Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Spencer’s 1901 Diary, March 19th - June 30th, 1901

Physical Description

Spencer’s 1901/02 Expedition Journal. Hand-written Journal. First section on memorandum paper followed by foolscap pages. Approximately 240 pages.

Primary Comments

MS journal, 1901-1902, kept on an expedition to Northern Territory with Frank James Gillen, including comments on aborigines, flora and fauna of Central Australia;


Title Page

Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer Papers. Journal. 19 Mar. - 30 June 1901

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We meant to leave Oodnadatta yesterday (Monday) but could not do so as there was so much to be done in the way of packing up. We left Adelaide on Friday morning at 7 o’clock & had a reserved carriage all the way to Quorn which is a very quiet little place with a hotel and a few stores & houses & a picturesque range of hills not far away but everything is too dry and here is too little green about for it to be really pretty. However the inhabitants think it one of the most wonderful places in the world so we said nothing, [damaged] We received a lot of help as [damaged] got there [damaged] & making us all kinds of [damaged]

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amongst others from Lord Tennyson , Sir Charles Todd , the Chief Justice & others. After our high living in Adelaide it was rather too sudden a descent upon the dry, fatless meat of Quorn but luckily I discovered that it was Lent & that they kept eggs so I was happy. The next morning we started off at 8 in a train composed of two carriages, one kindly reserved for Gillen & myself, & about thirty trucks with two engines. It was slow work for of course we called at every station & as everyone knows everyone else & we had the whole day before us anything like hurrying was out of the question.

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Fortunately for us we had a friend on the train named Mr Mansfield who has stores in deferent parts of S. Australia & travels about visiting them. What was more important for us was that he had a lunch hamper on board with a chick & a bottle of claret so Gillen he & I lunched in state. About 8 o’clock we reached a place called Hergott Springs from which you can see the railway line streaking away to the horizon north & south. It is a most awful hole. We had to stay here for a night & were glad to get away next morning. During this day we passed by Lake Eyre

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which you will find marked on the maps. As a general rule it is simply a huge sheet of white salt but just now owing to the heavy rains it looks like a big inland sea for of course it is salt water. I tried to get a snap shot of it but the train was wobbling so much that I am afraid it will not be a success. Towards 7 o’clock we reached Oodnadatta which looks rather like this so that you can imagine what an exciting kind [landscape sketch] of place it must be to live in. The tall thing on the

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left hand is the railway tank & close by is one of the fortnightly trains just arriving. Of course the whole population meets it on arrival & the excitement is great. Gillen & I went to the ‘Transcontinental hotel’ which is the high sounding name of a wooden structure with a bar bedrooms & dining room. A lot of people from different cattle stations were there who had either come in so as to go up to Adelaide by the train or were on their way back up country. We met some friends there who were very kind to us but there were a lot of people – all men of course whom we could with pleasure have done without

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As the hotel is all built of wood you can hear pretty well everything that everyone says from one end to the other & we heard remarks some of which were complimentary & some of which were not in regard to “Them two blokes – the explorers as is going out collecting bugs & beetles & looking after niggers”. The language was not always quite such correct English as this & it was rather late before we could get to sleep. This was Sunday evening & early Monday I was up and went across to the station to look after our numberless packages which were on the ground as the station does not boast

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a platform. I roughly divided them into two lots – clothing in one, photographic instruments in another, guns & ammunition in another, provisions in another & so on. All this time Mr Gillen was busy with “official duties” as he had to conduct an enquiry & was very fatigued & had what he calls a ‘terrible sinking’ when it was over. We were at this work & of course packing the buggies up till about 3 when we started off Chance the police trooper with the big buggy three black boys and 5 horses three of which were also packed with some of our stores. We were glad to see them off. Then

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we went on a medical visit or rather Gillen did & I accompanied him. He had been called in to see a little boy who was supposed to be suffering from some lung complaint. Mr Gillen gravely sounded the place where his liver ought to be – after looking very learned for some time prescribed sundry doses of Ipececualina & assured his parents much to their relief that there was “no bronchial trouble”. Then we went to the hotel for dinner & afterwards called on a friend Mrs Ross who used to live up in the Centre at a place called Crown Point on the Finke River & who has always been very kind to me on different occasions when I have passed there going up to &

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& back from the Centre giving me a decent meal when such a thing was very welcome. Her husband had charge of a cattle station there & Mrs Ross used often to be left alone with her two little children & only blacks all about the station. Now they have a store in Oodnadatta. At their house there was a staying a Mr. Warburton the uncle of one of your old teachers & the son of one of the old explorers of Central Australia. After this we went back & did a good deal of writing and then to bed for the last time under a roof for probably some months. We did not get much sleep however as there was a concertina going

