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Title: Pioneering Days: Thrilling Incidents
Author: George Sutherland (1855-1905)
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eBook No.: 0701081.txt
Language:  English
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Title: Pioneering Days: Thrilling Incidents
Author: George Sutherland  (1855-1905)



Across the Wilds of Queensland with Sheep
to the Northern Territory in the Early Sixties

BRISBANE
W. H. WENDT & Coy. Ltd, Printers
1913




I


Few of the early pioneers of Western and North-Western Queensland are
now in the land of the living, and to collate any reminiscences of the
distant past, of men and matters--the dangers and hardships they
underwent through, droughts and floods, savage blacks, hunger and
thirst, &c., &c.--may be of interest to many readers of the present day
and to certain extent illustrate the hard conditions of life in the wild
regions at that period.

The aim of our party was to buy sheep and start with them in quest of
new country. At that time there was a big rush for runs if the quality
of the country was at all favourable. When two or more discovered the
same piece of country a race took place between them to Brisbane, as the
first applicant's tender secured the country. It was no joke to ride
hundreds of miles and then a slow boat trip, perhaps, to Brisbane, but
the hot fever of securing runs was rampant and traveling magnificent
distances no object so long as the land was safely secured.

Alas! Sad to relate that a few years after the rush and a crash came, a
depression previously unequalled in Queensland, when stock and wool
dropped to zero, causing ruination to thousands of graziers, in all
parts of the colony, and especially to those far inland. Bad enough to
have to endure the hard and dangerous life even if a fortune was in
sight; but to struggle on from year to year and then have to bow to the
inevitable--after all their pluck, energy and endurance--was intensely
crude and galling.

By the people of the present generation there is not much thought given
towards the old explorers and pioneers. To them it is oblivious old
times, and may say, "What fools they were to risk life and limb to
penetrate the wild wilderness; was it not with the view of advancing
their own interest." Yes for a certain extent just as the gold digger
tramps out beyond civilization in the hope of discovering a new Eldorado
or like the mariner voyaging away into unknown seas hoping for his
adventures to drop across a new and profitable land. The world to-day
would be much poorer only for those brave adventurers by land or sea.



II


In the later end of '63 our boss bought some 8000 sheep in the vicinity
of Rockhampton: horses, drays, stores, &c.--a general outfit--and a
start made Northwards, across Connor's Range, by Colloray and Nebo and
thence on to Suttor Creek Station. This run was owned then by Kirk and
Sutherland and carried a few thousand sheep, having been stocked some
two years previously. Here a halt was made to lamb and shear and cart
the wool down to Port Mackay, some 130 miles distant. Nothing eventful
happened between Rockhampton and Suttor Creek, the country intervening
being pretty well occupied right through. The writer afterwards came
over from Melbourne to join the party, and landed in Rockhampton in the
beginning of the big '64 flood. Rockhampton was then but a small hamlet,
and owing to the heavy rain the streets and roads were in a fearful
condition. Bullock teams from Peak Downs and Springsure way were bogged
in rows in the streets, and the whip cracking and lurid language of the
"bullockies" made the township a little inferno. Then the drinking and
rowdiness made night hideous. The few police had not much chance in
coping with so many, all vieing with each other to turn the town red.

In the middle of the '64 flood the writer left Rockhampton for Port
Mackay (or the Pioneer River, as the place was then generally called) in
a small, cranky steamer named the "Diamantina" (Captain Champion.) She
took some four days to reach Mackay. The old tub was slow, and the rough
weather and head winds made her slower. However "all's well that ends
well," and we were very glad that we "ended" at all--on land.

Mackay then, of course, was a very small place. There was a very thick
jungle in places, and the river bank a mass of mangroves. Here I met the
teams from Suttor Creek--the stations' teams and our party's teams down
with wool and loaded with supplies for the up journey, also a team
belonging to Anderson and Trimble, who were also spelling on Suttor Creek
to shear and lamb. (Afterwards they took up Crowfels on the Lower Flinders,
and many years afterwards Trimble owned Magour, lower down the down the
Gulf). This loading was to be our last supply till settled down--here or
when we did not know. As it happened eventually, many hundreds of miles
from Suttor Creek, and many a long month on the road to our final
stopping place. All the people on Suttor Creek were out of rations, so
the teams would be anxiously looked for, but owing to the fearfully
heavy rain it was no joke in travel, especially with heavy roads and a
bush track in the state of nature. However, the five teams pulled out of
town, and the journey commenced. The ground everywhere was a perfect
bog, and the rain kept pelting down with increasing volume, creeks and
gullies running bankers, but still we kept moving slowly, only a couple
of miles a day.

Then we reached Sandy Creek, which was bank high. Here we were compelled
to stay for two days, when the creek lowered. Determined to proceed, we
bridged the creek, carried rations, cases, cans, &c., across, yoked up
the bullocks, and fastened them to the point of the poles of the empty
drays, with a dozen chains, so that the leaders landed on the opposite
bank and got a footing before the dray got into the stream. Thus we got
everything across safely, re-loaded and off again, generally bogging and
double-banking a dozen times a day. At last we reached Denison Creek, a
large watercourse with flood flats on both banks. This creek was in high
flood, and rising fast when we reached it. We camped a short distance
from the bank of the flat. That night was as dark as Egypt, and to our
surprise and discomfort soon after dark, we found the water rushing in
between the rays. Still rising rapidly, we had to fasten the drays to
trees with bullock chains, were shifting perishable goods up on the
guard irons, for a short time up to our waists in water, and dreaded
that our cattle would be washed away. However, it was a long night that
had no ending; the morning broke, and the rain, at the same time ceased.
We had a wretched night, and, of course, soaking wet, but by this time
we were getting amphibious, as wading in water and wet through night and
day was our lot all the way from Mackay. We had enough of this flood,
and devoutly wished for no more floods like the '64 one. At any rate,
not on the road with teams and breaking our hearts to get home to supply
the unfortunate starving people there with food.



III


Lambing finished, sheep shorn, and supplies to hand, the next move was a
"move on." The sheep were in good order, bullocks and horses mud fat; we
were quite prepared to make long stages and make for the Flinders, as no
good country for sheep, well-watered, was likely to be found anywhere
nearer. Sutherland (of Kirk and Sutherland, Suttor Creek), just came in
from the Flinders and told us the track out was drying up fast in
places, and along stage or two without water between the Cape and
Flinders. This hurried matters more, and, worse still, the Earls of
Yacannunda (lower down the Suttor) were almost ready to start some 700
cattle out the same track; so if they got ahead of us, probably the
small waterholes en route would be destroyed by their stock. Mr. Earl,
Senr., came to our camp and mentioned they were starting the cattle in a
few days, and would pass the sheep quickly. However, the jumbucks beat
them easily. The Messrs. Earl took up and stocked Iffley on the Lower
Saxby.

