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The Lost Souls’ Hotel
by [?]

Hunqerford Road, February. One hundred and thirty miles of heavy reddish sand, bordered by dry, hot scrubs. Dense cloud of hot dust. Four wool-teams passing through a gate in a “rabbit proof” fence which crosses the road. Clock, clock, clock of wheels and rattle and clink of chains, crack of whips and explosions of Australian language. Bales and everything else coated with dust. Stink of old axle-grease and tarpaulins. Tyres hot enough to fry chops on: bows and chains so hot that it’s a wonder they do not burn through the bullock’s hides. Water lukewarm in blistered kegs slung behind the wagons. Bullocks dragging along as only bullocks do. Wheels ploughing through the deep sand, and the load lurching from side to side. Half-way on a “dry-stretch” of seventeen miles. Big “tank” full of good water through the scrub to the right, but it is a private tank and a boundary-rider is shepherding it. Mulga scrub and sparse, spiky undergrowth.

The carriers camp for dinner and boil their billies while the bullocks droop under their yokes in the blazing heat; one or two lie down and the leaders drag and twist themselves round under a dead tree, under the impression that there is shade there. The carriers look like Red Indians, with the masks of red dust “bound” with sweat on their faces, but there is an unhealthy-looking, whitish space round their eyes, caused by wiping away the blinding dust, sweat, and flies. The dry sticks burn with a pale flame and an almost invisible thin pale blue smoke. The sun’s heat dancing and dazzling across every white fence-post, sandhill, or light-coloured object in the distance.

One man takes off his boot and sock, empties half a pint of sand out of them, and pulls up his trouser-leg. His leg is sheathed to the knee in dust and sweat; he absently scrapes it with his knife, and presently he amuses himself by moistening a strip with his forefinger and shaving it, as if he were vaguely curious to see if he is still a white man.

The Hungerford coach ploughs past in a dense cloud of dust.

The teams drag on again like a “wounded snake that dies at sundown,” if a wounded snake that dies at sundown could revive sufficiently next morning to drag on again until another sun goes down.

Hopeless-looking swagmen are met with during the afternoon, and one carrier–he of the sanded leg–lends them tobacco; his mates contribute “bits o'” tea, flour, and sugar.

Sundown and the bullocks done up. The teamsters unyoke them and drive them on to the next water–five miles–having previously sent a mate to reconnoitre and see that boundary-rider is not round, otherwise, to make terms with him, for it is a squatter’s bore. They hurry the bullocks down to the water and back in the twilight, and then, under cover of darkness, turn them into a clearing in the scrub off the road, where a sign in the grass might be seen–if you look close. But the “bullockies” are better off than the horse-teamsters, for bad chaff is sold by the pound and corn is worth its weight in gold.

Mitchell and I turned off the track at the rabbit-proof fence and made for the tank in the mulga. We boiled the billy and had some salt mutton and damper. We were making back for Bourke, having failed to get a cut in any of the sheds on the Hungerford track. We sat under a clump of mulga saplings, with our backs to the trunks, and got out our pipes. Usually, when the flies were very bad on the track, we had to keep twigs or wild-turkey=tail feathers going in front of our faces the whole time to keep the mad flies out of our eyes; and, when we camped, one would keep the feather going while the other lit his pipe–then the smoke would keep them away. But the flies weren’t so bad in a good shade or in a darkened hut. Mitchell’s pipe would have smoked out Old Nick; it was an ancient string-bound meerschaum, and strong enough to kill a blackfellow. I had one smoke out of it, once when I felt bad in my inside and wanted to be sick, and the result was very satisfactory.