- Category: John McDouall Stuart - Sixth Expedition
- Written by John McDouall Stuart
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Friday, 10th October, The Taylor. Last night, a little before sundown, until after dark, we were amused by a farce enacted by the natives, apparently to keep us quiet and render us powerless, while they approached the water hole and got what water they required. They commenced at some distance off, raising a heavy black smoke, (by setting fire to the spinifex), and calling out most lustily at the top of their voices. As the sun got lower I had the party prepared for an attack; on they came, the fire rolling before them. We could now occasionally see them; one was an old man with a very powerful voice, who seemed to be speaking some incantations, with the most dreadful howl I ever heard in my life, resembling a man suffering the extremes of torture; he was assisted in his horrid yell by some women. As the evening got darker and they were within one hundred and fifty yards of us, and nearly opposite our camp, the scene was very pretty--in fact grand. In the foreground was our camp equipment with the party armed, ready to repel an attack. On the opposite side of the creek was a long line of flames, some mounting high in the air, others kept at a low flickering light. In the midst of the flames the natives appeared to be moving about, performing all sorts of antics; behind them came the old man with his women. At every high flame he seemed to be performing some mysterious spell, still yelling in the former horrid tone, turning and twisting his body and legs and arms into all sorts of shapes. They appeared like so many demons, dancing, sporting, and enjoying themselves in the midst of flames. At last they and their fire reached the water hole after continuing this horrid noise for nearly two hours without intermission; as soon as they came in sight of the water, those in front rushed down into it, satisfied themselves, filled their troughs and bags, except the old man, who kept up his howl until he was stopped by a drink of water. This seemed to satisfy them, for they went off from us about three quarters of a mile and camped, I suppose thinking they had done great things in keeping us so quiet. Shortly after this something started the horses which made them all rush together. I kept the party under arms till nine o'clock p.m. and then, everything appearing to be quiet, I sent them all to bed except the one on guard. The natives were quiet during the night. This morning the blacks watched us collecting the horses and watering them; they then very quietly slipped down to the water, filled their troughs, etc., and in about half an hour went off and left us in possession of the water. They must certainly think we are very much to be frightened by fire and a great noise, or they would never have come in the way they did last night; they would have been rather surprised had they attacked us, to find that we could both speak and injure by fire. I am better pleased that they went away quietly; it is far from my wish to injure one of them if they will let me pass peaceably through. About two o'clock p.m. Thring returned; he had examined up the Hanson, but could not find a drop of water, either on the surface or by digging. On his return to where he had left the two men to dig, he found there would not be enough water for the whole party, as it came in so slowly; it is on the top of hard burnt sandstone; he therefore came on to inform me of the result, leaving the two men still there. They had been visited by the natives, who appeared to be inclined to be rather unfriendly at first, but on showing them they were welcome to use the water as well as the party, they became friendly, and came over night and morning to fill their troughs and bags. They pointed to the south-south-east, and made signs, by digging with a scoop, that there was water in that direction, but how far he could not make out. This is a sad disappointment to me. I dare not move the party on to where they are digging, there is too little water. To-morrow morning I must send Thring and King on to Anna Reservoir to see if there is any there; if that is dry I shall be locked in until rain falls, and that may not be before the equinox, in March, a very dismal prospect to look forward to. I shall start Thring and King to-morrow morning; they will reach where the diggers are to-morrow night, and will rest their horses there on Sunday. On Monday morning start for Anna Reservoir--King, with a pack-horse carrying water, will go on one day with Thring. The water to be given to Thring's horse night and morning. Thring will proceed to the Reservoir. King will return to the diggers with the empty bags, have them filled, and next morning start with fresh horses and the water to meet Thring on his return in case the Reservoir is dry; this is the only way that I see it can be done. I now begin to feel the want of my health dreadfully. Although Thring is a good bushman and does his best, poor fellow, yet he wants experience and maturer judgment; he has had hard work of it lately, but he is always ready to start again at any moment that I wish. Wind, south-east. A few light clouds about.