NORTHAM TO ESPERANCEANDESPERANCE TO FREMANTLE WITH BUSHMEN FORTY YEARS AGO(By Gabba Kyla.)
1914 'NORTHAM TO ESPERANCE.', The West Australian , 10 July, p. 10
It was a joyful day when Mr. E. Dempster (under whose care I was placed as
a lad to gain experience in farming on the Buckland Estate) told me
that, if I wished, I could join a party of station hands and shearers
who were engaged for work on the Esperance Bay Station in 1874. We were
to travel overland with pack and saddle horses. Our party consisted of
seven members, including 'a native horse boy named "Curly," seven
riding horses, and five pack horses. I remember that there was no
little excitement when we were preparing for the journey, as many of
the horses had to be broken to their work.
We left Buckland on September 5, 1874. About half-an-hour after we started on our journey one of our party, who rather fancied himself as a rough rider, was thrown from his steed. The horse bucked, causing the saddle to turn round under its flank, and the rider to fall underneath. The animal bucked right over him for some seconds. Fortunately no damage was done, except to the rider's feelings. After we left Buckland our route lay through Northam to Wilberforce, and thence through York and Beverley to Brookton, after a which we left the main road, and followed sandalwood tracks as far as the head of the Palinup (or Salt) River.
At that time there ,was very little settlement on the line of country over which we
traveled, as we were well east of most of the homesteads of that time, the only ones I remember being Maplestead and those of Messrs. W.Lukin, Andrews, Quarterman, Treasures, and Moir Bros., at the head of the Pallinup.. After we left Moir Bros. station we struck south until we reached Hassell's track from the Jerramungup sheep station to Albany. This we followed to the station, after which we turned about
south-east across country to 'Dempster's crossing on the Phillips River, and thence east to Esperance where we arrived 21 days after our departure from Buckland.
As Messrs. Dempster ,Bros. had made an agreement with the Fremantle butchers to deliver one thousand sheep about the middle of July at Fremantle, Mr. Andrew Dempster, who was then manager, gave me the choice between going out to help to open up their runs at Fraser Range, and returning to Fremantle with the sheep, under William Stewart, a well-known and capable drover. The natives had been very troublesome at the Fraser Range a few months before, and had so scared a party of well sinkers that they departed, leaving everything behind them except two horses and a dray, which they abandoned on the road, arriving at Esperance Bay in a very exhausted state. I did not think it advisable to go to such a place with men who
had such a dread of natives, so I decided to take the risks attached to an overland journey to Fremantle with stock.
The members of our party were the drover Stewart, myself, a native and , his wife, one riding and two pack horses, a kangaroo dog, and two sheepdogs. In our kit we
had a most useful pair of tin water breakers holding about six gallons each, and made to fit the pack horses' sides. I mention this because they helped to save the situation on more than one occasion when we were pressed for want of water in a waterless country such as that stretching from the Phillips River to the mouth of the Gardiner. We left Esperance Bay on October 12, 1874, with a flock of about 1,050 two
and four tooth wethers off the shears, and only in moderate condition, under instructions from the manager to top them up if possible during the journey so that they might. be delivered in prime condition at Fremantle during July, 1875.
Leaving the Bay, we traveled parallel with the coast to Menbeenup , and thence to the head of Stokes Inlet, at the mouth of the Young River. We then followed the river almost to its source, afterwards striking across country to the eastern branch of the
Jerdacartup, or Oldfield River, to a fine grass patch, and thence to the head of the western branch, to another nice stretch of grass country called Naanup. We stayed about two weeks at this place, as the feed was splendid for stock. Our food supply having begun to run out, I had to return with the native as a guide to Esperance for a further supply, the distance being about 80 miles across country.
We had a rather trying time on our journey towards Esperance , between our camp
and the Young River, as we had to penetrate dense marlock thickets when approaching the river. It took us about sixteen hours to travel about 25 miles, though we pushed forward all the time. However, we got through without mishap, and on the return
journey we did not have so much trouble, as we had daylight instead of darkness when pushing our way through the thickets. By the way, I can still recall with amusement that when leaving Esperance we were armed with a very old tower musket, stamped with the Tower brand, and having huge nipples which had to be fitted with very large percussion caps commonly known as policeman's hats from their shape, they being like
the hats worn by the police a century ago.
