brought to a sharp or broad point; woommeras, throwing-sticks, and boomerangs of several shapes, also a bundle of fire-making implements, consisting of two sticks about two feet long, the one hard and pointed, the other softer, and near one end a round hollow, into which the hard point fits. By giving a rapid rotary movement to the hard stick held upright between the palms of the hands, a spark will before long be generated in the hole in the other stick, which is kept in place on the ground by the feet. By blowing on the spark, a little piece of dried grass, stuck in a nick in the edge of the hollow, will be set alight and the fire obtained.
As a matter of fact this method is not often used, since, when travelling from camp to camp, a firestick or burning brand is carried and replaced when nearly consumed. The gins sometimes carry two of these, one in front and one behind, the flames pointing inwards; and with a baby sitting straddle-legs over their neck and a cooliman under their arms make quite a pretty picture.
Amongst the ornaments and decorations were several sporrans of curious manufacture. Some were made up of tassels formed of the tufts of boody's tails; other tassels were made from narrow strips of dog's skin (with the hair left on) wound round short sticks; others were made in a similar way, of what we conjectured to be bullock's hair. All the tassels were hung on string of opossum or human hair, and two neat articles were fashioned by stringing together red beans [Beans of the Erythrina] set in spinifex gum, and other seeds from trees growing in a more Northerly latitude. This again shows their trading habits. Here, too, were portmanteaus, holding carved sticks of various shapes and patterns, emu-plumes, nose-bones and nose-sticks, plaited bands of hair string, and numerous other odds and ends.
In the evening we watered the camels, and lucky it was that the parakeelia existed, and so satisfied them with its watery juice that they were contented with very little, Satan and Misery not swallowing more than two gallons each. Lucky indeed, because even with another night's work we were only just able to get a sufficient supply to carry us on for a few days, and but for the parakeelia either we or the camels would have had to go short.
We did not completely exhaust the water in the well — not, I fear, because we studied the convenience of the natives, but because our makeshift appliances did not enable us to sink deeper. So we bade adieu to our simple black friends, and set our faces to the sand-ridges. On leaving camp in the morning I found a piece of candle lying on the ground. I threw it to the buck, and he, evidently thinking it good to eat, put it in his mouth, holding the wick in his fingers, and, drawing off the tallow with his teeth, swallowed it with evident relish.