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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 11

Embark Stores — Party Leave Streaky Bay — Dense Scrue — Point Brown — Singular Well — Process of Change in Appearance of Country — Dig for Water — Friendly Natives — Extraordinary Rite — Native Guides — Leipoa’s Nest — Denial Bay — Beelimah Gaippe — Kangaroo Killed — More Natives — Berinyana Gaippe — Salt Lakes — Wademar Gaippe — Sandy and Scrubby Country — Mobeela Gaippe — Difficulty of Getting Water — More Natives — Genuine Hospitality — Singular Marks on the Abdomen — Natives Leave the Party — Fowler’s Bay — Excellent Whaling Station.

November 14

November 14. — Upon moving on this morning, we were obliged to keep more to the north to avoid some salt lakes and low swamps near the coast. The natives still accompanied us through a very sandy and scrubby country to a watering place among some sand hills, which they called “Wademar gaippe.” Here we encamped early, after a stage of ten miles, and were enabled to procure abundance of good water, at a depth of about four feet below the surface.

There was a large sheet of salt water near our camp which seemed to be an inlet of the sea, and after a hasty dinner I walked down to examine it. The water generally appeared shallow, but in some places it was very deep; after tracing it for five miles, and going round one end of it, I found no junction with the sea, though the fragments of shells and other marine remains, clearly shewed that there must have been a junction at no very remote period. The sand hummocks between the lake and the sea being very high, I ascended them to take bearings, and then returning to the lake halted, with the black boy who had accompanied me, to bathe, and rest ourselves. The weather was most intensely hot, and our walk had been long and fatiguing, amongst sand hills under a noonday sun. We fully appreciated the luxury of a swim, and especially as we were lucky enough to find a hole of fresh water on the edge of the lake, to slake our parching thirst. Ducks, teal, and pigeons were numerous, and the recent traces of natives apparent everywhere. It was after sunset when we returned, tired and weary, to our camp.

November 15

November 15. — In the morning we started as early as possible to get the stage over before the great heat of the day came on, still accompanied and guided by the friendly natives, who took us through the best and most open line of country. At six miles we entered a very dense scrub, leaving to the north of us, several patches of open plains; to the north-east were seen the smokes of several fires. The natives had told us that there was water out in that direction, at a short day’s journey; but, as they did not wish us to go to it, I inferred that they thought there was not enough to satisfy our party, having now frequently seen how great was the supply we required at each encampment. I was myself of the opinion that a hole probably existed to the north-east similar to the one we had found in the plains behind Point Brown, where the access is difficult, and the quantity procurable at any one time not very great. The scrub we had traversed to-day was principally of salt-water tea-tree, growing upon a succession of steep sandy ridges, which presented a formidable barrier to the progress of the drays; the distance to be accomplished was not above fourteen miles; but so difficult was the nature of the country, and so oppressive the heat, that, notwithstanding our very early start, it was four o’clock in the afternoon before we arrived at the place of destination, which was called by the natives, “Mobeela gaippe.” The horses and men were greatly fatigued, but for the latter, the labours of the day were far from being over, for, upon arriving at the place where the water was to be procured, I found that the holes, sunk by the natives, were through ridges of a loose sand to a depth of fourteen or fifteen feet, at the bottom of which, water was obtained in very small quantities. There were several of these holes still open, and the traces of many others in every direction around, which had either fallen in or been filled up by the drifting of the sand. These singular wells, although sunk through a loose sand to a depth of fourteen or fifteen feet, were only about two feet in diameter at the bore, quite circular, carried straight down, and the work beautifully executed. To get at the water, the natives placed a long pole against one side of the well, ascending and descending by it to avoid friction against the sides, which would have inevitably sent the sand tumbling in upon them. We, however, who were so much clumsier in all our movements, could not make use of the same expedient, nor indeed, would the size of the wells, made by the natives, have enabled us even with their assistance, to get out a moderate supply for the horses. It became necessary, therefore, to open a new well, of much larger dimensions, a task of no easy kind in so loose a sand.

Having put the overseer and men to their arduous employment, I ascended the highest of the sand hills, and took a set of angles, among which Point Fowler bore W. 16 degrees S. and Point Bell, E. 40 degrees S.

A small lake was visible at W. 40 degrees N. The country still looked very cheerless in every direction, and no signs of improvement appeared to relieve the dreary scene around, or to lead me to hope for better country beyond.

Upon rejoining the well diggers, I found after great exertions they had thrown out an immense quantity of sand, and made a large and commodious well, and were just going to commence watering the horses; at this juncture and before a single bucket of water could be taken out, the sand slipped, and the sides of the well tumbled in, nearly burving alive the man who was at the bottom. The labour of two hours was lost, and tired as they were, the men had to begin their work afresh. It was eight at night before the well was cleared out again sufficiently to enable us to water the horses, for almost as fast as the sand was thrown out other sand fell in; by nine the whole of them had received two buckets of water each, when the sides of the well again shot in, and we were obliged to give up our digging operations altogether, as the men were completely exhausted; to relieve them Mr. Scott and I watched the horses during the night.