Our native was very
successful in shooting game with this old weapon , but it was a fair
terror to kick when loaded with swan-drop shot. I generally let him do
the shooting, my weapon of defense being a very ancient six barrelled
pepper bor revolver. It was absolutely useless for shooting at more
than six paces. After our return to camp we did not move for a few
days, and then we continued our journey down the Jerdacartup to the
coast, after which we turned to the westward, following Dempster's
overland track towards Albany, crossing the Steere River, and arriving
eventually at the Phillips River.
We made our camp at Dempster's
Crossing, close under East Mount Barren, at the beginning of December.
From this camp I had to return to Esperance for more food supplies a
distance of about 100 miles. On this journey I traveled alone, and I
shall never forget the feeling of utter loneliness when night camping
at the "Horse Rocks," after the first day s journey from the river. I
did not sleep very well that night, as my boyish fancies conjured up
all the things which might happen during the night. After that I was
quite resigned to the thought of camping alone, and imaginary foes and
dangers did not trouble me any more.
On my return to the Phillips
River, the first news I heard was that our native had cleared out. As
he had reached the boundary of his tribal district, he was frightened
to go further. So we two white men were left to do the remainder of our
journey with out further help and the very worst part of the country
was now before us. We Left the Phillips River on September 21, for a
start had to push our sheep through a dense marlock thicket for about a
mile, this thicket having a considerable amount of rock poison growing
all through it. However, we managed to get through without loss,
camping on the high ridge above the river on that night not very far
from Middle Mount Barren.
This range of mountains deserves its name, as
it remains in my memory as the most barren, gloomy looking range which
it has been my lot to see even more so than those of the North West
coast of Western Australia. Leaving our camp on the ridge, we dipped
into the valley through which the Hammersley River approaches the sea,
a barren poor country covered with dense thickets and poison plants,
the water in the river itself being quite salt during the warmer summer
months. But, luckily, we struck an old native well, and with the aid of
a shovel which we had picked up on our way we cleaned out the well,
which had been partly filled in, and succeeded in getting enough water
to give our horses a drink, and to last us for three or four days. If
it had not been for the finding of this well I think that we should
have had to retrace our steps as far as the Steere River, as the water
supply had almost dried up when we left the Phillips River.
Our camp at
the Hammersley was a most dangerous one for stock, being surrounded by
poison, with only a strip of grass land about two hundred yards wide,
and about half a mile in length, to pasture the sheep on. We had to
watch them day and night whilst we remained there. We spent our
Christmas at this lively spot. For the festive occasion the old drover
made a plum pudding, the ingredients of which we brought from
Esperance. The pudding, though rather greasy, was appreciated , after
three months on damper, kangaroo and mutton. Leaving the Hammersley we
pushed on with as much speed as possible through some poison country to
Yates Swamp, about fifteen miles from the river, and to our great
delight, we found a little water, which enabled us to water our
Leaving on the next day, we reached another Yates
patch. These grass patches are a perfect Godsend to traveling stock in
such a barren country. From that place I had to retrace my steps with
the horses to the Yates Swamp for water for ourselves, horses, and
dogs, and it was on this part of the journey that we realized the value
of our water breakers. We moved on next day to an other grass patch,
still having to return to the swamp for water. While pushing the stock
on the two following days, I had to make two return journeys to the
swamp for water.
