It was Tuesday, the tenth day of October, 1922

The last morning at Hermannsburg had arrived, and the bright horizon fringe of the eastern sky was beginning to turn into a rich, deep red. Already the great broad-fronted dome of Lalkintinerama, the highest point of the Pota Uruna or “Range of Doom” south of Hermannsburg, was being lit up by the subdued glow of the sun that was on the point of emerging; and twenty five miles to the north-west the magnificent bluffs of rugged Rutjubma were towering up in almost unearthly beauty, their deep-scarred purple faces softened by a rich tracery of pink veins which had spread through their sharply serrated edges. To the east of Rutjubma, and almost due north of the station, the long line of bold bluffs which culminated in the lofty peak of Ltarkalibaka shone in a blaze of bluish-purple, tipped by delicate pink embroidery. It was from the sudden slopes of Rutjubma and Ltarkalibaka that the two source streams of the Finke River, on whose banks Hermannsburg was standing, rushed down in foaming fury during flood times; and once they had passed the station buildings, these swirling floodwaters penetrated into the broad southern range and dashed themselves against the immovable base of Lalkintinerama before they were forced into the thirty-five-mile gorge that ended only at the gap between the Ilaltilalta and Lalkitnama ridges, a short distance below the ever-running springs of Irbmangkara.

The hushed morning air was filled with the calls of birds – miners, willy wagtails, and crows – , all of which provided a shrill and somewhat discordant tonal background to the flute-like notes of a pair of butcher birds that were expressing their joy at the break of a new day in carefree songs of jubilation.

When the sun’s rays began to emerge like slim spears of fire over the eastern sandhills, other sounds burst upon the scene – the sounds of men and women who were hurrying to complete the final morning tasks necessary to enable their sick ingkata to set out on his difficult journey south to seek medical help. Dark milkmaids were milking the bailed cows in the small yard east of the station buildings, while the hungry calves were bleating at them impatiently from their separate enclosure of split gum palings. Dark men were vigorously chopping up with ringing blows on a stout wooden meat bench in front of the station store the carcass of the bullock slaughtered the night before to provide meat for the travellers on the first part of their long journey. Some of this meat was bagged up fresh; the rest was dry-salted, and placed into large flour bags, which soon began to run freely with the copious red meat juices forced out by the rock salt. Over the plain north-east of the station a pair of dark stockmen galloped bareback on their mounts, driving before them the buggy horses that had been newly mustered for the road. They took them down to the Finke bend at Ntjirakapa for their morning drink, and then put them up in a separate section of the yard, next to the part reserved for the milking cows. Restless and full of grass-fed arrogance after being “spelled out bush” for many months, these horses whinnied and pranced up and down in their enclosure, often throwing playful bites and kicks at one another. From time to time they sniffed and thrust with their noses at the sturdy yard gate to ascertain whether it could not be pushed open; for none of these half-wild horses relished the prospect of being forced into harness and put to work on the station or taken on a long road journey.

Excitement was riding in the air; and few of the dark folk waiting in the camp north-west of the solid whitewashed station buildings had slept much during the previous night. Ever since that Sunday in September when their ingkata, for the first time in his twenty eight years of managing Hermannsburg, had failed to emerge for conducting the church service because his treacherous illness had finally overcome his rugged physical strength and iron determination, a vague but deep-seated fear had been oppressing their thoughts. This fear had deepened with each week during which the familiar figure of their ingkata had not emerged from the front entrance of his stone residence. So intolerable had the suspense become that at least two of Strehlow’s dark friends had written letters to him in Aranda, asking after his health, assuring him of their constant prayers on his behalf, and informing him that the whole dark population was sick with grief for their one and only teacher and leader, and that the women were crying many tears for him as well. And then, about a fortnight ago, the dreaded blow had fallen: a public announcement had at last been made by Mr H. A. Heinrich, the Hermannsburg native-school teacher, that their ingkata was now so weak and ill that he would have to seek medical aid in Adelaide, and that both the buggy and the van would have to be got ready for the three-hundred-and-eighty-mile journey south to the railhead at Oodnadatta.

The first plan had been for the party to go from Hermannsburg to Alice Springs, to contact a doctor for road medical advice either at Marree or at Port Augusta by the telephone facilities available on the Overland Telegraph Line, and then to follow the normal line-party track down to Owen Springs, and from there south along the Hugh valley to Horseshoe Bend. This would have occasioned only a slight change from the customary route which had been used by all wheeled Hermannsburg vehicles ever since the establishment of the station: this route had gone from Hermannsburg past the Long Water Hole on the Ellery Creek over a ridge of high ground to the Rarangintjita point of the Waterhouse Range, and thence along the northern edge of this range to Owen Springs, where it linked up with the normal North-South Route which skirted the Overland Telegraph Line. Sergeant and Mrs Robert Stott had already sent their invitation to Hermannsburg for the Strehlow family to stay at their home during their short stay at Alice Springs. But Strehlow’s condition had deteriorated so rapidly after the middle of September that this first plan had had to be dropped, and a completely new and untried, but rather shorter, route selected. The time-saving proposal finally adopted by the Hermannsburg party was that they were to drive to Pmokoputa on the Ellery Creek, follow the Ellery from here to its junction with the Finke at Rubula, and then proceed down the Finke valley for the next hundred and thirty miles to Horseshoe Bend Station.

“It is necessary to get Mr Strehlow down to the doctor as quickly as possible,” Heinrich had explained to the dark men; and a number of the latter had quickly volunteered to go to Pmokoputa and clear a track for the vehicles through some of the dense ti-tree thickets and young gum stands which had sprouted up between Pmokoputa and Rubula after the heavy floods of the previous years. When some of the stockmen pointed out that some of the boulders on the banks of the Finke near Alitera would also need to be moved from the track, a second working party had gone out on horses, loaded up with crowbars and shovels, to clear a track over this dangerous portion of the road. No vehicle had attempted to negotiate this camel and horse trail during the past thirty years or even longer; and Strehlow himself had never gone further south into this long Finke gorge than Alitera. He had consequently never visited Henbury or Idracowra Stations, and he was looking forward to seeing these places after what he knew would be his final departure from Hermannsburg.

