Friday, August 28, 2009

Few people say it better than Ion Idriess

I just had to share this wonderul passage about the dry lakes in the outback areas. It is taken from The Silver City by Ion Idriess which is essentially his personal memoirs.

"...these lakes are caused by a great number of creeks that carry water only in the rare heavy rains spilling out from the small rocky Barrier ranges on to the great open plains where their waters form the Box-tree and other swamps, the lagoons and gilgai holes and claypans, also by a number of the inland Queensland rivers such as the Paroo and Bulloo and their numerous tributaries flowing south and south-west to spill across the New South Wales border into the Corner Country and vanish. But during floods they flow much stronger and farther and spill out into numerous dry depressions, forming lakes for longer or shorter duration, according to size and depths. The Darling, too, with its great network of channels and surging anabranches spills out over a vast area of plain country, filling yet other lakes. During an occassional flood year these lakes run into hundreds of lakes, even forming a chain of lakes right across western New South Wales from the Queensland border to the Victorian, linking border to border with a chain of life indeed. As the waters recede into the river channels those depressions remain as shallow lakes. Comes the hot sun, and evaporation. Slowly, then faster, lake after lake begins to dry up, all but the very largest of them. But, where the lake has been, what an entrancing picture! A verdant mass of herbage and clover gay with wildflowers, merry with bird life, a bright green oasis of plenty stretching for miles away. No wonder those sunburnt horny-handed run-hunters were entranced when they first gazed upon such a scene, this sun-scorched land transformed into a paradise.
Such an intriguing, such a deceiving land it can be!
I've never forgotten, though I saw it way back when I was a young fellow, Moncooney Lake on Annandale station. I rode up on top of a big sandhill at sunrise and gazed down on the lake. Where a few weeks ago had been a sheet of water stretching distantly away was now a "lake" of verdant green delicately tinged with rose, then the sheen of gold coating the smooth slopes of the surrounding sandhills as the glorious sunrise brightened from fire into gold. And then the lake was an emerald green, a fitting couch for angels. Now jewelled above the clover shone the pure white and golden lilies, while under the rapidly brightening dawn masses of blues and scarletts of countless flowering plants kissed their petals to the sun. Away out towards the centre a remaining patch of water gleamed like a diamond within its setting in intense green. And from here came faintly the call of waterfowl, amoung huge white flowers that were nesting pelican. Surely no babies of the wild could ever be born in a more beautiful paradise. Studded thickly over all the grass and flowers were many cattle so lazily fat as to be awaiting the growing warmth of the sun before they would deign to dine. At the distant edge of the lake, fair under the rising sun, lazily arose a blue coil of smoke. Then came little figures to sit by the campfire at the call of the cook. Up to their knees in herbage, with the sun's rays reflecting upon them from the sandhill slopes the stockmen's horses shone like blazing chestnuts. A lovely picture under a soft blue sky, and one in which man did not look out of place.
......Alas there is a reverse side to the picture, as throughout life there so often is. To that same station and throughout all the corner country, south-west Queensland, even east of the Darling and all country west of the Darling, right across the north of South Australia, came a terrible drought, as has happended before, has happened since, and will again. The earth became a burning desolation, cattle dying of starvation everywhere over a vast area, while round many a waterhole that still held putrid water thousands of beasts slowly sank to an awful death, too weak to heave themselves from the bog. The only sound over all that stifling desolation the "Kark! Kark! Kark!" of gorged crows, by night the snap of dingoes' fangs tearing into helpless beasts.
Two large mobs of Annandale cattle became marooned in the height of that drought, the only hope of saving them was to shift them to Birdsville, to a waterhole on the Diamantina, over a ninety mile dry stage without a blade of grass. One mob just got through, excepting those that fell out exhausted, of course. The other mob started out for Coongie Lake by the Cooper at Innaminka. The drover had scouted the route a week previously to assure himself that a known waterhole on the way would hold out until the cattle could arrive. The beasts would till themselves with the putrid water remaining there, then plod on again on the last dash. To reach that waterhole meant an eighty mile dry stage with already weakened cattle. When the mob arrived the waterhole was dry; even the mud had caked up into blistering fragments. Evaporation under the stifling heat can be terrific out there.
That mob had to be abandoned. The drovers, with perishing horses under them, barely escaped with their own lives..."

Such a beautifully communicated expression of the extremes of great swathes of the Australian landscape. It gives added appreciation to Dorothea Mackellars poetic hearpouring in My Country.

Of course when I read the passage I get to the column of smoke and alongside the stockmen see the spectre of indigenous people coping with displacement.

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