Caught between a cart and a hard place

Photo of Andy Tyndall

Harrod’s tale is one of so many about men and women who, in the early years of European exploration, ventured out, became “unstuck” and perished to be subsumed.

Summer 1922-23. Police discover 22-year-old sandalwood cutter George Harrod under his spring cart after he fails to return to Bullfinch, near Southern Cross, for Christmas. Harrod has one boot missing, is lying face down and is dead. He is presumed to have been killed by a snakebite.

April 2018. I am with a friend (I’ll call him Geo Bob) who knows this region well. We have located a rude trail which winds its way through the glades and gimlets of this part of the Great Western Woodlands to a long-disused airstrip.

The strip, once used to bring mineral exploration teams into this area 100km north of Southern Cross, is now only recognisable thanks to the occasional tyre that might once have edged the runway and a small set of star pickets marking where the windsock might once have stood.

A small spinney of young spiral-trunked gimlets lies a little distance from the old runway, close to a scattering of ancient tin cans, the only signs of camps of sandalwood cutters and prospectors who once ventured out here. The rusting frame and springs of a cart are in the shade of this whispering stand of trees. A horse’s head collar is attached.

This, we suspect, could be the last resting place of George Harrod.

We had heard of the story of a man found dead, with his horse still tied to a cart or a tree, but did not come here specifically to locate the cart, nor to search for the gun which, one story relates, was leant against a tree which “subsumed” it, carrying it high up its trunk over the near-100 years since Harrod’s demise. We did search for it, craning our necks to stare high into polished branches to discern the faintest gun-like ripple among the boles and whorls of the trunks. We ran a metal detector around the hard-decaying, bleached skeletons of trees long fallen.

We found nothing but the occasional nail or a rusting bully beef tin.

Harrod’s tale is one of so many about men and women who, in the early years of European exploration, ventured out, became “unstuck” and perished to be subsumed, like Harrod’s gun in these woods.

It’s bizarre to think there was once a busy airstrip, with the smells, sounds and detritus accompanying it. That men, and maybe women, sat here planning digs and chucking empty cans into the scrub. That maybe the woods rang to the sound of sandalwood cutters’ axes and saws. Or that a man died a painful death in such an inoffensive, tranquil place.

Lance Stevens, of the Yilgarn History Museum, is not so certain that our cart is related to Harrod’s death. He points out police would have gathered all property belonging to the dead man, that carts were abandoned if a wheel broke or the horse went lame and that the Old Coolgardie Track was in the early years littered with equipment and carts “which never made it”.

All fair points and maybe academic now that there is the distinct impression that these woodlands have shrugged away the incursions of humans and are peacefully carrying on the way they were before Harrod or any other European made his ill-fated journey out here.


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