Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia Complete
Part 2 out of 8
On leaving the Buddah, eleven only of the natives accompanied us. We
reached the river again about noon, on a north-half-east course, where it
had a rocky bed, and continued to journey along it, until we reached the
cataract at which we halted. We travelled over soil generally inferior to
that which we had seen on the preceding day, but rich in many places. The
same kind of timber was observed, but the acacia pendula was more
prevalent than any other, although near the river the flooded gum and
Australian apple-tree were of beautiful growth.
It had appeared to me that the waters of the Macquarie had been
diminishing in volume since our departure from Wellington Valley, and I
had a favourable opportunity of judging as to the correctness of this
conclusion at the cataract, where its channel, at all times much
contracted, was particularly so on the present occasion. So little force
was there in the current, that I began to entertain doubts how long it
would continue, more especially when I reflected on the level character of
the country we had entered, and the fact of the Macquarie not receiving
any tributary between this point and the marshes. I was in consequence
led to infer that result, which, though not immediately, eventually took
As they were treated with kindness, the natives who accompanied us soon
threw off all reserve, and in the afternoon assembled at the pool below
the fall to take fish. They went very systematically to work, with short
spears in their hands that tapered gradually to a point, and sank at once
under water without splash or noise at a given signal from an elderly man.
In a short time, one or two rose with the fish they had transfixed; the
others remained about a minute under water, and then made their
appearance near the same rock into the crevices of which they had driven
their prey. Seven fine bream were taken, the whole of which they insisted
on giving to our men, although I am not aware that any of themselves had
broken their fast that day. They soon, however, procured a quantity of
muscles, with which they sat down very contentedly at a fire. My
barometrical admeasurement gave the cataract an elevation of 680 feet
above the level of the sea; and my observations placed it in east
longitude 148 degrees 3 minutes and in latitude 31 degrees 50 minutes
It became an object with us to gain the right bank of the Macquarie as
soon as possible; for it was evident that the country to the southward of
it was much more swampy than it was to the north: but for some distance
below the cataract, we found it impossible to effect our purpose. The
rocks composing the bed of the river at the cataract, which are of trapp
formation, disappeared at about eight miles below it, when the river
immediately assumed another character. Its banks became of equal height,
which had not before been the case, and averaged from fifteen to eighteen
feet. They were composed entirely of alluvial soil, and were higher than
the highest flood-marks. Its waters appeared to be turbid and deep, and
its bed was a mixture of sand and clay. The casuarina, which had so often
been admired by us, entirely disappeared and the channel in many places
became so narrow as to be completely arched over by gum-trees.
A TRIBE OF NATIVES.
On the 16th, we fell in with a numerous tribe of natives who joined our
train after the very necessary ceremonies of an introduction had passed,
and when added to those who still accompanied us, amounted to fifty-three.
On this occasion I was riding somewhat in front of the party, when I came
upon them. They were very different in appearance from those whom we had
surprised at the river; and from the manner in which I was received, I was
led to infer that they had been informed of our arrival, and had
purposely assembled to meet us. I was saluted by an old man, who had
stationed himself in front of his tribe, and who was their chief. Behind
him the young men stood in a line, and behind them the warriors were
seated on the ground.
CONDUCT OF THE NATIVES.
I had a young native with me who had attached himself to our party, and
who, from his extreme good nature and superior intelligence, was
considered by us as a first-rate kind of fellow. He explained who and what
we were, and I was glad to observe that the old chief seemed perfectly
reconciled to my presence, although he cast many an anxious glance at the
long train of animals that were approaching. The warriors, I remarked,
never lifted their eyes from the ground. They were hideously painted with
red and yellow ochre, and had their weapons at their sides, while their
countenances were fixed, sullen, and determined. In order to overcome this
mood, I rode up to them, and, taking a spear from the nearest, gave him
my gun to examine; a mark of confidence that was not lost upon them, for
they immediately relaxed from their gravity, and as soon as my party
arrived, rose up and followed us. That which appeared most to excite their
surprise, was the motion of the wheels of the boat carriage. The young
native whom I have noticed above, acted as interpreter, and, by his
facetious manner, contrived to keep the whole of us in a fit of laughter
as we moved along. He had been named Botheri by some stockman.
In consequence of our wish to cross the river, we kept near it, and
experienced considerable delay from the frequent marshes that opposed
themselves to our progress. In one of these we saw a number of ibises and
spoonbills; and the natives succeeded in killing two or three snakes. Our
view to the westward was extremely limited; but to the eastward the
country appeared in some places to expand into plains.
CROSSING OF THE RIVER.
After travelling some miles down the banks of the river, finding that they
still retained their steep character, we turned back to a place which Mr.
Hume had observed, and at which he thought we might, with some little
trouble, cross to the opposite side. And, however objectionable the
attempt was, we found ourselves obliged to make it. We descended,
therefore, into the channel of the river, and unloaded the animals and
boat-carriage. In order to facilitate the ascent of the right bank, some
of the men were directed to cut steps up it. I was amused to see the
natives voluntarily assist them; and was surprised when they took up bags
of flour weighing 100 pounds each, and carried them across the river. We
were not long in getting the whole of the stores over. The boat was then
hoisted on the shoulders of the strongest, and deposited on the top of the
opposite bank; and ropes being afterwards attached to the carriage, it was
soon drawn up to a place of safety. The natives worked as hard as our own
people, and that, too, with a cheerfulness for which I was altogether
unprepared, and which is certainly foreign to their natural habits. We
pitched our tents as soon as we had effected the passage of the river;
after which, the men went to bathe, and blacks and whites were mingled
promiscuously in the stream. I did not observe that the former differed in
any respect from the natives who frequent the located districts. They were
generally clean limbed and stout, and some of the young men had pleasing
intelligent countenances. They lacerate their bodies, inflicting deep
wounds to raise the flesh, and extract the front teeth like the Bathurst
tribes; and their weapons are precisely the same. They are certainly a
merry people, and sit up laughing and talking more than half the night.
