Tuesday, 26th June, Large Gum Creek, with Sheets of Water.
- Written by John McDouall Stuart
- Category: John McDouall Stuart - Fourth Expedition
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Tuesday, 26th June, Large Gum Creek, with Sheets of Water. I have resolved to follow this creek down to-day, and, if the water continues, to follow it out. Started on a course 77 degrees, and at six miles crossed the creek, which is running a little more to the north. There are long sheets of water all the way down to this, the banks in some places being steep, with the lower part formed of concrete, and the upper red sandy soil, which gives me a bad opinion of it for water, if the concrete ceases. Here we saw some blacks; they would not come near us, but walked off as fast as they could. From the top of the rise we saw where they were camped, on the banks of a large sheet of water; we passed on without taking any more notice of them, and at nine miles, not seeing any appearance of the creek, I changed my course to 25 degrees. At three quarters of a mile cut it again, but without water in it; it is much narrower and deeper, having sandy banks and bed. Changed again to 77 degrees, the creek frequently crossing our course, and at fifteen miles saw there was no hope of obtaining water. The country is becoming more sandy, and is thickly covered with spinifex and scrub. We crossed down to the banks of the creek; no rising ground visible. I must keep closer to the hills, and, as the day has been very hot, I shall return and camp at nine miles from our last camp, if there is water; if not, I shall have to camp a short way above where we saw the natives this morning. I do not wish to get too near them, or to annoy them in any way. We could find no water below where they were camped; I therefore pushed on to get above them before dark. At half-past one o'clock, about three miles from the creek, we saw where they had been examining our tracks, and as we approached the creek their tracks became very numerous on ours. When we arrived on the top of the rise, where we had previously seen their camp and fires, we could now see nothing of them, neither smoke, fires, nor anything else: it was then nearly dark. I concluded they had left in consequence of having seen us pass in the morning, as natives in general do. I was moving on to the place where we crossed the creek in the morning, when suddenly from behind some scrub which we had just entered, up started three tall powerful fellows fully armed, having a number of boomerangs, waddies, and spears. Their distance from us was about two hundred yards. It being so nearly dark, and the scrub we were then in placing us at a disadvantage, I wished to pass without taking any notice of them, but such was not their intention, for they continued to approach us, calling out and making all sorts of gestures apparently of defiance. I then faced them, making every sign of friendship I could think of. They seemed to be in a great fury, moving their boomerangs above their head, bawling at the top of their voices, and performing some sort of a dance. They were now joined by more of their tribe, so that in a few minutes their numbers had increased to upwards of thirty; every bush seemed to produce a man. Putting the horses on towards the creek, and placing ourselves between them and the natives, I told my men to get their guns ready, for I could see they were determined upon mischief. They paid no regard to all the signs of friendship I kept constantly making, but were still gradually approaching nearer and nearer to us. I felt very unwilling to fire upon them, and still continued making signs of peace and friendship, but all to no purpose. Their leader, an old man, who was in advance, made signs with his boomerang, which we took as a signal for us to be off. They were, however, intended as tokens of defiance, for I had no sooner turned my horse's head to comply with what I thought were their wishes, than we received a shower of boomerangs, accompanied by a fearful yell; they then set fire to the grass, and commenced jumping, dancing, yelling, and throwing their arms into all sorts of postures, like so many fiends. In addition to the thirty that already confronted us, I could now see many others getting up from behind the bushes. Still I felt unwilling to fire upon them, and tried again to make them understand that we wished to do them no harm. Having now approached within about forty yards of us, they made another charge, and threw their boomerangs, which came whistling and whizzing past our ears, one of them striking my horse. I then gave orders to fire, which stayed their mad career for a little. Our pack-horses, which were on before us, took fright when they heard the firing and fearful yelling, and made off for the creek. Seeing some of the blacks running from bush to bush, with the intention of cutting us off from our horses, while those in front were still yelling, throwing their boomerangs, and coming nearer to us, we gave them another reception, and I sent Ben after the horses to drive them on to a more favourable place, while Kekwick and I remained to cover our rear. We soon got in advance of those who were endeavouring to cut us off, but they still kept following, though beyond the reach of our guns, the fearful yelling still continuing from more numerous voices, and fires springing up in every direction. It being now quite dark, with the country scrubby, and our enemies bold and daring, we could be easily surrounded and destroyed by such determined fellows as they have shown themselves to be. Seeing there is no hope with such fearful odds (ten to one at least) against us, and knowing all the disadvantages under which we labour, I very unwillingly make up my mind to push on to our last night's camp. We have done so, and now I have had a little time to consider the matter over I do not think it prudent to remain here to-night; I shall therefore continue on until I reach the open grassy plain or gum creek. They are still following us up; I only wish that I had four more men, for my party is so small that we can only fall back and act on the defensive. If I were to stand and fight them (which I wish I could) our horses must remain unprotected, and we, in all probability, should be cut off from them. Our enemies seem to be aiming at that, and to prevent our advance up the creek; by this time they have found out their mistake, as we did not go a step out of our course for them. Arrived at Hayward Creek at 11 o'clock at night.