All ready, a start was made. There were two strong teams, a two-horse
dray the cook had charge of, which always followed the sheep, and, all
told twelve men. From our camp on Suttor Creek we crossed over by the
head of Suttor River, a place afterwards taken up and stocked by the
Messrs. Murray Bros., near Rockhampton. They called it Point Lookout. We
camped on the banks of the river, a narrow, sandy watercourse, at a
large waterhole, and very deep. Passing by there many years after, I was
surprised to see the hole had disappeared, and from bank to bank leveled
with sand. The next place we struck was Conway, very recently stocked.
The tableland between Suttor and Conway was very hard country to ride
over being full of holes. Sometimes several sheep would be fast in these
holes, and had to be lifted out. Conway was on Rosella Creek, but I
forgot who owned it then. The teams camped here a night, the sheep being
a day ahead, the two drivers and myself with them. After dark, one of
the drivers, a big, fat fellow, not long out from London, went across to
the hole for water. Hearing a fearful yell from him, we rushed to our
firearms, and ran in his direction, thinking the blacks were murdering
him. To our surprise, we found him heels up in one of the big water-worn
holes. The two of us got him out, and, finding he wasn't hurt, couldn't
help laughing at such a predicament. Passing on towards Mount McConnell,
we crossed country where a lot of gold, silver and asbestos was
afterwards found, but all very barren country for stock. On a little
creek near Mount McConnell, I saw the first wild black. He was busy,
several feet up a big box tree, hanging on by his big toes and the point
of fingers, chopping a hole in the tree with his stone tomahawk. His
back towards me, he did not notice me, so I stood some distance away
watching him. Presently he finished the hole, put his hand into it,
after dropping the tomahawk, and pulled out a opossum, knocked him
against the tree, threw him down, and then came down himself. As
he landed on terra firma, I gave a big yell, and pretended I was rush
to him on horseback. He turned round and then rushed off like lightning,
leaving 'possum and weapon behind. How he could cut a neat hole, inches
deep in a hard tree standing up in his own notches with a stone tomahawk
was beyond belief till I saw the operation.



IV


On reaching Mount McConnell we heard the blacks were in large mobs ahead
and very aggressive, killing stock and attacking the men on Natal Downs.
Mr. Kellell, manager and part-owner of Natal, was at the Mount trying to
get help from there to disperse the black assailants, and told us to be
very watchful traveling up the Cape, especially at night, when the
niggers were more likely to make a raid. Leaving Mount McConnell we got
to the Cape River at its junction with the Belyando, and we followed it
up to the junction of Amelia Creek. The Cape at that time held splendid
waterholes right along, but, like Suttor many years after I could hardly
find a hole: all sand, but plenty of water a short distance underneath.
Natal Downs being off the river, we did not see it. Neither did we see
any blacks, but plenty of tracks. Coming in Amelia Creek we followed it
up for some distance, and then on to Billy Webb's Lake--only a fair
sized waterhole. Within a mile or so beyond the lake was a belt of
poison bush. The stock had to be carefully and hurriedly driven through
this belt. Camping at the lake, next morning we rushed the sheep through
in a canter, lock after flock, and did not lose a sheep. The track was
white, however with the skeletons of a former lot, where some thousands
succumbed to eating this bush. These sheep belonged to Alexander a
Burnett squatter and were in the charge of Reginald Halloran, who took
the remainder of the mob down below Donor's Hills, and settled on
country there. Leaving Webb's Lake, our trouble commenced for want of
water till we got to Flinders. The longest dry stage was, however, 35
miles, and the weather being cool, we negotiated the distance fairly
easy. The last water before reaching the Flinders was in a creek called
Skeleton which I suppose ran into the Landsborough. On this creek I
spent a peculiar night. The teams came on and camped were the track
crossed the creek. It was near dark when the teams were unyoked, and the
water was some three or four miles below us. The fat driver and myself
started down for the water with the bullocks and horses. The creek was
as crocked as a ram's horn, and very scrubby in places. The night was
dark and cloudy, so we hardly knew where we were going. However the
animals were perishing for water, and apparently knew by instinct that
water was ahead of them. On they went, clinging closely to the creek,
while we simply followed the bells. All at once we came on the water,
and a big mob of blacks with no end of fires camped on the banks. The
bullocks and horses marched unconcernedly right through their camps, and
rushed in to the hole. The niggers made tracks at full speed, knocking
against the scrubby bushes in their flight, and sending showers of
sparks flying from their fire sticks. Now the question arose, "What were
we two to do?" My companion, who was the most frightened man of blacks I
had ever met, wanted to start back to the camp at once. That was easier
said than done on such a dark night, for if we got off the crooked creek
we might never get on it again, and if we went to strike cross for the
creek, we might pass it without seeing it, being almost invisible at
times with daylight. Although quite secure from an attack there, Denis
began weeping, wailing and raving all night, getting madder and more
mad, wanting my revolver to shoot himself before the blacks would kill
and eat him, as he was sure they would, and so on. How glad I was when
daylight appeared, and this madman was again sensible.

We struck the Flinders somewhere about opposite where Prairie is now. I
know there were some open downs and plains about it, for the next
morning after we reached the river, I went out at daylight with one of
the drivers to muster up the bullocks and horses. The morning was mild,
and I was only rigged in thin moleskin pants and a Scotch twill shirt. I
suppose through sheer cussedness, the animals scattered themselves as
much as possible, for long before we got to camp with them, a cold
westerly win blew up--my first experience of the downs' chilly breezes,
which nearly perished me, although not so very long away from
"Caledonia's stormy breezes."



V


From some of the hills on the Hughenden run, one gets a magnificent view
of the open, almost treeless downs, perfect panorama which resembles
looking across a vast expanse of ocean, and especially charming at first
sight in this ocean of plains. The wayfarer may travel far and wide
throughout the West, but such an expansive and glorious view he will no
meet with, once seen, never forgotten.

Hughenden Station was then owned, and still is, by Mr. Robert Gray. (Mr.
Gray sold only a few months ago--Ed.) He is the oldest station owner on
the Gulf waters. The same station all the time for nearly half a
century, so he has seen many vicissitudes during that long period of
squatting life--His "smiles of fortune and the frowns of fate."
At the time we passed the station (the first place we saw after leaving
Mount McConnell), it was only stocked with a small herd of cattle, but
soon after Mr. Gray introduced sheep, and the country was an ideal sheep
run, only the dingo and the eagle hawk pest always caused a decrease
owing to its proximity to the range country and the basalt tablelands.
It was in the month of June we struck the Flinders and the grass very
dry, and water, even in the river, very scarce.

The country between Hughenden Station and Telemon was swarming with bush
rats. They were in millions and a perfect nuisance to us. At night they
would run over and gnaw away at saddles, boots, rations, &c. Dingoes
were also numerous and as poor as crows, probably through feasting on
rats. They would sneak around the sheep when in camp, but appeared too
frightened to make a dart at them, not knowing what sheep were. Perhaps
at breakfast time a dingo would come along: then plates and pannikins
would be put away and a rush made after the dingo on foot with
firesticks, axes, or anything handy. The dog would go as fast as he
could, but that was very slow. His legs continually going down in the
deep black-soil cracks, and his mangy poverty, made him a quick victim
to his pursuers, and the latter greatly enjoyed the hunt--the only sport
we had. So far we saw no blacks, although plenty of them must have seen
us, going down the Flinders especially, as they were generally on the
other side of the river about the tablelands and basalt walls. The
writer's work was each afternoon to ride ahead, find water, and select a
camp for next day. In going along, a smoke signal would start on the
other side; soon another signal further on. The niggers could speak to
each other by those signals, which were made in a hollow tree with a
hole near the bottom. This hole would be filled with grass or dry
leaves, and when fired a column of smoke would rise in the air. The dry
grass would emit whitish smoke, but now and again bunches of green
leaves would be added, making the smoke black, which betokened something
special to the party in the distance. Although invisible themselves,
their tracks were plentiful at almost every waterhole, and one had to
be very watchful when having a drink, especially if in the deep bed
of the river.

Telemon Station: This fine run was taken up and stocked by Mr. Robert
Stewart, who had then his homestead, a small hut or two, on the bank of
the Flinders. The place was stocked with a few thousand sheep and water
on the run was very scarce at the time. Mr. Stewart was a splendid
specimen of the genus homo, a fine-looking man, an ex-British army
officer (and so is Mr. gray, of Hughenden Station), and a real gentleman
in every way, but somewhat careless when on the station in his dress and
ablutions, which caused him to be called a certain vulgar epithet. Years
after he sold out of Telemon and Southwick, on the Burdekin, and went
home to Scotland with a lot of money, which, unfortunately, he mostly
lost through the suspension of the City of Glasgow Bank.



