The country on all sides was as bare as the palm of your hand; and my horses, a quarter of a mile away, were nibbling at the stumps of cotton-bush. Breakfast, however, was the first consideration, as I hadn't bothered about supper on the previous night though filling my water-bag at a tank on the way.
Burke now pushed on to Cooper's Creek; and though the last part of their journey led them over many of those tracts of country peculiar to Australia where red sandy ridges rise and fall for many miles in rigid uniformity, and are clothed for the most part in the monotonous grey of salt and cotton-bush leafage, yet they saw before them what has since proved to be one of the finest grazing lands in the world.
It was a man, creeping slowly and painfully across the stubbly knobs of cotton-bush on his hands and knees. I hailed him in a voice that took the skin off my throat, but another glimpse showed him still travelling; his head bent almost to the ground. I rose carefully to my feet, facing the shower, but only to be hurled down on top of the faithful Pup, and savagely snapped at.
Nearing them, we passed over some fine cotton-bush flats, so-called from bearing a small cotton-like pod, and immediately at the hills we camped on a piece of plain, very beautifully grassed, and at times liable to inundation.
All the now prized edible shrubs, such as the many kinds of saltbush, the cotton-bush, &c., were amongst these despised plants; and even the very stock did not take to them, until some years of use had rendered them familiar.
I suddenly developed a latent artistic ambition, and no subject would do for my brush but the exquisite scenes far up the quiet river, where its deep clear pools lay like basins under the overhanging cliffs, and numerous species of beautiful flowering creepers clambered over the cool brown rocks shaded by the turpentine and gum-trees, ti-tree, wild cotton-bush, native hibiscus, and an endless variety of trees and shrubs getting a foothold in the crevices.
Come on." It seemed a strange place for a fight that hot, lonely, cotton-bush plain. And yet not more than half a mile ahead there were apparently two men struggling together on the track. The three travellers postponed their smoke-ho and hurried on.
The Leipoa ocellata. Tapping pits. Glen Osborne. Cotton-bush flats. Frowning bastion walls. Fort Mueller. A strong running stream. Natives' smokes. Gosse returning. Limestone formation. Native pheasants' nests. Egg-carrying. Mount Squires. The Mus conditor's nest. Difficulty with the horses. A small creek and native well. Steer for the west. Night work. Very desolate places. A circular storm.
Mitchell stood up, stretched himself, and looked dolefully from his heavy swag to the wide, hot, shadeless cotton-bush plain ahead. "Oh, yes," he yawned, "I stopped at home for a week, and then they began to growl because I couldn't get any work to do." The mate guffawed and Mitchell grinned.
This, of course, conveyed the impression that it was a run flowing with grass and water for distressed teams; but the unhappy manager, watched and reported always by at least one narangy, and ground, as you see, between the upper mill-stone of Royce the munificent and the nether and much harder one of Royce the businessman, had to transmute every blade of grass, or twig of cotton-bush, into a filament of wool, or let somebody else have a try.
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