CHAPTER 16. TRAVERSING THE CENTRE.

16.1. ERNEST GILES.

Ernest Giles was born at Bristol, a famous birthplace of adventurous spirits. He was educated at Christ's Hospital, London, and after leaving school came out to South Australia to join his parents, who had preceded him thither. In 1852 he went to the Victorian goldfields, and subsequently became a clerk, first in the Post Office, Melbourne, and afterwards in the county court.

Having resigned his clerkship, he pursued a bush life, and in 1872 made his first effort in the field of exploration. His party was a small one, the funds being found by contributions from S. Carmichael, one of the party, Baron von Mueller, Giles himself, and one of his relatives. The members of the expedition were Giles, Carmichael, and Robinson; 15 horses and a little dog were included in the equipment. They started from Chambers Pillar, and it was on this journey that Lake Amadeus and Mount Olga were discovered, the two most enduring physical features whose discovery we owe to Giles. The lake is a long narrow salt-pan of considerable size, but without any important affluents; Mount Olga is a singular mountain situated about 50 miles from the lake. On this trip Giles went over much untrodden country, but the smallness of the party at last convinced him that it was beyond their frugal means to force their way through the desert country to the settlements of West Australia. Giles was fortunate on this his first trip in having two able and willing bushmen for his companions; otherwise he would not have progressed as far as he did and returned in safety. But most untiring endeavours will not compensate for the lack of numbers, and Giles was forced to return beaten from his first attempt.

His second expedition took place about the same time as that undertaken by Gosse. In consequence of a stirring appeal by Baron von Mueller, he had now the advantage of both substantial private help and a small sum from the South Australian Government. The party numbered four: W.H. Tietkins, who afterwards made an honourable name as an independent explorer; the unfortunate Alfred Gibson; and a lad named Andrews, in addition to the leader.

Giles left the settled district at the Alberga, and made several determined efforts to push through the sandy spinifex desert that had baffled so many. It was during one of these forlorn hopes that Gibson died.

Anxious to reach a range which he had sighted in the distance, and where he hoped to find a change of country, Giles made up his mind to make a determined effort to reach it, carrying a supply of water with him on pack-horses. As usual, Tietkins was to accompany him, but as Gibson complained of having been always previously left in camp, he was allowed to go instead. The two kept doggedly on, the horses, as they gave in, being left to find their way back to the main camp. At last, when several days out, they had but two horses left. Giles sent Gibson back on one, with instructions to push on for the camp, taking what little water he wanted out of a keg they had buried on their outward way, leaving the remainder for his use. He himself intended to make a final effort to reach the range.

Giles's horse soon gave in after they parted, and he had to start to return on foot. On his weary way back he saw that one of the abandoned horses had turned off from the trail, and that Gibson's tracks turned off too, seemingly following it. When he reached the keg, he found that the contents were untouched. Fearing greatly that the unfortunate man's fate was sealed, Giles dragged himself on to the camp. A search was at once instituted, but it was fruitless. Neither man nor horse was ever seen again; and the scene of his fate is known as Gibson's Desert.

During his excursions in various directions, Giles discovered and traversed four different ranges of hills. The party were much worried by the hostility of the blacks, and, what with the uneasiness caused by their attacks, the plague of myriads of ants, the loss of Gibson, and the failure of their own hopes, they were forced to return to Adelaide, baffled for a time, but not beaten.

We thus see how the arid belt of the middle country had defied three different explorers - Warburton, Gosse, and Giles - one equipped with camels only, one with camels and horses, and one who had relied on horses alone.

In 1875 Giles took the field once more. This time, owing to the generosity of Sir Thomas Elder, of South Australia, he was well-prepared. He had a fine caravan of camels, and had his former companion Tietkins with him, besides a completely-equipped party.

The start was made from Beltana, the next halting-place being Youldeh, where a depot was formed. From this place they shifted north to a native well, Oaldabinna. As the water supply here proved but scanty, Giles started off to the westward to search for a better place, sending Tietkins to the north on a similar errand accompanied by Young.