VI


On to Marathon, owned then owned by Kirk and Sutherland, the owners of
Suttor Creek. They were afterwards joined in Marathon by Mr. Carson (now
of the big wool firm of Winchcombe, Carson and Co.) Marathon, like
Telemon, is grand country, but at the time I speak of, water was a great
drawback. There was hardly a drop anywhere outside the river valley, and
on account of the dryness of the season, very little there. There was
any quantity of unoccupied country; in fact all the country unoccupied
was owing to the want of water, and splendid country too. How different
then to now! Miles of running water in every direction, the dry desert
turned into a garden--a paradise compared to the original state.
Marathon was stocked with sheep--a small lot owing to want of water. The
owners held it for some few years and then sold out that and Suttor
Creek. Mr. Kirk took up a mercantile business in Townsville and died
there. Sutherland a sea captain, went to Melbourne, bought a schooner
there, and traded for some time in the South Seas, but the venture was
premature, so he sold out and started mercantile business in Normanton.
He explored a good deal of the Flinders country when at Marathon, took
up Cambridge Downs, and sold it again without stocking it. He also took
up a number of blocks lower down the Flinders, and, being a great
admirer of Byron, named them "Manfred," "Lara," &c. Carson went South,
and some time after joined the firm of Winchcombe, Carson and Co.

The next station on our route was Richmond Downs owned by Bundock and
Hays. They were Richmond River people, hence the name "Richmond Downs,"
"Wyangarie," "Clarence Downs," &c. Walter Hays managed and they took
cattle to stock the property from Richmond River. Like those above them
on the Flinders, the want of water was a great drawback. They held the
station for many years and then sold out. Mr. Hays started business in
Townsville, and died three years ago, and so did Mr. Bundock.

Leaving Richmond Downs the next station on our way was Lara--a long
distance down the river. Off the Flinders there were no runs taken up at
that time except Afton and Dalgonaly on the west side: and no country
occupied on the east side of the Flinders and the between Mount Emu and
Millungera. This later station was owned by Mr. Gibson--an immense area
of territory, low down the Flinders and the Saxby. Mr. Ranken owned
Afton, but he was starved out for want of water, and he had to abandon
the country. He followed us to the Barclay Tableland afterwards, but of
that later on.

On our way to Lara we fell in with a Gulf notable who went by the
sobriquet of "Greasy Bill." He, years after was the discoverer of gold
at Woolgar, a place to which a big rush took place and were much gold
was obtained. "Greasy" prided himself in traveling about without
blankets or a stitch of clothing except what he stood in, and was never
known out there to wash himself. Although never owning a swag, he never
went about without two or three good horses. Always a "battler," the
blacks came on him in the Woolgar ranges and killed him. There is a
creek there named after him.

Lara was owned by Mr. Edwin Donkin, who had sheep on it, but the country
was not suitable for that class of stock. The grass coarse and rank, and
the most of the run very low. The '70 flood came--the biggest flood ever
known in the gulf--and swept nearly all his sheep and horses away. He
and his men had to roost on top of the huts for days. The Flinders there
had no channels to carry flood waters away, consequently the flats
across, for miles, are one vast sheet of water. Donkin deserved a better
fate, for he was energetic and tried his utmost to succeed; but--he went
down.



VII


We were now nearing the sea coast and at the end of our tether to secure
decent, healthy sheep country. Landsborough some time before when on a
searching expedition for Burke and Wills spoke very highly of the
Barclay Tablelands, so our boss of the party thought that was the
locality to make for. The idea was, as a settlement was forming on the
Albert River, that the Gulf would open up a large trade with Batavia and
other northern places, in wool, corned meat, &c. So far this never
happened, worse luck. The Herbert River (now the Georgina) was a long
way off, no road or track to follow, nothing but Landsborough's diary
and steer by compass a good part of the way when there was no
watercourse to follow. However, the venture was decided upon and a start
made with the best intentions and ardent hope of success.

Further on than Lara was Canobhie, owned by Mr. Edward Palmer. Most of
the run was on the lower Cloncurry, Dalgonally higher up, owned by
Duncan and Donald MacIntyre--both cattle. There was also on the
Flinders a run newly taken (at the junction of the Cloncurry) by
Mr. Murdoch Campbell, which he called Sorghum Downs, but afterwards
owned by Mr. Walker, Messrs. Jack and Tom Brodie settled down
on Donnor's Hills and Mr. Halloran (who lost most of his sheep in the
desert through poison bush) still lower down towards the coast. We
turned off the Flinders before reaching Donnor's Hills and steered
across for the Leichhardt River. The whole country between the last
station mentioned and the Gregory River was occupied by Captain Towns
and J.C. Macdonald--thousands of square miles and known as the "Plains
of Promise," the homestead camp being on the Leichhardt Falls. They also
owned Inkerman, Jarvisfield and other stations on the Burdekin,
Carpentaria Downs &c., on the Gulf waters. Mr. Macdonald did a lot of
exploring. He came to grief like many of the early pioneers, and had to
accept a police magistrate's position.


Ever since we left the Suttor fever and ague were rampant, and every day
some one of our fellows would be ailing. A chest of medicine was aboard,
but on account of the large call made on it certain drugs were getting
very low. The want of vegetables was telling on our constitutions and of
course fruit of any kind was out of the question, notwithstanding the
rough life (much worse was to come) all appeared cheerful and fairly
content.

We reached the Leichhardt in due coarse without anything eventful
happening. Crossed the river at the upper end of a 10-mile-long
waterhole, and camped there for a time whilst the boss of the party,
another man and a black fellow went ahead to explore and spy out the
way, and the land in front of us, for now we were on our own resources
to find our way forward, as there no tracks of any kind to guide us.
Floraville's immense territory is chiefly low-lying plains as flat as a
flounder, but consists of very rich, deep alluvial soil. The grass at
the time was very high and rank--no stock to eat it. Whilst camping here
trips were made up the Leichhardt and Fiery Creek, but although the
country was all open for the newcomer, no suitable sheep country could
be found--too much grass seed, the main bad feature. Before we left this
camp Mr. John Rankin, who had to abandon Afton Downs for want of water,
came along with his sheep and camped above us. He was on the qui vive
for a run. There was also camped on the west bank of the Gregory Messrs.
Lyne and Steiglitz, also with sheep and in quest of the same thing. Mr.
James Cassidy with sheep was also waiting somewhere in the neighbourhood
on the same errand. More run hunters were reported en route down the
Flinders with stock to take up country.



VIII


On, on, on, the exploring party returning with very favourable reports
regarding the Barclay Tableland, but unfavourable in respect to the
rough country we would have to traverse to reach it; we struck camp and
forged ahead. So rank, long and coarse was the grass on the plains
between the Leichhardt and the Gregory--some 40 miles--that we had to
get the teams in front of the sheep, with logs slung crossways behind
the drays to break down the grass and make a track. Thus the sheep moved
on in a string, flock after flock. All the drovers were on foot in those
days, no horses. One person had to pilot the teams steering by compass
and the rest followed. Although this great crop of grass was pretty dry,
it was not sufficiently so to burn. If it was and niggers set it alight,
woe betide us. Some distance to our left they had ranges blazing
everywhere. We were all very pleased indeed to strike the Gregory and
get away from this grass jungle, when in many places was a man's height.

The Gregory, the most beautiful perennial stream in Queensland, and the
largest. No drought ever affects the volume of its running waters, which
is a lovely stream of pellucid water from its head to the sea. Its banks
fringed with fairly tall, straight cabbage trees, palms and enormous
Leichhardt trees, and a variety of others. The only drawback is its
inaccessibility in places for stock to water owing to the steep.
precipitous banks.