During the past week the conversations of the dark folk had been full of reminiscences relating to the sick man; for Strehlow – who was universally known among them as the “ajua” (old man of importance) or “ingkata” (ceremonial chief) – had long since become for them one of those men of supreme authority who are invested with legendary traits in their own lifetime. Twenty eight years had elapsed since that October day when he had first burst in upon the uncaring and derelict community which was all that had remained at Hermannsburg after its first group of missionaries had been withdrawn. A big, heavily bearded man, with a shock of stubborn hair, he had quickly moved with forceful strides over the tumbledown settlement, and his keen amber eyes with their slightly greenish tinge had missed nothing. Within a few weeks most of the unreliable white station hands engaged during the caretaking period had been sacked, and a stern regime of strict discipline restored. All dark men and women able and willing to work had been given some employment in return for food and clothing, and Strehlow had personally supervised the labours of the majority of the station workers, During its pre-Strehlow era Hermannsburg had been fairly liberally staffed with white mission workers sent out from the Hermannsburg Mission Institute in Germany; but after the take-over by the small Immanuel Synod of South Australia in 1894, the meagre funds available from the South Australian congregations had never been sufficient to allow more than a skeleton staff to man the station. Strehlow himself had had to deal out personally all meals three times a day to the dark folk living on the station. Whenever the white head stockman was mustering or yard-building out on the run, or was driving cattle or horses down to the railhead at Oodnadatta, Strehlow had also been compelled to supervise the slaughtering of the cattle for station consumption. Yet he had found time as well for a careful study of the Aranda language, and for writing a monumental tome on the myths, songs, and social organization of the Western Aranda group and the Kukatja people. Initially hostile to all paganism, Strehlow had, when he first arrived, done his best to carry on the stern missionary traditions of his predecessors by suppressing all “heathen” ceremonies and folk-dances in the mission area, and had thereby aroused a great deal of antagonism towards his rule; but after six years he had become intensely and sympathetically interested in aboriginal mythology and folklore. For Strehlow this was a natural development, since he had been a great lover of Classic and Germanic mythology before coming to Australia. He had fortunately studied theology under Dr Johannes Deinzer, a liberal, University-educated seminary head, who had been in the habit of telling his students, “Hold on to Classical literature, or barbarism will come, and to the Bible, or paganism will come”.

A new and exciting world of the mind had opened up for Strehlow after he had begun his work of collecting the sacred Western Aranda myths and songs. Whatever time during the day he could take off from his missionary and station duties during the ensuing ten years, he had spent on his detailed and very thorough ethnological and social studies. Each evening he had retired to his study, where he had then sat up till midnight, writing up, in neat and beautifully shaped characters, his researches from the rough notes he had made during the day. He had also amassed a large amount of information on these matters in the neighbouring Kukatja area from a grateful Kukatja ceremonial chief called Wapiti, who had been brought to him at Hermannsburg after police bullets had smashed one of his thigh bones and severely gashed a part of his abdomen. Strehlow had dressed his seemingly fatal wounds and patiently nursed him back to health. During the months of his convalescence Wapiti – whose daughter Ilkalita was later on to marry Albert Namatjira – had repaid his white benefactor with a wealth of important and secret information. Nor had Wapiti been Strehlow’s only dark patient: the tireless missionary had acted as doctor for the whole aboriginal community of Hermannsburg during his twenty-eight-year term at the station. While working on his Aranda and Kukatja researches Strehlow had gained a deep respect both for aboriginal culture and for the creative aboriginal mind. His clerical conscience would not permit him to reverse openly the uncompromising stand that he, following his predecessors, had initially taken against “paganism”; but he no longer preached against the old religion from the pulpit, and the sacred cave of Manangananga, two miles from Hermannsburg, was never permitted by him to be violated by any white intruders.

When he visited it himself, he came as an honoured guest, at the invitation of its famed ceremonial chief, Loatjira, the headman of the local group of Ntarea.

It was only natural that Strehlow should have come to be not only respected but also loved by the dark community that had been entrusted to his care. He was, in fact, at that time the only white man at Hermannsburg who could walk unarmed into any of the bloody camp quarrels fought with spears, boomerangs, and butcher knives, that sometimes disrupted the peace of the community, and bring the fighting to an end by a few sternly shouted commands. For he was regarded, not only as a white missionary, but also as a Western Aranda ingkata, to whom the old ceremonial chiefs had entrusted rich portions of their treasures of sacred lore.

However, the greatest asset that had enabled Strehlow to rule the dark community of Hermannsburg with such a firm hand was the reputation of fairness and justice that he had built up during his long term of office-in particular, the reputation of fearlessly upholding justice for the aboriginal population against unprincipled white men, irrespective of whether these were white mission workers or white police officers. The stories of his courage in standing up for the rights of the dark man were numerous and varied, and some of them could well have become embroidered with legendary trappings during the passage of the years. But they were firmly believed, and helped to confirm the Aranda folk in their unshakeable conviction that all would be well at Hermannsburg as long as Strehlow was their ingkata. One of these stories concerned his alleged encounter with Mounted Constable Erwin Wurmbrand, during Strehlow’s first months at Hermannsburg. Wurmbrand had been the chief mate and principal offsider of Mounted Constable Willshire, who had been despatched by the South Australian Government to Central Australia in 1881 in order to pacify the Aranda territory and make it safe for cattle-raising. To achieve these ends both constables used to go out on horseback, attended by large numbers of black trackers brought in from the areas of more southerly tribes, and shoot dark nomads who were roaming about on station properties from which reports had come in of cattle-killing. There were no legal trials of the alleged offenders, not even any “kangaroo courts”. Willshire and Wurmbrand regarded themselves as living incarnations of British Justice, and exercised their power over life and death without any reference to magistrates or courts. Of these two men it was Wurmbrand who had been the chief executioner in the Western Aranda and Kukatja areas; and in Strehlow’s time there were still many families living at Hermannsburg who mourned the loss of relatives shot by Wurmbrand and his ruthless trackers. The chief monument to his memory in Central Australia was a place known as Wurmbrand’s Rockhole – a large, deep rockhole on the side of a hill situated close to the north-eastern shore of the Iloara saltlake. Here Wurmbrand had come upon a peaceful camp of men, women, and children; and he and his party had shot all those who had not been fast enough to escape from their bullets. At Hermannsburg it was claimed that soon after Strehlow’s arrival Wurmbrand had paid his last visit to the station. He had rounded up a group of men, women, and children in the station camp, and then got ready to take them away and shoot them some miles out in the bush. Their terrified relatives had run screaming for help to Strehlow, and the latter had rushed in blazing fury to Wurmbrand’s camp, where the police party were still saddling their horses.