The next move was a serious matter for us. as we knew
that in front was a dense thicket, about a mile wide, and full of
poison and beyond that for some distance the country was devoid of
fresh water. Our'
sheep, having been without water for some days, were beginning to show
symptoms of thirst. Next day we were out in turns for half a day
clearing a passage through the thicket (with a tomahawk) about a chain
wide, cutting down all the poison we could see. On the following day we
started to force our way with the sheep through the thicket, and, after
three hours' hard driving, during which we had to cut up the flock into
mobs of 200 or 300, we rushed. them through with,dogs, one driving;
while the other remained with the rest of the flock. However, we
managed to get through, losing only two. After we had got through we
struck the Copper Mine Creek, which contained no fresh water, so I had
to push on ahead. and I found fresh water at the mouth of the
We camped that night. At the Copper Mine where the country
had been prospected for copper some years before, and a few.small
shafts were still to be seen on the hill side above the old mining
camp. At this place I saw a larger mob of dingoes than it has been my
lot to see before or since. Our dogs ran down one of the mob, and
killed it with my assistance. Except for the prick ears, it was exactly
like a smooth-haired collie, being black and white and tan probably the
cross progeny of the miners' dogs.
After we had passed Dempster's Inlet
and Fitzgerald's Estuary, our troubles, with one exception, were ended,
as far as the sheep were concerned, the exception being the want of
water, from which they suffered considerably for some days. We had also
some trouble in getting down to the mouth of the rivers to water our
horses, as the banks on. both sides were very treacherous, and there
were dense thickets down to the very edge.
One of our horses fell down
one of the banks into a quick sand, and it was only by good luck that
he managed to scramble out. His hind quarters had sunk up to the stump
of his tail, but, having his forefeet doubled underneath him, he
managed, with my help on the bridle rein, to struggle out. After that
we were very careful to keep them as far away as possible from the edge
of the banks.
To show the trouble that we had when watering our horses,
I may mention that the water was procurable only in the sand at the
mouth of the rivers, and very often within a few yards of the salt
water. By digging down about 2ft. a pitiful supply was obtained, but,
if taken to a greater depth, the water turned brackish. We had to water
the horses, using a quart pannikin, which when filled was emptied into
leather, saddle-bags, from which the horses drank. This was a rather
slow and tedious process, because the sand kept falling in and filling
up the holes.
After we reached the Gardener River we were in good
pastoral country, there being plenty of feed and water for sheep and
horses. Passing Mr. J. Welstead's homestead at Bremer Bay, we rested
our flock for a while to put them in good heart after their long and
trying journey from the Phillips River. At Welstead's we purchased the
first vegetables we had seen for five months, and we appreciated the
change of diet from kangaroo, mutton, and damper.
we traveled our sheep very slowly towards the Pallinup, taking
advantage of feed for the sheep being plentiful. While we were on our
journey we were visited by Mr. W. Dempster, who was on his way to
Esperance, in the place of Mr. E. Dempster, who had met with an
accident, and from him we heard the news of Sir John Forrest's
reception in Adelaide after his overland trip through Central
Australia also that Mr. C. D. Price had just started to survey as far
as Eucla the overland telegraph line from Albany to Adelaide, two
memorable events in the history of this State.
We reached the mouth of
the Pallinup on March 1, and camped on the shores of this fine estuary,
remaining there for a coup!e of weeks. This sheet of water was covered
with innumerable water fowl, including hundreds of swans, black duck,
and teal. as well as numbers of sea birds. From this camp I had to go
to Cape Riche, Mr. A. Moir's station, to procure further supplies. We
continued our journey up the Pallinup to "The Sandalwood," Mr. George
Moir's station, where we received a kind welcome from Mr. Moir.
"The Sandalwood," we turned our faces to the west again, following the
road to Albany as far as "The Pass," through the Stirling Range. The
scenery was very impressive here. The mountains on both sides are
supposed to be the highest in the State. Their peaks are nearly always
obscured with clouds, except in very fine weather. Leaving "The Pass,"
and turning away to the north-west to reach the Kalgan River as close
to Kendenup station as possible, we had to face some of the worst
country for droving on the whole of our journey, as we had to pass
through dense prickly scrub, and then high thickets full of poison, and
quite waterless at that time of the year.
Our sheep and horses were two
days and a half without water, and our ' dogs and ourselves about 36
hours. I remember that on the evening before we reached the Kalgan,
just as darkness was setting in, we struck the head of a small creek
leading into the river. After consulting the drover, I pushed on with
the horses to try to find some water, feeling my way in the darkness
along the bed of the creek. I came suddenly upon a small pool of water,
but noticed' that the horses made no at tempt to drink. So, jumping off
my horse, I dipped my hand in the water, and drank a little. I found it
was very salty, so taking the packs off the horses I let them go,
knowing that they would find water before morning if there were any
within reasonable distance.