We struck the Gregory where the Plains of Promise and the ranges meet,
and the long distance across this rangy country, and its roughness for
vehicles were likely to give us trouble. However, we had to make the
attempt and push through as best we could. We followed up the river to
its junction with the O'Shannasy River, another large flowing stream. A
mile or two from the junction the range came in to the outer channel of
the Gregory. A wall of precipitous rock on our left and the deep main
channel to our right, so that there was only a narrow passage through,
and that very broken ground and scrubby; an ideal spot for the niggers
to attack us. Here a tragedy nearly occurred. The night was dark; one
man's watch was up, so he woke up the next, and they walked round the
sheep. The other man walked round the opposite side. They met in a
broken, bushy place very suddenly, and neither expecting the other to be
there the revolvers were immediately drawn to shoot the "blackfellow!"
One shot was fired before the mistake was discovered, but fortunately
without grave results. This episode caused a good deal of fun in the
camp for some time after.

By the number of the humpies, old and new--allowing a family of four to
each gunyah on an average--there must have been a large tribe of blacks
about the Junction of the rivers. Large heaps of ashes were also
everywhere along the banks; also large quantities of kangaroos and emu
bones, fish and fresh-water &c. The darkies had nets set in special
places on the side of the range where the kangaroo and emu had pads in
and out to water. These nets were long and wide, very neatly made and
very strong, the fibre being chiefly the bark of the Kurrajong, a pretty
shady tree, growing all round here. For dillibags and fishing lines the
bark of the wild flax plant--growing luxuriously on the banks of the
rivers--was utilized. No doubt the niggers lived well hereabouts--on
velvet compared to their skinny brethren in the waterless deserts
further inland. Plenty of flesh and fish, and they had only to tear
armsful of bark off the paper ti-tree, which supplied them a good
material for sleeping on at night, for a covering in cold weather, and
make gunyahs of. Their fishing lines were very neatly made, sometimes
one strand twisted and some three strands. The hook, generally, the
wishbone of a bird. One side of the bone was left the full length, and
the other side half broken off, the stump neatly rasped down to a very
sharp point and barbed. The cabbage tree palm supplied them with plenty
of "cabbage"--a luxury to a hungry white or black, so long as not too
much was partaken of at a time. We had no means of knowing whether they
were cannibals or not, nor had we seen any "corroboree" grounds such as
the Suttor River blacks formed--by making a large circle on a piece
flat, loose soil, banking the earth outwards, and smoothing down the
ground inside the ring.



IX


Here (at the junction of the Gregory and O'Shannessy) in party started
off up the river with the sheep, it was necessary for our party to
divide. Along the O'Shannessy the country was too rough to attempt
taking the teams that way and out further back there was a danger of not
sufficient water for the sheep, so the main party started of up the
river with the sheep, and I with a blackboy took in hand the piloting of
the teams and finding a passage through the rough rangy back country. By
Landsborough's diary we would have four large watercourses to cross--the
Seymour River, the Douglas River, the Thor ton River, and Harris Creek,
all named by him--before striking in for the O'Shanesy, towards a part
of the river where we were likely to meet the sheep.

Starting from the Junction we steered by compass for the Seymour, here
and there zig-zagging in and out to avoid the rocky ridges and the
beastly old man spinnifex, which grew in big tussocks and skinned the
bullocks' and horse' feet. Striking the Seymour--a sandy, gravelly
watercourse--no water could be found, so had to take the animals back to
the junction to get a drink; a long way over broken stones and
spinnifex. Following up the Seymour we found a small hole of water in a
cave, which supplied ourselves, but had to take the cattle on to the
Douglas--another long way for a drink--once there we had plenty of
water, also in the Thornton and Harris Creeks, but the way execrable.
One place, the "Devil's Elbow" the drivers called it, gave us a lot of
trouble, being a long wall of rocks without a break to allow us to pass,
so we had to make a sloping bank of stones, timber and earth to get the
drays over. Crossing Harris Creek we followed it to the Junction, where
we found the sheep had passed up the O'Shannessy, and in a day or two
came to their camp.

The sheep party camped waiting for us at the fountain-head of the
O'Shannessy. This is a natural big bore, rising in the bed of the river
in a deep pool, the water bubbling up just like an artesian bore, and
more springs right through the broken country. A short distance out on
either side of the stream are high walls of limestone rocks, and the
open downs of the famous Barclay Tablelands start from the river.
Footsore after the journey over the rocks and broken stones, and their
legs raw with the prongs of old man spinnifex, we had to spell the
bullocks and horses for a day or two before tackling the long, dry stage
to Mary Lake on the Herbert. Meantime mention may be made of the huge
ant heaps all over the spinnifex country. Some of these heaps are built
up to about ten feet high, and after rain, the termites, not contented
with the bulk and height of their castles, keep adding more stuff on,
chiefly grotesquely narrow spires, rising some feet above the
dome-shaped mass underneath. Inside the main body of earth is mostly
hollow and full of cells and empty spaces, which they appear to keep as
a granary to garner their grass seeds and other vegetable matter. There
must be millions of these little insects in one home when they carry up
out of the ground hundredweights of earth to establish and build up such
a colossal structure, which stands all weathers.

It is a peculiar feature with many Australian watercourses that they
divide the conformation of country. On one side may be rolling downs or
plains with rich heavy soil: on the other stoney barren soils with
scrubby timber. Such is the case with the upper part of the O'Shannesssy
River. On the left bank the rich heavily grassed tablelands come right
in on to the limestone cliffs of the river bank. On the other side the
quality of the country is ridgey, stoney, and inferior. Still, although
this later country was despised in the early days of settlement, it has
long since been occupied and stocked.

From the O'Shannesssy we made another move on to the end of our
destination, the Herbert River of Landsborough afterwards called the
Georgina (after a Governor's wife), as there was another river of the
name of Herbert on the north-east coast. The distance we had to travel
over waterless downs to the Herbert was some 35 miles. The weather was
extremely hot and parching (month of November). We watered the sheep
about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, carried all the water possible and
drove on most of the night and all day following. At dusk that day we
struck the head of Landsborough's "Chester Creek," where there was a
waterhole. The "hole" was there all right, but the water had
vanished--only wet mud. The sheep smelt it, however, and gave us no end
of trouble to drive them away from it. We were now some six or seven
miles from Lake Mary, and intended to camp till daylight, as the
shepherds on foot were completely knocked up, and so were the dogs, but
the sheep, with the usual crankiness of "monkey" nature, would not think
of resting for the night and rushed down the creek baaing and bucking
for all they were worth in search of water. Nothing else we could do--we
on horseback--but let them rip, the whole lot in a string following the
leaders, and persistently keeping within the banks of the dry creek. At
last the reached the junction of the creek and the Herbert, Mary Lake
being only about a mile lower down the river. Down they went and smelt
the water. Then there was a terrific baa-ing and galloping. On the left
bank of the river at the lake, the ground was high and rocky. Fires were
burning in scores right down to the water's edge--a sure sign of a large
camp of blacks. On rushed the sheep through fires, blacks and all other
impediments to quench their thirst. The unfortunate niggers had a
terrible time of it. To be roused up out of their sleep at midnight by
some 8,000 sheep rushing madly and tumbling over them was chaos, was
something demonical to the simple natives, who never saw, or heard of
jumbucks before, and ran. To this day the Georgina blacks have a
corroboree indicating "the rush of sheep to water at night."



X


After a journey of some thirteen hundred miles which took some seven
months' traveling, we at last reached our destination and made our camp
on the left bank of Mary Lake, called the station "Rocklands" and the
present homestead is on the same spot, and the property bearing still
the good, hard old name.