Strehlow had allegedly shouted angrily at Wurmbrand, and told him to release his prisoners and get out of the place himself. “And don’t ever let me catch you hunting people again at Hermannsburg,” he had added, in menacing tones. To everyone’s amazement, Wurmbrand had been so taken aback by Strehlow’s fury that he had released his prisoners, kicked his own tins, billies, and buckets in all directions, yelled at his trackers to hurry on with the saddling and the packing of the horses, and finally ridden off like a madman, cracking his whip and digging his spurs into his mount till it reared and plunged madly with pain. Nor had he and his trackers ever returned to Hermannsburg. It was more than likely that the police officer thus checked had not been Wurmbrand at all, but one of Willshire’s successors, and that the image of the latter had become confused in later aboriginal memory with that of his hated and dreaded predecessor. However, whether authentic or not, this story fitted in excellently with Strehlow’s character. He had been a powerfully built, large-boned man, who knew no fear once he was aroused. In a frontier land where station owners, police officers, and most other white men were accustomed to act with the arrogance of feudal barons who did whatever seemed right in their own eyes, and where the normal processes of the law tended to be invoked mainly in order to protect white lawbreakers from the consequences of their own misdeeds, even missionaries had to be tough; and Strehlow could be as tough as any other man, as long as he felt that he was acting in the interests of law, order, and justice, and in accord with the ordinances of the Almighty. Few men cared to stand up to him once his anger had been fully aroused. One of the men who had been among the boys saved on that occasion had repaid a part of his old debt to Strehlow a few weeks earlier, when he had carried an urgent telegram on foot to Alice Springs, the nearest telegraph station, eighty miles away, in the space of a day and a half. He had waited one night in Alice Springs for the reply, and then carried it back to Hermannsburg at the same rate of speed. This amazing walking feat of one hundred and fifty miles in three days had been undertaken in order to save vital time. To have mustered some saddle horses would have delayed the departure of the message by at least a day, and these grass-fed horses would not have covered the distance any faster than the lone message-bearer. The same man – he had been christened Hesekiel by one of Strehlow’s predecessors – was waiting that very morning to begin his new assignment: to act as the driver of the buggy on which his sick master was to be taken south.

On this final morning the dark folk, after coming from the camp to eat their breakfast in the community messroom, went outside again and sat under the gums of the mission compound, talking in subdued voices and watching the double doors of Strehlow’s house, in order to await the exit of some message-bearer who would announce that the time had arrived for harnessing the horses to the buggy. These double doors opened on to a wide front verandah, furnished with a table, a garden settee, and some bird-cages. In addition, there were two large boxes, one on either side of the settee. Each box held a huge bracken fern which had been brought down a few years earlier from Udepata, and which had always required valuable rainwater from the house tanks to keep it alive. This front verandah was now piled high with the twenty-odd boxes which contained all the books, the household linen, and the remaining personal possessions of the Strehlow family. These boxes had been packed within the previous fortnight by Strehlow’s son Theo, a boy of fourteen; for Mrs Strehlow had been fully occupied during the past three weeks with the task of nursing her sick husband. The boxes had been stacked for easy covering in case of rain. For the verandahs of all the mission residences had been roofed only with slim desert oak saplings which supported a top layer, some three inches thick, of lime concrete. While these verandah roofs ensured extra coolness on hot days, they were by no means waterproof. Heavy rains soaked the lime concrete till it became water-logged and dripped profusely. Hence even the large bird-cages standing on the verandah had required to be protected by their own roofs of galvanized iron. Efficient stacking of the newly packed boxes on the verandah ensured that they could be adequately protected in a heavy downpour by one of the large-sized tarpaulins stocked on the station for long-distance travelling parties.

While the dark population was quietly and patiently waiting outside, the final preparations for the journey were going on within the house. The sick man inside was obviously both distressed and anxious about the journey. Moreover, he was battling desperately to preserve his trust in that God whom he had believed all his life with a rock-like faith. Strehlow had always been supported during his twenty eight years at Hermannsburg by the unshakeable conviction that was God Himself Who had chosen him to build up Hermannsburg and to establish it as a Christian home for all those Aranda men and women who had been dispossessed of their tribal lands. Ironically, he had been the only missionary out of the three who had been stationed at Killalpaninna on Cooper’s Creek in 1894 who had voted again his Synod’s plan to take over Hermannsburg, on the grounds that the Immanuel Synod did not possess sufficient staff or money to run even Killalpaninna satisfactorily. But when his Synod had taken the decision to purchase Hermannsburg from the trustees of the rival Lutheran body, and he had been asked to go to Hermannsburg as its first new superintendent, Strehlow had chosen to regard this call as an appointment ordained by God; and after that he had never wavered in his determination to see the struggling settlement on the Finke River through all the difficulties that threatened to crush it from time to time. The majority of the large, solid stone buildings at Hermannsburg – the church, the school, his own residence, the community kitchen, the wagon shed, and some additions to the station store – had a been put up during his regime: the derelict settlement of 1894, which had come in for unfavourable comments in the Horn Party’s Report written in that year, had by 1922 grown into the largest “village” of Central Australia outside the telegraph station and governmental administrative centre of Alice Springs. He had accepted a totally inadequate salary all his life – it was only in the closing period of his regime that he had been paid as high a figure as £120 a year, and this sum had had to support him, his wife, and his son Theo. It had compared rather poorly with the £l00 a year that Heinrich, the unmarried school teacher, had been receiving. He had done miracles with the meagre mission funds received from a few devoted congregations down south. Many others had largely remained aloof, or had been niggardly in their financial support. He had been bitterly hurt when the rival Lutheran Synod, from which Hermannsburg had been acquired in 1894, had expelled the two Pastors Heidenreich, father and son, whose congregations had continued sending occasional funds to help aboriginal welfare at Hermannsburg; for this expulsion had been forced through on the ground that any material support of this nature enabled the new Hermannsburg missionary to spread “spiritual poison” among his flock. Since these congregations had followed their pastors into Synodical exile, no further financial assistance for Hermannsburg could be expected from them after that. Even from his own Mission Board and the members of his mission staff Strehlow had not always received wholehearted support. In 1904 his Aranda re-translation of the Lutheran catechism – a work undertaken in order to improve its grammar and eliminate the many unnecessary European loan-words introduced by his predecessors – had been hotly challenged by his associate missionary, the Reverend N. Wettengel; and the latter had dropped his charges of doctrinal falsification against the new book only after a decision on this dispute had been given against him by a South Australian conference of ministers. When Strehlow had gone on long leave in 1910 to visit the land of his birth, the chairman of the Mission Board, Pastor L. Kaibel, had brought a new missionary, the Reverend O. Liebler, to Hermannsburg. Kaibel had later informed Strehlow in an exuberant letter of all the improvements effected at the station by the new management: within a matter of weeks the long-standing defects of the old order had been miraculously remedied by the new man and himself. However, Kaibel’s triumph was short-lived.

