|211. PETROL and WATER.|
|"Oh, Jacky, Jacky wailed Taylor. Why didn't I do it myself".|
This is probably another apocryphal story with beginnings in the Middleton Ponds/ Hermannsburg circuit and has no basis in fact; as the story goes, when Taylor discovered that the camp at Ayers Rock had been burnt out on 8/11/30, he instructed Rolfe to fill an empty petrol drum with water in preparation for the arduous 80 mile desert crossing to Bob Buck's station at Middleton Ponds. Both Idriess and Coote romanticise the detail to the ridiculous but it does add a chapter to an otherwise slim volume.
Idriess has Taylor and Rolfe travelling during the day in 120 degree heat when on the second day Taylor discovers that the fuel tainted water in the drum that Rolfe had filled at the Rock, is unpalatable and empties the drum, "lest his thirst force him to drink the poison". The two men make it to Middleton Ponds after four torturous days, largely due to Rolfe's bushmanship and sacrifice, where Buck nurses Taylor back to health, sufficient to carry on to Hermannsburg.
There is probably a common source for the story as Coote tells it pretty much the same way, beginning with Taylor telling Rolfe to clean and fill the petrol drum and the subsequent discovery that the water was undrinkable, resulting in a thirsty trip to Buck's place. Rolfe with sore feet as he had given his boots away to Dick Mulda, Paddy Tucker's camel man. And Tucker's account although second hand, might be closest to the truth, according to him, Taylor and Rolfe arrived at Middleton Ponds three days after the burn out at Ayers Rock without drama and not much worse for the experience. No doubt Rolfe was the guide. Pastor Albrecht also mentions the incident and notes that Taylor duly arrived at Hermannsburg via Middleton Ponds, dirty and unshaven but otherwise healthy.
I suspect this story began with Bob Buck at Middleton Ponds as nothing more or less than another of his outrageous tall tales for the titillation of the city folk. Being reasonably certain by now that they'll believe anything, especially Idriess. Coote could be paraphrasing Idriess and he may have interviewed Buck, but I find it difficult to believe that a practical fellow like Taylor would not check the contents of the oil drum before leaving the Rock, and Rolfe Entata knew perfectly well the importance of clean drums, he had done the job many times. In fact the story as related by Idriess is a bit of a slight on the competence and common sense of both men, Rolfe in particular, the way the story reads Taylor's near death struggle to Buck's place is all Rolfe's fault for not cleaning the drum correctly, and more fool Taylor for not checking a highly unlikely scenario.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006