Giles pushed his way for 150 miles through scrub and past shallow lakelets of salt water until he came to a native well or dam, containing a small supply of water. Beyond this he went another 30 miles, but finding himself amongst saline swamps and scrub, he then returned to the depot. Tietkins and his companion were not so successful. At their furthest point they had come across a large number of natives, who, after decamping in a terrified manner, returned fully armed and painted for war. No attempts of the two white men to open friendly communication or to obtain any information from them had succeeded.

A slight shower of rain having replenished the well they were camped at, Giles determined to make a bold push to the west, trusting to the powers of endurance of his camels to carry him on to water.

On reaching the dam that he had formerly visited, he was agreeably surprised to find that it had been nearly filled by the late rains. As it now contained plenty of water for their wants, and there was good feed all around, they rested by it until the supply of water began to show signs of declining.

On the 16th of September, 1875, he left the Boundary Dam, as he called it, and commenced to try conclusions with the desert to the westward. For the first six days of their march the caravan passed through scrubs of oak, mulga, and sandalwood; next they entered upon vast plains well-grassed, with salt-bush and other edible shrubs growing upon them. Crossing these, the camel train again passed through scrub, but not so dense as before.

When 250 miles had been accomplished, Giles distributed amongst the camels the water he had carried with him. As they kept on, sand-ridges began to make their appearance, native smoke was often seen, and they frequently crossed the tracks of the natives.

On the seventeenth day from the Boundary Dam, Tietkins, who judged by the appearance of the sandhills that there was water in the neighbourhood, sent the black boy Tommy on to a ridge lying south of their course. It was fortunate that he did so, for hidden in a hollow surrounded by sandhills was a tiny lake which they were passing by unheeded until Tommy arrested their progress with frantic shouts. Giles gave this place of succour, which he should have named after his companion, the commonplace name of Victoria Spring; and here the caravan rested for nine days.

Recruited and in good spirits, they soon found themselves amongst the distinctive features of the inner slopes of Western Australia - outcrops of granite mounds and boulders, salt lakes, and bogs. Their next camp of relief was at a native well 200 miles from Victoria Spring.

The quietude of their life at this encampment was however rudely broken by the natives. During their stay they had had friendly intercourse with the blacks, but no suspicions of treachery had been aroused. The explorers were just concluding their evening meal when Young saw a mob of armed and painted natives approaching. He caught sight of them in time to give the alarm to the others, who stood to their arms. Giles says in his journal that they were "a perfectly armed and drilled force," though military discipline was a singular characteristic to find amongst the blacks of this barren region. A discharge of firearms from the whites checked their assailants before any spears had been thrown, and probably prevented the massacre of the whole party.

On leaving this camp the caravan travelled through dense scrub, with occasional hills and patches of open country intervening. They were fortunate to find some wells on the way, and on the 4th of November arrived at an outside sheep-station in the settled districts of Western Australia, and Giles's long-cherished ambition was at last fulfilled.

The result of this trip was satisfactory to Giles, who thus saw his many fruitless, though gallant efforts, at last crowned with success; but the journey had no substantial geographical or economic results. It resembled Warburton's in having been a hasty flight with camels through an unknown country, marking only a thin line on the map of Australia. An explorer with the means at his command, in the shape of camels, of venturing on long dry stages with impunity, is tempted to sacrifice extended exploration of the country bordering his route and the deeper and more valuable knowledge that it brings to rapidity of onward movement. John Forrest, for example, was able, owing to the many minor excursions he was forced to make because of the nature of his equipment, to gain infinitely more knowledge of the geographical details of the country he passed over than either Warburton or Giles.

Giles now retraced his steps to South Australia, following a line to the northward of Forrest's track. He went by way of the Murchison, and crossed over the Gascoyne to the Ashburton, which he followed up to its head. Then striking to the south of east, he cut his former track of 1873 at the Alfred and Marie Range, the range he had so ardently striven to reach when the unfortunate man Gibson died. How futile was the vain attempt that led to Gibson's death he now realised. He finally arrived at the Peake telegraph station. Few watercourses were crossed; the country was suffering under extreme drought; and no discoveries of importance were made.

Giles published a narrative of his explorations entitled Australia Twice Traversed. He was a gold medallist of the Royal Geographical Society. He entered the West Australian Government service on the Coolgardie goldfields, and, on the 13th of November, 1897, died at Coolgardie, West Australia, where the Western Australian Government erected a monument to his memory.

