- Category: Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 16
- Written by Edward John Eyre
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March 27. — During the night we travelled slowly over densely scrubby and sandy ridges, occasionally crossing large sheets of oolitic limestone, in which were deep holes that would most likely retain water after rains, but which were now quite dry. As the daylight dawned the dreadful nature of the scrub drove us to the sea beach; fortunately it was low water, and we obtained a firm hard sand to travel over, though occasionally obstructed by enormous masses of sea-weed, thrown into heaps of very many feet in thickness and several hundreds of yards in length, looking exactly like hay cut and pressed ready for packing.
To-day we overtook the natives, whose tracks we had seen so frequently on our route. There was a large party of them, all busily engaged in eating the red berries which grew behind the coast ridge in such vast quantities; they did not appear so much afraid of us as of our horses, at which they were dreadfully alarmed, so that all our efforts to communicate with them were fruitless; they would not come near us, nor would they give us the opportunity of getting near them, but ran away whenever I advanced towards them, though alone and unarmed. During the route I frequently ascended high scrubby ridges to reconnoitre the country inland, but never could obtain a view of any extent, the whole region around appeared one mass of dense impenetrable scrub running down to the very borders of the ocean.
After travelling twenty miles I found that our horses needed rest, and halted for an hour or two during the heat of the day, though without grass, save the coarse wiry vegetation that binds the loose sands together, and without even bushes to afford them shade from the heat, for had we gone into the scrub for shelter we should have lost even the wretched kind of grass we had.
At half past two we again moved onwards, keeping along the beach, but frequently forced by the masses of sea-weed to travel above high water mark in the heavy loose sand. After advancing ten miles the tide became too high for us to continue on the shore, and the scrub prevented our travelling to the back, we were compelled therefore to halt for the night with hardly a blade of grass for our horses. I considered we were now one hundred and two miles from the last water, and expected we had about fifty more to go to the next; the poor animals were almost exhausted, but as the dew was heavy they were disposed to eat had there been grass of any kind for them. The overseer and I as usual watched them alternately, each taking the duty for four hours and sleeping the other four; to me this was the first sleep I had had for the last three nights.
Whilst in camp, during the heat of the day, the native boys shewed me the way in which natives procure water for themselves, when wandering among the scrubs, and by means of which they are enabled to remain out almost any length of time, in a country quite destitute of surface water. I had often heard of the natives procuring water from the roots of trees, and had frequently seen indications of their having so obtained it, but I had never before seen the process actually gone through. Selecting a large healthy looking tree out of the gum-scrub, and growing in a hollow, or flat between two ridges, the native digs round at a few feet from the trunk, to find the lateral roots; to one unaccustomed to the work, it is a difficult and laborious thing frequently to find these roots, but to the practised eye of the native, some slight inequality of the surface, or some other mark, points out to him their exact position at once, and he rarely digs in the wrong place. Upon breaking the end next to the tree, the root is lifted, and run out for twenty or thirty feet; the bark is then peeled off, and the root broken into pieces, six or eight inches long, and these again, if thick, are split into thinner pieces; they are then sucked, or shaken over a piece of bark, or stuck up together in the bark upon their ends, and water is slowly discharged from them; if shaken, it comes out like a shower of very fine rain. The roots vary in diameter from one inch to three; the best are those from one to two and a half inches, and of great length. The quantity of water contained in a good root, would probably fill two-thirds of a pint. I saw my own boys get one-third of a pint out in this way in about a quarter of an hour, and they were by no means adepts at the practice, having never been compelled to resort to it from necessity.
Natives who, from infancy, have been accustomed to travel through arid regions, can remain any length of time out in a country where there are no indications of water. The circumstance of natives being seen, in travelling through an unknown district, is therefore no proof of the existence of water in their vicinity. I have myself observed, that no part of the country is so utterly worthless, as not to have attractions sufficient occasionally to tempt the wandering savage into its recesses. In the arid, barren, naked plains of the north, with not a shrub to shelter him from the heat, not a stick to burn for his fire (except what he carried with him), the native is found, and where, as far as I could ascertain, the whole country around appeared equally devoid of either animal or vegetable life. In other cases, the very regions, which, in the eyes of the European, are most barren and worthless, are to the native the most valuable and productive. Such are dense brushes, or sandy tracts of country, covered with shrubs, for here the wallabie, the opossum, the kangaroo rat, the bandicoot, the leipoa, snakes, lizards, iguanas, and many other animals, reptiles, birds, etc., abound; whilst the kangaroo, the emu, and the native dog, are found upon their borders, or in the vicinity of those small, grassy plains, which are occasionally met with amidst the closest brushes.