Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia/Chapter 2

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Editor's Remarks—Start from Blanchewater—The Outfit—A Desert: Two of the Party nearly Lost—Arrival and Halt at Lake Hope or Pando—Many Natives, Friendly—Lakes Camel, Poole, and Siva, or Perigundi—Rumours of a White Man having died at Cooper's Creek—Lake Buchanan, or Cudgeecudgeena—October 18th, McKinlay starts for Cooper's Creek.

The expedition now quits the furthest of the pastoral stations, Mr. Baker's, called Blanchewater. The travellers do not immediately enter upon uninhabited wilds, for after two days' march and twenty-seven miles of progress, they are only at one of Mr. Baker's out-stations, thus giving us some idea of the extent occasionally necessary to an Australian squattage in parts where the country is poor, and subject for most of the summer to those excessive droughts that altogether suspend the growth of pasture. From Blanchewater, for about fifty miles to Pando or Lake Hope, the country was so sterile and water so scarce, that all the animals suffered more or less, and ten days were spent at the lake in recruiting.


About Lake Hope commences a country of a different and rather remarkable kind. We may call it the lake district. The soil is generally clayey, hard and baked in hot dry weather, but only requiring rain to cover it with grass, which in many parts is most luxuriant. This is particularly the case with hollow parts of the surface, natural indentations apparently, which, with adequate rains, are converted into temporary lakes, and at other times are so many natural meadows luxuriant with long grass. Occasionally the soil is impregnated with saline or bitter particles, which are not tasted when the lakes are fresh filled by the rain, but which after a large evaporation render the diminished waters quite undrinkable. The rate of evaporation in these open plains, under a hot sun, and in the strong winds that often sweep the surface, is almost incredible. The party go on to Lake Buchanan, where a depôt is formed for some time, until some additional provisions are brought up by a detachment sent back for that purpose, and Mr. McKinlay has made his proposed search for Burke's missing expedition. Here he is already in the latitude of Cooper's Creek, and about sixty miles to the westward of it.

They are now in a region that seems full of the aboriginal natives, and in fact full of life of every kind, where water, that great and precariosly supplied requisite of Australia, is abundant. The lakes seem full of fish, even when from their shallow appearance they can hardly be supposed to have water permanently. Mr. McKinlay subsequently alludes to the natives catching in these lakes or the creeks connected with them, the cat-fish of the Murray and the nombre of the Darling, as well as the brown perch, and what he thought a small cod. The natives were generally friendly, excepting on the occasion of Mr. McKinlay's search excursion to Lake Massacre, which we shall come to in another chapter. We leave Mr. Davis to tell of the everlasting troubles with the quadrupeds of the expedition's diversified menagerie.

Sept. 24th, 1861. Left Blanchewater this morning, and proceeded to a small creek some few miles further on. And now we are fairly off; no more haunts of civilized man! Let the gentle and I trust patient reader take his parallel ruler, scale, and protractor, and accompany us to the Leichhardt River. Down it also for 100 miles if he pleases, then through or over—or by any other means he chooses to adopt—the Burdekin ranges, including a swim through waters where alligators most do congregate, and on to Port Denison; thence in that terrible smack, "Ben Bolt," twenty-five days to Rockhampton, 300 miles only, with nothing to eat but bottled porter. Those gentlemen from "Heligo's Isle," had a cheerful trip, in point of fact a yachting excursion, in comparison, Hyperion to a satyr; but as Sairey Gamp justly observes, "I never likes to protigipate," so I will now my round unvarnished tale deliver.

25th. Our stock consists of twenty-four horses, twelve bullocks, one hundred sheep, and last, though not least, four camels: had we taken the sage advice of our clerical friend who left us for the Burra, our stock would also have been added to, in the shape of fowls, which he told Mr. McKinlay would add greatly to our comfort, as we should then be able to obtain new laid eggs for breakfast. Of course we must wait in the desert while the said fowls were nidifying, horses and camels already packed. Fancy explorers who expect to meet with no end of difficulties, bothering themselves with fowls!

Accompanied now by Mr. Elder and Mr. Stuckey, who was the first to explore beyond this as far as Lake Hope, to which lake we are now bound. Cracks of the stock whip, and clouds of dust denote a mob of cattle for the station; no doubt some of the men who were driving them looked on us as for the last time. It was a dreary walk for the men with the camels, a great part of the way through sand. Mr. McKinlay, with camels and sheep, arrived at a small creek with some large water-holes in it at 5·30 The horses were nowhere to be seen, which is very annoying. They had mistaken the creek that Mr. McKinlay intended camping at, and continued travelling until nightfall, when they came to a halt, and had some difficulty in unpacking one or two of the horses, and the night dark. Start and arrive at Mr. Baker's out-station, Toonkitchen. Mr. McKinlay with the camels, arrived also about 4 p.m., the cart at nightfall.