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and the men – for there were not, fortunately for themselves, any lady visitors in the hotel – were dancing & generally celebrating the fact that the train with some of them in it was off the next morning. I got up about 5-30 because most other people were doing so and sleep was impossible & then after breakfast we set to work, loaded our buggy and started off surrounded by those who had not gone off by the train. After going about half a mile we discovered that the whip had been dropped out & so we had to return & send a black boy in search of it. He soon tracked it up & at length we got really away and were

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very glad to do so. We soon lost sight of Oodnadatta and began to travel away north with nothing in sight except flat stoney plains which are now covered with beautiful green grass & every now & then a low quite flat topped hill with a few creeks bordered with what are called Giddea which is a kind of acacia with an ashy grey green leaf which has a most objectionable smell in wet weather. We went on for about 10 miles to a place called Swallow Creek here there was a small waterhole under the shelter of a low hill. Here we found Chance with the big buggy. The flies were

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something awful and we had no peace till the sunset though we wrapped our heads in mosquito netting. Fortunately we have with us a special fly tent made like this. [sketch of two inside mosquito tent] The top is calico which serves to keep out a little of the sun light and the sides are made of cheese cloth. There is a slit at one corner through which we can crawl and leave most of the flies outside. In this Gillen & I sit & write our notes like two wild animals in a cage while the flies come in myriads & smell us from the outside. It is like a menagerie the wrong

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way about with the tame animals inside & the wild ones outside. The pleasant time comes when the sun goes down. There is always a most gorgeous afterglow & better still the flies drop off gradually & go to rest for the night on the grass & leave us in peace for luckily there are scarcely any mosquitos about. This evening it is most picturesque – we have our camp with its fire, a little way beyond, to leeward of us our three niggers are camped singing corrobboree songs & a little further away is another camp of men travelling with horses. Behind the natives is a little gum tree & they look something like

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This morning I was up before sunrise so as to get an hour or two of peace from the flies. The three blacks went out to get in the horses which we turn out every day as soon as we get into camp, with hobbles on their front feet like this so that they cannot travel very far.

However last [sketch of hobbles] night two of them managed to get back as far as Oodnadatta so that we had to wait in camp till the black boy found them & drove them back. I must not forget to tell you about our boys one of them Warwick by name is a first rate boy who can pack horses & track them up splendidly by first

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watching for their tracks on the ground. He will probably go with us all the way to Port Darwin. He is by way of being a swell & shaves himself with a razor which would tear any ordinary persons face to pieces. He has only once been in jail. Our other two boys came up in the train with us having just – one of them for the second time – emerged from 6 months in Port Augusta jail in consequence of having killed cattle on a station near Alice Springs. One of these two – Sambo by name – is a respectable member of his tribe – apart from his liking for the white man’s cattle and he and his mate also is rather a good for nothing lazy animal

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rejoicing in the name Billy, will probably keep us company as far as Charlotte Waters where we have a good black boy waiting for us. These black ‘boys’ of course are grown men but natives are always called ‘boys’. They get a chunk of bread – another of meat with a good pot of tea for each meal together with an old pipe & tobacco & seem perfectly happy. Our camp here is not at all picturesque – there is an open plain stretching right away to the horizon all round with a low line of hills away in the East & just a few stunted gum trees around a water hole which is kept full by a little stream running

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in to it from an artesian well. The water is very brackish & too hot to hold your hand in. However it makes good tea & is quite clear. I have just tried it in a sparklet & it makes very fair soda water but it would be better if it were not quite so warm. Gillen & I are writing under the fly tent into which we have been driven by the fierce onslaught of about 10 million flies all thirsting for ones blood. Tea is just arrived – this consists of some very tough beef, dry bread, tea & tomato sauce. We have now got through the menu & now it is dark & we can hear the horse bells tinkling as the poor beasts are

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feeding which they cannot do on account of the flies until after sunset. I am afraid that some of our horses will be blind soon though every day their eyes are rubbed with oil. When let loose they stand in clumps so that they can brush one another’s faces with their tails. Except for the tinkling bells & the occasional cry of a curlew everything is perfectly quiet & we are just going to turn in & have a smoke before going to sleep which of course we do in the open.

