159A. LASSETER'S LAST SUPPLIES.

"with lots of water I can hold out for several days".
Lasseter's Diary. 19. 

 

Many readers have pointed out the anomaly in Lasseter's Last Ride regarding the stranded prospectors supplies. As Idriess writes, in order, "to keep up the good impression", and win the goodwill of the Aboriginals, "he gave them one heavenly meal right down to the last mouthful. It was all he had". It would seem that Lasseter has started his 78 day fast with nothing but his wits and the generosity of the Aboriginals.

But Lasseter records somewhat differently in his Diary and is not bereft of supplies and equipment as Idriess suggests, he is reasonably well set up to face the rigors of the central Australian summer and a longish walk of 80 miles to Mount Olga, providing he conserves those supplies and gets a move on, preferably at night. As he writes from the cave on the Hull River, "with lots of water I can hold out for several days", and this seems to have been written 25 days after the camels bolted. But Lasseter has left utter confusion and frustration behind him, in Alice Springs and Sydney nobody can be sure of his whereabouts and none are greatly interested for the moment, those casual fools Pittendrigh and Hamre have gone missing!.

According to his Diary, Lasseter recovered the following foodstuffs from the debris strewn by the bolting camels, 3 pounds of rice, excellent travelling fare, six tins of corned beef, "but I simply cannot touch them", apparently some nonsense about the meat being too salty and a bag of dried apples, found and returned by the Aboriginals, that too is nonsense. And most important, "I can carry 2 gallons & 3 pints of water", perhaps more if he didn't bury so many maps and films in treacle tins or give his billy away. He has eleven snares which he uses with some success and about half a dozen revolver cartridges, so provisioned and equipped he should be on his way east. Instead he lurks in a black hole in the Petermanns waiting to be found and until his slim rations run out.

An assortment of other equipment and chattels were thrown from the camels; three or four blankets all bargained away, a mosquito net, tent fly and camp sheet, tattered to useless and probably not needed if you are living in a cave. A watch, and I hope he hasn't used it to calculate the bearings to the reef, the spoon and razor were stolen but he wont need the razor as Paul Johns reckoned he was sporting a full red beard when they parted at Illbilla. He gives away his sheath knife and tomahawk, therefore unable to make more snares. His two prospecting pans are stolen and returned which sounds like the dried apples to me, the Aboriginals would not likely return a couple of the best pitchis they had seen in some time.

That treacherous young headman, Watta Mitta Mitta seems to have done quite well out of Lasseter's misfortune, having already garnered a blanket, the billy and sheath knife and the remains of the tent fly, he "then introduced a young lubra into my camp and I put her out once, but he brought her again, so I (to protect his chastity and morals?) gave her my watch & a clean handkerchief & a cake of soap & sent her back to camp". Just the way to a young woman's heart, with a clean hanky and a cake of soap.

He has the barest medical supplies, half a brandy bottle of castor oil and an unknown quantity of what appears to be 'acidity powder' and a minute bottle of Lourdes Water. The castor oil and acidity powder are successfully used as an antidote for poisonous plants recently eaten, and the Lourdes Water eases the sandy blight, "I soused my eyes in Lourdes Water last night & they are much clearer today". He has pens and paper and his 'dispatch book' to chronicle  his journey and to carry his scant possessions he has a flour bag, long emptied, and a pack.

With his circumstances and location unknown to the wider world and considering his meagre supplies, Lasseter should be heading east to the best known landmarks in central Australia, Ayers Rock or the Olgas and as soon as possible after 27/12/30. He could be there within the week, he has already travelled the road and just follow Michael Terry's tracks. He might make some smoke signals when he gets there too, he seems to have taken some trouble to stay hidden, in a cave and no smoke signals!. Lasseter left his move to the Olgas too late; after his supplies have run out and his health has deteriorated to blindness and helplessness.

Perhaps more interesting is what Lasseter didn't have when the camels bolted or when Bob Buck found his body. No rifle! Blakely and Johns have been roundly and rightly criticised over the years for leaving Lasseter in the bush without a rifle when the Expedition had two .32 calibre rifles on it's manifest. Mind you, given his liver and uncertain mental state, Blakeley and Johns may not have trusted him with a rifle. Picks and shovels, dolly pot and bar have never been found and Lasseter's hardware, the sheath knife, tomahawk, panning dishes and billy have disappeared. Yet two months later Buck finds the Aboriginal girls wearing photographic film as belly bands, a broken camera and revolver (and Lasseter makes no mention of a camera in his Diary except he photographed a datum peg and seems to have carried the now useless camera to the end) a set of dentures, a well travelled groundsheet and the inevitable buried tin with messages.

During his search for Lasseter and further afield, Buck found nothing substantial like mining equipment, or for that matter the camel packs, and he seems to have missed Lasseter's cave and Lake Christopher for clues. While film can survive the rigors of exterior decoration for several weeks the much prized blankets, camp sheet and tent fly, flour bag and pack were never seen by Buck. And on a sardonic note I'll recount the story of the Aboriginals recovering a bullet that Lasseter had accidentally fired into a tree, the missile became a prized item of bush lore for many years after. Bearing that in mind, might I suggest that Lasseter never lost his picks and shovels or gave away his knife and tomahawk or other equipment to be found or bargained for, he had none to start with. As for the much prized 'dispatch book' well some are still digging under campfires and sifting dunes.

There is probably a reasonable explanation for the contradiction in what Idriess 'guessed' Lasseter started his last ride with (or should that be ended?) and what Lasseter wrote in his Diary. Idriess's bestseller appeared in the bookstores in the first week of September 1931, the diary was not found until mid October 1931, some six weeks and a couple of editions later. Idriess settled the anomaly by ignoring it, not the first time he has glossed over awkward moments and with great literary chutzpah adds the chapters 'Deathless Pages' and 'Fragments'  including suspiciously reworked excerpts from the Diary to later editions of Lasseter's Last Ride.

But neither Idriess or Lasseter can ignore the three pounds of rice; According to Coote's very detailed, "Inventory for the C.A.G.E. Expedition. July, 1930" no rice was packed and rice seems an odd sort of food for Central Australia, I can just see Bob Buck's reaction to rice cakes, sounds to me like something a Cape York tin scratcher might have in his tucker bag.

LASSETERIA

© R.Ross. 1999-2006

Idriess, Ion. L. Lasseter's Last Ride. 117,127,196, 130.  Marshall-Stoneking, Billy. Lasseter, The Making of a Legend. 26.  Lasseter's Diary.

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