16.2. W.H. TIETKINS AND OTHERS.

W.H. Tietkins was born in London on the 30th of August, 1844, and was educated at Christ's Hospital. He arrived in Adelaide in September, 1859, and took to bush life and subsequently survey-work. On the conclusion of his exploring expeditions with Ernest Giles, he engaged in the survey of Yorke's Peninsula for the South Australian Government, and then paid a visit to England. On his return he went to Sydney, and did some survey work for the New South Wales Government into whose service he permanently entered. He is now a Lands Inspector on the South Coast.

After his experiences as second with Ernest Giles, Tietkins took charge, in 1889, of the Central Australian Exploring Expedition. He left Alice Springs on the overland line on the 14th of March to examine the hitherto unknown country to the north and west of Lake Amadeus. Late in the month of May he discovered and named the Kintore Range, to the north-west of Lake Macdonald, and ascended one of the elevations, Mount Leisler. During the beginning of the next month he practically completed the circuit of Lake Macdonald and discovered the Bonython Ranges to the south-east. On his return journey, Tietkins corrected the somewhat exaggerated notion entertained as to the extent of Lake Amadeus, as he passed through sixty miles of country supposed to be contained in its area without seeing a vestige of this natural feature. In after years he surveyed and correctly fixed its location.

In 1874, surveyor Lewis, the gallant and tireless spirit whose indefatigable efforts had pulled the Warburton Expedition out of the fire took charge of an expedition equipped by Sir Thomas Elder to define the many affluents of Lake Eyre. Starting from the overland line, Lewis skirted Lake Eyre to the north, penetrated to Eyre's Creek, traced that stream and the Diamantina into Lake Eyre, and confirmed the opinion that the waters of Cooper's Creek as well as the more westerly streams found their way into that inland sea. J.W. Lewis afterwards died in Broome, Western Australia.

In 1875 the Queensland Government decided to send out an expedition to ascertain the amount of pastoral country that existed to the westward of the Diamantina River. It was placed in charge of W.O. Hodgkinson, who had occupied a subordinate position in the Burke and Wills expedition. They started from the upper reaches of the Cloncurry and, crossing the main dividing range on to the Diamantina, followed that river down to the southern boundary of Queensland, where it had been named the Everard by Lewis. This portion was now well-known, and the tracks of the pioneers' stock were everywhere visible. From the lower Diamantina, the party went westwards, and, beyond Eyre's Creek, in good pastoral country, came upon a watercourse which was named the Mulligan. This creek Hodgkinson followed up to the north; and, not knowing that he had crossed its head watershed, went on down the Herbert (Georgina) under the impression that he was still on the Mulligan. He was undeceived when he overtook N. Buchanan with cattle, who was then engaged in re-stocking the stations on the Herbert that had been abandoned in the commercial depression of 1872 and 1873. This was the last exploring expedition sent out by the Queensland authorities, the country within the bounds of that colony being by that time all known.

But across the western border, the vacant and unknown country of South Australia attracted many private expeditions to examine it in search of pastoral holdings. Amongst those from Queensland were two brothers named Prout, who, with one man, went out to look for new grazing lands, and never returned. Many months afterwards a search party, under W.J.H. Carr-Boyd, found some of the horses, and then the remains of one of the brothers. It was evident from the fragments of a diary recovered, that they had pushed far into the dry region of South Australia, and had met their deaths from thirst on the return journey. Probably some of the waters on which they had relied had unexpectedly failed.

In 1878, Nathaniel Buchanan, a veteran pioneer and overlander of Queensland, made an excursion from the Queensland border to Tennant's Creek on the overland telegraph line. Starting from the Ranken, a tributary of the Georgina, Buchanan struck a westerly course, and discovering the head of a well-watered creek running through fine open downs, he followed it down to the westward for some days. The creek eventually ran out into dry flats, so Buchanan struck westward to the telegraph line, which he reached after some hardship, a little to the south of Tennant's Creek. The creek which he discovered, and to which Favenc afterwards gave the name of Buchanan's Creek, was a most important discovery, affording a practicable stock route to the great pastoral district lying between the Queensland border and the overland line.

