There is not a more fertile disease distributor, particularly in a new country, than water. The uninitiated generally take it for granted that so long as water looks clear it is necessarily pure and wholesome; as a matter of fact the contrary is more usually the case, except in very well watered countries, and such, as a rule, are not those in which gold is most plentifully got by the average prospector. I have seen foolish fellows, who were parched with a long tramp, drink water in quantity in which living organisms could be seen with the naked eye, without taking even the ordinary precaution of straining it through a piece of linen. If they contracted hydatids, typhoid fever, or other ailments, which thin our mining camps of the strong, lusty, careless youths, who could wonder?
The best of all means of purifying water from organic substances is to boil it. If it be very bad, add carbon in the form of the charcoal from your camp fire. If it be thick, you may, with advantage, add a little of the ash also.
I once rode forty-five miles with nearly beaten horses to a native well, or rock hole, to find water, the next stage being over fifty miles further. The well was found, but the water in it was very bad; for in it was the body of a dead kangaroo which had apparently been there for weeks. The wretched horses, half frantic with thirst, did manage to drink a few mouthfuls, but we could not. I filled our largest billycan, holding about a gallon, slung it over the fire and added, as the wood burnt down, charcoal, till the top was covered to a depth of two inches. With the charcoal there was, of course, a little ash containing bi-carbonate of potassium. The effect was marvellous. So soon as the horrible soup came to the boil, the impurities coagulated, and after keeping it at boiling temperature for about half an hour, it was removed from the fire, the cinders skimmed out, and the water allowed to settle, which it did very quickly. It was then decanted off into an ordinary prospector’s pan, and some used to make tea (the flavour of which can be better imagined than described); the remainder was allowed to stand all night, a few pieces of charcoal being added. In the morning it was bright, clear, and absolutely sweet. This experience is worth knowing as many a bad attack of typhoid and other fevers would be averted if practical precautions of this kind were only used.
The greatest necessity of animal life is water. There are, however, vast areas of the earth’s surface where this most precious element is lamentably lacking, and such, unfortunately, is the case in many rich auriferous districts.