After the fright the blacks got on the night of our arrival to rob them
of their country, we thought the poor wretches would give us a very wide
berth, and not likely to molest us for many a long day. In this we found
ourselves very much mistaken, Landsborough found them anything but
friendly when passing through and deemed it dangerous to camp near the
waterholes. I never saw any body of natives in any part of Australia to
surpass physically the Rockland blacks and few indeed to equal them.

Only a few day's grace they gave us when a cowardly attack was made in
the dark, as usual with the sneaking savage, who never think of anything
like fair play. The attack was quick and sudden, and how a whole dozen
of us escaped with our lives and uninjured limbs was really a miracle.
We had only calico tents rigged. These were some distance away from the
waterhole and the cook to save carrying buckets of water so far made a
fire place of stones and a bough shade of branches halfway between the
tents and the water, which served all hands as an eating place. On the
day in question, one of the bullocks drivers took in a load of wood and
dumped it down alongside of the fireplace. That night we were just
finishing tea, when all of a sudden deafening yells arose from behind
the wood heap and in an instant a shower of spears, nulla-nullas, and
other waddies came flying in all directions. Unfortunately only one
possessing a revolver fire twice at the niggers, haphazardly in the
dark. A spear went through the rim of his hat, carried it away, and the
pointed half of the spear was found next morning stuck in a tree with
the hat impaled on it. The other part of the spear was lying at the foot
of the tree. Of course all made a rush to the tents, to secure firearms,
but in the dark these were not easily found, and had the savages
followed us up, they could easily have massacred the lot of us. However
they didn't but grabbed and took everything they could lay hands on
about the fireplace--pannikins, knives, forks billies, etc., and
actually carried away two camp ovens, which however, they found too
heavy and clumsy, so they dropped and cracked them on the rocks.

Although thankful of our lives being spared and so providentially
escaping even a wound from the shower of spears, it was a grievous loss
to lose nearly all our kitchen and table utensils, owing to the
impossibility of replacing them for many a day to come. However this was
only the fortune of war. That night we kept a sharp watch in case the
niggers would make a second charge. All armed and ready for battle, but
we were not molested, and when daylight appeared, horses were quickly
got up and some half-a-dozen of us, well-mounted, made a sudden raid
after the blood-thirsty assailants. Their tracks crossed over the river
at the lower end of the waterhole, and from there they followed the
river up for some miles. All traveling in Indian file, till they reached
broken, scrubby country. Here we found the remains of their camp, and by
the number of gunyahs and fires, a large mob must have camped there. But
they vanished and made tracks, and quick marching over towards the heads
of the Gregory, many miles in the night and morning, and as we were
unprepared for a long pursuit, we had to return to camp again. The
lesson they gave us made everyone very cautious and watchful, so that
the revolver was fully loaded, ready for action at a moment's notice.
Settled down as we were now, all spare hands had to go to work, building
up sheep yards of stones and brush, anything that came handy to fold the
sheep, and put an end to watching them on a camp night.

The next move was to explore the country, roughly fix on the mileage of
blocks and area to be taken up. We were quite ignorant of where we were,
South Australia or Queensland, but when a survey was made (many years
afterwards) the Rockland blocks were mostly in the former colony, so
that we were really the first party to stock any part of the Northern
Territory.

Landsborough called the two lakes "Mary" and "Frances" after his nieces,
daughters of James Landsborough, who then owned Raglan Station, near
Gladstone. Although two fairly large holes they hardly came up to a
definition of "lakes." On Lake Mary we camped and Frances Lake is some
four miles lower down, both in the shallow grassy bed of the Georgina.
Landsborough, finding no traces of Burke and Wills, only travelled some
thirty miles down the river from Lake Frances (where Camooweal is now)
and returned for want of water. Had he gone a few miles further he would
have struck a large waterhole. However, his ideas were to return to the
Albert River and there replenish his stores from the schooner "Firefly",
which was sent around from Sydney to form a depot for him, Mackinlay and
Walker, all of whom were in search of the lost explores. Leaving the
Albert River, Landsborough crossed the Plains of Promise, struck and
followed up the Flinders to near where Hughenden is now situated, then
got on the southern waters and made for the Darling River, naming all
the places en route.



XI


With the exception of a small waterhole in a water course named by
Landsborough, "Don" Creek (junctioning with the Herbert, some ten miles
below Lake Frances), we knew of no other water but the two lakes, and
they were only third full. The river could not have ran for many years
as its bed was overgrown with grass and no sign of any debris. Its
course being so flat it was very hard to judge which way the water ran,
when it did run: which apparently was very seldom. The only thing which
guided one was the bent timber growing in the river bed. Landsborough
expressed the opinion that the river did not run for years previous to
his journey, and certainly there was no flood between his visit and
ours. The two waterholes, Mary and Frances, were a good deal supplied by
a small creek running into each, heading from the hard country, which a
thunderstorm would flood. The one running into the latter ran up the
river for about half a mile before reaching the hole, thus showing the
flatness of the river bed. There was abundance of splendid grass and
herbage everywhere, although very dry. The want of more water was what
gave trouble. Of course, the everlasting stream in the O'Shannesey was
always there, but the dryness of the long stage of it prevented anything
but a final dried out rush. Observing blacks' smoke about due west from
Rocklands, another and myself assayed a short journey ten miles distant,
but bush fires on those vast downs are very deceptive, as we found out
in this instance. Taking three of the best horses with us, rations and
two full tin canteens of water, we struck out traveling by compass. The
loose, heavy soil of the downs was very severe on the horses, the
country in its virgin state and not been trampled hard by stock. We kept
going but no sign of water indicated by the smoke. However, we kept
traveling and at last came in sight of a creek. This we saw several
miles ahead from the crest of the high downs and could notice some trees
in the in the coolibah bed denuded of any foliage. This was a good sign
of water as cockatoos and other birds stripped the small twigs of the
timber near and around the water. This gave us hope, but before reaching
the creek we struck the head of a small gully in which we found a small
supply of water, left, apparently, by a light storm. Of course, the
first thing to do was to have a long drink ourselves, fill our canteens
and then allow the poor famishing horses to drink their full. Whilst the
quart pots were boiling for a much needed snack I walked down the gully
through an acre or so of emu berry bush trying to find more water.
Around the small waterhole where we camped were many fresh tracks of
blacks, and as I walked through the low bushes all at once I saw part of
a nigger's body lying flat under a bush. It gave me a start, thinking a
mob of natives were in ambush, so my revolver was immediately in
evidence expecting a sudden rush, but standing still and looking more
closely at the dark apparition before me, I found it was only a young
boy newly dead. Probably his people spied me coming and in their haste
to vanish left the little boy unburied.

No more water to be found in the gully or neighborhood. After refreshing
ourselves we saddled up and made for the leafless part of the creek, but
too late! Water was there a few days before, but now only soft mud.
Trusting to the little hole we left holding out for a time pushed on,
striking out in the same direction, but although crossing one or two
large creeks, no water was to be found with the exception of two small
gutters, This, unfortunately, we very reluctantly had to retrace our
steps in case the small supply of water we knew of might dry and so
leave ourselves and horses to perish. The rivers we crossed were
afterwards named the "James," Rankin and Lora, but more of these later
on. On returning there was just enough in the small holes to enable us
to get back to Rocklands by the skin of our teeth.