By the time I had camped and made a fire,
Stewart and the sheep had arrived. So we camped for the night, hoping
to reach water early next morning. It was a thirsty night for ourselves
and the dogs. Early next morning I followed the horse tracks. down the
creek, in a very short time reached the Kalgan, and discovered the
horses at a water-hole in the bed of' the river. Traveling up the
river, we reached Kendenup, where Mr. Hassell's manager gave us a
Kendenup at that time was the scene of A Goldmining
Venture. and when we passed through the manager of the mine was having
a shaft sunk on the creek just below the homestead, ,and at the time
seemed very sanguine of success, but the venture failed. Leaving
Kendendp, we 'crossed the Perth - Albany road, and followed the Upper
Blackwood road, past Williams's, Warburton's. and Steere's stations.
Striking the Bridgetown Bunbury main road at the late Mr. Mark
Padbury's farm, we followed it right through to Bunbury, passing
Australind, and thence to Pinjarrah. Then we followed the coast road to
Rockingham, where we pastured our sheep for about three weeks,
delivering them eventually at Messrs. Pearse Bros.' yards about the
middle of July, 1875.
We had been about nine months covering A Journey
of 700 Miles, and had made a record of droving as far as loss was
concerned. We were only eight short in our tally-caused by deaths from
poison-not including what we killed for our own use. We started with
1,050 sheep and delivered 1.028.
The whole country traversed from
Esperance to Bunbury was, in a great degree, patchy poison land, and we
came in contact with eight varieties of this noxious plant, which made
the work of droving very risky, requiring constant care on the part of
the drover. We met a great many natives on our trip to Esperance, but
they were mostly civilised or semi-civilised. On the return journey we
met but few bush blacks, the largest mob being at the Phillips River,
and they were not troublesome, except that we had to watch our camp
closely to prevent them from taking our food supplies.
We had some
trouble' in protecting our sheep from dingoes through out the Journey,
especially at Rockingham, where there were a number of crossbreeds. On
one occasion they mauled our dogs very badly. Between Esperance and the
Phillips River game, such as kangaroo, emu; tamar, and marnine
(wallaby), and on the swamps and lakes, ducks, snipe, and swans were
plentiful. Swamp snakes (karrimon) were also very numerous, and during
the two and a half months' journey from Esperance our party killed over
forty. I do not think that they are very venomous, but a few rock
snakes which we dispatched were, according to the natives, very deadly;
and I noticed that they were always given a wide berth when seen by the
At the present day the trip overland to Esperance is a mere
holiday jaunt partly by rail and the rest by motor car. But in 1874 it
was considered to be quite a serious bush trip, as only horses were
available. Since that time I have had a good deal of experience in
sheep droving in many parts of Western Australia, but none has ap to me
like the trip along the lonely south coast from Esperance to the
Stirling Range in company with,the rugged but kindly old Scottish
drover, William Stewart, long gone to his rest.
The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 - 1901) 17 Oct
1890 Web 6th
The last issue to hand of the
Victorian Express contains the following
very interesting account of the arrival of a mob of cattle from North
-West. On the 7th of September there arrived at Mr McKenzie Grants
Irwin paddock a small mob of some 200 bullocks which had been driven
overland from the Degrey River in the far north, by Mr. William Cream
townsman of Geraldton. The animals were in splendid condition, and
looked like stock after a six month coddling in a fat paddock than a
mob which had just completed a toilsome journey of some twelve hundred
miles. In fact a portion of them have already been started overland for
the local butchers in Perth. Mr. Cream left the DeGrey with young
Miller, and a henchman to assist in the droving on on the 5th of March
last. reaching the Fortescue May 5th.