26th. On the following morning two horses got into a deep creek and hobbled they were at the time; got them out however, and packed and proceeded to the last hut in the settled districts, Manawankanina, distance about sixteen miles.

27th. Made an early start across the Fifty Miles' Desert, and there certainly could not have been found a more appropriate name. We travelled twenty-five miles the first day. Each man one quart of water, which we had in leather bags and tin canteens on the camels and horses, the remainder we buried for the bullocks when they came up next morning. Our leader remained behind with the bullocks, their driver, and two blacks. Had to watch the horses all night, or they would certainly have rambled in search of water. When at length they did see it, in they went, packs and all, and we were all parched with thirst travelling over nothing but hot sand. The sheep came in the morning early, and shortly after Mr. McKinlay came in with the bullocks, minus one, who went mad and rushed at Peter, a native, and had it not been for the canteen on his back, his doom was sealed. We were obliged to leave the bullock in the desert, but whether he ever returned to the settled districts or no, remains in obscurity. After the bullocks had refreshed themselves with a good long drink and plenty to eat, they, with Bell and Peter, returned to join the cart, which they came up with early the following morning.

28th. We had filled the mussocks ready for a start at daylight, and the four camels laden with water started at 5 a.m., Middleton and Hodgkinson in charge. They delivered their loads, and intended returning again, but unfortunately lost the tracks; and, after wandering about for two days, became so much exhausted, and the weather so frightfully hot, not having had a taste of water during that time, that death seemed inevitable. They took some loads off the camels which they had taken from the cart to lighten the beasts, and lashed themselves on their backs, which eventually turned out to be the means of saving their lives; for when these animals found themselves free, they immediately turned their tails southward, and after travelling all night our two companions' eyes were greeted with the sight of a beautiful sheet of water. They unlashed themselves, and when the camels arrived at the lake they jumped off and rolled into the water. After they had quenched their thirst, some natives came and brought them some fish, and treated them very kindly, and one accompanied them to our camp, about six or seven miles, and very happy indeed we were to see them return, for great doubts were entertained of ever seeing them again. Very weak and ill they looked; McKinlay out all the morning in search of them, and rejoiced he was to find them stretched out in the tent, and gradually improving.

We had meanwhile safely found our way to this water, Lake Hope, where we halted some time to recruit. Hodgkinson found himself so much improved that he and Davis started after the stores that had been left behind, and returned in the evening, having succeeded in finding the camel tracks. Had these stores been lost, we should have missed them very much—some 200 lb. of bacon, etc., which came in very handy afterwards. The natives who showed our missing comrades the way to the camp were rewarded—tomahawk, blanket, etc. Middleton slowly recovering.

Oct. 8th. Lake Hope abounds in fish, and any quantity of wild fowl. Took the shoes off the horses, and stuffed pack-saddles afresh, started from Pando Lake Camp, at 9·20, and found another


beautiful lake (Camel, see illustration), named by Mr. McKinlay.

9th. Went round the western side of the lake. Peter and Sambo absconded after getting shirts, etc.; had to retrace our steps, having mistaken the dry top of a creek for a lake. Started about 7 a.m. and crossed creek.

11th. Mr. McKinlay started on the 11th with two camels, Mr. Middleton, and a native, with provisions and water, for whites said to be in the interior; they saw about 200 natives, apparently friendly. Horses rambled away about ten miles but were brought back again in the afternoon. Short hobbled them and went to roost. Shifted camp in the morning to better water, which the leader has named Poole's Pond, after Bobby Poole, one of the party. Plenty of natives about, but quite friendly. Wild ducks in numbers. Sewed a couple of sheepskins on the packs to prevent them from chafing. The skins, as we killed the sheep, came in very useful.

12th. Two of the bullocks missing; the driver went after them, and did not return till late the following day; they had gone back as far as Lake Hope. The water at the lake Mr. McKinlay found while he was out scouring the country is very bad indeed, in fact almost undrinkable; fortunately we had some other in our canteens. Water the horses from a canvas trough, as the sides of the lake were too boggy for them to go in. We did not finish till 9 p.m.

13th. Bullocks having again strayed we spelled on the 13th. Mr. McKinlay and Mr. Hodgkinson went out scouting, and returned about 4 p.m.

14th. Lake "Siva," named after the fierce camel, or "Perigundi" Lake, the native name. In the afternoon natives, both men and women, came to our camp, and were curious to see anything there; but on their departure we discovered that an axe was missing.