Weeks and weeks now passed since we arrived at Rocklands and the
question was how or where to secure rations, as our stores were running
very low and our medicine chest almost empty. As stated , our last
supplies of rations were loaded at Port Mackay many months before.
Burketown on the Albert River, was now open as a township, and one or
two storekeepers there, but they had never any large supply on hand,
simply because they could not source it at any price. The only vessel
trading to the Gulf was dispatched by Captain Thomas and Co., Sydney.
This old tub was rotten, generally overloaded and partially wrecked on
the Barrier Reef or elsewhere before rounding Cape York. When she did
reach the mouth of the Albert her cargo was mostly damaged; the flour
sent up half rotten and full of long maggots, the sugar (in casks) black
and tarry, the tea no better than gum leaves. Notwithstanding all these
drawbacks we were glad to get it, otherwise starve. I may say here that
we had to live weeks at a time on mutton, blue bush and pig weed, not
even a smoke of tobacco or a grain of salt. At times it was impossible
to buy a shirt or a pair of pants of any sort, and some of the men had
to turn tailors and make suits (not too fashionable), cut out of old
blanket. But one case of Blucher boots, which arrived from Sydney
(consigned to our firm) took the cake for absolute dishonesty. These
looked well enough till worn a bit, then it was found the sole, composed
of a thin, skinny piece of leather outside, and next to that a thick
piece of bark. Such were the troubles of early pioneers, or rather some
of them. The present generation of bushmen even are in clover compared
to the hard and dangerous lot of those who went through the fire in the
early days of settlement. Selecting the freshest of the draught horses
and a light dray, the driver and writer started for Burketown to make a
hurried trip for supplies, and return with every expedition as our
people at Rocklands would be out of supplies before we could return. Our
track out of the Tablelands was still visible to where we struck the
Plains of Promise, thence we had to follow the Gregory down some
distance to an outstation of Floraville, then newly taken up; from there
a dray track or two guided us to Burketown. The blacks, so far, did not
molest us. We camped one night at the debouchere of the Barclay from the
Gregory. Here a large mob of blacks were camped. They appeared very
excited and saucy. We had to keep watch all night in case of surprise.
However, they made no attack till daylight, when about twenty of them
advanced yabbering, and going through no end of gymnastics. A shot from
a carbine made them rush back to where the rest were camped. Leaving the
horse driver at the dray with his carbine loaded, I walked out to
collect the horses, having my six chambered revolver fully loaded and
ready for battle.

Fortunately, the horses were handy, and jumping on the back of one, I
galloped back and made a rush at the niggers, who, on seeing the horse,
made a bound into the river, swam across and cleared. This Barclay
stream is one of the most peculiar in Australia. It takes a good deal of
water from the Gregory, flows for many miles through the level plains,
an everlasting flowing stream, very sluggish, as there is no fall in the
country and just resembles all along a big ditch made by human hands.
The blacks here seemed to have revelled in the abundance of fish by the
heaps they left on the banks where I scared them away. Their mode of
securing the fish was peculiar. They made a rope out of grass, twisted,
about as thick as a man's thigh, and long enough to reach well over each
bank, having a sort of weir ready in the shallow place below. At a deep
hole, half a dozen niggers would grasp this rope one on each side,
starting from the upper end to the deep water, they would sway the rope
backwards towards the bottom, working down towards the weir, and so
frightening the fish into their net, where they were speedily clubbed
and thrown ashore, perhaps ever so many more than they could eat, but
the aboriginal nature is the nature of the dingo; he kills every animal
he comes across; fresh fish or fowl, never dreaming of saving or keeping
things alive for a rainy day when starvation may stare him in the face.
Today is sufficient for the darkey, to-morrow he does not think of, so
he makes no preparation of any sort.



XII


Burketown was now an established township--of sort--very tough and
unhealthy. Landsborough was acting as Government Resident, when we
reached there, Starkey as Land Commissioner, and George Phillip,
Governor Surveyor. Two public houses were quickly erected, as also two
stores. Many criminals from the south made their abode there to get away
from the police, and so to speak, made it a city of refuge. But these
characters did not leave their vice behind them, and so helped to make
the little township a place only fit for demons. Some short time after
the "Jacmel Packet" arrived from Batavia, carrying with her a terrible
fatal fever, known as "Yellow Jack" which nearly decimated the small
population, and gave Burketown a very bad name. Of course, there was no
doctor, no medicine, and no proper food, and the poisonous grog
dispensed helped the heavy mortality. Burketown is situated on the left
bank of the Albert, a tidal river, very crooked, narrow, and of not much
account for safe navigation. The entrance from the sea is still worse,
owing to its shallowness. When the tide is out (only one tide in 24
hours), one can walk over the banks of sand for some distance seawards.
The absence of deep water along the coast over the unenviable rivers are
the great drawbacks to navigation all along the Carpentaria Gulf shores.

Having secured a small quantity of supplies required we hastened back on
our return trip, and the starved Rocklanders were very pleased to see
us.

The water in Mary Lake was drying up very quickly, and no sign of rain,
and at last dried up very suddenly, the bottom of the hole being quite
flat (we found the same remark applied to the Frances waterhole), so we
had to shift our main camp to France's Lake. We were only a short time
there when the water vanished, and a shift of quarters was imperative.
Fortunately a heavy storm fell between us and the O'Shannesy, running
Don Creek. To this creek we shifted and remained there for some months,
till Lake Frances got half filled, when we took up our residence there
again. On Don Creek the blacks gave us trouble from the first, and got
more and more saucy every day. At last to protect ourselves and stock,
necessity forced us to battle royal. Lyne and Steidletz were camped for
some time with their sheep on the lower Gregory, and the former came up
to Rocklands, looking for country to take up. Noticing several blacks'
fires near us, we deemed it full time to make a raid, drive them back.
The boss, Mr. Lyne and myself made for the fires, and before reaching
them we met a large mob of niggers, making straight for our camp, fully
armed, and all painted for war. This was at the Herbert River. We tied
our pack-horses to a tree in the river, and as the darkies advanced at a
trot, we waved to them to stop but they would not, so advancing in front
of them we were prepared to stand our ground and fight the battle out.
When they realized our movements they suddenly stopped, but the chief or
ringleader made signs and motions for his fellows to advance. Seeing
that our position was now getting critical, one of our party raised his
carbine to his eye. A soon as he did the foreman of the tribe instantly
made a target of his boomerangs and waddies, at the same time going
through all sorts of fantastic gestures, and strange evolutions for his
men to back him up and keep advancing. Our man fired and the bullet
struck, apparently, in the very centre of the leading champion's network
of boomerangs sending them in splinters amongst all those behind him.
All fled for their lives, but to frighten them we kept trotting behind
them to give them a further scare and make them understand we were their
masters. It was really surprising how deftly those wild blacks, when
even in full swing racing away for life, could pick in an instant, and
without stopping, a stone with their toes, off the ground, catch it up
quickly with their hand, and, with hardly stopping, hurl it with
terrible force and straight as an arrow at the enemy.

Mentioning the name of Mr. Lyne. He went out one morning from our camp,
to look for country about the heads of the Gregory. He camped out a
night. Next morning his two horses were gone. In wandering about looking
for them he lost his bearings. Luckily he followed a gully which led him
to the river. This he followed down to within 30 miles of Burketown,
some 300 miles by the windings of the Gregory, on foot, with out any
food but cabbage tree. How he escaped the armies of wild blacks was a
miracle. On getting back to New South Wales he became a member of
Parliament there, and for some years holds the title of "Sir William"
Lyne.