During the removal of the stores my barometer was unfortunately broken,
and I had often, in the subsequent stages of the journey, occasion to
regret the accident. I apprehend that the corks in the instrument, placed
to steady the tube, are too distant from each other in most cases; and
indeed I fear that barometers as at present constructed, will seldom be
carried with safety in overland expeditions.
DESERTED BY THE NATIVES.
Nine only of the natives accompanied us on the morning succeeding the day
in which we crossed the river. Botheri was, however, at the head of them;
and, as we journeyed along, he informed me that he had been promised a
wife on his return from acting as our guide, by the chief of the last
tribe. The excessive heat of the weather obliged us to shorten our
journey, and we encamped about noon in some scrub after having traversed a
level country for about eleven miles.
Several considerable plains were noticed to our right, stretching east and
west, which were generally rich in point of soil; but we passed through
much brushy land during the day. It was lamentable to see the state of
vegetation upon the plains from want of moisture. Although the country
had assumed a level character, and was more open than on the higher
branches of the Macquarie, the small freestone elevations, backing the
alluvial tracts near the river, still continued upon our right, though
much diminished in height, and at a great distance from the banks. They
seemed to be covered with cypresses and beef-wood, but dwarf-box and the
acacia pendula prevailed along the plains; while flooded-gum alone
occupied the lands in the immediate neighbourhood of the stream, which was
evidently fast diminishing, both in volume and rapidity; its bed, however,
still continuing to be a mixture of sand and clay.
The cattle found such poor feed around the camp that they strayed away in
search of better during the night. On such an occasion Botheri and his
fraternity would have been of real service; but he had decamped at an
early hour, and had carried off an axe, a tomahawk, and some bacon,
although I had made him several presents. I was not at all surprised at
this piece of roguery, since cunning is the natural attribute of a savage;
but I was provoked at their running away at a moment when I so much
required their assistance.
Left to ourselves, I found Mr. Hume of the most essential service in
tracking the animals, and to his perseverance we were indebted for their
speedy recovery, They had managed to find tolerable feed near a serpentine
sheet of water, which Mr. Hume thought it would be advisable to examine.
We directed our course to it as soon as the cattle were loaded, moving
through bush, and found it to be a very considerable creek that receives a
part of the superfluous waters of the Macquarie, and distributes them,
most probably, over the level country to the north. It was much wider than
the river, being from fifty to sixty yards across, and is resorted to by
the natives, who procure muscles from its bed in great abundance. We were
obliged to traverse its eastern bank to its junction with the river, at
which it fortunately happened to be dry. We had, however, to cut roads
down both its banks before we could cross it; and, consequently, made but
a short day's journey. The soil passed over was inferior to the generality
of soil near the river, but we encamped on a tongue of land on which both
the flooded-gum and the grass were of luxuriant height. We found a
quantity of a substance like pipe-clay in the bed of the river, similar to
that mentioned by Mr. Oxley.
The heat, which had been excessive at Wellington Valley, increased upon us
as we advanced into the interior. The thermometer was seldom under 114
degrees at noon, and rose still higher at 2 p.m. We had no dews at night,
and consequently the range of the instrument was trifling in the
twenty-four hours. The country looked bare and scorched, and the plains
over which we journeyed had large fissures traversing them, so that the
earth may literally be said to have gasped for moisture. The country,
which above the cataract had borne the character of open forest, excepting
on the immediate banks of the river, where its undulations and openness
gave it a park-like appearance, or where the barren stony ridges prevailed
below that point, generally exhibited alternately plain and brush, the
soil on both of which was good. On the former, crested pigeons were
numerous, several of which were shot. We had likewise procured some of the
rose-coloured and grey parrots, mentioned by Mr. Oxley, and a small
paroquet of beautiful plumage; but there was less of variety in the
feathered race than I expected to find, and most of the other birds we had
seen were recognised by me as similar to specimens I had procured from
Melville Island, and were, therefore, most probably birds of passage.
ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY, AND THE RIVER.
As we neared Mount Harris, the Macquarie became more sluggish in its flow,
and fell off so much as scarcely to deserve the name of a river. In
breadth, it averaged from thirty-five to forty-five yards, and in the
height of its banks, from fifteen to eighteen. Mr. Hume had succeeded in
taking some fish at one of the stock stations; but if I except those
speared by the natives, we had since been altogether unsuccessful with the
hook, a circumstance which I attribute to the lowness of the river itself.
About thirty miles from the cataract the country declines to the north as
a medium point, and again changes somewhat in its general appearance. To
the S. and S.W. it appeared level and wooded, while to the N. the plains
became more frequent, but smaller, and travelling over them was extremely
dangerous, in consequence of the large fissures by which they were
traversed. The only trees to be observed were dwarf-box and the acacia
pendula, both of stunted growth, although flooded-gum still prevailed upon
On the 20th we travelled on a N.W. course, and in the early part of the
day passed over tolerably good soil. It was succeeded by a barren scrub,
through which we penetrated in the direction of Welcome Rock, a point we
had seen from one of the Plains and had mistaken for Mount Harris.
ARRIVAL AT MOUNT HARRIS.