March 21 1901, Macumba on Stevenson River. Camp 3

I got up about 5 this morning after lying on my bunk watching the eastern sky where there was a most

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most marvellously brilliant bank of scarlet orange coloured fleecy clouds. This bank of clouds has stretched across north to north east during the past 5 days never rising far above the horizon & the natives say it means rain in the far north. Apart from this we have not seen a trace of a cloud either day or night. As soon [sketch of Macumba Station] as we had had breakfast we packed up & as usual Gillen & I lead off in the small buggy leaving the larger one & the pack horses & loose ones to follow. So far as scenery is concerned there was

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only a long series of rolling upland plains covered with grass & here & there clay pans which are only very shallow ponds with a clayey bottom so that the water remains in them when it has dried up everywhere else. As the sun rose higher & higher it got hotter & hotter & then we had a long series of mirages which look somewhat like this. You think that there is a big lake a little way ahead with tall trees [landscape sketch] reflected in it and as you travel on the lake gets further away and what looked like huge trees dwindle down into little bushes perhaps only two or three feet high.

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In the clay pan I got a large number of a quaint old fashioned kind of shrimp with a big plate on its back [sketch of shrimp] like this. They swim about on their backs & look very pretty because all their legs are coloured bright red. They must grow very quickly because you find them in the pools a very few days after rain has fallen & filled the pools. They lay their eggs in the sand and the eggs wont hatch out until they have been dried up which of course they very soon are in these parts of the world. Some of the little pools only a yard or two long were filled with them – so full that they could not move about & will soon all be dead & then nothing more is seen of them till the next rain.

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There are plenty of little tadpoles about but I cant see any grown frogs. The little ones are beginning to hop about on the sand but they will have to grow very quickly if they want to be big enough to burrow down into cool soil where they will have to wait till the next rain which wont fall for probably quite a year ahead. They cant possibly live above ground. These are the kind of frogs which drink a tremendous lot of water & then go to sleep in a burrow for a year or more. Sometimes where the natives are very hard up for water they dig them out and so get the water out of their bodies. I have tasted this & it is quite good.

We left camp at 8 & travelled on to a small station called

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Macumba where we now are. Gillen & I went ahead and got across a big sandy river called the Alberga but after we had gone on almost a mile one of the black boys rode after us to say that Chance and the big buggy were ‘bogged’ in the river & could not get get across so we had to send back two strong horses & between them they got over the at last & here we are camped on a little flat close to a large water hole in the Stevenson River. You will see a little of what this ‘station’ is like from the sketch. This evening we have dined in luxury in our fly tent on tinned tongues & preserved figs to which we added a few potatoes which we have brought along from Oodnadatta. We always of

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course have a quart pot of tea each. You know the ordinary [sketch of cup and pot] quart pot but ours are an improvement on this as there is a kind of sieve which fits on to the bottom of the cup and holds the tea leaves so that these don’t get into the pot. When not in use the sieve fits into the cup & this into the pot (n.b. I can’t draw because the flies are worrying the life out of us). Flies [sketch of pot with lid on] remind me that Chance has now two bung eyes & is blind. A bung eye is caused by one of [sketch of bung eye] the flies “biting” you on a tender part of the lid inside & the wonder

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is that any of us have whole eyes left. When ‘bunged’ properly you cant see at all & simply have to wait a day or two till the swelling goes down & you can open your eye. Our horses are suffering a great deal but by dint of oiling their eyes we are keeping them in better state than most that we meet. They dont a bit like camels & yesterday a big team went by and one of them in our buggy got very excited & kicked about till both traces were smashed so we had to wait a while & mend things up before we could get on. Luckily he did not damage the buggy.

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We thought that we would make an early start today & were up before sunrise but of course the horses had strayed & then when they came in & we put them in the buggy the first pair we tried (a new pair which we had not used before) refused to budge so we had to take them out & put in another pair. When Gillen & I were right there the big buggy was got ready & there was no end of trouble to get the beasts to start. However at length we got away but 1½ miles from Macumba we got into some very heavy sand along the Stevenson River & the big buggy came to a standstill. Fortunately a man who has been driving the coach for years came by & he & Chance &

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a good deal of whipping succeeded in getting them out of the sand and on to a flat near to the River – you must remember that river s are not exactly what we understand by “Rivers” – they are only sandy beds with gum trees growing in them and water holes every here & there. It was quite clear that the horses would not pull the big buggy through the heavy country ahead of us so we are simply camped here and have sent back for 4 strong horses. The drought has of course been very bad for horses & they are in poor condition yet but will soon pull up again as there is any amount of grass for them to eat if only the flies would not torment them so.

