188. MOUNT OLGA.
|"It was like an old-time city of domed temples piled one upon the other".|
Idriess, Lasseter's Last Ride. Pg. 97.
On the 14th of October 1872, a fortnight after retreating to the southeast from the Ehrenberg Ranges, Ernest Giles sighted an exceedingly high and abruptly-ending mountain about seventy five miles to his south. This high mountain became his immediate objective as he was quite certain it would point the way to an easier passage west. From his vantage point in the vicinity of the Kings Creek floodout, and through smoke from numerous spinifex fires, it appeared the intervening country was similar to that immediately before and behind us; that is to say, sandhills and scrub. Smoke, haze and mirage hid the vast salt bog that lay across his path. Nine days later he conceded defeat, thwarted at every turn by a glittering expanse of salt, a thin crust over a seemingly bottomless quagmire of hot blue briny mud. Giles and his companion Carmichael, were lucky to extricate themselves and horses from the morass. "I was heartily annoyed at being baffled in my attempt to reach the mountain, which I now thought more than ever would offer a route out of this terrible region; but it seemed impossible to escape from it. I named this eminence Mount Olga, and the great salt feature which obstructed me Lake Amadeus, in honour of two enlightened royal patrons of science.
Harold Lasseter and Paul Johns arrived at Mount Olga about the 26th of September 1930, the men and five camels were exhausted after crossing Lake Amadeus, and were forced to rest for a couple of days before proceeding west to the Petermann Ranges. The following day was Lasseter's fiftieth birthday and he would have little cause to celebrate, having bare rations and indifferent company, Johns had already proven to be less than bush wise and an ordinary camelman. But Lasseter had arrived at the first and possibly only landmark in the search for his gold reef, the strip maps in his diary end at Mount Olga and nearby Ayers Rock and there are no other maps in Lasseter's hand showing his travels west, an 'odd' omission from a diary wherein Lasseter states that he has found and pegged his reef.
Having oriented himself at this unmistakeable landmark known as Katta Juta to the Pitjantjatjara, he and Johns then travelled a short distance through the Petermanns before returning to Illbilla for supplies. Johns carried on to Alice Springs and Lasseter returned to the southern ranges then on to Lake Christopher where he arrived in late November 1930. Failing to rendezvous with Johanson and his mate at the Lake, Lasseter then returned east through the ranges to the point where his camels bolted on the 27th December, somewhere to the north west of, yet close by the cave on the Hull River. He took refuge here for several weeks, mistakenly naming the locale Winters Glen. In early March 1931 he made a belated effort to reach Mount Olga, he wrote in his diary, "I can carry 2 gallons & 3 pints of water but that is hardly likely to take me the 80 miles to Mt Olga on no food whatever", in another passage he writes that he would try and make it to Mount Olga if he was certain of water on the way, "but 80 miles is a long stretch with no water", a curious statement given he has the means to carry at least ten litres of water and the certain knowledge from recent travels that all the waterholes along his intended route would be full.
Errol Coote makes passing reference to the Olgas, correctly locating the landmark on the starboard side of the plane as he approached Ayers Rock from Hermannsburg, "like a group of mosques set in the desert. Brilliant blue in colour, they were most picturesque". Ion Idriess mentions Mount Olga a couple of times in Lasseter's Last Ride and both short passages are fine examples of a position that caused Idriess great concern, "it proved to him how necessary it was to actually experience the country that he was writing about if he wasn't to make a fool of himself", as he had with his description of Mount Olga and its part in Aboriginal lore, although he got the name fairly right, "Katatuta"; but there is no excuse for placing Mount Olga to the east and Mount Connor to the west of Ayers Rock as he has done when describing Errol Coote's arrival in the area in late October 1930. And Idriess would have been mightily peeved when he learnt that the 'Main Roads Explorer', Michael Terry, had arrived at Mount Olga on the 3rd of August driving a Morris truck, a notable motoring first and nearly eight weeks ahead of Lasseter, who at least acknowledged that Terry had preceded him through the ranges.
In December 1934, Paul Johns story of his travels with Lasseter appeared in the Melbourne Sun, a colourful account, reminiscent of a Gothic romance. According to Johns he and Lasseter first arrived at Ayers Rock and rested there for two days before moving onto Mount Olga. Johns gave a brief description of the conglomerate tors and waterholes, which he described as cool deep pools, perfectly round with slippery mossy sides. One of these waterholes caused Lasseter an indignity, It seems he went hunting wallaby one evening and failed to return, "Fortunately it was a bright moonlight night, and, as Lasseter did not return, I set out to look for him. I fired my revolver and received a couple of shots in answer from the direction of one of these pools. making towards it, I saw my companion paddling hopelessly around, his rifle held above his head. I returned to the camp, and, with the aid of loading ropes, was able to drag him from his damp and uncomfortable prison".
Ernest Giles finally reached his "high mountain" on the 12th of September 1873, on his second attempt at crossing to the west coast. Although he had named Mount Olga the previous year, he did not have the satisfaction of being the first European visitor, William Gosse had arrived just five weeks earlier and made a few prosaic comments about the dozen or so conglomerate mounds, Giles of course gave his romantic pen full rein, his due reward no doubt, "I had now travelled four hundred miles to reach this mount, which, when I first saw it, was only seventy-five or eighty miles distant."
© R.Ross. 1999-2009 20091117
|Ion Idriess, Lasseter's Last Ride. 97,106. Lasseter's Diary, 11,83,87,. Michael Terry, Untold Miles, 38-41. Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed, Chapters, 1.6,2.2,2.3,2.9,2.11,5.4. The Sun, 19/12/1934, pg19. The Brisbane Courier, 04/07/1874, pg7. Beverley Eley, Ion Idriess, 201.|