On a nearer approach, however, we observed our error, and corrected it by
turning more to the left; and we ultimately encamped about a mile to the
W.S.W. of the latter eminence. On issuing from the scrub we found
ourselves among reeds and coarse water-grass; and, from the appearance of
the country, we were led to conclude that we had arrived at a part of the
interior more than ordinarily subject to overflow.
As soon as the camp was fixed, Mr. Hume and I rode to Mount Harris, over
ground subject to flood and covered for the most part by the polygonum,
being too anxious to defer our examination of its neighbourhood even for a
VESTIGES OF MR. OXLEY'S ENCAMPMENT.
Nearly ten years had elapsed since Mr. Oxley pitched his tents under the
smallest of the two hills into which Mount Harris is broken. There was no
difficulty in hitting upon his position. The trenches that had been cut
round the tents were still perfect, and the marks of the fire-places
distinguishable; while the trees in the neighbourhood had been felled,
and round about them the staves of some casks and a few tent-pegs were
scattered. Mr. Oxley had selected a place at some distance from the river,
in consequence of its then swollen state. I looked upon it from the same
ground, and could not discern the waters in its channel; so much had they
fallen below their ordinary level. He saw the river when it was
overflowing its banks; on the present occasion it had scarcely sufficient
water to support a current. On the summit of the greater eminence, which
we ascended, there remained the half-burnt planks of a boat, some clenched
and rusty nails, and an old trunk; but my search for the bottle Mr. Oxley
had left was unsuccessful.
A reflection naturally arose to my mind on examining these decaying
vestiges of a former expedition, whether I should be more fortunate than
the leader of it, and how far I should be enabled to penetrate beyond the
point which had conquered his perseverance. Only a week before I left
Sydney I had followed Mr. Oxley to the tomb. A man of uncommon quickness,
and of great ability, the task of following up his discoveries was not
less enviable than arduous; but, arrived at that point at which his
journey may be said to have terminated and mine only to commence, I knew
not how soon I should be obliged, like him, to retreat from the marshes
and exhalations of so depressed a country. My eye instinctively turned to
the North-West, and the view extended over an apparently endless forest.
I could trace the river line of trees by their superior height; but saw no
appearance of reeds, save the few that grew on the banks of the stream.
Mount Foster, somewhat higher than Mount Harris, on the opposite side of
the river, alone broke the line of the horizon to the North N.W. at a
distance of five miles. From that point all round the compass, the low
lands spread, like a dark sea, before me; except where a large plain
stretching from E. to W., and lying to the S.E. broke their monotony;
and if there was nothing discouraging, there certainly was nothing
cheering, in the prospect.
ILLNESS OF TWO OF THE MEN.
On our return to the camp, I was vexed to find two of the men, Henwood and
Williams, with increased inflammation of the eyes, of which they had
previously been complaining, and I thought it advisable to bleed the
In consequence of the indisposition of these men, we remained stationary
on the 21st, which enabled me to pay a second visit to Mount Harris. On
ascending the smaller hill, I was surprised to find similar vestiges on
its summit to those I had noticed on the larger one; in addition to which,
the rollers still continued on the side of the hill, which had been used
to get the boat up it. [Mr. Oxley had two boats; one of which he dragged
to the top of each of these hills, and left them turned bottom upwards,
buryinq a bottle under the head of the larger boat, which was conveyed to
the more distant hill.]
Mount Harris is of basaltic formation, but I could not observe any
columnar regularity in it, although large blocks are exposed above the
ground. The rock is extremely hard and sonorous.
MOUNT FOSTER AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD.
We moved leisurely towards Mount Foster, on the 22nd, and arrived opposite
to it a little before sunset. The country between the two is mostly open,
or covered only with the acacia pendula and dwarf-box. The soil, although
an alluvial deposit, is not of the best; nor was vegetation either fresh
or close upon it. As soon as the party stopped, I crossed the river, and
lost no time in ascending the hill, being anxious to ascertain if any
fresh object was visible from its summit, I thought that from an eminence
so much above the level of the surrounding objects, I might obtain a view
of the marshes, or of water; but I was wholly disappointed. The view was
certainly extensive, but it was otherwise unsatisfactory. Again to the
N.W. the lowlands spread in darkness before me; there were some
considerable plains beyond the near wood; but the country at the foot of
the hill appeared open and promising. Although the river line was lost in
the distance, it was as truly pointed out by the fires of the natives,
which rose in upright columns into the sky, as if it had been marked by
the trees upon its banks.
To the eastward, Arbuthnot's range rose high above the line of the
horizon, bearing nearly due East, distant seventy miles. The following
sketch of its outlines will convey a better idea of its appearance from
Mount Foster than any written description.