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However as it has turned out the delay which annoyed us a good deal at first has not been altogether a bad thing. At dusk 5 or 6 old natives came in and so we got our phonograph out and got them to sing corrobboree songs into it. They were very much excited and interested especially as we let them hear the instrument repeating what they had said. This phonograph is a beauty: it was given to us in Adelaide and we can both take records with it and repeat them as soon as ever they are taken. At Charlotte waters we hope to be able to get some of the women & picanninies to talk into it but I am afraid that they will be a little frightened

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Gillen & myself felt quite happy to be amongst the blacks again & to hear the old corroboree songs once more and I don’t know whether we or the natives were the most excited. After this was over and the blacks had gone to their camp we went over & had a ‘yabber’ with them. They had made a number of fires and were lying in a row with a little fire & a small heap of sticks between each man. After this we turned in and slept soundly – I didn’t even hear Gillen snoring and only woke when the sun rose over a little hill behind the camp & shone straight into my face.

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March 23 1901, Camp 4 on Stevenson River

We have been in camp all day. The horses are to come tomorrow so we hope to be on the move again. Fortunately it is not very hot 149.5 today in the sun & about 11 degrees less in the shade – at least it feels like this but I suppose it is only about 104 or something like that. The flies are awful & we can do nothing but spend our time brushing them away. I have a kind of bag of mosquito netting round my head but the little ones which are the most nuisance amuse themselves by creeping through this & getting into my eyes & ears & nose. There is some consolation though rather a poor & disagreeable one that you can make sure of catching them in your ear. It is one long

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continuous “Buzz” from morning to night. I went out this morning catching beasts in the water holes but most of the time had to be spent in rubbing my eyes. It is a great blessing to have so much water about but of course it is all quite muddy & the colour of weak coffee. However you soon get used to this: the only thing you have to avoid is swallowing a good sized tadpole for you can’t see through the water. Goodness only knows how much animal life we have unconsciously used to strengthen our tea. Hang the flies they are up my back & legs & arms & all over everywhere.

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March 24 1901, Camp 5 Willow well, Arthirralina

We were up before the sun rose this morning & had finished breakfast before it was up & better still before the flies were astir.

As soon as ever the sun came up above the horizon the usual ‘buzz’ began which was a sign for mosquito netting to be put on: almost half an hour later we look something like this with a whole mob of beast pursuing us [sketch of man in netting] wherever we go. By 8 we had everything packed up and then simply sat it and waited for a man named Mackenzie to come. He had kindly promised to help us on over our next two stages. It was after

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10 before he came and then we saddled the horses & tried to make a start. At first we thought all was going to be well & that our troubles were over for the big buggy with four horses started quietly but in a few minutes it came to a dead stop in a sand hill. However after any amount of pushing & whipping they started again [sketch of buggy and horses]. This kind of thing went on time after time until it began to get rather monotonous and we wondered whether we should ever get through. We were

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thankful late on in the afternoon to reach a spot called the Willow well where there is a wheel sunk in the sand so as to supply water for travelling horses & cattle. We are now camped on an open flat and as it is evening the flies are quiet but any number of miserable little flying ants are annoying me as I write by candle light. I’ve been trying to sketch the buggy with the blacks pushing behind & Gillen whipping them but I cant manage it as the ants are too much. I wish you could just see one of our camps where everything is quiet at night. It is the only pleasant time in the whole 24 hours – when

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we have had our evening meal & are enjoying a smoke before turning in. We bring the two buggies up close together so that the hammocks can be slung across between the two wheels. A hundred yards away from us is a water hole bordered by gum trees which are now just lighted up by the moon & on which I can hear the waterfowl & wild ducks quietly whistling. Gillen and three other men are talking round the camp fire and a little distance off are the fires of two native camps [sketch] (one of our ‘boys’ asleep after dinner)

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March 25 1901, Camp 6 Ulabarinna

We got up today just as the sun rose & managed to finish breakfast before the flies were properly awake but none too soon. All day long we have been travelling slowly along through very sandy country by the side of the Stevenson River. There is very little else except mulga scrub to be seen which looks very much like this [landscape sketch] Mulga is a kind of Acacia with very thin wiry branches and no real leaves but on little spines all over the branches which are the leafstalks and serve instead of leaves. Very often the stems grow so close together that it is quite impossible to penetrate


low & in an hour or two we shall have peace. I wish I could give you a coloured sketch of the sunset: even the old Mulga scrub & flat plain look lovely but I cant paint them partly because I [sketch] (Three of our boys who are now sitting thus in front of the fire) cant get the right colours partly because it is impossible to blend colours here as the paint is dry as soon as you put it on the paper & partly & still more important because the flies wont let me.