Here they encountered a tornado of exceptional violence accompanied by
a phenomenal fall of rain, more than 26 ½ inches having been
registered by the Government Observer at Fortescue as having fallen in
24 hours. In the flood which naturally came Creams promptitude and
energy probably saved the lives of the cattle if not of the whole
party. A small eminence was quickly discovered and selected merely a
hill some 90 feet in elevation, and to this haven of refuge the cattle
and horses were driven at their best speed the party being obliged to
abandon their packs, saddles and worst of all their tucker. On this
providential they were imprisoned for five days and would have been
pretty well starved, but found a portion of the carcase of a sheep,
which having been hung up in a tree they were enabled to save.
days after the flood Cream made his way on horse back to the Fortescue
River now a foaming torrent,but the current proved to strong. He then
went lower down to comparatively smooth water and not liking to risk
his horse, peeled off his country wardrobe and swam across with much
difficulty to the other side, where help in the person of Mr. Stewart,
the telegraph operator. He was rather disgusted to find that after all
his dangerous and upleasant bath might have been avoided for Mr Stewart
bethought himself a boat;, which, although sunken by the flood they
soon recovered and by its medium food and relief was conveyed back to
Mount Safety as they had christened their little hill Thus happily
ended what1 might have proved a most serious catastrophe.
Fortesecue flood detained for 11 days in all the country being quite
unfit for traveling. They were fortunate enough to recover some of
their lost gear. Unparallelled , as was the rainfall in this locality
it proved to confined to a very circumscribed area, for, from the Robe
River to the Ashburton the party were obliged to carry water with them,
there being none on the way, except at the camps. They, reached the
Ashburton on the 1st of June where they celebrated Foundation Day with
a real currant dumpling, a unwonted luxury. From this to the Lyons
which was struck on June 18 there was an abundance of water, but little
or no feed.
then had good traveling to the head of Dairy Creek. From the latter to
the Murchison to within some 18 miles of Mullewa on the eastern road
there was a great scarcity of feed, the grass just growing and no more.
The water supply however, was fair and the journeys goal was attained,
as stated before on the 7th of September, the cattle were looking in
the pink of condition. , The drovers however, showed unmistakeable wear
and tear but after all were little the worse for their arduous journey.
Too much credit can scarcely be allowed to Cream and his gallant
assistants, white and black for their successful carrying out of what
is really a droving exploit of no mean order.The rainfall on that particular day is recorded by the BOM as the 2nd wettest day in the states history. This droving exploit was recorded as the longest drive of cattle at the time. Tthey weighed 1000lbs each and was conducted 16 years before the stock route was gazetted by the government and wells dug.
Western Mail (Perth,
WA : 1885 - 1954), 15 October, p. 10
recent reply to an item of Joe Waldeck's interested me greatly. Perhaps
it was just coincidence that he referred to Joe's trip of the summer of
'24, when he pointed out that droving even these days is no bed of
roses. Strange to say, I was one that made that trip with Joe, and
although his distance between waters, and the numbers lost do not
coincide with what I remember of the trip, he could not have picked a
better example to point his meaning.
Perhaps some of your readers
may be interested in the
details, such as I remember them.
About November, 1923, Joe received a
contract from two well-known sheep dealers of that year, to shift 3,500
sheep from Marron station and 3,600 from Meedo. One of the clauses of
the agreement was that the sheep were to be travelled in separate mobs,
but together. Just what made the owners include this clause in the
agreement has always been beyond my comprehension, and one can only
sur- mise that the idea was to keep both mobs as nearly as possible
under the direct control of the head drover.
The plants (one spring cart,
one waggonette, about 30 saddle horses and the stockmen) left Carnarvon
early in January, '24, and proceeded to Marron station where the first
mob was to be picked up.
Looking back on events now, the obvious route for the Marron sheep
would have been across on to the Gascoyne, coming out on that river
about The Junction and then by way of Dalry Creek to Mullewa, but on
account of the agreement , these had to be travelled to Meedo (about 80
miles away, I think) to join up with the other mob.
