Today Dodgy Perth goes all literary on you. We’ve been inspired by reading Blood Tracks of the Bush by Simpson Newland, first published in 1900.
And we’re not the only ones who found this novel inspirational.
But first, the novel.
The improbably named aristocrat Arnold Wroithesley travels to Australia to try and make enough money to save his ancestral home.
He buys a station and has an affair with a beautiful barmaid. When Arnold says he cannot marry her, the girl weds a hawker, who finds out about her relationship with Arnold. So he chops her head off.
Drought ruins Arnold, who then goes on a wild goose chase for rich deposits of gold concealed in caves. During an awful return journey across the desert, he fights with his mate Auber over the water bag and kills him.
Later, now at Broken Hill, Arnold recognises the hawker who had killed his lover. So Arnold does the decent thing and robs and murders the hawker, who has by now become rich.
This gives Arnold enough money to return home and save his estate.
However, he is followed by Auber, who is not only not dead, but who turns out to be his cousin. Then it turns out that the hawker was Arnold’s cousin as well.
Auber and Arnold fight for real this time, and kill each other.
If that summary doesn’t make you want to read the book, we don’t know what will.
One avid reader of Blood Tracks of the Bush was Lewis Hubert Lasseter, who was such a fan of modern novelists he even changed his name to Harold Bell Lasseter in honour of his favourite writer.
By 1929, Harold Lasseter (as he was now known) had so absorbed the plot of Newland’s novel, it seems he actually thought he had lived Arnold’s experiences for himself.
When he announced the fantastic discovery of what is now known as Lasseter’s Reef, really it should be Wroithesley’s Reef. Which alliterates better, anyway.
Every detail of Lasseter’s alleged discovery was lifted straight from the novel. In any case, his contradictory and improbable stories could only have been believed by someone who desperately wanted them to be true.
Lasseter certainly spent more time living in fantasy than the real world. In 1916, he sent his own death notice to a newspaper, saying he had died from wounds suffered at Gallipoli. He had never been there.
This was the man who, amazingly, persuaded backers to finance an expedition into central Australia to ‘rediscover’ a gold reef he had read about in a novel three decades earlier. Unsurprisingly, they failed.
So if you want to find Lasseter’s Reef for yourself, you’d be better off at the State Library than prospecting in the middle of the desert.
But now I wonder, isn’t the Daily Perth article mistaken in saying the Blood Tracks of the Bush is by one Harold Bell? It is, after all, by Simpson Newland, isn’t it? Was the author of that article perhaps confusing Blood Tracks for another tale of desert riches (that Lasseter perhaps also read) called The Mine With the Iron Door—which, as it turns out, was written by a fellow named Harold Bell Wright?
I have no idea. This needs investigating. When time permits, obviously. Do you know the answer?
I’m embarrassed to admit that, although I have taken an interest in Lasseter’s ambiguous tale, I did not know this about the origin of his name. My curiosity from this post and the linked articles, however, got me going, and it seems that indeed Lewis Hubert became Harold Bell on the inspiration of The Mine with the Iron Door by the American author Harold Bell Wright. (It was also made into a silent film.) An Associate Professor at Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, Dr. Simon Ryan, has even written a paper about it for the International Journal of Literary Humanites (I may even pony up a few dollars to get a copy of that), and Lasseter’s tale, including a bit about this name change, warranted a fascinating section in Roslynn Doris Haynes’s Seeking the Centre: The Australian Desert in Literature, Art and Film, which is worth browsing for the rest of what she has to say and references to other treatments of Lasseter.
And indeed it still calls for further investigation. As time permits, or, as I often observe, there are not enough hours in the day, but this legendary fraud or fool’s errand is fascinating. And some folk continue to this day to insist that Lasseter and his Lost Reef were the real deal and that the latter is still out there.
Comments are closed.