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the scrub. This is the kind of scenery at which I am now looking. There is [landscape sketch] an open flat plain in the foreground with the remains of old mulga shrubs killed in the drought, further away is a belt of thick mulga & rising above there is a line of gum trees skirting the banks of the river & growing right in the river bed. We had to cross several sandy creeks today but the big buggy only got stuck three times. The recent rains have washed away the old crossings so that very often you have a nasty steep kind of jump down into the creek & the wonder is that the traps don’t upset. I thought once that

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we were sure to go over but by good luck we did not. It is very hot: even the bank of clouds in the north east has disappeared and for days past it has been absolutely cloudless. After driving today for about twenty miles we reached a place called Ulbarinna where there is a big waterhole. All of the camping places along this part of the country are of course close to water holes. The first thing we do when coming into camp is to send the black boys with the horses down to the water: then they bring back two buckets of water. Chance meanwhile has unpacked the tucker box & got a fire ready so that within a very short time we have a feed ready.

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A team of horses has just come in & we are trying to buy two more so as to make sure of having our big trap pulled through the sand hills on ahead. In a little while we shall be beyond the reach of horses & so we must get now what we want. This will give us 16 in all and we shall get 4 or 6 more in a week or two. Gillen & I have just been for a walk down the River to see if there was anything to be had. The river bed is about ¼ mile wide with a series of channels separated by sand banks on which gum trees grow. There are pools of water every here & there but they are quite shallow & will soon be dry again. The sun is beginning to get

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March 26 1901, Camp 7 “Possum Creek”

Up again before sunrise & breakfasted rapidly. It had been rather a warm night with the result that mosquitos were about. We put two new horses in the big buggy to try them & as they pulled well we bought them for £25. They will be of great help to us when we come to the big sand hill country & thanks to them we were not once stuck today though we had to cross some very bad sandy rivers by the side of one of which we are now camped. Our track today has lain across bare upland plains all covered over with smooth stones called ‘gibbers’. They are rather rough both on buggy & riders and ought to be good for anyone with a liver as your ‘insides’ are thoroughly well shaken up.

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It has in addition been very hot – 154o. Gillen is having a siesta but the flies are too many for me & the horses are really mad with them. They have gone into a water pool & are standing in groups head to tail so that each horse brushes the flies from his mate’s face, I have smoked till I can smoke no more & now there is nothing to do but wait till the sun goes down. Gillen has just woke up or rather has been awakened by the jingling of horse bells which sound like a dozen of our dinner bells going all at once. The poor beasts are clustered together something like these over the page only I cant as you will perceive draw horses.

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An old man with a team of horses has just come up. He has both eyes bunged & [sketch of group of horses] I cant understand however he manages to get along as he is quite alone & has to catch & harness 6 horses every day. He used once upon a time to be Gillen’s cook up at Alice Springs but as Gillen says – apart from his looks – he was not even a plain cook & after long suffering had to be sent away.

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March 27 1901, Camp 8 Adminga Creek

We have had a very hot day & not a comfortable one by any means. The flies got up early though we were having breakfast as the sun rose. Gillen & I started off at 7.30. Packing up every morning is a wearisome business. I pack the small buggy with Gillen & my own personal belongings on. Chance packs the big buggy & the black boys pack the three horses & saddle the others. The little buggy starts first then the big one & lastly the boys come along with the pack & loose horses. All moving we were running along by the Stevenson Creek which in parts was very pretty with plenty of long green grass about & gum trees. Then we had

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an 8 mile run along a table land by the side of the telegraph poles with mirages in the distance something like [landscape sketch with line of telegraph poles] this. Then we went in to a small shanty store at a place called Blood’s Creek hoping to buy a bag of flour but could not. Then we halted for an hour for lunch by the side of a dirty water pool in which were a great lot of tree frogs which fill

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themselves out with water & go to sleep in a burrow. I got some of the black boys to fish one out & found that he was [sketch of swollen frog] beginning to swell himself out already. He was mottled all over with green & gold & looked very pretty but when he begins to burrow he loses all this & becomes a dirty yellow ochre in colour. After lunch we came on another 12 miles over some very rough stones which jogged us to bits & the sun shone down so hotly that we could not touch any of the metal parts of the buggy with comfort. We had to cross two creeks

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with very steep banks. Gillen & I got over them safely but looking back to see how the big buggy fared at the last & worst one to my horror I saw the horses reach the top of the bank; then the front wheel got up & the buggy began to go back again dragging the horses after it. I expected a horrible general smash up when by good fortune the hind wheels caught in some stones & the trap came to a stand still. I didn’t say anything to Gillen as he was driving our horses & in a few minutes by a desperate effort the buggy was brought up the bank & now here we are camped

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amongst a lot of Giddea trees. Just after we had settled down the mail cart from Alice Springs came along - 3 days late – we had a chat with the driver & one of the telegraph operators who was on board for a few minutes & then off it started for it was then growing dusk & they had still another 12 miles to do over a horrible track. We shall go on to Charlotte Waters tomorrow morning & probably stay there a week at least as there are we hear a good many natives round about & I want to try the cinematograph. It is a lovely moonlight night & we are just going to turn in though it is only 9 and have a have a quiet smoke. One great advantage of sleeping in the open is that you can smoke in your rug.