[small sketch here--not shown in etext]
I stayed on the mount until after sunset, but I could not make out any
space that at all resembled the formidable barrier I knew we were so
rapidly approaching. I saw nothing to check our advance, and I therefore
returned to the camp, to advise with Mr. Hume upon the subject. Not having
been with me on Mount Foster, he took the opportunity to ascend it on the
following morning; and on his return concurred with me in opinion, that
there was no apparent obstacle to our moving onwards. As the men were
considerably better, I had the less hesitation in closing with the
marshes. We left our position, intending to travel slowly, and to halt
The first part of our journey was over rich flats, timbered sufficiently
to afford a shade, on which the grass was luxuriant; but we were obliged
to seek more open ground, in consequence of the frequent stumbling of the
We issued, at length, upon a plain, the view across which was as dreary as
can be imagined; in many places without a tree, save a few old stumps
left by the natives when they fired the timber, some of which were still
smoking in different parts of it. Observing some lofty trees at the
extremity of the plain, we moved towards them, under an impression that
they indicated the river line. But on this exposed spot the sun's rays
fell with intense power upon us, and the dust was so minute and
penetrating, that I soon regretted having left the shady banks of the
About 2.p.m. we neared the trees for which we had been making, over ground
evidently formed by alluvial deposition, and were astonished to find that
reeds alone were growing under the trees as far as the eye could
penetrate. It appeared that we were still some distance from the river,
and it was very doubtful how far we might be from water, for which the
men were anxiously calling. I therefore halted, and sent Fraser into the
reeds towards some dead trees, on which a number of spoonbills were
sitting. He found that there was a small lake in the centre of the reeds,
the resort of numerous wild fowl; but although the men were enabled to
quench their thirst, we found it impossible to water the animals. We were
obliged, therefore, to continue our course along the edge of the reeds;
which in a short time appeared in large masses in front of us, stretching
into a vast plain upon our right; and it became evident that the whole
neighbourhood was subject to extensive inundation.
ENCAMP AMIDST REEDS.
I was fearful that the reeds would have checked us; but there was a
passage between the patches, through which we managed to force our way
into a deep bight, and fortunately gained the river at the bottom of it
much sooner than we expected. We were obliged to clear away a space for
the tents; and thus, although there had been no such appearance from Mount
Foster, we found ourselves in less than seven hours after leaving it,
encamped pretty far in that marsh for which we had so anxiously looked
from its summit, and now trusting to circumstances for safety, upon
ground on which, in any ordinary state of the river, it would have been
dangerous to have ventured. Indeed, as it was, our situation was
sufficiently critical, and would not admit of hesitation on my part.
NATURE OF THE COUNTRY.
After the cattle had been turned out, Mr. Hume and I again mounted our
horses, and proceeded to the westward, with a view to examine the nature
of the country before us, and to ascertain if it was still practicable to
move along the river side. For, although it was evident that we had
arrived at what might strictly be called the marshes of the Macquarie, I
still thought we might be at some distance from the place where Mr. Oxley
terminated his journey.
There was no indication in the river to encourage an idea that it would
speedily terminate; nor, although we were on ground subject to extensive
inundation, could we be said to have reached the heart of the marshes, as
the reeds still continued in detached bodies only. We forced a path
through various portions of them, and passed over ground wholly subject to
flood, to a distance of about six miles. We then crossed a small rise of
ground, sufficiently high to have afforded a retreat, had necessity
obliged us to seek for one; and we shortly afterwards descended on the
river, unaltered in its appearance, and rather increased than diminished
in size. A vast plain extended to the N.W., the extremity of which we
could not discern; though a thick forest formed its northern boundary.
It was evident that this plain had been frequently under water, but it was
difficult to judge from the marks on the trees to what height the floods
had risen. The soil was an alluvial deposit, superficially sandy; and many
shells were scattered over its surface. To the south, the country appeared
close and low; nor do I think we could have approached the river from that
side, by reason of the huge belts of reeds that appeared to extend as far
as the the eye could reach.
MEN ATTACKED WITH OPHTHALMIA.
The approach of night obliged us to return to the camp. On our arrival,
we found that the state of Henwood and Williams would prevent our stirring
for a day or two. Not only had they a return of inflammation, but several
other of the men complained of a painful irritation of the eyes, which
were dreadfully blood-shot and weak. I was in some measure prepared for a
relapse in Henwood, as the exposure which he necessarily underwent on the
plain was sufficient to produce that effect; but I now became apprehensive
that the affection would run through the party.
Considering our situation in its different bearings, it struck me that the
men who were to return to Wellington Valley with an account our our
proceedings for the Governor's information, had been brought as far as
prudence warranted. There was no fear of their going astray, as long as
they had the river to guide them; but in the open country which we were to
all appearance approaching, or amidst fields of reeds, they might wander
from the track, and irrecoverably lose themselves. I determined,
therefore, not to risk their safety, but to prepare my dispatches for
Sydney, and I hoped most anxiously, that ere they were closed, all
symptoms of disease would have terminated.
In the course of the day, however, Spencer, who was to return with Riley
to Wellington Valley, became seriously indisposed, and I feared that he
was attacked with dysentery. Indeed, I should have attributed his illness
to our situation, but I did not notice any unusual moisture in the
atmosphere, nor did any fogs rise from the river. I therefore the rather
attributed it to exposure and change of diet, and treated him accordingly.
To my satisfaction, when I visited the men late in the evening, I found a
general improvement in the whole of them. Spencer was considerably
relieved, and those of the party who had inflammation of the eyes no
longer felt that painful irritation of which they had before complained.
I determined, therefore, unless untoward circumstances should prevent it,
to send Riley and his companion homewards, and to move the party without
loss of time.
We had not seen any natives for many days, but a few passed the camp on
the opposite side of the river on the evening of the 25th. They would not,
however, come to us; but fled into the interior in great apparent alarm.
DEPARTURE OF TWO MEN FOR WELLINGTON.
On the morning of the 26th, the men were sufficiently recovered to pursue
their journey. Riley and Spencer left us at an early hour; and about
7 a.m. we pursued a N.N.W. course along the great plain I have noticed,
starting numberless quails, and many wild turkeys, by the way. Leaving
that part of the river on which Mr. Hume and I had touched considerably to
the left, we made for the point of a wood, projecting from the river line
of trees into the plain. The ground under us was an alluvial deposit, and
bore all the marks of frequent inundation.
