245A. SLADEN WATER.
|"if you ever get anywhere near Sladen Waters, look out; douse your fire early and camp in the open".|
Allen Breaden to Michael Terry. Sun and Sand, 154.
Sladen Water is a series of ephemeral and sometimes connected waterholes, flowing north through the Rawlinson Ranges, about 45 miles west of the Northern Territory border. Harold Lasseter may have camped at this occasional oasis during his wanderings to and from Lake Christopher, although he left no record of the place in his diary or letters. In early July 1931 Sladen Water gained considerable notoriety as the place where Lasseter's "Bush mate from Boulder City", by inference, W. Johanson, was speared by Aboriginals.
Ernest Giles arrived in the area in January 1874 and at that time he found, "a splendid looking creek, with several sheets of water", he named the waterholes after Sir Charles Sladen, a former premier of Victoria and generous donor to Giles expeditions, the gap in the range through which the stream flowed, he named the Pass of the Abencerrages. "that is to say, the Children of the Saddle", an obscure name until one realises that Giles was referring to himself and companions who had spent a great deal of time in the saddle exploring central Australia. Significantly, and perhaps unwisely, he decided that "This was evidently a permanently watered pass, with some excellent country round it to the south ~altogether it was a most desirable spot for an explorer's camp, and an excellent place for horses". Sladen Water became a base and refuge for Giles and his companions as they advanced and retreated from various unsuccessful forays west
The Aboriginals also considered Sladen Water 'a most desirable spot' and on the afternoon of Giles's discovery, the expedition "encamped at a place near a recent native camp, where the grass was very good". Fifty-six years later, Giles unrelated namesake, Archie Giles, the lessee of Redbank Station, would warn Fred Blakeley not to camp near native camps or on waterholes, but Ernest Giles and his men remained unmolested until the morning of 19/02/1874, "when we became aware of the presence of a whole host of natives immediately below the camp". The Aboriginals attacked as soon as they were discovered and sent a flight of spears towards Giles and his men who had little time to seize their rifles and send a volley of shots over the heads and at the feet of the attackers, relying on the noise of bullets and firearms to deter further advance. However it took a second round of fire to convince the Aboriginals that the intruders were so armed that spears were no match. There were no further attacks from this quarter and Giles continued his explorations.
Giles two volume account of his Centralian journeys, 'Australia Twice Traversed', became something of a handbook for later travellers and prospectors, leading many to expect an oasis at Sladen Water but with the possibly of hostile Aboriginals in the vicinity. Sladen Water was forgotten by the public until the survivors of the Border Exploring Expedition arrived at Oodnadatta in March 1900 and reported a disastrous journey from Laverton via Sladen Water where the expedition had camped in late January. Charles Norton a member of the expedition was speared when he became separated from the main party, earlier the expeditions Afghan camel driver, Shanaway, was shot in a strong armed act of self defense, H. W. Hill, the leader, returned to civilisation less two men and nine camels. In July the following year one of the most sanguine yet competent of the later explorers, R. T Maurice arrived at Sladen Water and made no especial comment about the water supply or the Aboriginals, although his second in charge, W. R. Murray, enthused about the scenery. In early 1907, the "veteran back-country traveller and explorer", Frank Hann paid a visit and agreed with Giles and Murray that Sladen Water was a pretty place, "but there is no water there", and was rather peeved at Giles for misleading him.
Sladen Water returned to obscurity until June 1931, when Spence Gall, the leader of the Quest Expedition, reported rumours of two white men having been murdered in the vicinity. This expedition had camped at Sladen Water the previous January and according to Gall's Aboriginal informants the murders had occurred couple of months after the expedition had left for the Warburton Ranges. By convenient misspelling of names, the victims were variously known as Johanson or Johannsen, Hazlett, both father and son, Brumby, Brumble, Fabian, Hansen and Smith and several others, but history seems to have settled on Johannsen and Smith. The Western Australia Police responded by sending a five man party to the Rawlinson Ranges to investigate the rumour that had become an established fact by the end of August.