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March 28 1901, Charlotte Waters Camp 9

This morning the flies beat the wind: it was rather a warm muggy night so we had mosquitos about but though we got up before sunrise the flies were too much for us and we had a miserable time until we got away from camp soon after 7 & drove off over some very rough stony hills & plains. There was a mob of camels camped not far from us & as our horses smelt them they quickened their pace. After two hours we came on to the long plain on which the telegraph station lies. The telegraph line runs across this for 9 miles as straight as a die & there far away in the distance you can see the station in the mirage. It is a very queer effect & you seem to travel on & on in the heat


remarkable looking [sketch of man in shirt and hat] individual came in to see us. His name is really “Unpaliurkna” but the whites here have christened him ‘Jack’. He belongs to a tribe called the Un-matchera which lives in the country to the north of the Arunta and he is the only member of the tribe who we have seen so we are going to make the best of him and have already attached him to the scientific staff. You will see what he is like from the sketch [sketch of two heads in profile] though this rather flatters him. His hat is a most extraordinary structure but it keeps all the sun off and the rain too when any happens to fall and he can use it as a small tent during the cold weather. It was made for him out of old hoop rim and calico by a friendly white man. However he is a very learned man highly qualified as a medicine man with a large practice that is he would have only unfortunately most of his tribe have now perished. Some years ago some of them attacked one or two white men with


the [sketch of head in profile] result that a large number of the natives were shot and since then most of the older people have died partly due to lack of food during the drought of the past few years. The natives up here had a terrible time during the drought but now that times are good again they seem to have forgotten all about it. A lot more natives belonging to the Kaitish tribe have come in to see us from the north west. They are a wild looking lot of individuals but they are very keen upon securing supplies of tobacco and flour and above all tomahawks. Tea [sketch of head in profile] and sugar they know nothing about and do not care for. They have brought with them stores of pitchis and shields and boomerangs many of which we have already added to our stock. They are not quite without guile and only bring in a certain number of things at a time and when these are ‘eaten’ up then we have a deputation with a few more things. The trouble will come when we want to pack everything up as pitchis are big and awkward.


June 21. Camp 33 Barrow Creek

I [sketch of head in profile] forgot to say that the heads which adorn these pages are intended to show what a native Kaitish lady is like at various times of her life. I have not troubled to draw her various styles of dress because she never has any except a head and a neckband but she is apparently quite happy without any and it saves a good deal of trouble and expense. There is no such thing here as great excitement when a new frock arrives. You will see that she does not grow handsomer as old age comes on. The old lady on this page has her hair cut short because she is in mourning and what little there is of it is [sketch of child’s head in profile] getting very grey. This particular lady spends most of her time in howling when any member of the tribe happens to die and as this had been taking place frequently lately she has had her time fully occupied. When she started life she looked something like this little picanniny who looks solemn in this sketch but in reality is always running about laughing and shouting. This morning we had old Unpaliurkna in the witness box. We started him by asking him what


he knew about a lonely looking hill which rises up out of the scrub in the middle of his country. Just as he had begun some more of our Kaitish friends who were hungry came up with a few really good things those of which I have drawn here. [sketch of object 1]

1. is shaped like a cigar and contains the whiskers of a defunct native:[sketch of object 2]
2. does not look much but is very valuable as it is made from the hair of the same man and when you go to fight anyone and carry this you cannot possibly get hurt. [sketch of pointing stick]
3. is a pointing stick which contains no end of evil magic and was brought to us most carefully wrapped up in bark as the natives will not handle it if they can help.

