|137. JOHANSON, W.|
|"Johannsen never arrived. He and another man were speared by blacks, and their bodies were found afterwards by a police party".|
|Coote, E. H. Hell's Airport. (1934) 248.|
Johanson is the 'Mystery Man' in the Lasseter saga and his name is spelt many ways, Lasseter named his Bushman mate from Boulder City as 'Johansen' and Coote writes 'Johannsen'. 'Johanson' is taken as correct based on correspondence to Lasseter in June and July 1930. Johanson's involvement in the search for Lasseter's Reef questions Lasseter's integrity by making yet another clandestine arrangement with a third party and was Johanson speared by Aboriginals somewhere in the Rawlinson or Petermann Ranges?, thus failing to rendezvous with Lasseter at Lake Christopher in November 1930??. By all the usual accounts Johanson's inclusion in Lasseter's growing circle of non shareholders came as a surprise to everyone, not even Carrington, the Government Resident knew of Johanson. If Sullivan's Diary is on the mark then the wider world became aware of Johanson on 12/11/30 when "three camels jangled their way into town", it was Paul Johns with a letter from Lasseter to Carrington and a strange yarn of adventure in the Petermanns.
Coote saw Lasseter's letter, apparently in the presence of Carrington, "and the news in it was a veritable bombshell", Lasseter had found and pegged his reef and after a resupply and rest at Illbilla would move on "to Lake Christopher to meet a man named Johannsen from Boulder City, Western Australia". The Bailey's probably heard the story the same day and the shareholders the next evening at the regular Thursday Company meeting...if Bailey was still holding regular Company meetings. By the end of the week quite a few people, both in Central Australia and Sydney, were aware of Lasseter's intention to meet Johanson, whoever he was, at Lake Christopher. Lasseter's letter to the Government Resident cannot be found and it may not exist, it may be that John's report was verbal and Coote wrote what he heard. Nevertheless Johanson is now part of Lasseter's plans, what Lasseter and Johanson intended to do after Lake Christopher is unknown and Lasseter's apparent duplicity remained unchallenged by Coote who made such a fuss over Freddy Colson's inclusion in the early days of the Expedition.
In his 1947 monologue 'The History of Lasseter's Reef' John Bailey mentions Johns return to Alice Springs with two letters from Lasseter, one for the Government Resident and one for the Company directors in Sydney, although Coote would have wired Bailey long before the letter arrived. According to Bailey, Johanson would be waiting in Alice Springs for Johns and after a refit of man and beast the two men would return to Illbilla and, "remove the food dump to Lake Christopher". Bailey's recollections, written 17 years after events in the Petermanns could be a little hazy.
Except for a contrary reference in R. G. Kimber's book 'Man from Arltunga' all accounts have Johanson on his way from somewhere to meet Lasseter at Lake Christopher. "Lasseter took his camels there, but Johannsen never arrived. He and another man were speared by blacks, and their bodies were found afterwards by a police party". Bailey also records a tragic end for Johanson and his mate somewhere in the Petermanns and a police party finding the bodies, and Idriess attributes the death by spear of Johanson and his mate to that strange 'hoodoo' that dogged the Expedition. By the end of 1930 many people were aware of Lasseter's arrangements with Johanson but what evidence did Coote, Idriess and Bailey have that Johanson and his mate were speared by the Aboriginals somewhere in the Rawlinson or Petermann Ranges. This far into LASSETERIA I've developed an 'instinct' about any source quoting Coote, Idriess, Bailey and Blakeley, et al; surely three white fellows cannot die in Central Australia and not have theirs deaths investigated, was there any truth in Coote's statement, "their bodies were found afterwards by a police party".
Sure enough the West Australian Police Archives have a report on the investigation into the deaths of two whitefellows in the Rawlinson Range and Michael Terry was in the area when the rumour began and he kept a daily log book. Archives and log books have nicely settled at least one part of the Johanson mystery. Michael Terry and his mates made contact with two men from the Quest Expedition on 4/6/31 at the Warburton Ranges, the five men sat about a cup of tea and a yarn and accounts of each party's progress, Terry being a firm believer in sharing knowledge. During discussions, "An item of somewhat disturbing news was uttered. Through Pompey, their camel boy they had been informed that it was the gossip of the Bush that two white men had been murdered by blacks in the Rawlinson Ranges very recently". Terry dismissed the rumour as a 'Mulga wire' and did not let the incident interfere with serious prospecting.