November 16

November 16. — Intending to remain in camp to-day, I set the men to clear out the well once more. It was a tedious and laborious task, in consequence of the banks of sand falling in so repeatedly, and frustrating all their efforts, but at last by sinking a large cask bored full of auger holes we contrived about one o’clock, to get all the horses and sheep watered; in the evening, however, the whole again fell in, and we gave up, in despair, the hopeless attempt to procure any further supply of water, under such discouraging circumstances.

For some days past, we had been travelling through a country in which the Mesembryanthemum grows in the greatest abundance, it was in full fruit, and constituted a favourite and important article of food among the native population; all our party partook of it freely, and found it both a wholesome and an agreeable addition to their fare; when ripe, the fruit is rich, juicy, and sweet, of about the size of a gooseberry. In hot weather it is most grateful and refreshing. I had often tasted this fruit before, but never until now liked it; in fact, I never in any other part of Australia, saw it growing in such abundance, or in so great perfection, as along the western coast. During our stay in camp a native had been sent out to call some of the other natives, and towards evening a good many came up, and were all regularly introduced to us by ‘Wilguldy’ and the others, who had been with us so long; I gave them a feast of rice which they appeared to enjoy greatly. Our more immediate friends and guides had learnt to drink tea, and eat meat and damper, with which we supplied them liberally, in return for the valuable services they rendered us.

November 17

November 17. — Moving on early, we were guided by the natives for about twelve miles, round the head of Fowler’s Bay, crossing through a very sandy, scrubby, and hilly country, and encamping at a water hole, dug between the sandy ridges, about two o’clock in the day. I had ridden a little in advance of the party, and arriving at the water first, surprised some women and children encamped there, and very busily engaged in roasting snakes and lizards over a fire. They were much afraid and ran away on seeing me, leaving their food upon the embers, this our friendly guides unceremoniously seized upon and devoured, as soon as they came up with the drays. These few women were the first we had seen for some time, as the men appeared to keep them studiously out of our way, and it struck me that this might be in consequence of the conduct of the whalers or sealers with whom they might have come in contact on the coast. Old Wilguldy, however, appeared to be less scrupulous on this point, and frequently made very significant offers on the subject.

Soon after we had encamped several natives came up and joined those with us. They were exceedingly polite and orderly — indeed the best conducted, most obliging natives I ever met with — never troubling or importuning for any thing, and not crowding around in that unmannerly disagreeable manner, which savages frequently adopt — nor did I ever find any of them guilty of theft; on the contrary, several times when we had left some article behind, they called to us, and pointed it out. To them we were indebted for the facilities we had enjoyed in obtaining water; for without their guidance, we could never have removed from any encampment without previously ascertaining where the next water could be procured; and to have done this would have caused us great delay, and much additional toil. By having them with us we were enabled to move with confidence and celerity; and in following their guidance we knew that we were taking that line of route which was the shortest, and the best practicable under the circumstances. Upon arriving at any of the watering places to which they had conducted us, they always pointed out the water, and gave it up to us entirely, no longer looking upon it as their own, and literally not taking a drink from it themselves when thirsty, without first asking permission from us. Surely this true politeness — this genuine hospitality of the untutored savage, may well put to the blush, for their exclusiveness and illiberality, his more civilised brethren. In how strong a light does such simple kindness of the inhabitant of the wilds to Europeans travelling through his country (when his fears are not excited or his prejudices violated,) stand contrasted with the treatment he experiences from them when they occupy his country, and dispossess him of his all.

There were now a considerable number of natives with us, all of whom had been subjected to the singular ceremony before described. Those we had recently met with, had, in addition, a curious brand, or mark on the stomach, extending above and below the navel, and produced by the application of fire. I had previously noticed a similar mark in use among one or two tribes high up on the Murray River, (South Australia,) and which is there called “Renditch.” At the latter place, however, the brand was on the breast, here it was on the stomach. I have never been able to account in any way for the origin or meaning of this mark; but it is doubtless used as a feature of distinction, or else why should it only be found in one or two tribes and so far apart, had it been accidental or arisen from lying near or upon the fires in cold weather, every individual of certain tribes would not have been affected, and some individuals of every tribe would: now, the first, as far as my experience enabled me to judge, is the case; but the latter most assuredly is not. Both at the Murray, and near Fowler’s Bay, the natives always told me, that the marks were made by fire, though how, or for what purpose, I could never learn at either place.

November 18

November 18. — Our horses being all knocked up, and many of them having their shoulders severely galled by the racking motion of the drays winding up and down the heavy sandy ridges, or in and out of the dense scrubs, I determined to remain for some time in depot to recover them, whilst I reconnoitred the country to the west, as far as the head of the great Australian Bight. To leave my party in the best position I could, I sent the overseer round Point Fowler to see if there was any better place for the horses in that direction, and to communicate with the master of the Waterwitch on the subject of landing our stores. Upon the overseer’s return, he reported that there was fresh water under Point Fowler, but very little grass; that he had not been able to communicate with the cutter, the wind being unfavourable and violent, and the cutter’s boat on board, but they had noticed him, and shewn their colours; he said, moreover, that the vessel was lying in a very exposed situation, and did not appear at all protected by Point Fowler, which, as she was not well found in ground-tackle, might possibly occasion her being driven ashore, if a gale came on from the south-east. This news was by no means satisfactory, and I became anxious to get our things all landed that the cutter might go to a place of greater safety.

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