When they had gone away happy with flour and tobacco Unpaliurkna went on and told us how in the Alcheringa an old Eagle-hawk lived on a mountain and had some eggs out of which of course some young ones came. Then another Eagle-hawk a long way off saw them and flew across and then he and the young ones went out in search of wallaby but the old parent stayed behind and searched round the hill and caught a wallaby but unfortunately for him a bone stuck cross wise in his throat and choked him so that he died. After that the others went on living in the same place and at last they all died there but since then they have often come to life again in the form of men and women. They call this hill Irritcha-puncha which means the Eagle-hawk hill. The natives believe


all this kind of thing just as firmly as we believe that Queen Elizabeth lived and they have a tradition [sketch of tree grave] to account for the origin of every mortal living thing in the country. This afternoon we have photographed a tree grave. They have a queer habit of burying people at first in trees and then afterwards they take their bones down and bury them in the earth. However they don’t put the old women in trees-only the young ones and when we asked them why they said it was that they were sorry when the young women died but did not care about the old women so they put them in the ground straight away and have done with them. This is a sketch of a grave of a picanniny: you will see that they have heaped a few boughs up in a mulga tree and the bones are in a pitchi. The women have a curious habit when their husband dies. They may not speak until they are married again which often does not take place for two or three years and during all this time they talk on their fingers. There is one old lady here who has not spoken a word for more than two years. In their tribe every woman is bound to be married after she has been a widow


for some time because she is property of the defunct natives [sketch of decorated man] younger brothers. If you are lucky you may come in, in course in time, for a whole bevy of widows who will provide you with plenty of what the natives call ‘bushy-tuck-out’ which means seed and yams and different kinds of vegetable food. A widow is not very much trouble because she knows that if she makes herself objectionable she will promptly be hit on the head with a yam stick. Curiously enough they get so accustomed to talking on their fingers that they [sketch of head and body of decorated man] prefer this to actual speaking which must be a blessing to a gentleman with, say, half a dozen widows whom he has inherited along with his brother’s shields and spears. This afternoon we had no few than four sacred ceremonies. In one of them a performer represented an Emu (the top sketch) with a large head dress very much like the ones used in the Arunta tribe. In another there was a man decorated with a band of red down edged with white running all down his face and chest and in addition he had red circles edged with white on each side. The band was supposed to represent uncooked grass seed and the performer was the head man of the grass seed totem. In the Alcheringa his ancestors sprang from grass seed and now he is responsible for the well being and growth of the seed


which is a very great article of food. Every year at least he must [sketch of profile of bearded man] perform a very sacred ceremony to make the seed grow and then when it is sprouting he goes out day after day by himself into the bush and ‘sings’ it so as to make it grow still more plentifully. Then when it has grown, all the men and women go and collect large quantities of it and bring it into camp and cook it but before they can touch it they must take some to him. Then he eats just a little of what they bring and gives all the rest back to them telling them to go and eat it, as much as they like. He himself is not allowed to eat more than a very little of it, if he does then the other men will what they call “bone him up” that is they will charm a pointing stick and when he is not looking point it towards him requesting the evil magic which they have put in it to go quickly and eat up his insides. The grass seed is what is called this man’s totem and neither he nor any other grass seed man may eat it, but then of course he may eat kangaroo which the kangaroo men may not and possum which the possum men may not and grubs which the grub men may not and so really he is no worse off than


most other people though it is rather an advantage to have a totem like fire or flies which you don’t care much about eating. It is the head of the ancient grass seed man which adorns the last page. He is a fine old ruffian and is the man whom I think I have told you before we have attached to our scientific staff. His Christian or rather heathen name is Arabinia-wuingwinia though he is usually known as Tungalla. This evening we have been developing photos-as the results of the afternoons ceremonies.

June 22. Camp 33 B.K.

The mail went down to Alice Springs this morning but it will be a long time before the letters reach Hammerdale. We have been busy with Illpaliurkna all day (alias ‘Jack”- he of the hat) but the results are more scientific than interesting. This evening I have been skinning birds especially one pretty little fellow which we found first on the Horn Expedition. He is a very rare little one with a black band across his chest and a brown back and rejoiced in the name of Xerophila nigricineta which is bigger than himself. You will find him figured in the Horn volume.

June 22, Camp 23. B.K.

We have been busy with Illpaliurkna all day


day finding out different things about the Unmatchera. We wanted especially to find out why they bury people in trees but all we could get was something like this. In the Alcheringa (which with these natives always begins every tale, just like ‘once upon a time’ does with us) there arose a man named Umulyilla-unquia-inika. At first he was not very big and was very stiff and could not walk so he lay down all day in the sunshine and did nothing but stretch his legs. After a time he looked at himself and saw a lot of prickles on his body and said Hallo I’m a Jew Lizard and which of course was his totem, then at night he went to sleep and when he woke in the morning and he looked and saw on the ground beside him another Jew Lizard and said Hallo that’s me and then he looked again and saw another and made the same remark and so on time after time. All these other Jew Lizards had somehow or other sprung from him during the night so that there were now a lot of Jew Lizard men instead of only one. Then he saw one die and said Hallo that’s me dead. I’ll bury him in the ground but then it struck him that he was too sorry to do this so he decided upon burying him in a tree. After that he continued living in the same spot and spent all his time looking at himself and gradually he increased and became great in the flesh and grew up into an Oknirabata (which means great teacher). After he had grown then he set out on his travels


