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Friday, 16 May 2014

Overland 4

William David Hamilton's journey from Alice Springs

Meanwhile possibilities of settlement in the Northern territory remained unsolved. So our diminished party of three pushed on in the hope that good grazing lands and permanent water would be found there. The virtue of artesian boring which would have made so many inland tracts practicable, were then unknown.
Summer in the desert was to prove almost unendurable, pitiless blue sky, blazing sun, barren country, water scarce often non-existent, food gradually giving out, illness and always heat, dust and flies. Slowly however we made our way further and further Northwards.
Until we reached the river country in the far North water was always scarce.  The isolated water holes on which we were forced to depend were often dried up. Sometimes we found water by digging in the sandy beds but very often we dug in vain. In consequence long thirsty patches would ensue.
The worst period of thirst which befel[l] us was some time after leaving Alice Springs. Our water bags were dry but we expected to replenish at a water hole to be reached at the end of the day’s ride. That proved to be dry. An early start was made the next morning and after riding all day the next water hole was dry. By this time both men and animals were in very great distress. Although worn out we could only wearily and doggedly plod on till we found water or perished for want of it. So after that long day’s ride we continued riding throughout the night. I suffered agonizing pains in the back of my head and neck and my tongue was so black and swollen I was unable to speak. But my uncle was in a far worse plight. He had been delirious most of the second night and only sat his horse through the help of his man, who suffered in the same way as I. We rode 112 miles tortured by thirst, heat, dust and flies before water was found. Even then only for the horses we would have missed it. Seven of the horses and two dogs perished during those awful two days.
We were almost exhausted when the horses smelt water some distance to the right and neighing, cantering and eventually stampeding rushed to it a quarter of a mile off.
Fortunately it was a chain of good water holes and ther[e] was plenty for all. Because of the heat we had ridden naked during the second night so I rushed into the water up to my waist and drank greedily. Twice I did that and twice I was sick. Then I took my quart pot, each person’s only cooking utensil, half filled it, brought it to the bank where I sat down and drinking it in sips was refreshed. Meanwhile my uncle’s man after quenching his thirst tried to me[a]ke the sick man drink but he was delirious and no longer interested in water. We tried pouring it all over his naked form and by degrees he regained consciousness and sanity.
For a fortnight we pitched camp nearby, recuperating as best we could from a pecular [peculiar] fever and ague with which we were stricken. Bill [the station hand] and I soon regained strength. My uncle though was very ill and although after two weeks was well enough to travel again he was still a very sick man and never quite recovered from his dreadful ordeal. Less than a year after returning to his home in the South a particularly severe attack of fever proved fatal and he died at the age of 29 years.

Thomas Gibson Hamilton in 1874,
from "A squatting saga" by Teresa Hamilton

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