The expedition arrived at Sladen Water on the 9th of September 1931 and was dismayed to find the, "rumored beautiful pool of water, covered with ducks and swans, was non-existent, there being only the dry bed of a deep creek. In places, by digging in the sand, brackish water could be obtained." Nor were there any hostile spear throwing Aboriginals to greet the police party, just a few scattered families, terrified of the 'big dogs' the police were riding, many had never seen white men before. The police investigated as far east as Conical Hill, seven miles from the Northern Territory border, and by then had learnt enough to confirm their early suspicions that the rumored murders were nothing more or less than a camp fire yarn with connections to an incident that had occurred at Mount Gosse in September 1916 when two men from a West Australian Government geological expedition where speared. The victims were J. Johnson who died of his wounds and W. H. B. Talbot who survived a spear through the arm. Yet in one of the quirkier turns of the Lasseter Legend, Henry William Beamish Talbot did visit Sladen Water, on 24/10/1931, as a member of the Second C.A.G.E. Expedition under the leadership of Bob Buck.
This was Bucks first visit to Sladen Water, despite various claims by himself and the press that he had travelled as far west as Lake Christopher and beyond when searching for Lasseter earlier in the year. Bill Talbot kept a surreptitious record of the expedition, knowing full well that it was nothing more or less than a sham and noted that, "There was no surface water at Sladen Water but there was plenty of very brackish water at a shallow depth". Oddly enough, the Second C.A.G.E. Expedition made no effort to search for any evidence of the rumoured murders at Sladen Water, although Les Bridge, the financier of the Second Expedition, had concluded the day after the incident made headlines in the Sydney press, that the victims were Lasseter's mates from Boulder City. Bridge used the incident to urge John Bailey to get the Second Expedition underway before competing interests pegged Lasseter's Reef.
Possibly 12 to 15 white men in three expeditions visited Sladen Water in 1931 and none reported any confrontation with the Aboriginals and all of them noted the 'crook' soakage water at Giles "permanently watered pass", The following year, 1932, Michael Terry prospected and mapped the Rawlinson Range and prior to leaving Middleton Ponds on his way west, he received a grim warning from Bob Bucks uncle, Allen Breaden, "if you ever get anywhere near Sladen Waters, look out; douse your fire early and camp in the open". Breaden who had explored the Rawlinson Ranges as early as 1897, went on to say, "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". The 'boy' Breaden referred to was his seldom acknowledged Aboriginal son, Johnson Breaden, Bob Bucks first cousin and by default right hand man, complicit in many of Bucks schemes. Terry later reported that, "The only instance of friction was near Sladen Waters in the Rawlinson Range, when on the night of 26 October 1932 two rushed into camp about 8 p.m. and were in the act of spearing O'Grady and me, when our camel boys saw them and gave such howls of terror that they were themselves apparently frightened and deterred from their intention."
The waterholes are not listed in the index of any edition of Lasseter's Last Ride and only mentioned in passing in later editions through Philip Taylor's 'letter of instruction' to Bob Buck, the waterholes being one of several places that Buck should check in his search for Lasseter. Ion Idriess, master story teller and clever penman, has artfully avoided naming the victims or the location of the 1931 rumours, although he uses the incident to advantage in his bestseller, neatly explaining why Johannsen (who is mentioned several times in the story and to date has not been clearly identified) failed to meet Lasseter at Lake Christopher. At the conclusion of Lasseter's Last Ride, Idriess writes that, "Lasseter is dead. Two prospectors who set out on his tracks are dead", the clear inference being that the two prospectors are Johannsen and Smith. Although Buck received his instructions from Philip Taylor in February 1931, he did not arrive at Sladen Water until the following October, in those intervening eight months a great deal of the Lasseter Legend was created.
© R.Ross. 1999-2011 20110226
|Coote, E. H. Hell's Airport.(1934) 233,234,247,248. Giles, Ernest. Australia Twice Traversed. Chaps 2.7, 2.9, 2.11 (pg 268-269 vol 1.) Gill, Walter. Petermann Journey. 19. Idriess, Ion. L. Lasseter's Last Ride. 228,233. Kimber, R. G. Man from Arltunga. 93. Marshall-Stoneking, Billy. Lasseter-the Making of a Legend. 181-184.Terry, Michael. Untold Miles. 235-237. & Sun and Sand. 153-156.The Police News. 24/12/31.West Australian. 24/10/31. West Australian Police Archives. 5439/1931.|