Neither he nor Liebler was able to control the forces of dissent which they had released among the aboriginal population. Liebler, a born comedian who lacked all sense of humour, had quickly become a laughing-stock to his dark congregation, and had won for himself the derisive appellation of “the poor, mad missionary” among the hard-headed cattlemen of the neighbouring stations. Upon his return to Tanunda after a four months’ stay, Kaibel had unwisely published a series of articles about his trip to the Centre. Kaibel a quiet minister accustomed to the stolid and submissive attitudes of the German-Australian settlers of the Barossa Valley, had shown no understanding of the special social problems of the interior in his writings; and some of his remarks had deeply offended the Central Australian population. Thus he had described Horseshoe Bend Station in the Barossa News as “one of the minor hells on God’s earth where “all the sins against the decalogue are committed as no guardian of the law is near”; and he had painted an almost libellous pen picture of its hotel proprietor, Ted Sargeant: “I asked the hotelkeeper, if he did not think it was time that he should reform seeing that he is 67 years of age, but he said, he did not think he ever would reform. Blasphemy, mocking, and scoffing is the daily diet, until the fumes of the whisky have fuzzled the brain and the tongue becomes heavy.” As was to be expected, a strong counter attack had quickly been mounted against Hermannsburg by its many antagonists. With the cession of the Northern Territory by South Australia to the Commonwealth Government on 1st January, 1911, the station had passed under the control of a new civil administration. Adverse reports on Hermannsburg sent in during Strehlow’s absence by Captain Barclay, Police-Corporal (later Sergeant) Stott, and Professor Baldwin Spencer, had forced an urgent visit by Kaibel to the Minister for Home and Territories in Melbourne; and these talks had ended with Kaibel’s assurance that the urgently recalled Strehlow would take full charge of Hermannsburg once more. However, an ugly climate of distrust had been created between the Lutheran Church and the new departmental officials of the Commonwealth Government.

But the biggest test had come during the 1914-18 war Strehlow had been compelled by the German Government to sign a declaration giving up his German citizenship when t left Germany in 1892; and he had thereafter acquired South Australian citizenship as soon as he legally could. Long before this date he had been appointed, in 1893, a Justice of the Peace in the State of South Australia. Believing that, as an Australian citizen, he should give his undivided loyalty to his new country, he had always striven to live up to the Christian injunction, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. The sudden flood of hatred released in Australia after August, 1914, had amazed and shocked him beyond words. He had suddenly found himself looked upon as an enemy alien, and by some even as a potential spy and traitor. In defiance of his naturalisation certificate, he had been compelled to fill out an alien’s registration certificate in 1917, and Hermannsburg itself had almost become submerged by a flood of vituperation, particularly in certain super-patriotic South Australian circles. A proposal had been made that Hermannsburg should be taken away from the Lutheran Church, turned into a Government Station, and used as a training school for aboriginals generally, and for the raising of stock. Fortunately for the mission settlement, the Northern Territory had been handed over by South Australia to the Commonwealth Government three years before the outbreak of the war, and even the most virulent South Australian hate campaigns had not been able to overwhelm Hermannsburg during the war.

Strehlow’s personal honesty of purpose had become so generally accepted in Central Australia by this time that the leading governmental officials of the Northern Territory had refused to yield to the irresponsible campaigns waged in Adelaide to close Hermannsburg and to intern its superintendent. The dour, Scottish-born Administrator of the Northern Territory, Dr J. A. Gilruth, had formed a high opinion of Strehlow during his only visit to Hermannsburg in 1913. Above all, Sergeant Robert Stott, of Alice Springs, the most powerful man in the Centre, who was known everywhere as “the uncrowned king of Central Australia”, both respected and liked Strehlow, whose honest and forceful personality was so closely akin to his own. Stott, a rugged, tough, plain-spoken Scot from the Aberdeen area, was a British patriot who refused to allow war hysteria to divert him from what he believed to be his main duty – to uphold at all costs the principles of British justice and fair play as he understood them. Anti-German feelings had reached their height in 1917. This had been the year when hysterical patriotism in South Australia – a State in which parliamentary passions were being fanned at that time by various fanatics, chief of whom was a former Premier who had originally been a semi-literate Moonta copper miner and Methodist lay preacher – had led to the scrapping of all German place names, and the placing of a veto on all public uses of the German language. Strehlow, however, had continued to resist Kaibel’s panic-stricken urgings to sell as much stock, including breeders, as possible before the station could be taken away from the Lutheran Church. If the worst had happened, Strehlow’s plan would have been that Hermannsburg should be offered as a going concern to the Anglican Church; for he had always felt great admiration for Bishop Gilbert White, the former first Bishop of Carpentaria who had recently become the first Bishop of Willochra. Strehlow’s faith had been justified by the events. The Mission lease had been renewed from year to year, and so had its annual Government subsidy of £300. For during the most critical years Hermannsburg had enjoyed the protection of a liberal Commonwealth Minister for Home and Territories – Patrick McMahon Glynn, who was an Irishman and a devout Roman Catholic.

And so Hermannsburg had survived its desperate struggle for existence, and kept the name given to it by its original missionary founders.

The strong esteem in which Strehlow had come to be held in Central Australia even during these hysterical war years had been highlighted sharply when an official enquiry on the running of Hermannsburg had been ordered in December, 1917, because of pressure brought to bear on the Northern Territory Administration officials by southern enemies of the Lutheran Mission. The Administrator of the Northern Territory, Dr J. A. Gilruth, had sent a telegram to Strehlow, asking him to come to Alice Springs for personal discussions on “an important matter” with Mr Justice Bevan, the Judge of the Northern Territory Supreme Court. Strehlow had not only been given a sympathetic hearing by the Judge when he was defending the affairs of the mission: he had also stayed at the home of Sergeant Stott himself, who thereby publicly proclaimed his faith in Strehlow’s integrity and loyalty. During all these disturbances and trials Strehlow had carried on his duties with outward unconcern, confident that God would protect him because Hermannsburg depended on his labours. Only a few months before his illness he had silenced the doubts expressed by his wife about their uncertain future by saying to her bluntly, “Frieda, we have God’s own promises of help to depend on; and as long as we have complete faith in Him, He will, nay He must, answer our prayers. For He has promised this Himself. And if God should fail to honour His own promises, we should have the right to throw the Bible down at His feet.” His shocked wife had begged him not to speak with such blunt vehemence.

But Strehlow had replied with passionate conviction, “No, Frieda, I mean every word of that. If God will not carry out His own freely given promises, then there is no point in believing in the Bible.”

But the past ten years of uninterrupted toil, stress, and strain, without a single holiday break, had finally convinced Strehlow that it was time for him to go back to Germany, now that the war was over. He had merely been holding on to his position for the past couple of years in order to make it easier for the mission committee to find his successor. And it had been at the beginning of July of the present year, while he was waiting to be relieved and preparing himself for his new parish duties in Germany by re-studying his theological textbooks, that illness had suddenly struck him down – a man who had never before in the fifty years of his life known from personal experience what a serious illness was. He had been afflicted by what he believed to be an unusually heavy attack of influenza, but he had refused to go to bed even when severe fits of fever had begun to set in.

There had been too much work to be done on the station, and he had believed that, as long as he refused to give in, his granite constitution would, with the assistance of homoeopathic medicines, overcome his temporary state of illness.

But for the first time in his life neither his physical strength nor his iron determination had been able to overcome his condition.