On the other hand the men of the Quest Expedition took the rumour seriously and it was the intention of the leader, Spence Gall, to report the matter to the Laverton police, Terry thought this an overreaction. The rumoured spearing of two white men in the Rawlinson Range became known to all and sundry on 26/6/31, the day Spence Gall arrived in Laverton and reported the incident. When Michael Terry returned along the track a month later he met Paine and his surveyors and their camp had more theories and news than Terry did on the dreadful events in the Rawlinsons; Gall had earlier passed through the Surveyors camp. And when Terry arrived in Laverton on the 15th of July the town was agog with the news, now no longer a rumour, that two whitefellows had been speared in the Rawlinsons. Knowing the source Terry was quite annoyed that a camp fire yarn could take on such currency. A fortnight later a police investigation was under way. On the 1st of August 1931 a police party under Sergeant Bake with Constables McGeary, Clark and Austin left Perth by train for Laverton to, "investigate the reported murders of two white men by natives at Sladen Waters in the Rawlinson Ranges". The police party, now five white men and two Aboriginal helpers, 13 camels and three horses, with supplies in a camel drawn cart, left Laverton on 8/8/31, heading for the Rawlinsons, 530 miles to the north east. Apart from the police and press reports, Constable Clark wrote a delightful account of the police expedition for the 1931 Christmas edition of the Police News.
On the way they met Sam Hazlett who reported on 13/8/31 that he, "believed there had been a murder", and on the 29th of August the men met a genuine West Australian survey party at Elder Creek in the Warburton Range. The men were glad to exchange news and of course the surveyors knew all the about the murders. Leaving the supply cart with the Surveyors, the police party of seven men and sixteen livestock pushed on for the Rawlinsons and arrived at Sladen Waters on 20th of September,1931. "to find to our dismay that the rumoured beautiful pool of water, covered with ducks and swans was non existent, there being only the dry bed of a deep creek". The Police being fair Bushmen themselves soon found drinkable water in sand soaks further down the creek.
Then followed a thorough investigation of the Rawlinson Range along the Mural Crescent to Conical Hill in Central Australia. Several Aboriginals were questioned and it soon became obvious that the rumour was indeed a camp fire yarn and, "related to the geological survey party to the Warburton Ranges in 1916. Messrs. Talbot and Johnson were wounded, Johnson died of his wounds". (and as I write this I notice that 'Johnson' and 'Johanson' are not so different, apart from names, both men died by Aboriginal spears) As Terry noted when he first heard the rumour, "every time one goes far away into the Bush a story of this kind comes to your hearing". Satisfied the police turned for Laverton and arrived there on the 19th October, "On the 24th we arrived back in Perth, twelve weeks from the time we left. all feeling well, but pleased to be home".. And all to substantiate a rumour that has been neatly woven into the Lasseter saga to explain the failure of Johanson and his mate to meet Lasseter at Lake Christopher at the end of November 1930. An excellent example of rumour becoming fact.
At the end of April 1931 when Bob Buck reported finding Lasseter's body, many people, Coote and Bailey in particular would have wondered what had become of Johanson if he wasn't with Lasseter. Just six weeks later Michael Terry notes the 'campfire yarn' about two white men being speared by the Aboriginals in the Rawlinson Ranges. Of course the 'victims' became Johanson and his mate and a neat reason for the failed rendezvous at Lake Christopher...a very convenient murder, if only a rumour. The reference to the police investigations adds weight to Coote's claim that the bodies were found. But Coote and Idriess and their contemporaries have a difficulty, the police did not find any bodies and confirmed the rumour as just that. I've often wondered what Sergeant Bake and his mates thought about the value of the thousand mile camel trek to the Rawlinsons just to prove a rumour false. Perhaps a rumoured murder of convenience!!. Only Jack Idriess and Sullivan would think like that, and all at C.A.G.E. remained strangely silent on Lasseter's duplicitous arrangement with Johanson, Shareholders only indeed.
So who was Johanson and what happened to him??. It seems the man may have existed, and in June and July 1930 sent Lasseter a telegram and a letter, apparently in response to written enquiries from Lasseter who was concerned about any war like intentions from the natives and the crossability of Lake Amadeus. On the 23rd of July 1930, the day before the C.A.G.E. Expedition left Alice Springs, W. Johanson of Piesse Street, Boulder City, W.A. replied to Lasseter's letter of the 23rd of June, he opens with apologies for the delay and he has no experience of Aboriginal war parties a 1000 strong, although he had known of groups to over a hundred to gather "in the vicinity of my camp at ridiculous short notice and have often wondered where in the world they all came from". Johanson goes on to give advice on Aboriginal relations, in short, don't choose sides among the warring tribes and they will be too busy to, "dream of the white fellows good tucker".