Although chasing back one tribe of niggers on our Western side, Don
Creek appeared to be the favorite habitat of those Myalls, who were much
more ferocious and warlike than those we expelled. They gave us much
watching, anxiety and trouble. To catch birds they had the habit of
breaking down small twigs of the Coolibah trees, and plant them all
closely all round the waterhole, saving one small area. This little spot
was with flat stones, made a small causeway of, the stones an inch or so
above water level. A blackfellow would scoop out a small hole alongside
of this, lie there coiled up snake fashion, quietly holding in his hand
a pole with a net affixed. The thousands of pigeons galahs, cockatoos,
etc., famishing for a drink would alight all along the shores of the
waterhole, but the little twigs planted along the edge prevented their
entrance to allay their thirst, so in flocks they would fly around to
the blakfellow's causeway, then the nigger in his hole makes a sudden
dart, down comes the pole carrying the net, and results generally in the
nigger securing anything from two or three to twenty birds in one haul
Of course, this easy style of snaring could only happen when water was
scare. In ordinary drought the inland blacks made much easier living
than during rainy weather. Continuous wet weather causes their
starvation, being unable to secure any food but the Herbert River
natives made a small provision for a rainy day in collecting grass and
other seeds, preserving it in bark or dilly bags and storing it away in
the forks of trees, till pressing hunger required, when the grass was
ground down between two hollow stones, mixed with water and baked in the
ashes something similar to a white man's damper.



XIII


Before the whites invaded Australia were the dusky aborigines of the
great continent a happy people? This question is very hard to answer
with any degree of certainty. That the males lead a happier life than
the unfortunate females goes without saying. The greatest fear and dread
a tribe sustained was from its own neighbours--generally an everlasting
feud which, now and again, broke out with fearful bloodshed and cold
murder, not on innocent men alone but on women and children. When the
slaughtering idea got into one tribe's head they would not hesitate for
a moment, if strong enough to kill every one of a neighboring
family--men, women, and children--they would generally commit the brutal
deeds without giving their enemies the slightest warning, their minds
and modes of assaulting equal to the tiger or the dingo. From where did
the Australian come from? Is he a special creation of this vast, ancient
continent, like the marsupial and the emu? Of course, scientists make
out, or try to make out, that every tribe of the genus homo must have
been created anywhere else to where he and aeons resided, in some other
country before reaching that land they now inhabit. A Victorian
professor averred that the blackfellow only inhabited Victoria for a
period of about 1,000 years. Had he come to the conclusion 10,000 or a
100,000 years he might have been more accurate. The Australian
blackfellow is the same type wherever you go--from Port Phillip to Port
Darwin, from Swan River to Cape York--all the one and the same breed,
The same traits and characteristics; using practically the same style of
weapons; the same style of hunting; the same style, without hardly any
material variation of building his gunyah. If not the produce of the
Australian soil he must have struck the coast somewhere as one type and
family; and, as his slow growth of populating the vast continent must
have taken countless ages to spread so far and wide. It is useless
relying on any of his traditions or legends. He can count up to the
number of his fingers. He has no religion worthy of the name, and you
cannot Christianise him. You may think you can, but it turns out in the
end a big failure. He is, however, an adept at picking up all the evil
doings and unchristian language of his white brother. Passing away at
such speed to the happy hunting ground of the future, it is only a
question of years when the last of him will vanish--the Truganini of
Australia.

Whilst on the subject I may mention two or three more incidents of a
very narrow escape by one or two of our party. The one who had his hat
carried away on the point of a spear at Mary Lake had another close
shave at Frances Lake. Our camp at the time was at the later waterhole,
and the niggers still kept up their game of planting twigs around the
hole. One day two of them came bodily up and started work as usual. The
person in question walked up to them revolver in hand. They started away
and he turned round to walk back. As he did one of the myalls swung
round and hit him a terrible blow on the back of his head which rendered
him insensible for three days. Fortunately the deed was noticed from the
camp and two or three rushed down on foot and fired, but the niggers got
clean away.

Soon after this incident the writer had occasion to visit Burketown all
alone--a lonely road and dangerous. Having two good horses I traveled
fast. All went well going down. Coming back, however, I got a couple of
surprises. At a lagoon on the edge of Plains of Promise and at the range
country, I camped an hour or two after dark some half a mile from the
water. Hobbling the horses out, I lay down near there and fell asleep.
Something woke me up suddenly. A lizard running over dry leaves would
wake one when on the watch for the darkies. For a few minutes nothing
wrong could be seen or heard. Then all of a sudden a small glare from
the bank of the lagoon was noticed, then almost instantly a glare in
another direction, and then in another. It took a little time to catch
and saddle the horses and make a bolt, but now the fire was visible
ahead of me, and then another. The horses began to sniff and snort, and
discern something uncanny all round us. Making a dart forward, however,
we passed unmolested, between two moving fires, the horses going at
their best. No doubt the wretches saw me coming from the hills miles
away across the plains, and prepared for an attack, as I was surrounded
by them.

The crow is neither a favorite with white or black--the most cruel and
evil disposed bird in the whole bush. When a poor animal gets sick or
maimed, or bogged, the crow comes from afar to feast on the living
skeleton; its first morsel, the helpless creature's eyes--a dainty
mouthful for the voracious demon looking crow. How its horrible grated
voice annoyed the sickly bushman lying under a tree or trying to pass a
few minutes in quiet sleep. Still from an incident that happened to him,
a crow probably saved the writer's life. Travelling all night from the
lagoon where the Myalls surrounded me I camped to spell my horses for an
hour or two on the left bank of the Thornton, on a clear open spot a
short distance from the water. Having boiled my quart and partaken of a
snack, I half lay and half leaned against a tree with my revolver handy.
I was only a few minutes in camp when the ubiquitous crow made its
appearance, cawing, cawing, and wailing as usual in an adjacent tree,
then it flew down and sidled along nearer when I thought of having a
shot at him, but powder and bullets were precious with us in those days,
and so I refrained making a target of the wretch, although it annoyed me
so much. I soon dozed into a light sleep. All at once there was
terrifying yell from my black tormentor which instantly awoke me, when I
saw three or four blacks' heads down racing down a shallow gully, making
for the river as fast as their legs could carry them. They no doubt
sneaking upon me within spear throw, but they frightened the crow, which
providentially gave me the alarm.

Speaking of crows I may mention a battle between a large iguana and a
carpet snake which I witnessed on Don Creek--the only one I ever saw
during some 45 years bush life. They were at the foot of a tree, the
soil from which was washed away. The iguana had the snake by the neck,
the latter's tail coiled round a root. The snake, although wriggling and
twisting and twisting, had undoubtedly the worst of the fight. Tracking
lost sheep I had no time to wait, but I would give anything to watch the
performance from start to finish.



XIV


From once extreme to the other. The water in Don Creek (where we shifted
to when the lakes dried up) was getting very low and a move on again was
compulsory. Fortunately a storm put some water in Frances Lake (from the
little Creek already mentioned) after being so long dry, and to this
hole we shifted. Mary Lake was still waterless, the grass and weeds
flourishing where the water should be. We were camped only a week or two
at the former hole when down came the rain, a big flood was imminent,
and it came, the first in the Herbert for many years. Our camp was fixed
on the right side of the river out of reach of any flood we thought. We
were greatly mistaken, however. The river having no proper bed the water
spread all over the flats till the whole river valley was one sheet of
water. We had to shift all our goods and chattels to higher ground in
the pouring rain and at the times knee deep in the black soil. The river
kept rising and the water spreading. The second time we had to make for
higher ground, but the water followed, so that for a third time every
thing had to be humped away further out. After so many troubles for want
of water we got plenty of it now in all conscience.

We were some six months at Rocklands before being followed up by any one
in search of country. The first to arrive was Nash, who took up "Stony
Plains," about 40 miles down the river. Then came John Lorne Campbell
Ranken, and his cousin Lorne. They took up country on the Ranken and the
Lorne (these watercourses are still called after them). Steiglitz
Brothers followed, and squatted down below Nash. The latter had a
partner named Gregg, and Mrs. Gregg and her little daughter accompanied
their husband--the first women to live on the Barclay Tableland, and a
rough life they must have experienced.