The soil was yielding, blistered, and uneven; and the claws of cray-fish,
together with numerous small shells, were every where collected in the
hollows made by the subsiding of the waters, between broad belts of reeds
and scrubs of polygonum.
On gaining the point of the wood, we found an absolute check put to our
further progress. We had been moving directly on the great body of the
marsh, and from the wood it spread in boundless extent before us. It was
evidently lower than the ground on which we stood; we had therefore, a
complete view over the whole expanse; and there was a dreariness and
desolation pervading the scene that strengthened as we gazed upon it.
Under existing circumstances, it only remained for us either to skirt
the reeds to the northward, or to turn in again upon the river; and as I
considered it important to ascertain the direction of the Macquarie at so
critical and interesting a point, I thought it better to adopt the latter
measure. We, accordingly, made for the river, and pitched our tents, as at
the last station, in the midst of reeds.
There were two points at this time, upon which I was extremely anxious.
The first was as to the course of the river; the second, as to the extent
of the marshes by which we had been checked, and the practicability of the
country to the northward.
In advising with Mr. Hume, I proposed launching the boat, as the surest
means of ascertaining the former, and he, on his part, most readily
volunteered to examine the marshes, in any direction I should point out.
It was therefore, arranged, that I should take two men, and a week's
provision with me in the boat down the river; and that he should proceed
with a like number of men on an excursion to the northward.
After having given directions as to the regulations of camp during our
absence, we separated, on the morning of the 26th for the first time, in
furtherance of the objects each had in view.
In pulling down the river, I found that its channel was at first extremely
tortuous and irregular, but that it held a general N.W. course, and bore
much the same appearance as it had done since our descent from Mount
We had a laborious task in lifting the boat over the trunks of trees that
had fallen into the channel of the river or that had been left by the
floods, and at length we stove her in upon a sunken log. The injury she
received was too serious not to require immediate repair; and we,
therefore, patched her up with a tin plate. This accident occasioned some
delay, and the morning was consumed without our having made any
considerable progress. At length, however, we got into a more open
The river suddenly increased in breadth to thirty-five or forty-five
yards, with a depth of from twelve to twenty feet of water. Its banks
shelved perpendicularly down, and were almost on a level with the surface
of the stream; and the flood mark was not more than two feet high on the
reeds by which they were lined. We had hitherto passed under the shade of
the flooded gum, which still continued on the immediate banks of the
river; but, the farther we advanced, the more did we find these trees in a
state of decay, until at length they ceased, or were only rarely met with.
TERMINATION OF THE RIVER.
About 2 p.m. I brought up under a solitary tree, in consequence of heavy
rain: this was upon the left bank. In the afternoon, however, we again
pushed forward, and soon lost sight of every other object amidst reeds of
great height. The channel of the river continued as broad and as deep as
ever, but the flood mark did not show more than a foot above the banks,
which were now almost on a level with the water; and the current was so
sluggish as to be scarcely perceptible. These general appearances
continued for about three miles, when our course was suddenly, and most
unexpectedly, checked. The channel, which had promised so well, without
any change in its breadth or depth, ceased altogether; and whilst we were
yet lost in astonishment at so abrupt a termination of it, the boat
grounded. It only remained for us to examine the banks, which we did with
particular attention. Two creeks were then discovered, so small as
scarcely to deserve the name, and which would, under ordinary
circumstances, have been overlooked. The one branched off to the
north--the other to the west. We were obliged to get out of the boat to
push up the former, the leeches sticking in numbers to our legs. The creek
continued for about thirty yards, when it was terminated; and, in order
fully to satisfy myself of the fact, I walked round the head of it by
pushing through the reeds. Night coming on, we returned to the tree at
which we had stopped during the rain, and slept under it. The men cut away
the reeds, or we should not have had room to move. At 2 a.m. it commenced
raining, with a heavy storm of thunder and lightning; the boat was
consequently hauled ashore, and turned over to afford us a temporary
shelter. The lightning was extremely vivid, and frequently played upon
the ground, near the firelocks, for more than a quarter of a minute at a
It is singular, that Mr. Oxley should, under similar circumstances, have
experienced an equally stormy night, and most probably within a few yards
of the place on which I had posted myself. Notwithstanding that the
elements were raging around me, as if to warn me of the danger of my
situation, my mind turned solely on the singular failure of the river. I
could not but encourage hopes that this second channel that remained to
be explored would lead us into an open space again; and as soon as the
morning dawned we pursued our way to it. In passing some dead trees upon
the right bank, I stopped to ascend one, that, from an elevation, I might
survey the marsh, but I found it impossible to trace the river through it.
The country to the westward was covered with reeds, apparently to the
distance of seven miles; to the N.W. to a still greater distance; and to
the north they bounded the horizon.
The whole expanse was level and unbroken, but here and there the reeds
were higher and darker than at other places, as if they grew near constant
moisture; but I could see no appearance of water in any body, or of high
lands beyond the distant forest.
As soon as we arrived at the end of the main channel, we again got out of
the boat, and in pushing up the smaller one, soon found ourselves under a
dark arch of reeds. It did not, however, continue more than twenty yards
when it ceased, and I walked round the head of it as I had done round that
of the other. We then examined the space between the creeks, where the
bank receives the force of the current, which I did not doubt had formed
them by the separation of its eddies. Observing water among the reeds, I
pushed through them with infinite labour to a considerable distance. The
soil proved to be a stiff clay; the reeds were closely embodied, and from
ten to twelve feet high; the waters were in some places ankle deep, and in
others scarcely covered the surface. They were flowing in different
points, with greater speed than those of the river, which at once
convinced me that they were not permanent, but must have lodged in the
night during which so much rain had fallen. They ultimately appeared to
flow to the northward, but I found it impossible to follow them, and it
was not without difficulty that, after having wandered about at every
point of the compass, I again reached the boat.