Apparently, In his June letter Lasseter expressed 'puzzlement' over Lake Amadeus when flooded, Johanson could only reply that, "I have never seen Lake Amadeus in flood but as it catches flood water both from the Petermann side and the ranges on the north side it must expand a lot in a wet season". On matters Aboriginal and Lake Amadeus, Johanson was notably non specific. As he had no useful information for Lasseter, Johanson writes, "I may as well draw to a close. I had a letter from Bailey asking me to hold myself in readiness to join your expedition". Johanson was ready to oblige if requested to do so by Bailey, "but I would much sooner go as I did before namely with camels, I know that I could not miss it then". The inference being that Johanson had discovered the same reef on a previous journey while travelling with camels, one suspects that he was uncomfortable with Bailey's transport alternatives, the plane and the Thornycroft. Like Lasseter another prospector who doesn't think he can find a reef umpteen miles long and yards high and wide from the air.
Johanson's letter would have arrived at Lasseter's Orient Road, Kogarah address at the end of July 1930, at that time the C.A.G.E. Expedition was nearing Haasts Bluff on their way to Illbilla and Lasseter would not have known of Johanson's reply and the ambiguous information it contained, he made no commitment to meet Lasseter at Lake Christopher or anywhere else but only, "that I should be called upon to take a hand and act as guide", presumably to the reef. Marshall-Stoneking, in 'Lasseter-the Making of a Legend' has asked the obvious question, if Johanson knows the location of the reef why hasn't he claimed the bonanza before Lasseter and C.A.G.E. arrive on the scene. Johanson's letter is nothing more or less than a variety of Lasseter's letter to Texas Green the previous October, 'I know the location of a huge gold reef that I can rediscover if I use camels, I am willing to act as guide if called upon to do so'. There is no record of any further communication between Lasseter and Johanson after the latter's letter of the 23rd of July.
Considering the motives, intent and provenance of Johanson's letter leads down inconclusive paths. West Australian colleagues have asked the right questions and turned up all sorts of Johanson's and their naming varietals in various parts of Kalgoorlie and Boulder City at any time from the 1920's onwards, but none at 193, Piesse Street in 1930. Of course W. Johanson may have been a boarder and not the resident at the address, his town digs so to speak when not, "Out prospecting". On the 16th of June, 1930. Lasseter received a telegram from Johanson explaining the reason for the delay in answering an earlier letter of enquiry from Lasseter. From the telegram and the letter, the only documents extent in Johanson's hand, we can deduce that Johanson is vaguely experienced, suitably itinerant and variously named!!. And he has not been found to this day, although many Johanson's to Johannsen's have been pestered by researchers hoping to tidy up loose historical ends and unearth that secret deal between Lasseter and Johanson. and of course the location of Lasseter's Reef.
Now about the reference in Kimber's book, 'Man from Arltunga', in the footnotes to Chapter Thirteen, 'West Again, and the Lasseter Legend', Kimber cites correspondence with a West Australian researcher as evidence that Johannsen and Smith travelled to Alice Springs, hired camels and returned safely to Western Australia. One assumes Johannsen and his mate travelled by train from Kalgoorlie to Alice Springs and there hired camels to search west for Lasseter, were unsuccessful in that mission but safely returned to Kalgoorlie. Apart from the spelling of the name, now the same as a prominent Alice Springs family, there are problems with the logic of Johannsen's travel arrangements, why a train journey of thousands of miles in order to reach a starting point for a return journey by camels?. There is no reference in Kimber's scant 'evidence' that Johannsen travelled via Lake Christopher or carried out any specific search for Lasseter and after his safe return to Western Australia, like the rest of his names, this particular Johanson has also disappeared. One would expect the author of a letter to be consistent in the spelling of his name!!.
The search for Johanson has lead to some interesting variations in the story, one of the longer bows has been the tragic end of a couple of ephemerals by the name of 'Joe Hansen' and his mate Smith, somewhere in the Rawlinsons at the hands of, "those Rawlinson blacks", Michael Terry left a succinct account of the genesis of this variation of the yarn that has an interesting implication for the whole Johanson mystery. On the 23rd of October 1932, Michael Terry and his mates camped near Gordon Springs, they noted the gum tree marked by Sergeant Bake's expedition in September the previous year, and were on their guard against the reputation of the locals. Terry had been forewarned by Alan Breaden when passing through Middleton Ponds earlier in the expedition that, "Two prospectors called Hansen and Smith, having set out from near Alice Springs, had failed to reappear out of the scrub".