Time passes on, but nothing occurred to help the struggling pioneers.
The expected opening of trade with Batavia and other Eastern places
seemed as far distant as ever: There was no outlet for surplus stock.
Wages were very high and station hands almost unprocurable. Wool was low
in price and the cartage of it to Burketown and then high freight to
Sydney round Cape York was prohibitive. Besides the rotten old schooners
running in the trade at that time, leaked and destroyed the cargo. But
there was no redress. You had to ship by them or set fire to the wool
off the sheep's back, and in many instances, the latter would be found
cheaper. Supplies from Sydney by the same unseaworthy tubs were very
expensive and always more or less damaged--generally more.
Notwithstanding all these heavy drawbacks the owners were game and hope
still held sway in their brave and manly breasts. They stuck to their
guns and to their hardships till fate compelled them to abandon their
holdings and drove their stock back hundreds of miles to perhaps, near
to where they started from. An exodus took place from the Georgina and
the country was again in the possession of the blackfellow. Many of the
Gulf runs followed suit.

"Look upon that picture and on this." The owners of those runs, at the
present day are making fortunes, besides living in ease and comfort.
Such is life!

Before closing these papers relative to the early pioneers of the
sixties, who took up runs on the Herbert (now Georgina), I may be
allowed to add a few more lines referring to their career since and
whether now dead or alive.

The first to follow up Landsborough's exploring track and settle at
Rocklands was John Sutherland. He is still alive and active. For many
years he has resided at Kyanga Station, near Banana. Nash and Gregg,
when they abandoned Stoney Plains, took their sheep to the Flinders,
bought Cambridge Downs from Sutherland, Marathon, and settled there for
a time. Greg died at Cambridge and is buried there. For years Nash
carried on a financial agency business in Brisbane, but I cannot say if
he still alive. John Ranken in partnership with the late Hon. Bowie
Wilson, carried on a large land agency business in Sydney, but died
years ago, as also his cousin Lorne Ranken. Von Steilitzcee took up
country between Townsville and Cardwell, and, I think, is still alive,
as also James Cassidy, who resided for sometime on the Leichhardt, sold
his stock and took up land near Ingham, and also country near Richmond.
He died some three years ago, Pat Cassidy (well known in the Gulf then)
died many years ago.



XV


On my way to Sydney (via Burketown and Townsville overland). So farewell
to Rocklands! With all the hardships endured from such a harsh rough
life--constant watching of the blacks, the want of proper food or none
at all, but above all, the occasional dreadful sufferings from want of
water--these and many others helped at all times to make our lives
unhappy. But we are a happy family notwithstanding, and tried our best
to look at things as brightly as possible. For instance, the fascination
of short exploring trips was viewed with much delight and pleasure.
There was also something romantic in the nomadic life we led, and
certainly much pleasure was derived by the early pioneers, as well as
trouble and hardships. The pioneers are almost now forgotten by the
rising generation. Many lie in grass-covered graves, neglected and lost
to remembrance, who, in the years that are gone, endowed the Australian
of to-day with his peerless heritage.

In visiting Burketown this time, changes were few in that small hamlet.
Progress was not visible. In fact the place, like the cow's tail,
appeared to be growing downwards. There was very little trade, but still
much sickness. To add to its decline a port was opened on the Norman
River, which drew away many people from Burketown. Then the Norman was
reckoned to be much better seaport than the Albert. Landsborough had
left Burketown, and Sharkey and George Phillips soon after. A short time
only elapsed when the place was almost quite deserted.

Luckily, meeting with a gentleman going South, we started from
Burketown, and having plenty of good horses, we did long stages. We
travelled from Floraville, Neumayer Valley, etc., on to the Flinders. We
camped for a day at Sorghum Downs, and here a peculiar incident
occurred. A ration carter was working in the store. There was an
extraordinary drapery case standing against the wall, open side
outwards, nearly full up with trousers, shirts, etc. On the top of these
a piece of loose calico. The little store was rather dark. We were
sitting on a box near the door. The station carrier pulled a cork out of
a turpentine can. As he did so some of the stuff splashed up in his
face. He went to the case pulled out a calico to wipe his face. As he
did, in an instant a snake darted at him. He felt the brute as he pulled
the calico, and jumped back instantly. He made sure he was bitten, and
turned as white as a sheet. As we saw the snake's head come only within
two or three inches of his face, we assured him he was not touched, but
he had a narrow escape and a terrible fright. On killing and opening the
snake we found five mice inside of him, newly swallowed.

Further up the river we were the observers of something ludicrous.
Although not very funny to those in the "swim." They were washing sheep
in a rather small but deep lagoon. This was of course, what was known as
"hand-washing." Yards were erected on the banks of the waterhole, a race
made into a yard in the water where the performance took place: men on
the platform with "crutches" did the work. This erection was built of
smallish saplings, and very shaky at all times. Something on the bank
gave way, and pop goes the staging, and all hands on it, flop into the
dirty water--full of yolk and sheep dung. Fortunately all the fellows
could swim, but they were nearly choked and poisoned before they could
reach the surface, owing to the sheep swimming above them. It took them
some time to get the taste out of their mouths.

In travelling up the Flinders I was surprised at the memory one of my
horses possessed. He was a pack horse, and generally in the lead of
others when travelling. He would stick to the track for miles, and then
suddenly make a bolt slanting in for the river. At first I did not grasp
his motives, or what induced him to act in such a capricious manner. He
was making every time for one of our camps when coming down the Flinders
some three years before, and not one old camp did he miss.

The Flinders by this time was dotted with shanties--sly-grog selling of
course. They were hells on earth, and gloried in such names as the "Dead
Finish," "Sudden Death," etc. The characters frequenting them were the
scum of the colony, so the devilish carousals carried on would disgrace
Dante's Inferno. One's horses were not safe if camped near these
abominations, so we took good care to put many miles between them before
resting for the night.

We left the Flinders on Telemon run and traveled up Beitz's Gorge,
Fairlight run. Mr. Beitz was then manager and part owner. We passed
Mount Emu, then owned by Thompson Muirison and Jamieson. The former's
son still holds this station and others. We camped a night at Reedy
Springs, and were very hospitably entertained by Mr. and Mrs. Anning and
family. The third generation of now own the station.. We reached
Dalrymple (on the Burdekin) on Christmas Day, 1869. There was a small
public house there then run by William Mark, now owner of Gainsford
station, and till lately of Saxby River. We had Christmas diner at
Mark's, and then travelled slowly to Townsville, as our horses were very
sore-footed after the stoney country we traveled over from the Flinders.
We had to stay in Townsville for a few days for a boat to Sydney. We
sold our horses, and disposed of our revolvers, as there was now no
further need for them. I was sorry in a way parting with my shooting
friend, which stood me in good stead day and night for years in the
savage wilds. When soon after located in Southern Queensland, how
sweetly and peacefully one slept--in camp without any fear of a spear or
nulla-nullah from the hand of a nigger.

There was only, I think, a fortnightly boat at the time running between
Sydney and Townsville, the old A.S.N. Company the traders. But we were
in luck. A steamer called the Havilah arrived in port, and immediately
after the Boomerang, Captain Lake (Lake's Creek on the Fitzroy is named
after him). The Boomerang was told off by the A.S.N. Company to run the
stranger off and carry passengers and cargo for next to nothing sooner
than that Havilah should secure a footing in the trade. At any rate we
got a saloon passage to Sydney for 1/10s. by the Boomerang. Some of the
passengers asserted they paid nothing, at any rate, we were satisfied,
for only for the Havilah we would have had to pay 15 to 16.



THE END



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