Frank Scarr, a Queensland surveyor, was the next to invade this strip of still unknown land. He attempted to steer a course south of Buchanan's, but was turned back by the dry belt of country. On this excursion he also found two of the horses of the ill-fated Prout brothers. Scarr then made further north, and, with the assistance of the creek discovered by Buchanan, was enabled to reach the line. Owing to the severity of the drought, however, he was unable to extend his researches any further, and returned safely to Queensland.

In 1878, a project for a railway line on the land-grant principle between Brisbane and Port Darwin was originated in the former city. The proprietor of the leading Brisbane newspaper, Gresley Lukin, organized and equipped a party to explore a suitable line of country, the object being to ascertain the nature and value of the land in the neighbourhood of the proposed line, and the geographical features of the unexplored portion. The leader was Ernest Favenc, who was accompanied by surveyor Briggs, G. Hedley, and a black boy. They left Cork station on the Diamantina, and kept a north-west course through the untraversed country between that river and the Georgina, or Herbert, as it was then called. They then crossed the border into South Australia, and struck the creek which Buchanan had found, and to which the name of Buchanan's Creek was now given. Leaving this creek at the lowest water, the party struck north, and, after finding two large but shallow lakes, came, in the midst of most excellent pastoral country, to a fine lagoon which they named the Corella Lagoon. The trees on the banks of this lagoon, which was about four miles long, were at the time of the visit white with myriads of corella parrots; hence the name. Some three hundred natives were assembled at this lagoon to celebrate their tribal rites; but they showed a friendly disposition.

From the Corella Lagoon the expedition proceeded north and discovered a large creek running from east to west. It proved to be one of the principal creeks of that region, and was named Cresswell Creek; and a permanent lagoon on it was named the Anthony Lagoon. Cresswell Creek was followed down until, like its fellow creek the Buchanan, it too was absorbed in dry, parched flats. The last permanent water on Cresswell Creek was named the Adder Waterholes, on account of the large number of death-adders that were killed there. A dry stage of ninety miles now intervened between the party and the telegraph line, and the first attempt to cross, on a day of terrible heat, resulted in a return to the Adder Camp, three horses having succumbed to the heat, thirst, and the cracked and fissured arid plains. It being the height of the summer season, and no water within a reasonable distance, it was evidently useless to sacrifice any more horses. There was nothing to do, therefore, but to await at the last camp the fall of a kindly thundershower, by means of which they might bridge the dry gap between them and the line.

The long delay exhausted the supply of rations, but by means of birds - ducks and pigeons - horseflesh, and the usual edible bush plants - blue-bush and pigweed - the party fared sufficiently well.

During their detention at this camp, many short excursions were made, and the country traversed was found to be mostly richly grassed downs. Where flooded country was encroached upon, the dry beds of former lakes were found, encircled in all cases with a ring of dead trees.

In January, 1879, the thunderstorms set in, and the party reached Powell's Creek telegraph station in safety.

This expedition opened up a good deal of fine pastoral country, which is now all stocked and settled.

Western Australia was still busy in the field of exploration. In 1876 Adam Johns and Phillip Saunders started from Roebourne and crossed to the overland line in South Australia. Ostensibly theirs was a prospecting expedition; but as the country to the eastward of the Fitzroy River was then unknown, it was an important exploration event. They were unsuccessful in finding gold, but on their arrival at the line they reported having passed through good pastoral country.

There is no doubt that the east and west tracks of the Queensland explorers, and of Alexander Forrest,* did more to throw open that part of Australia to settlement than did the north and south journey of Stuart, more important as that one was from the purely geographical point of view. Stuart led the way across the centre of the continent, but even after the telegraph line was constructed on his route, very little was known of the country to the east and the west.

*[Footnote.] See Chapter 19.