At the end of July Mr F. C. Urquhart, the former Police Commissioner of Brisbane, who had been appointed Administrator of the Northern Territory in 1921, had visited Hermannsburg. Urquhart, like Gilruth, had been born in Scotland, and had, as a young police officer, acquired a reputation for toughness when leading a punitive expedition against the “warlike” Kalkadoon tribe in 1884. It was largely because of his reputation of fearlessness that he had been chosen to become Gilruth’s successor, when the latter’s rule had come to an end after the Vesteys’ meatworks riots of December 1918. Strehlow had shown Urquhart over the mission settlement only with considerable personal distress: he had been getting worried over the persistent stabbing pains in his sides, and had been forced to conserve his strength for attending to his visitor by permitting Heinrich to take over the church services on the Sunday of the Administrator’s visit.

None of the white men at the station had given any thought to relieving Strehlow of his exacting physical tasks during the months of July and August. Mr W. Mattner, a member of the Finke River Mission Board, had come to Hermannsburg at the beginning of July to help Charlie Paschke, the recently engaged “newchum” stockman, with the mustering of the cattle and with the building of new yards; and Heinrich had taken this opportunity of going out on the run to help Mattner throughout the month of August, leaving Strehlow behind on his own, and expecting him to look after the dark school children as well. For Hermannsburg had run into considerable debts, and the Board had insisted that quick sales of stock were necessary to provide funds for keeping the mission going.

As the weeks of sickness continued, Strehlow had begun to peruse with ever-increasing concern the various home medical books contained in his library. The trouble had been that his symptoms had seemed to fit several different diseases. It had not been until the first week of September that he had succeeded in diagnosing his real trouble. There could no longer be any doubts about it at this stage: he had originally suffered an attack of pleurisy and, because of long neglect, dropsy had now begun to set in. His swelling lower limbs and his constantly weakening condition, a little later also his increasing shortness of breath, had made him fully aware of the urgent necessity for seeking out medical help without delay. A message had been sent out recalling Heinrich to the station to resume charge of the school children, and Heinrich, thoroughly alarmed, had arrived back on the station on 5th September.

The problems of a rushed journey to the south had been seriously discussed as soon as Heinrich returned. The nearest railhead was Oodnadatta, four weeks’ travel from Hermannsburg; and Oodnadatta was also the nearest place to which a doctor could be asked to come in order to give medical treatment to a patient from Central Australia. But was Strehlow able, in his weakened condition, to stand a journey by horse and buggy to Oodnadatta? Finally the decision had been reached to appeal to the Mission Board to send a car to Hermannsburg in order to take Strehlow down to Oodnadatta. It was true that none of the Central Australian stations north of the Territory border owned any cars or trucks at that time. But the three parties of visitors who had safely reached Hermannsburg in cars within the past two years had proved that the mission settlement was accessible by this new mode of transport. The Mission Board had consulted Mr Murray Aunger, the head of an Adelaide car firm, who had replied that because of the extremely poor roads and the sandy creek crossings of the interior at least two cars would have to be sent, and that the cost could well be in the vicinity of £500. In consequence, the Board, through its new chairman, Pastor J. Stolz, had sent a message to Strehlow advising him to come down by buggy as best as he could and to place his trust in God to help him over his journey. When Strehlow had received that unexpected message, he had broken down for the first time during his illness. “For twenty eight years,” he protested bitterly, “I have held out at my post, and now my own clerical colleagues are dumping me. Undoubtedly they think that I will be of no further use to them, and that they are not going to waste any money on giving me a chance to live. For them to advise me to put my trust in God while they do nothing themselves to help me is merely sanctimonious claptrap. All my life I have believed in the power of religion, but now I am beginning to see how a religion without love and human kindness corrupts men. That is what Christ said about the Pharisees, and I am beginning to suspect that this is true also of too many of us who are Lutheran ministers. We attack sin so harshly that we forget that Christ came into the world for the sake of sinners, and that he told the self-righteous Pharisees that the publicans and the harlots would have a better chance of entering heaven than they themselves, despite all their outward show of hypocritical piety.”

Mattner, who had returned to Hermannsburg from the western part of the mission run about ten days after Heinrich, had been deeply shocked by the decline in Strehlow’s condition. From then on till the end of September Heinrich and Mattner, both of them probably afflicted by feelings of guilt for their earlier disregard of Strehlow’s serious illness had spared no efforts to bring the sick man in touch with medical aid. Like the rest of the people who had known Strehlow, they had not believed it possible that a man who had complained so little about his pains and who had so resolutely continued attending to his chores could have been so desperately ill. Aboriginal messengers were sent to Alice Springs with further telegraphic requests for help to be brought from the south; and Mattner himself had spent the last week of September at the Alice Springs hotel, sending wires both to the Board and to Oodnadatta for help in obtaining a car to come up to Hermannsburg and convey Strehlow to the south. When Mr Joe Breaden of Todmorden Station, the closest South Australian car owner, had felt unable to risk his vehicle on a journey into the sandy tract north of the Territory border, Heinrich, as a last desperate gesture, had sent a message to Stott, asking the latter to send appeals for help to the Reverend John Flynn, of the Presbyterian Inland Mission, to Sir Henry Barwell, the South Australian Premier, and to the Federal Works Committee.

This message had not yielded any practical results. However a few days before the date set for Strehlow’s departure from Hermannsburg a message had arrived from Pastor Stolz stating that he would set out on his long-planned journey from Light’s Pass to Hermannsburg on the eleventh of October and that he had accepted the offer of a car from a member of the Appila Lutheran congregation, Mr Gotthold Wurst.

Stolz and Wurst would, upon arrival at Oodnadatta, attempt to travel by car as far north as the road would permit them, in order to meet Strehlow, who would have to go south by buggy, possibly as far as the South Australian border.

These belated arrangements had done little to cheer up Strehlow, who by this time had begun to feel desperately ill. The Board’s failure to clinch a deal with Murray Aunger had been a shattering blow for him, and Strehlow had never completely recovered his confidence in his fellow clerics or in good church people. But he clung to his faith in God with redoubled determination. Old prayer-books, of which Starck’s Taegliches Handbuch was the most treasured one, had been taken off their shelves, and young Theo had been forced to overhear the impassioned supplications of his parents as they were being poured out night after night with fervour, faith, and whole-hearted devotion. For Theo’s bedroom adjoined that of his parents; and since the weather was already turning decidedly warm, the door between the two bedrooms had normally been left open, a curtain only being drawn to ensure privacy.

It was soon after the Board’s decision had been received that the order had been given to the head stockman to get the buggy and the van ready for the road, and to repair all the harness needed by the eight horses drawing the two vehicles.

And on this morning Strehlow knew that he was about to take the irrevocable step of leaving Hermannsburg on a journey which might end with his own death long before Oodnadatta had been reached. His physical condition had kept on deteriorating each day. His lower limbs were already so swollen that his trousers had had to be let out considerably to enable him to wear them at all; and for the past week he had no longer been able to sleep in his bed. He had been forced to use an upholstered chair at night, so that he could sit upright without pressing too heavily with his back against any supports: for as soon as he lay down on his bed, the resulting compression of the fluids in his body made his breathing both difficult and painful. He had also been forced to push his trusted homoeopathic medicines aside and to use the strong drugs from the official medicine chest supplied to the station by the governmental health service. During the past week he had needed a full dose of laudanum every night in order to gain any sleep at all.