15th. This evening the watch (which was regularly kept) was surprised by a native coming to the camp alone; and what, reader, would you imagine was the cause of his midnight trip? Only to bring back the axe that one of his tribe had stolen. The old man then quietly took leave, saying he would return in the morning. His name was Mooticlina, esto perpetua! Henceforth we must not say that there is no honour among the aborigines.

16th. In the morning some natives came near the camp, and presently the old man arrived. Mr. McKinlay gave the women some beads and fishhooks, which pleased them much; to the old man for his honesty a tomahawk, a thing more prized by these children of the desert than any other. Started, passing north-west of lake. Cleared the timber that surrounds it and commenced ascending sand hills very soft, high, and steep, then through flooded flats with box and polygonum. Distance travelled about eight and a half miles to Kierie Creek, and camped at water-hole. (Name "Wantula Depôt.")

17th. Remained here to-day, preparing for Mr. McKinlay's start for Cooper's Creek, where, as the black fellows say, "white man sit down" (die). They take with them stores, and some little creature comforts, in case they find the poor fellow alive, such as arrowroot, coffee, chocolate, etc. Mr. McKinlay takes the four camels with him, also two men and a native, who seems to know all about the "white fellow." Here we opened the store of recuperated sausages, 200 lb., and found them, to our sorrow, nearly all bad, one tin quite rotten and had to be thrown away there and then. We missed them much, as the sequel will show. The remainder we have hung on lines, hoping they might improve by the process. Thermometer to-day 122°.

18th. Mr. McKinlay and party before-mentioned off this morning, to find the truth of the report of the native, and whether the white man was still alive; and they take with them our best wishes for their success of course.

We must take from McKinlay's journal as the writer was not personally with him (be it known that it is with his permission), but the book would not be complete were we to omit any incident that occurred during the journey. We will now leave the detachment under McKinlay and proceed with a short detail of what took place in the interim.

After the party left us, we remained at Kierie Creek, expecting to remain there as a depôt camp till Mr. McKinlay's return. Lots of natives camped here on our arrival, but left with the detachment, and we saw no more of them till the following afternoon, when a "lubra" (English, a wife) arrived with a letter from the leader, ordering us to go to a lake about nine or ten miles further on. She was accompanied by three or four lubras and several men, and appeared as friendly as possible.

Being too late to proceed there to-night, got everything ready for an early start in the morning; and glad we were of it, for McKinlay had ordered us to clear all the bushes away round the camp for the space of two or three hundred yards, and with the thermometer at 124°, I think, dear reader, you will coincide with me, when I say we were delighted to have to move camp to a fine lake, as the next intended depôt was represented to be.

A magnificent night, the moon shining as if she were idle, or had nothing else to do, and the clear blue of the Australian sky; all Nature


seemed to be at rest except ourselves. We woke the echoes of the night with many a song of home, and love, and blighted hopes.

20th. Strike camp, with the natives for our guides, at 5 a.m., thermometer 59° in the tent. We started at 7.30 a.m.; we crossed a succession of sand hills, afterwards well-grassed, flooded flats, and arrived at Cudgeecudgeena, about 10 a.m., passing a dry lake in our way. Mr. McKinlay has called this Lake Cudgeecudgeena, "Lake Buchanan," after Mr. Buchanan, of Anlaby, the gentleman who showed us such kindness on the way out, and a small hill, on the south-west side of it, he has named "Anlaby," after Mr. Buchanan's station.

The day was fearfully hot, the dry, hot sand piercing the boots of those who were obliged to walk; it was fearful, and made one and all of us unfit for work: nevertheless we were obliged to build a sheep-yard, and, the timber not being very close, it proved a much longer job than we approved of. Quite knocked up, and too tired to put the tents up, slept with mother earth for our bed, and the canopy of heaven for our tent. We kept watch, however, but each man was right glad when his two hours' guard was over.

Lake Cudgeecudgeena is very pretty from our camp, the water beautifully clear, with belts of timber all round; the pelican, ducks, geese, and other water-fowls, are here in thousands on its bosom. Rising above the timber, opposite our tents, are seen sand hills covered with salt-bushes. On the south-west rises Anlaby Hill; it is a pretty spot. Perhaps, reader, it appears pretty to us after so much desert, and only a little pool or so. Here is an immense sheet of water, ten to fifteen miles round; place yourself in our position, and perhaps then you would appreciate it as we did.

This is to be our depôt camp, and we shall remain here some time, how long we cannot say, till Mr. McKinlay comes back from his trip to find the "White fellow what sit down along water." This word the natives use almost indiscriminately.