The South Australian Government had several times made slight attempts to reach the Queensland border, but in 1878, they sent out H.V. Barclay to make a trigonometrical survey of most of the untraversed country between the line and the Queensland boundary. Barclay left Alice Springs, of which station he first fixed the exact geographical position by a series of telegraphic exchanges with the observatory in Adelaide. Barclay had much dry country to contend against, but managed to reach a north point close to Scarr's furthest south. He did not, however, on that occasion, actually arrive at the Queensland border, but explored the territory on the South Australian side. During the conduct of the survey he discovered and named the Jervois Ranges, the spurs of the eastern MacDonnell, and the following tributaries of Lake Eyre - the Hale, the Plenty, the Marshall, and the Arthur Rivers.

In 1883, Favenc, on a private expedition to report on pastoral country, traced the heads of several of the rivers of the Carpentarian Gulf, and in the following year left the north Newcastle Waters to examine and trace the Macarthur River. The river was followed from its source to the sea, and a large extent of valuable pastoral country and several permanent springs found in its valley; a large tributary, the Kilgour, was also discovered and named. These short excursions, and some exploratory trips made by MacPhee, east of Daly Waters, may be said to have concluded exploration between the line and the Queensland border.

In 1883, the South Australian Government despatched an expedition in charge of David Lindsay to complete the survey of Arnhem's Land. Lindsay left the Katherine station, and proceeded to Blue Mud Bay. On the way the party had a narrow escape of massacre at the hands of the blacks, who speared four horses, and made an attempt to surprise the camp of the whites. Lindsay had trouble with his horses in the stony, broken tableland that had nearly baffled Leichhardt; and from one misfortune and another, lost a great number of them. In fact, at one time, so rough was the country that he anticipated having to abandon his horses and make his way into the telegraph station on foot. On the whole, however, the country was favourably reported on, particularly with regard to tropical agriculture.

Another journey was undertaken about this time by O'Donnell and Carr-Boyd, who left the Katherine River and pushed across the border into Western Australia. They succeeded in finding a large amount of pastoral country; but no important geographical discoveries were made.

In 1884 H. Stockdale, who had had considerable experience in the southern colonies, and was an old bushman, made an excursion from Cambridge Gulf to the south through the Kimberley district. Stockdale found well-grassed country with numerous permanently-watered creeks. When he came to the creek which he named Buchanan Creek, he formed a depot. On his return from an expedition to the south with three men, he found that during his absence the men left in charge of it had been hunting kangaroos with the horses instead of allowing them to rest. There were other irregularities as well, and Stockdale found his resources too much reduced, both in horseflesh and rations, to continue the exploration. They started for the telegraph line, but on the way the two men who had been misbehaving requested to be left behind. As they persisted in their wish, there was nothing left but to accede to it. The two men, with as much rations as could be spared, arms, and powder and shot, were then left at their own request on a permanent creek in a country where game could be obtained. Stockdale himself had to undergo some hardship before reaching the Overland Line. Although search was made for the two men, they were never afterwards found.

One little area of country, of no great importance but still untrodden by man yet remained in Central Australia, as a lure to excite the white man's curiosity. This unvisited spot was situated north of latitude 26, and bounded on the west by the Finke River, on the north by the Plenty and Marshall Rivers and part of the MacDonnell Ranges, and on the west by the Hay River and the Queensland border. An expedition to exploit it was equipped by Ronald MacPherson, and assisted by the South Australian Government with the loan of camels. The leader was Captain V. Barclay, an old South Australian surveyor, whose name has already been mentioned in these pages.

Barclay had been born in Lancashire, at Bury, on the 6th of January, 1845. He had entered the Royal Navy in 1860, and had been severely wounded on board H.M.S. Illustrious by a gun breaking loose when at target practice. He had emigrated to Tasmania in the seventies, and in 1877 had been appointed by the South Australian Government to explore the country lying between the line and the Queensland border, a notice of which occurs in the preceding pages.

The party, lightly equipped to be more effective, was absent from Oodnadatta from July 24th until December 5th 1904, and in that time accomplished much useful work in the face of great difficulties. On account of the great heat, the expedition had to resort to travelling by night and resting by day. The country was principally high sandy ridges, some so steep that it was not easy to find crossing-places. They had to sacrifice a lot of valuable stores, personal effects, and a valuable collection of native curios, all chiefly on account of the shortness of water.

By this date the whole of the central portion of Australia was known, and the greater part of it mapped; while all the permanently-watered country had been rapidly utilised by the pastoralists.