CAUSES OF THE FAILURE OF THE RIVER.
The care with which I had noted every change that took place in the
Macquarie, from Wellington Valley downwards, enabled me, in some measure,
to account for its present features. I was led to conclude that the waters
of the river being so small in body, excepting in times of flood, and
flowing for so many miles through a level country without receiving any
tributary to support their first impulse, became too sluggish, long ere
they reached the marshes, to cleave through so formidable a barrier; and
consequently spread over the surrounding country--whether again to take
up the character of a river, we had still to determine. Unless, however,
a decline of country should favour its assuming its original shape, it was
evident that the Macquarie would not be found to exist beyond this marsh,
of the nature and extent of which we were still ignorant. The loss of my
barometer was at this time severely felt by me, since I could only guess
at our probable height above the ocean; and I found that my only course
was to endeavour to force my way to the northward, to ascertain, if I
could, from the bottom of the marshes; then penetrate in a westerly
direction beyond them, in order to commence my survey of the S.W.
interior. I was aware of Mr. Hume's perseverance, and determined,
therefore, to wait the result of his report ere I again moved the camp, to
which we returned late in the afternoon of the second day of our
departure. We found it unsufferably hot and suffocating in the reeds, and
were tormented by myriads of mosquitoes, but the waters were perfectly
sweet to the taste, nor did the slightest smell, as of stagnation, proceed
from them. I may add that the birds, whose sanctuary we had invaded, as
the bittern and various tribes of the galinule, together with the frogs,
made incessant noises around us, There were, however, but few water-fowl
on the river; which was an additional proof to me that we were not near
any very extensive lake.
MR. HUME'S REPORT.
Mr. Hume had returned before me to the camp, and had succeeded in finding
a serpentine sheet of water, about twelve miles to the northward; which he
did not doubt to be the channel of the river. He had pushed on after this
success, in the hope of gaining a further knowledge of the country; but
another still more extensive marsh checked him, and obliged him to retrace
his steps. He was no less surprised at the account I gave of the
termination of the river, than I was at its so speedily re-forming, and it
was determined to lose no time in the further examination of so singular a
FALSE CHANNEL; PERPLEXITIES.
On the morning of the 28th therefore we broke up the camp, and proceeded
to the northward, under Mr. Hume's guidance, moving over ground wholly
subject to flood, and extensively covered with reeds; the great body of
the marsh lying upon our left. After passing the angle of a wood, upon our
right, from which Mount Foster was distant about fourteen miles, we got
upon a small plain, on which there was a new species of tortuous box. This
plain was clear of reeds, and the soil upon it was very rich. Crossing in
a westerly direction we arrived at the channel found by Mr. Hume, who must
naturally have concluded that it was a continuation of the river. The boat
was immediately prepared, and I went up it in order to ascertain the
nature of its formation. For two miles it preserved a pretty general width
of from twenty to thirty yards; but at that distance began to narrow, and
at length it became quite shallow and covered with weeds. We were
ultimately obliged to abandon the boat, and to walk along a native path.
The country to the westward was more open than I had expected. About a
quarter of a mile from where we had left the boat, the channel separated
into two branches; to which I perceived it owed its formation, coming, as
they evidently did, direct from the heart of the marsh. The wood through
which I had entered it on the first occasion bore south of me, to which
one of the branches inclined; as the other did to the S.W. An almost
imperceptible rise of ground was before me, which, by giving an impetus to
the waters of the marsh, accounted to me for the formation of the main
channel. It was too late, on my return to the camp, to prosecute any
further examination of it downwards; but in the morning, Mr. Hume
accompanied me in the boat, to ascertain to what point it led; and we
found that at about a mile it began to diminish in breadth, until at
length it was completely lost in a second expanse of reeds. We passed a
singular scaffolding erected by the natives, on the side of the channel,
to take fish; and also found a weir at the termination of it for the like
purpose so that it was evident the natives occasionally ventured into
There was a small wood to our left which Mr. Hume endeavoured to gain, but
he failed in the attempt. He did, however, reach a tree that was
sufficiently high to give him a full view of the marsh, which appeared to
extend in every direction, but more particularly to the north, for many
miles. We were, however, at fault, and I really felt at a loss what step
to take. I should have been led to believe from the extreme flatness of
the country, that the Macquarie would never assume its natural shape, but
from the direction of the marshes I could not but indulge a hope that it
would meet the Castlereagh, and that their united waters might form a
stream of some importance. Under this impression I determined on again
sending Mr. Hume to the N.E. in order to ascertain the nature of the
country in that direction.
EXCURSION TO THE NORTH-WEST.
The weather was excessively hot, and as my men were but slowly recovering,
I was anxious while those who were in health continued active, to give the
others a few days of rest. I proposed, therefore, to cross the river, and
to make an excursion into the interior, during the probable time of
Mr. Hume's absence; since if, as I imagined, the Macquarie had taken a
permanent northerly course, I should not have an opportunity of examining
the distant western country. Mr. Hume's experience rendered it unnecessary
for me to give him other than general directions.
A PLAIN ON FIRE.
On the last day of the year we left the camp, each accompanied by two men.
I had the evening previously ordered the horses I intended taking with me
across the channel, and at an early hour of the morning I followed them.