Alan Breaden, who was Bob Buck's uncle and resident at Middleton Ponds during the entire Lasseter saga, and had explored the Rawlinsons as early as 1897, went on to warn Terry, "If you ever get anywhere near Sladen Waters, look out; douse your fire early and camp in the open. Don't trust those Rawlinson blacks--they've done in Hansen and Smith somewhere near Sladen Waters--I'm sure of it. The boy who told me isn't given to repeating idle yarns". Exactly the same source that began the rumour that Terry had heard in June 1931, an Aboriginal camelman or helper with close white contacts, and it may not be so difficult to bring the two ends of the Johanson mystery together.
Between the time he reported finding Lasseter's body, but no Johanson, in April 1931, and Terry's first report of a rumoured murder in June 1931, Bob Buck led another small expedition to Lasseter Country, his third for the year. This camel trip was financed by Walter Gill and Gill kept a daily record of the journey with pithy insights on the Buck personality, "he could be as twisty as a creek in the Channel country". especially on matters Lasseter. I can't help recalling a conversation between Philip Taylor and Errol Coote at Ayers Rock on 7/11/30, Taylor was recounting his misadventures and a wet weather camp at Bob Bucks station, there he was told by Alan Breaden that he, "remembered a young chap named Bell out in those parts thirty years ago". Bell was one of Lasseter's many names and Taylor and Coote readily took this as proof that Lasseter had previously travelled the country, "Taylor was of the opinion that it must have been Lasseter, and, in view of the mystery attaching to Lasseter's past, I agreed with him". Coote saw fit to repeat Breaden's 'recollection' to Arthur Blakeley in a letter to the Minister for Home and Territories on 11/11/30, thus another of Lasseter's bona fides is verified. I find much Lasseter lore has beginnings at Bob Buck's station, Middleton Ponds.
From November 1930 to June 1931 there was no plausible explanation for Johanson and his relationship with Lasseter. I'm prepared to take at face value that Johanson's arrival on the scene came as a complete surprise to everyone involved in C.A.G.E. and the Expedition. Much would depend on whether Bailey saw Johanson's letter to Lasseter, apparently not, for one would expect old man Bailey to start asking some questions about Johansen, after all he would have had an address and plenty of good contacts including Texas Green the Member of Parliament for Kalgoolie. And Coote would have his journalistic contacts and be after a scoop, but neither man turned up anything worthwhile about Johanson and cover the gap by leaving him conveniently buried in the Rawlinson Range, police reports to the contrary not withstanding.
As with most rumours and attempts to verify them anomalies arise, as is the case with Johanson, There is the problem with an inferred prior arrangement with Bailey to call on Johanson's services if required and the reference at page 80 of Lasseter's diary, "that if I did not show up again by the end of November that they would send a man named Johansen to my relief. As I believe he also stumbled on to this identical reef". Rather nicely tidying up the offer in Johanson's letter, but leaving open the larger question as to who else knew about the reef and its location and why it wasn't pegged long before Lasseter started his furphy in Sydney. Bailey further fogs this issue by stating that Johns and Johanson were to meet in Alice Springs and both men would return to Illbilla and relocate the supply dump to Lake Christopher. As for 'Joe Hansen' and his mate Smith coming to grief in the Rawlinsons, this appears to be a case of selective or induced memory, something the outback is prone to and similar to an urban myth. Remember that the victims of the spearing were not named at the time the West Australian police carried out their investigation yet later that month Idriess has poor Johannsen and his mate, "speared by the blacks in the Rawlinson Range", did Idriess know more than the police about the names involved, and writing of Idriess, there's a sense of connection between Spence Gall and the Quest Expedition, Basedow and the foreword to Lasseter's Last Ride, Idriess the Author and Bob Buck. By the way, Fred Blakeley makes no mention of Johanson or any arrangements with Lasseter.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
Coote, E. H. Hell's Airport.(1934) 233,234,247,248. Terry, Michael. Untold Miles. 235-237. & Sun and Sand. 153-154. Kimber, R. G. Man from Arltunga. 93. Gill, Walter. Petermann Journey. 19. Idriess, Ion. L. Lasseter's Last Ride. 202,233. West Australian. 24/10/31. West Australian Police Archives. 5439/1931. The Police News. 24/12/31. Marshall-Stoneking, Billy. Lasseter-the Making of a Legend. 181-184.