Some might argue: Why not bring the Meedo sheep back to Marron and take
both mobs that way? So it will be necessary here to explain part of the
The Droving Act allows that
when stock are travelling off a stock route, the stock must travel the
nearest route to their destination, so it was not possible to bring the
Meedo sheep to Marron, and the only route open was up the Warramel
across Byro Plains, and on to the stock route in the vicinity of Byro
Luck was against the Marron mob from the jump. We were lucky if we
watered every second day on our trip to Meedo and furthermore, the mob
Arrival at Meedo found that mob not ready and a wait of about ten days
occurred. From Meedo the trip was uneventful as far as Meedo boundary,
but once reaching there we had a 40-mile lead to the next water
A start was made late in the
evening after giving each mob nearly a whole day on the water, and one
mob travelled 24 hours behind the other. Over this stage my impressions
(in the main) must be confined to the last mob, which I was with. Meedo
Pool (just a series of kangaroo soaks) was reached the following
evening, and here a bit of a soak was dug and we managed to give our
horses a drink by placing a blanket in the sand. The next night saw us
about nine miles further on and by that time we had been 2and half days
without water for the sheep. We dragged a hollowed out gum log about a
mile and dug a small well on the site of an old pool, and attempted to
water the worst of the mob here, but they crowded the well so much that
it was soon filled in and we had to desist.
The next day saw us still
struggling on. The sheep were in a bad way by this time and we had
decided on an all night drive. The horse tailer of our outfit was to
have met us on the lunch camp, and with his extra help we had decided
to leave our lunch camp late in the evening and by pushing the mob all
night, and in the cool of the morning, to possibly reach Calatharra
before the heat of the next day.
The horse tailer had come back and we were just pushing the sheep off
camp, when one of those small isolated thunder storms broke over us,
and for about 20 minutes we had a deluge. Luckily for us, having the
extra help of the horse tailer, and having our sheep in a compact mob
(just off dinner camp), we were able to hold them till they got a
The other mob was not so lucky.
They were already on the move, were strung out, and were in rough and
broken ground. When the storm broke they got out of hand, and darkness
found most of the mob gone. The dingoes did the rest during the night
and next morning found the mob so scattered that in spite of four days'
hard riding, nearly a thousand were never found.
Calatharra was eventually reached, and from there we had a 16-mile
stretch to the Byro Plains bore for water, but owing to the water in
the tanks being low only the first mob could get a drink and the second
mob had to do a further eight miles to water.
So it will be seen that instead
of "J.A.M.'s" water every 10 or 12 miles, one mob, with the exception
of the thunderstorm, actually did 64 miles
on the one water.
That trip was a chapter of accidents, "Non-Com." Both carts broke down,
and the wagonette did nearly 40 miles on three wheels. A long pole was
placed under the back axle and allowed to ride on the fore carriage of
the waggonette. This took the weight of the broken back wheel and
that's how we got along.
Between Byro bore and Jailor outcamp (on Narryer) there lies all that
remains of 27 horses that left Carnarvon in the pink of condition. Old
favourites, mostly gathered as far north as the Ninety-Mile Beach and
as far south as Mullewa. It was only through the generosity of the
Narryer people that more horses were procured and the trip continued
The troubles were still not
over, even though we were now on the stock route. On account of the two
mobs being so close together, well after well was forked. In some cases
the first mob had to pull away from a well half watered in order to
leave water for the mob behind.
However the mobs did get through, and I believe the losses amounted to
a little over a thousand sheep, including the
number lost on the Worramel.
"J.A.M." asked which of these
men should be "King." A review of names passes through my mind too long
for mention here, but including such men as Alf Cream, Charlie James,
Wattie Pearce, Bob Redmond, the Troy Brothers, Ted Kayes and a host of
others. They are hard to separate, and to my way of think- ing they
were all "Kings," and they showed it in their capacity to battle with
adversity when their turn of bad luck came. To see half your mob dead of poison, or to see your weakening stock dropping out day by day on a stock route bare of feed, is enough to break the heart of any ordinary mortal, but as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks to months, with all chances of a profit being made from the trip gone, and the wages and stores bill reaching alarming proportions, they deserve credit that they "carried
And yet- ! I fear it will
always be so. Just as long as there are stock routes and the mobs come
down, that "old gang" will ever gamble their chances with poor stock on
difficult routes, and if from time to time the luck is against them,
they leave behind those sunbleached bones, holding up a warning hand to
the men that