Such was the situation within the Superintendent’s house on that final morning, when scores of eyes were watching its double front doors patiently, eagerly, longingly, devotedly. The dark folk had not seen their ingkata for four weeks. The man on whose iron strength and determination they had always relied had suddenly been stricken down by an illness which the God in Whom he believed had refused to cure, or even to alleviate. For twenty eight years he had been the great rockplate on which their whole settlement had been securely based. Like the ancient rockplates of Pmolangkinja in Palm Valley, their ingkata had seemed to be both immovable and indestructible. Certainly he had always been immune against the ailments of the body that assailed common men and women. And now he had been stricken down, still in his very best years, at the very height of his strength. What would he look like when he came out? What would happen to Hermannsburg, to the station from which he was departing without leaving a successor behind? Suddenly the front doors opened. The watching multitude started to rise from the ground; but it was only Heinrich who emerged and told the waiting men to harness up the horses. The two teams of horses that were to pull the buggy and the van on the first day had already been harnessed up on the previous afternoon so that the two vehicles could be tested on trial runs. This had been a necessary precaution.

The snorting, whinnying, wild-eyed buggy horses had not been worked for many months previously. They had raced around in the yard in high-spirited arrogance, with streaming manes and tails, till the stockmen had caught them, put the winkers on them, and led them to the vehicles. It had taken two men to put the harness on each plunging horse, often rearing high on its hind legs, while other men linked the traces to the vehicles. The drivers had sat on their vehicles in a state of readiness while the stockmen were harnessing up the horses, four to each vehicle; for as soon as the reins had been fixed to the bits, and the rearing horses released, the half-wild creatures had leapt forward and galloped madly past the stockyard towards the plain north-east of the station, The drivers had permitted them to rush about at full pace once or twice around the edges of the plain till a furious two-mile run had steadied them. Then the vehicles had been driven back to the station. The buggy had been left in front of Strehlow’s house, with the van standing some distance in the rear. The horses had been unharnessed and hobbled out for the night, so that they could have ample time to feed on whatever grass remained close to the station. All harness had then been carefully inspected for broken seams and other signs of damage. Most of it had stood up well to the stresses of the initial plunges; but several of the stockmen had still had to spend an hour or two on restitching seams that had begun to come apart, and on fixing up minor tears in the less well-greased parts of the harness.

When Heinrich gave the order that morning for harnessing up the horses, only the four buggy horses were at first brought down from the yard. After their mad escapade of the previous day the animals were much more docile and rather easier to handle; but they were still allowed to take the empty buggy for another quick gallop over the plain before any of the passengers were called on to take their seats.

For no one wished to subject Strehlow to any unnecessary sickening jerks. When the panting horses had brought the buggy back to the front fence gate, they were unhitched from the buggy, and the word was passed to those inside the house that all was ready. The whole population which had waited so patiently for so long now began to surge towards Strehlow’s residence, More than a hundred and seventy men, women, and children rushed forward and pressed hard against the front picket fence. In addition, the few people that had remained behind in the camp up to that moment now left their huts and came running to join the waiting assembly. Scores of campdogs, suddenly deserted by their masters and mistresses, set up the usual loud howls and wails that used to greet the beginning of the church services at Hermannsburg every Sunday morning. Only this time the barking, the yapping, and the howling of the dogs were much more harrowing; for not a soul had remained behind in the camp.

And now the double doors opened once more, and Strehlow himself at last emerged into view. He was supported by the strong arms of Mattner on one side and of Heinrich on the other. By summoning up all his strength, he managed to shuffle his feet forward by slow degrees, though the deep red flush on his face showed what anguish each step was costing him. “Jakai, ingkata nunaka!” (“Alas, our chief!”) was the first shout that greeted him. Men and women burst into tears upon seeing him looking so unexpectedly ill and weak. But there were no noisy outbreaks of wild grief, for voices were soon raised everywhere in the crowd, counselling respectful silence in the presence of the sick man. Strehlow reached the buggy with slow steps. Heinrich climbed up and joined the waiting Paschke. Some of the stronger native stockmen came forward and helped to lift the sick man’s feet on to the iron steps at the side of the buggy, while Heinrich and Paschke pulled him up from above. The greatest care had to be used during this lifting procedure; for Strehlow, with his bloated and swollen body, could not bear to be pressed vigorously. Once he had safely reached the top, he sat down on an upholstered chair which had been secured firmly by means of twisted strands of wire to the floor of the buggy, immediately behind the front seat. Mrs Strehlow now climbed up and sat down on the skewed rear seat, close to her husband. Heinrich moved over into the front seat and took his place next to the dark driver Hesekiel, who was already clutching the reins firmly in his hands. The four horses were hitched once more to the buggy, and the vehicle was driven a couple of chains away to the two gums that carried the bell in front of the church building. It was now possible for the van to be pulled by willing helpers to the front fence gate so that all cases and swags, also the meat and vegetable supplies, could be loaded up on it. While the buggy was standing in front of the church, the stockmen once more grasped the winkers and reins of the horses firmly. The crowd surged forward to say goodbye to their departing ingkata, who had not yet spoken any words to them. “Sing a farewell hymn for Mr and Mrs Strehlow,” urged Heinrich. At this request a voice in the crowd struck up the hymn Karerai, wolambarinjai, which was the Aranda translation of the grand Lutheran chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme:

“Wake, awake!”, proclaim with power

The watchmen’s voices from the tower,

“Awake, Jerusalem, arise I”

Midnight’s solemn hour has sounded;

The criers call with joy unbounded,

“Where are you waiting, virgins wise?

The Bridegroom draweth nigh,

Lift up your lamps on high,

Hallelujah!

Go forth to greet,

Prepare to meet

The Bridegroom at the wedding feast!”

As soon as the first familiar words had been struck up, the whole congregation joined in with that deep fervour that had always characterised their singing of this hymn at the services. It had been one of Strehlow’s favourites; and the congregation had sung it scores of times before on quiet Sunday evenings at the conclusion of the supper devotions. The sick man sat and listened in silence. Tears were running down from his red and pain-worn, tired eyes. Most of his people, too, had begun to sob long before the end of the third verse had been reached. For the hymn which celebrated the going out of the ten virgins of Christ’s parable at midnight to meet the Bridegroom had suddenly come to seem like a prophecy of doom – their ingkata, too, was leaving on his last journey: he was setting out, not to recover his health, but to meet the Master in Whom he had believed so strongly all his life. Suddenly Death seemed to have revealed his dark presence; and many of the singers sensed that Death would accompany their ingkata as he left Hermannsburg for ever. There was a last fervent surge forward as the older men and women came to touch with their hands Strehlow’s legs and feet in token of their deep affection; for he did not have the strength to shake more than a few hands. “May God bless you all, my friends,” he said in a strangely toneless, tear-choked voice. And then the people slowly fell back, the stockmen released their hold on the winkers and reins of the horses, and the proud, fresh, wild-eyed animals leaped forward and moved off briskly. The buggy rapidly sped eastward over the plain and came into unobscured view once more as the track ascended the eastern sandhills. Within minutes it had moved past a tall ironwood tree into a stand of mulga, and then a cloud of dust showed that it had disappeared over the crest of the first eastern sandridge. The population turned sadly to their camp, feeling an incredible sense of loss and bereavement: the man who had been the great rockplate on which their community had been founded securely for a whole generation had left them forever.