came across a mob of nail-tailed wallabies or rather he met with one nail-tailed wallaby gentleman who he told to sit down and keep looking at himself because if he did so a whole mob of wallabies would rise from him and he would grow great in the flesh and be an Oknirabata. And it came to pass even as Umulliyilla-unquia-inika said it would. Then he went on to another man or two and told them he same thing with the same result and he also told them all to bury themselves in trees. However when he had gone along on his travels and left the nail-tailed wallaby man an old curlew man came up just when they were going to bury one of the wallabies in the tree and was very mush upset about it. However the wallabies said let us wait three days so the curlew said yes but no sooner was he out of sight than the wallabies hoisted the dead man up into a tree. There they left him for the three days and were just taking him down and putting him in the ground when up came the curlew. He was awfully cross with them and gave the man’s body a vicious kick with the result that he rolled over into the sea and never came to life again whereas before they used to return to life after three days. This kind of thing had occupied all the day except odd moments during a few of which Gillen and I took photos of ourselves which we are sending you down copies of. We also weighed ourselves and found that Gillen


Gillen is about stationary. (I hope he won’t look at himself and grow any greater in the flesh). And that I have put on 12 lbs. since leaving Melbourne so that I am now heavier than I have been in 13 years. This evening one of the lubras brought in a little Euro - a kind of kangaroo - and I have skinned it so that if it turns out well you may see it in the Museum. The telegram from Hammerdale for my birthday came last night but Mr. Scott kept it till this morning and gave it to me at breakfast time. He and I are almost exactly the same age only he is fat and I am lean.

June 24. Camp33 Barrow Creek

Another day with Illpaliurkna. I think he is beginning to wish that Anthropology was never invented and that Anthropologist are a definite nuisance. However when once he warms to the work he gets very interested. He is very proud of the hat and apparently sleeps in it for we never see him without it day or night. I would like it for the collection but it would break his heart to have to part with it. We were asking him about the comet and he gravely told us without the sign of a smile that he had driven it away by wise use of certain sacred little stones which are scattered through his body. Of course no one sees these but himself and they give him his powers as a medicine man. While the comet was visible he


used to go out every night by himself because of course no ordinary mortal is allowed to see the stone and then he brought [sketch of bandicoot] the stone out of his body and threw them at the comet with the result that finally he drove it away. The natives here firmly believe that he did so and of course Gillen and myself never ventured to throw any suspicions upon his powers. They thought that the tails were enormous bundles of spears which some evil power wanted to throw at them and the comet with its spears only went away without doing them any harm because of the very strong magic power of our friend. Since we have learned this we have looked upon him with increased awe and respect. When I am not busy with the natives most of my time is occupied with skinning and during the last day or two the hunters have brought me in several specimens of the white-tailed bandicoot which is rather like the above sketch only I can’t get any idea into drawing of its beautiful soft grey silky fur. It’s tail is very funny-half of it covered with long still black hairs and the other half with white hairs. I hope the skins will come down safely but this is a bad climate for that kind of work as everything goes bad so quickly and of course the natives don’t know


or care anything about the danger of keeping beasts too long before they bring them in and think nothing of spending a day with a friend if they chance to come across one while they are bringing animals in: all that they care about is the fact that a beast is worth so much flour and tobacco. Old Jack told us a rather queer story today about two Orrunchas as the natives call them who lived of course in the Alcheringa. They were kind of ogres whom you read of in fairy tales. In this case there were two brothers and one day the elder started off after a big old man kangaroo but after a time it began to rain hard and both of them got bogged in some soft ground. As soon as ever the old Orruncha got one leg out down went the other deeper than ever but at least he succeeded in getting on to dry ground but the kangaroo had gone on and a little way ahead it was killed by a man who had a dog with him. The man’s name was Induda and his dog’s name Prilpina so of course there is no doubt that they really lived once upon a time. The old Orruncha came up just as Induda was getting ready to cook the kangaroo and was downright annoyed but he didn’t show anything and only said ‘Hallo you have been and killed my kangaroo’ and Indula said ‘yes I know’ that which made the Orruncha still angrier so he called the dog over to him and


Rights: Mitchell Library

Document Details

Date Made
Circa 1901
Date Collected
Central Australia
South Australia and the Northern Territory

Document Details

Number of Pages


Language Groups


Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales


Primary Subject
Secondary Subject