Getting on a plain, immediately after I had disengaged myself from the
reeds on the opposite side of the river, which was full of holes and
exceedingly treacherous for the animals, I pushed on for a part of the
wood Mr. Hume had endeavoured to gain from the boat, with the intention of
keeping near the marsh. On entering it, I found myself in a thick brush of
eucalypti, casuarinae and minor trees; the soil under them being mixed
with sand. I kept a N.N.W. course through it, and at the distance of
three miles from its commencement, ascended a tree, to ascertain if I was
near the marshes; when I found that I was fast receding from them. I
concluded, therefore, that my conjecture as to their direction was right,
and altered my course to N.W., a direction in which I had observed a dense
smoke arising, which I supposed had been made by some natives near water.
At the termination of the brush I crossed a barren sandy plain, and from
it saw the smoke ascending at a few miles' distance from me. Passing
through a wood, at the extremity of the plain, I found myself at the
outskirts of an open space of great extent, almost wholly enveloped in
flames. The fire was running with incredible rapidity through the rhagodia
shrubs with which it was covered. Passing quickly over it, I continued my
journey to the N.W. over barren plains of red sandy loam of even surface,
and bushes of cypresses skirted by acacia pendula. It was not until after
sunset that we struck upon a creek, in which the water was excellent; and
we halted on its banks for the night, calculating our distance at
twenty-nine miles from the camp. The creek was of considerable size,
leading northerly. Several huts were observed by us, and from the heaps of
muscle-shells that were scattered about, there could be no doubt of its
being much frequented by the natives. The grass being fairly burnt up, our
animals found but little to eat, but they had a tolerable journey. and did
not attempt to wander in search of better food. I shot a snipe near the
creek, much resembling the painted snipe of India; but I had not the means
with me of preserving it.
A TRIBE OF NATIVES.
Continuing our journey on the following morning, we at first kept on the
banks of the creek, and at about a quarter of a mile from where we had
slept, came upon a numerous tribe of natives. A young girl sitting by the
fire was the first to observe us as we were slowly approaching her. She
was so excessively alarmed, that she had not the power to run away; but
threw herself on the ground and screamed violently. We now observed a
number of huts, out of which the natives issued, little dreaming of the
spectacle they were to behold. But the moment they saw us, they started
back; their huts were in a moment in flames, and each with a fire-brand
ran to and fro with hideous yells, thrusting them into every bush they
passed. I walked my horse quietly towards an old man who stood more
forward than the rest, as if he intended to devote himself for the
preservation of his tribe. I had intended speaking to him, but on a nearer
approach I remarked that he trembled so violently that it was impossible
to expect that I could obtain any information from him, and as I had not
time for explanations, I left him to form his own conjectures as to what
we were, and continued to move towards a thick brush, into which they did
not venture to follow us.
CONTINUE OUR JOURNEY.
After a ride of about eighteen miles, through a country of alternate plain
and brush, we struck upon a second creek leading like the first to the
northward. The water in it was very bitter and muddy, and it was much
inferior in appearance to that at which we had slept. After stopping for
half-an-hour upon its banks, to rest our animals, we again pushed forward.
We had not as yet risen any perceptible height above the level of the
marshes, but had left the country subject to overflow for a considerable
space behind us. The brushes through which we had passed were too sandy to
retain water long, but the plains were of such an even surface, that they
could not but continue wet for a considerable period after any fall of
rain. They were covered with salsolaceous plants, without a blade of
grass; and their soil was generally a red sandy loam. There were
occasional patches that appeared moist, in which the calystemma was
abundant, and these patches must, I should imagine, form quagmires in the
On leaving the last-mentioned creek, we found a gently rising country
before us; and about three or four miles from it we crossed some stony
ridges, covered with a new species of acacia so thickly as to prevent our
obtaining any view from them. As the sun declined, we got into open forest
ground; and travelled forwards in momentary expectation, from appearances,
of coming in sight of water; but we were obliged to pull up at sunset on
the outskirts of a larger plain without having our expectation realized.
The day had been extremely warm, and our animals were as thirsty as
ourselves. Hope never forsakes the human breast; and thence it was that,
after we had secured the horses, we began to wander round our lonely
bivouac. It was almost dark, when one of my men came to inform me that he
had found a small puddle of water, to which be had been led by a pigeon.
It was, indeed, small enough, probably the remains of a passing shower; it
was, however, sufficient for our necessities, and I thanked Providence for
its bounty to us. We were now about sixty miles from the Macquarie, in a
N.W. by W. direction, and the country had proved so extremely
discouraging, that I intimated to my men my intention of retracing my
steps, should I not discover any change in it before noon on the morrow.
A dense brush of acacia succeeded to the plain on which we had slept,
which we entered, and shortly afterwards found ourselves in an open space,
of oblong shape, at the extremity of which there was a shallow lake. The
brush completely encircled it, and a few huts were upon its banks. About
10 p.m. we got into an open forest track of better appearance than any
over which we had recently travelled.
There was a visible change in the country, and the soil, although red, was
extremely rich and free from sand. A short time afterwards we rose to the
summit of a round hill, from which we obtained an extensive view on most
points of the compass. We had imperceptibly risen considerably above the
general level of the interior.
VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT.