Strehlow had departed without leaving behind a fitting and acceptable successor. The dark population that walked back to the camp had no feeling of confidence in Mattner who, being a member of the Finke River Mission Board, had nominally been left in charge of the station after Strehlow’s departure. Nor did the Aranda folk have any high regard for the leadership qualities of either Heinrich or Paschke as supervisors of station work. During the months of July and August, when Mattner, Heinrich, and Paschke were supervising the mustering and yard-building work carried out on the western run, they had been unable to maintain any appreciable measure of control over their dark employees.

Their disputes had come time and again before the ailing Strehlow, whom all parties had continued to wear out with their constant complaints and counter-complaints. Mattner’s presence had not succeeded in establishing decent working relationships out in the stock camps; for the dark stockmen privately jeered at Mattner and Heinrich for being white cowards. Mattner had been sent up four years before to inspect Hermannsburg on behalf of the Mission Board; and he had on that occasion been introduced to the dark population by Heinrich as one of the “big bosses from down south”.

However, some weeks after Mattner’s arrival a large party of Kukatja tribesmen had arrived from the west in order to take back with them one of their young women who had run away from Munyeroo, Billy McNamara’s station, situated in the ranges west of Hermannsburg. This woman, whose name was Kekimana, had been given – illegally and in the face of tribal opposition – by Billy McNamara to one of his trusted dark stockmen called Fred. Fred was a man from one of the northern tribes, whom McNamara had brought down with him some years earlier. The Kukatja men, after much preliminary wild shouting, had gathered up their spears in order to kill Fred. Mattner and Heinrich had gone out towards the Kukatja camp to see what the commotion and shouting were about. When they were still a few chains away, Fred had come running towards them, pursued by the angry Kukatja men. Spears had begun to fly in the direction of both Fred and the two white men. Mattner and Heinrich, knowing that they had no authoritative standing in the aboriginal community, had quickly turned their backs on the attackers and run back towards the Aranda camp area as fast as their untrained legs would carry them, with Fred now racing for his life in front of them so as to place the two white men between him and the spears of the pursuers. Although Mattner was a rather portly farmer and Heinrich a semi-invalid, half-incapacitated by a rupture, both men had shown a surprising turn of speed in the face of danger, and neither of them had paused for breath till both had reached the safety of Heinrich’s house. Here they had locked themselves in while Fred had raced on to the verandah of Strehlow’s house – the only place of refuge open to him where he could be safe from the spears of his angry pursuers, who came to a sudden halt several chains away. In response to his frenzied knocks, Strehlow had come out and taken the shivering, shaking Fred into his protection. He had angrily turned the Kukatja men back to their camp; and although his hands had carried no weapons, he had been promptly obeyed. All the Aranda men would have come out on his side if there had been any hesitation by the Kukatja party to obey the ingkata.

But there had been none. For as the man who had nursed back to health Wapiti, the honoured ceremonial chief of the great Kukatja centre of Merini, Strehlow had since that time enjoyed a position of honour among the Kukatja as well. In the Aranda camp men, women, and children had subsequently guffawed for weeks about Mattner’s and Heinrich’s hurried flight; and the whole ludicrous scene of two white “bosses” fleeing from the spears of desert nomads had often been re-enacted by them to the accompaniment of screams of laughter. Hence it was not surprising that the elevation of Mattner to take Strehlow’s place gave no sense of security to the Hermannsburg population, which suddenly felt itself left unprotected and leaderless.

The loading of the van now proceeded with great speed. The name “van” was really a misnomer; and the old vehicle was, in fact, often referred to as a “buckboard”. Its manufacture was of the simplest and crudest nature possible. Its body had been constructed by linking the front and back axles by means of a series of sturdy long boards to form a kind of floor or platform. A wide wooden seat had been mounted on top of this floor, close to the front axle. This seat was divided by a central backrest so that two or three persons could sit forward, facing the horses, while a similar number faced the rear of the vehicle. The seats and the backrest had been covered by hard leather cushions, stuffed with horse-hair.

This extremely uncomfortable upholstery gave the only protection afforded to the passengers against any severe road bumps; for the van did not boast of any springs in its sturdy, rugged frame. It did, however, possess a canvass canopy, which protected the passengers at least against the fierce overhead rays of the midday sun. In this respect the van was superior to the buggy which, though fitted with springs, carried no canopy at all: the sick man could be protected from the sun only by an old umbrella tied to the back of his upholstered chair.

Theo watched the loading of the van with much interest; for he was travelling on the second vehicle. A number of dark boys and girls who had been his childhood companions stood around him. Theo, who had never known any white playmates, had had a number of special friends among the Hermannsburg children. He had always got on splendidly with them till he had reached the age of ten. Even so, it had always been he who had been compelled to adopt the behaviour patterns of his dark playmates. Once he had passed the age of ten, the bonds of friendship had slowly been loosened; and after turning fourteen, he had become keenly aware of the very considerable differences that existed between himself and his former playmates in point of the opinions they held on the problems of adolescence. More and more he had come to realise that his friends belonged, in most of their attitudes towards preparation for full adulthood, to the dark community, and that he, by reason of his European education, had come to develop entirely new interests. His father, anxious to give him a flying start for his proposed secondary education in Germany, had not only made him learn history, botany, and zoology from German high school textbooks, but had also introduced him to Latin at the age of ten and to Greek at the age of twelve. These studies were interests that Theo could not share with his dark school friends. And the latter, in their turn, upon reaching the age of puberty, had become more and more interested in the traditional Aranda world of culture. Fourteen- and fifteen-year-old Aranda girls were already regarded, like Shakespeare’s Juliet, as young women who were ripe for marriage; and in the old days they would, in fact, have been handed over to their rightful husbands at this age, Their brothers in the same age group were looked on as novices ready to be put through a tough series of tribal initiation rites which, in the Aranda area, used to be stretched out over a period of several years. Though these Aranda rites had been severely curtailed within the preceding decades by European settlers and missionaries, all Hermannsburg teenage boys were still forced to pass through circumcision and certain other physical ordeals; and their thoughts naturally tended to be occupied with their impending manhood tests, to the exclusion of most other interests. In spite of their many growing and inevitable feelings of estrangement, Theo and his former playmates on the morning of his departure were genuinely sorry that they had to say goodbye to each other, and they chatted together animatedly in Aranda for the last time. But it was a group of women who were most regretful in their expressions of leave-taking from the white boy whom they had “mothered” for so many years. One of them was Christina who, as a fifteen-year-old halfcaste girl, had carried the day-old premature infant, whom nobody had then expected to survive, to the christening font in the Hermannsburg church. “Don’t forget that I am also one of your mothers,” she said in deep sadness, as she shook his hand and cried quietly. “Remember me, and write to me sometimes, and don’t be like all those other white boys and girls who were born at Hermannsburg and who were reared by us, and who then went south and never again wrote to us or sent us anything.” Another woman, old Margaret, the mother of Lucas, who had been one of Theo’s main playmates, expressed herself rather more forcefully when giving her advice. “You are not just a white boy,” she said with passionate conviction, “you are one of us. You belong to our people. You belong to the totem of the Twins of Ntarea, and you are a true Aranda. Go south and learn in the white men’s schools, but then come back to us. No other white child born here has ever returned to us, but you must come back to us, to your own people.”

