Ed and I first visited Lasseter’s cave on our way to “The Alice”.
We were driving from Tjkurla to Uluaru and stopped on a track that branched off the gun barrel highway by the Hull Rriver and took the short walk to the small cave. Upon entering the cave I felt that Lasseter’s pain was just a blip in the caves living memory, it had more to tell of wind, animals birthing and sheltering, bugs buzzing and the dry heat of summer. The cave felt wild and untamed.
Lasseter’s cave is a small indent by the side of the Hull River which is a remote watercourse in the middle of what some people would call “nowhere”.
Visiting Lasseter’s cave was a break from driving and Ed and I spent some time wandering around the cave and river bed before getting back into the Toyota and moving on to the next tea break or camping spot before we actually arrived at Kata Tjuta.
Lasseter was born in Victoria in 1880 and had an atypical life with many varied unrelated professions, yet he is remembered as an explorer which appears on further investigation to be the least of his abilities!
Lasseter has many names, he was born Lewis he then adopted two middle names – Harold Bell, and later called himself Harry. I am going to call him Lasseter the one constant name that he kept.
Initially Lasseter joined the Navy, and after he left he went to the USA, and married an American. He then came back to Australia and was a bit of an inventor patenting a suspension bridge over Sydney Harbour, a disc plough and the treatment for the storage of wheat.
At different times he was a market gardener, a farmer, journalist, and he explored other varied endeavours. He had a second marriage and some problems with money. At that time he advertised that he had discovered a reef of gold that he vaguely located at the edge of the Mac Donnall ranges.
At the time his claims were not taken very seriously as his character was described by people who knew his as “a man of jumbled moods ‘ or lacking ‘a credible story about anything in all his reminiscences’.
Another said that he was ‘a man of most eccentric nature’.
An old friend wrote that ‘he was more or less of a crank, very aggressive, very self-opinionated and full of large, hopeful visions’.
Despite all of this he is now in the annuls of Australian history with a cave named after him and his story became the legend of Lasseters Reef. It is a quirky story that has obsessed numerous urban four-wheel-drivers yet the golden reef has remained elusive.
It appears from “reading between the lines” Lasseter conned some people to finance an expedition to find the reef. His partner Fred Blakeley who was travelling with him eventually came to the conclusion that Lasseter was lying and had never been to that part of the desert before so after a quarrel, Fred left him with Paul Johns with some camels.
Paul then came to the same conclusion as Fred and left Lasseter with a couple of camels.
Lasseter then had to get back to civilisation on his own.
Perhaps he was not very good with camels because the camels bolted and he was left alone. Lasseter finally came to live in a small cave by the side of the Hull river bed in the middle of the desert.
Greed is a great motivator, it can become so much of a drive that it can blind the senses and become the source of great pain and even death.
Unfortunately for Lasseter this was his fate in the summer of 1931. Firstly he waited by the beautiful Hull River that had running water at the time. It is possible that Lasseter may have pondered the question of materialism versus having a life when sitting in the cave waiting for his death however we will never know how he felt or what he thought about that.
He lived in this cave for either 25 days or sixteen weeks depending upon the source of information however, even to live in this cave for a week, listening to the silence and the wind I imagine would be either a spiritual enlightenment or the worse pain that the mind could endure.
In his diary we find that Lasseter was blinded and had malnutrition thus getting weaker and weaker. He was helped by the local Aboriginal people of the time.
It was easy to imaging these people knowing this land as we know our urban landscapes the trees taking the place of sign-posts the rocks the place of buildings and the plants and animals the supermarkets that we now frequent. They helped him as much as they could, however from his diary it appears that his attitude was no different with them than it was with white people and he was difficult, suspicious and ungrateful for their help.
Eventually Lasseter decided to walk to the Olgas with a small amount of water and made just 55 kilometres before dying.
Lasseters cave is only a very small place, about the size of a three or four person tent it is not a spacious living arrangement. It is situated in a rock formation on the edge of a beautiful sandy riverbed where the gum trees grow randomly all over the middle, and edges with roots fanning out upriver and the trunks leaning just a little away down river. There is the debris of the last flow wrapped around their upriver sides. The clean yellow sand had ripples in it from the wind that can be imagined to be water if you squint your eyes and pretend that yellow is blue. The cave is the sort of place that I imagine dingos would shelter during a rainstorm or when they had puppies.
From this cave in the distance the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) can be seen, it must have been agonising for Lasseter to be able to see his destination only to realise that between him and the chance of life were over 100 miles of scorching desert. When he finally made his dash for the Western World it was too late and he died. His body and diary were found by a bushie called Bob Buck. There were no records about the reef in his diary.
Just that year a car load of indigenous people had been stranded on this road because of a break down and some children had died before they had been rescued. They too did not make it to Kata Tjuta and like Lasseter found their end between the cave and more water.
We did the traveller tourist thing in these iconic Aussie places and then had the long drive back to Perth back along the same road.
On our way back we decided to camp the night next to a large windmill very close bye to Lasster’s cave.
It was a windy dark evening when we arrived and we drove up a small two-furrowed track to the windmill. Through the darkness straight ahead from the windmill we could see a light, we watched it as we drove up the track for about 3 minutes, discussing what it could be.
It looked like a light from a small caravan window. It was square and a yellowish colour, a dull sort of light as though from a 12-volt battery. It had none of the flicker of a fire or a hurricane lamp. The road went to the left past the windmill and we followed the road all the while discussing what the light could be. We both felt a bit uneasy for we had been sleeping in the desert under the stars without the presence of other humans and we just enjoyed it that way.
We went about 50 meters along the left track to give the “caravan light people” (and ourselves) some privacy. This place was so remote and the night a little late so we camped in the middle of the track for the bush at each side was too dense.
Both Ed & I are bushies comfortable in swags under the stars and awakening to the wind in the trees and the harsh hot light of morning and the dust in our eyes.
That night we made our camp and decided to explore, for in the desert all sorts of strange people are around. The vast majority are kind and rough yet safe. There were others who are in the desert because they have something that they are ashamed of, something to run away from and these people are not always safe.
We felt that it was important to just have a wander by and check them out before we got into our swags.
We walked down the road to the windmill to get our bearings; the light wasn’t on but this didn’t worry us for we knew that the light had been straight ahead before we turned left at the windmill.
Undeterred we walked in the direction that we had seen the light, but found no road and no tracks and we wandered around in the bush for some time. There was a half moon and we could see but there was nothing that we could find. We decided that we had missed them because it was hard to see things at night we decided to check it out in the morning.
I slept fitfully that night; the wind was restless, keeping me from falling in to a deep sleep filled with the dreams of enlightenment.
Instead I had the dreams of the fearful, with one ear open and the other asleep only to change ears periodically so that the other half of my brain could get a rest.
In the morning we both awoke as usual Ed much later than I.
The wind was still with us teasing us with her puffs of dust and yet we were grateful that she kept the flies at bay.
Ed normally sleeps very late, even in the desert, yet this morning he awoke much earlier. We brewed our cuppa and after that we wandered back to explore our light, we were confident that we would find our “caravan”.
Shock was my experience for we looked and there was no road straight on from the windmill.
Wherever we looked we couldn’t find any car tracks let alone a source for the light. There was just bush no roads, no tracks except for ours on the way in, there was nothing but the bush. We walked into the bush a few kilometres but there was just more and more of the same scrubby heating up bush filled with flies and the dust of a new day.
To this day I haven’t solved the mystery of the light at Lasseters cave.