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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 9

November 9. — Upon mustering the horses this morning I found they were looking so exhausted and jaded after the hard toil they had gone through in the last three days, that I could not venture to put them to work again to-day. I was consequently obliged to remain in camp, to rest both them and the men, all of whom were much fatigued. The well in the sand was even salter to-day than we had found it yesterday, and was quite unserviceable; the men had sunk the hole rather too deep, that they might get the water in greater abundance; but when the tide rose it flowed in under the sand and spoiled the whole. As the water, even at the best, had been so salt that we could not use it ourselves, and as it was far from being wholesome for the horses, I did not think it worth while to give the men the fatigue of digging another hole. I therefore put both horses and men upon a limited allowance, and got a cask containing sixty gallons from the cutter for our day’s supply. I also took the opportunity of again lightening our loads by sending on board some more of the baggage and the light cart. This, by decreasing the number of our teams, would, I thought, enable me to change the horses occasionally in the others, and give me an extra man to assist in clearing a road through the scrub, Having completed my arrangements, I sent on the Waterwitch to the north-east part of Denial Bay, to land water there, as I did not expect to get any until our arrival at Point Peter. Mr. Scott accompanied the cutter, having expressed a wish to take a trip in her for a few days.

During the forenoon we were visited by a party of natives, who came to get water at the hole in the sand. They were not much alarmed, and soon became very friendly, remaining near us all night; from them I learned that there was no water inland, and none along the coast for two days’ journey, after which we should come to plenty, at a place called by them “Beelimah Gaip-pe;.” Their language was nearly the same as that of Port Lincoln, intermixed with a few words in use at King George’s Sound, and I now regretted greatly that I had not the Western Australian native with me.

I found a most singular custom prevailing among the natives of this part of the country, which I had never found to exist anywhere else (except at Port Lincoln), and the origin of which it would be most difficult to account for. In various parts of Australia some of the tribes practise the rite of circumcision, whilst others do not; but in the Port Lincoln peninsula, and along the coast to the westward, the natives not only are circumcised, but have in addition another most extraordinary ceremonial. [Note 24: Finditus usque ad urethram a parte infera penis.] Among the party of natives at the camp I examined many, and all had been operated upon. The ceremony with them seemed to have taken place between the ages of twelve and fourteen years, for several of the boys of that age had recently undergone the operation, the wounds being still fresh and inflamed. This extraordinary and inexplicable custom must have a great tendency to prevent the rapid increase of the population; and its adoption may perhaps be a wise ordination of Providence, for that purpose, in a country of so desert and arid a character as that which these people occupy.

November 10

November 10. — Getting the party away about five o’clock this morning, I persuaded one of the natives, named “Wilguldy,” an intelligent cheerful old man, to accompany us as a guide, and as an inducement, had him mounted on a horse, to the great admiration and envy of his fellows, all of whom followed us on foot, keeping up in a line with the dray through the scrub, and procuring their food as they went along, which consisted of snakes, lizards, guanas, bandicoots, rats, wallabies, etc. etc. and it was surprising to see the apparent ease with which, in merely walking across the country, they each procured an abundant supply for the day.

In one place in the scrub we came to a large circular mound of sand, about two feet high, and several yards in circumference; this they immediately began to explore, carefully throwing away the sand with their hands from the centre, until they had worked down to a deep narrow hole, round the sides of which, and embedded in the sand, were four fine large eggs of a delicate pink colour, and fully the size of a goose egg. I had often seen these hills before, but did not know that they were nests, and that they contained so valuable a prize to a traveller in the desert. The eggs were presented to me by the natives, and when cooked were of a very rich and delicate flavour. The nest was that of a wild pheasant, (Leipoa), a bird of the size of a hen pheasant of England, and greatly resembling it in appearance and plumage; these birds are very cautious and shy, and run rapidly through the underwood, rarely flying unless when closely pursued. The shell of the egg is thin and fragile, and the young are hatched entirely by the heat of the sun, scratching their way out as soon as they are born, at which time they are able to shift for themselves. [Note 25: For a further account of the LEIPOA, vide CHAPTER III. of Notes on the Aborigines.]

Our road to-day was through a heavy sandy country, covered for the most part densely with the eucalyptus and tea-tree. About eleven we struck the south-east corner of Denial Bay, and proceeded on to the north-east, where I had appointed the cutter to meet me. To my surprise she was not to be seen anywhere, and I began to get anxious about our supply of water for the horses, as we were entirely dependant upon her for it. In the afternoon I observed the vessel rounding into the south-east bight of the bay, and was obliged to send my overseer on horseback a long ride round the bay, to tell the master to send us water to the place of our encampment. He had been to the island of St. Peter yesterday looking for birds’ eggs, and having neglected to take advantage of a fair wind, was not now able to get the cutter up to us. The water had consequently to be brought in the boat a distance of eight miles through a heavy sea, and at considerable risk. Mr. Scott, who came with the master in the boat, returned on board again in the evening. Our stage to-day had been eighteen miles, and the horses were both tired and thirsty. The small supply of water brought us in the boat being insufficient for them, we again were obliged to watch them at night.

November 11

November 11. — Guided by our friend “Wilguldy,” we cut off all the corners and bends of the coast, and steering straight for “Beelimah Gaippe,” arrived there about noon, after a stage of twelve miles; the road was harder and more open, but still in places we had to pass through a very dense brush. The water to which the native took us was procured by digging about four feet deep, in a swamp behind the coast hummocks, which were here high and bare, and composed of white sand. The water was abundant and good, and the grass tolerable, so that I determined to remain a day to rest and recruit the horses; it was so rarely that we had the opportunity of procuring both grass and water. The dogs killed a kangaroo, which enabled us to give our guide an abundant feast of food, to which he had been accustomed; but to do the old man justice, I must say he was not very scrupulous about his diet, for he ate readily of any thing that we offered him.

After we had encamped some more natives came up and joined us from the vicinity of Point Peter, which lay a few miles to the east of us; they were known to those who had accompanied us, and were very friendly and well conducted. To many inquiries about water inland, they all assured me that there was none to be found in that direction; but said that there was water further along the coast called “Berinyana gaippe,” and only one day’s journey from our present encampment.

November 12

November 12. — I sent the overseer this morning to communicate with the cutter, and to request the master to fill up as much water as he could, preparatory to our moving onwards to Fowler’s Bay. In the evening the overseer returned, accompanied by Mr. Scott, to acquaint me that the water near Point Peter was a considerable distance from the vessel; and that it would be impracticable to fill up all the casks, with no other means than they had at command.

I took the sun’s altitude, at noon, for latitude; but the day was windy, and the mercury shook so much that I could not depend upon the observation within three or four miles. It gave nearly 32 degrees 10 seconds S. which I thought too much to the northward. The sun set by compass W. 24 1/2 degrees S.

November 13

November 13. — Guided by the natives, we moved onward through a densely scrubby country, and were again obliged to keep the men with axes constantly at work, in advance of the drays to clear the road. Our progress was necessarily slow, and the work very harassing to the horses; fortunately the stage was not a very long one, and in fourteen miles we reached “Berinyana gaippe,” a small hole dug by the natives, amongst the sand hummocks of the coast, a little north of Point Bell. By enlarging this a little, we procured water in great abundance and of excellent quality. Our course had been generally west by south; and from our camp, the eastern extreme of Point Bell, bore S. 28 degrees W., and the centre of the “Purdies Islands” E. 49 degrees S.