By now the van had been fully loaded. The four horses that were to pull it on the first day were quickly harnessed up and hitched to the vehicle. Theo climbed up on the front leather seat and perched himself alongside Titus, the pleasant young driver chosen for the van; and several of his mother’s kitchen women climbed up on the other seat which faced to the rear. These women were coming along for the first day’s ride, prepared to walk back to the station on foot next day. For age-old aboriginal custom in Central Australia insisted that visitors from other groups and tribes, upon their departure to their own homes, should be escorted to the edge of the local group area by at least some of their hosts in token of a friendly parting and as a sign of respect and courtesy. The van pulled out from the station about half an hour after the buggy had left. It was followed by an additional ten loose buggy horses driven by Jakobus, one of the must reliable and experienced of the Hermannsburg stockmen. “Loose horses” was the normal term given to spare horses in Central Australia at that time. Jakobus was proud and overjoyed at having been selected to accompany his sick master and friend. He had been one of the men who had written a letter to Strehlow during his illness.

The van, like the buggy, set off from Hermannsburg at a good pace. It did not take the travellers long to reach the little Tjamangkura watercourse, three miles east of Hermannsburg, with its line of tall bloodwood trees that marked part of the eastern boundary of the Purula-Kamara local group area of Ntarea – this being the area that was regarded as the home of Theo and of most of the other boys and girls at Hermannsburg. East of Tjamangkura began the territory of the Panangka-Bangata, and a few miles further, at Tokurura, began the local group area of those Ellery Creek men and women who belonged to the honey-ant totem. When the van reached Pmokoputa, eight miles from Hermannsburg, it halted alongside the buggy. An early midday meal had already been prepared from the contents of the tucker-box that had been carried under the front seat of the buggy. Its main item was fresh steak, roasted on hot coals; and soon all travellers sat down to a tasty meal in the shade of some fine, mottle-barked, river gums.

Theo walked some chains back to the ruins of the Old Station homestead building, once an outstation of Henbury, which had gone up in flames forty two years earlier, when Charlie Walker was living here. From the ruined stone-house Theo looked back for the last time at the magnificent distant blue mass of Rutjubma in the north-west and reflected that, after the midday meal, he would be entering into new territory for the first time in his life that he could remember clearly. So far the northern horizon had always been bounded for him by the Western MacDonnells, the southern by the Krichauffs, the western by the Gosse’s Range, and the eastern by sandhill ridges and stonehills. But at Pmokoputa the party was entering into the Ellery Creek gorge, which formed a natural highway through the Krichauffs as far as the junction of the Ellery with the Finke at Rubula; and once this gorge had been entered, the whole familiar environment would vanish from his sight – perhaps for ever. A new landscape would open before him; and at the end of a long journey by road and rail he would find himself in a country peopled wholly by white folk – a land he had heard of and read about for many years. The greatest adventure of his young life was about to unfold itself to his vision.

The journey southward was resumed with the sun still standing at high noon. The last wagon tracks ceased at Pmokoputa: from here on only the narrow pad remained along which the mail used to be brought by camels from Horseshoe Bend to Hermannsburg. Since this camel pad had left a trail no wider than three feet at the most where it passed through the dense ti-tree thickets that studded the Ellery Gorge, the advance road party from the station had been forced to deviate from it in many places, so that the course of the vehicles could be kept as much as possible on the open sandy expanses and crunching gravel banks. Wherever the ti-tree thickets could not be avoided, a track had been chopped through them of sufficient width to permit the vehicles to pass through without any difficulties, By midday the horses had steadied down considerably since their wild gallops of the previous day; and whenever the sandy stretches were reached, all passengers voluntarily jumped from the van so as to lighten its weight. The drivers of both vehicles had to keep on cracking their coachwhips hard alongside the sweating, panting, snorting horses, to ensure that they would not come to a halt in the heavy white creek sand. Any horse which showed signs of not throwing its full weight into its harness was smartly flicked with the whiplash; for there was no greater nightmare during the buggy-travel era of Central Australia than a jibbing horse which had brought a vehicle to a sudden halt in the middle of a long, sandy pull.

And so the afternoon waned, and the tips of the shadows of the river gums lengthened eastward, and the sharp cracks of the coachwhips echoed back from the red sandstone sides of the gorge.

Some twelve miles of heavy going brought the party to Rubula, where a large waterhole in the Finke, fringed with high bulrushes, indicated an ideal camping spot for the first night. Both vehicles were halted on a broad gravel bank; and a multitude of willing hands had soon unloaded the swags from the van, helped the sick man down from the buggy, and unwired and lifted down his upholstered chair. For the advance road party had been waiting for the arrival of the vehicles for several days at Rubula. Theo, who was watching a tall, straight gum sapling being cut down so that its top portion could be used as the main tent pole, was almost hit by the sapling when it finally crashed down. A sharp chorus of anxious voices rebuked him from all sides for his carelessness; for the falling sapling could have injured him badly, perhaps even killed him, had it hit him. With a disdainful look to disguise his own shock the boy strode back haughtily to his parents’ camp and watched the workers who were putting up the tent, gathering the dry wood for the campfires, and spreading out the food supplies for the greater convenience of the cooks. The sun was already setting when the evening meal had been prepared. Strehlow was tired, but very satisfied with the first day’s journey: it had been a much more tolerable experience than he had feared in the morning. Soon the dark sky was spangled with myriads of bright stars. A welcome fresh night breeze began to cool the air in the gorge which had become uncomfortably hot during the afternoon. The party broke up into small groups for their night’s sleep. Each group was warmed by its own small fires, since the dark folk had not brought many blankets with them. The sick man and his wife retired into the tent, and Theo fell asleep in his swag beside the van, still listening to the noise of the ducks landing on and rising up from the waterhole.

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