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 mining exploration teams in to the area, 100 kms north of Southern Cross, is now only recognisable thanks to the occasional tyre which might have once edged the runway and a small set of star pickets marking where the windsock might once have stood. Otherwise the area could be another glade, large but only remarkable for the expanse of sparsity of tall trees.
A small spinney of young spiralled-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 first ventured out here. A rusting frame and springs of a cart lies in the shade of this whispering stand of trees. A horse’s head collar is attached to it.
This, we suspect, could be the last resting place of George Harrod.
We had heard of the story of a man found dead along 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. Although 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, and although 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 just one of so many about men and women who, in the early years of exploration, ventured out, became ‘unstuck’ and perished to be subsumed, like Harrod’s gun in these woods.
It’s even bizarre now, standing in the shade of one of the massive eucalypts, to think there was once a busy airstrip here with all the smells, sounds and detritus which accompanies it; that once men - and maybe women - sat around here planning digs and chucking empty cans into the scrub; that maybe the woods rang to the sound of the 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 in the early years was littered with equipment and carts 'which never made it.'
All fair points and maybe academic now that, except for the occasional flit and twitter of small birds in the scrub, or the rustle of the leaves in the light breeze, there is the distinct impression that these Woodlands have shrugged away the incursions of mankind and are peacefully carrying on the way they were tens of thousands of years before Harrod or any other European made his ill-fated journey out here.