Beneath us, to the westward, I observed a broad and thinly wooded valley;
and W. by S., distant apparently about twenty miles, an isolated mountain,
whose sides seemed almost perpendicular, broke the otherwise even line of
the horizon; but the country in every other direction looked as if it was
darkly wooded. Anticipating that I should find a stream in the valley, I
did not for a moment hesitate in striking down into it. Disappointed,
however, in this expectation, I continued onwards to the mountain, which I
reached just before the sun set. Indeed, he was barely visible when I
gained its summit; but my eyes, from exposure to his glare, became so
weak, my face was so blistered, and my lips cracked in so many places,
that I was unable to look towards the west, and was actually obliged to
sit down behind a rock until he had set.
Perhaps no time is so favourable for a view along the horizon as the
sunset hour; and here, at an elevation of from five to six hundred feet
above the plain, the visible line of it could not have been less than from
thirty-five to forty-five miles. The hill upon which I stood was broken
into two points; the one was a bold rocky elevation; the other had its
rear face also perpendicular, but gradually declined to the north, and at
a distance of from four to five miles was lost in an extensive and open
plain in that direction. In the S.E. quarter, two wooded hills were
visible, which before had appeared to be nothing more than swells in the
general level of the country. A small hill, similar to the above, bore
N.E. by compass; and again, to the west, a more considerable mountain than
that I had ascended, and evidently much higher, reflected the last beams
of the sun as he sunk behind them. I looked, however, in vain for water.
I could not trace either the windings of a stream, or the course of a
mountain torrent; and, as we had passed a swamp about a mile from the
hill, we descended to it for the night, during which we were grievously
tormented by the mosquitoes.
RESULTS OF THE EXCURSION.
I had no inducement to proceed further into the interior. I had been
sufficiently disappointed in the termination of this excursion, and the
track before me was still less inviting. Nothing but a dense forest, and a
level country, existed between me and the distant hill. I had learnt, by
experience, that it was impossible to form any opinion of the probable
features of so singular a region as that in which I was wandering, from
previous appearances, or to expect the same result, as in other countries,
from similar causes. In a geographical point of view, my journey had been
more successful, and had enabled me to put to rest for ever a question of
much previous doubt. Of whatever extent the marshes of the Macquarie might
be, it was evident they were not connected with those of the Lachlan. I
had gained knowledge of more than 100 miles of the western interior, and
had ascertained that no sea, indeed that little water, existed on its
surface; and that, although it is generally flat, it still has elevations
of considerable magnitude upon it.
Although I had passed over much barren ground, I had likewise noticed soil
that was far from poor, and the vegetation upon which in ordinary seasons
would, I am convinced, have borne a very different aspect.
Yet, upon the whole, the space I traversed is unlikely to become the haunt
of civilized man, or will only become so in isolated spots, as a chain of
connection to a more fertile country; if such a country exist to the
The hill which thus became the extreme of my journey, is of sandstone
formation, and is bold and precipitous. Its summit is level and lightly
timbered. As a tribute of respect to the late Surveyor-General, I called
it Oxley's Table Land, and I named the distant hills D'Urban's Group,
after Sir Benjamin D'Urban, in compliance with a previous request of my
friend Lieut. De la Condamine, that I would so name any prominent feature
of the interior that I might happen to come upon.
RETURN TO THE CAMP.
In returning to the camp, I made a circuit to the N.E., and reached the
Macquarie late on the evening of the 5th of January; having been absent
six days, during which we could not have ridden less than 200 miles. Yet
the horses were not so fatigued as it was natural to expect they would
My servant informed me that a party of natives had visited the camp on the
3rd, but that they retired precipitately on seeing the animals. I
regretted to find the men but little better than when I left them. Several
still complained of a painful irritation of the eyes, and of great
weakness of sight. Attributing their continued indisposition in some
measure to our situation, I was anxious to have moved from it; but as Mr.
Hume was still absent, I could not decide upon the measure. He made his
appearance, however, on the 6th, having ridden the greater part of the day
through rain, which commenced to fall in the morning. Soon after his
arrival, Dawber, my overseer of animals, who had accompanied him, was
taken suddenly ill. During the night he became much worse, with shivering
and spasms, and on the following morning he was extremely weak and
feverish. To add to my anxiety, Mr. Hume also complained of indisposition.
His state of health made me the more anxious to quit a position which I
fancied unwholesome, and in which, if there was no apparent, there was
certainly some secret, exciting cause; and as Mr. Hume reported having
crossed a chain of ponds about four miles to the eastward, and out of the
immediate precincts of the marshes, I ordered the tents to be struck, and
placing Dawber on my horse, we all moved quietly over to them.
MR. HUME'S EXCURSION.
The result of Mr. Hume's journey perplexed me exceedingly. He stated, that
on setting out from the Macquarie his intention was to have proceeded to
the N.E., to ascertain how far the reeds existed in that direction, and,
if at all practicable, to reach the Castlereagh; but in case of failure,
to regain the Macquarie by a westerly course. At first he travelled nearly
four miles east, to clear the marshes, when he came on the chain of ponds
to which we had removed.
He travelled over good soil for two miles after crossing this chain of
ponds, but afterwards got on a red sandy loam, and found it difficult to
proceed, by reason of the thickness of the brush, and the swampy state of
the ground in consequence of the late rain.
The timber in the brushes was of various kinds, and he saw numerous
kangaroos and emus. On issuing from this brush, he crossed a creek,
leading northerly, the banks of which were from ten to twelve feet high.
Whatever the body of water usually in it is, it now only afforded a few
shallow puddles. Mr. Hume travelled through brushes until he came upon a
third creek, similar to the one he had left behind him, at which he halted
for the night. The water in it was bad, and the feed for the animals
extremely poor. The brush lined the creek thickly, and consisted chiefly
of acacia pendula and box. The country preserved an uniform level, nor did
Mr. Hume, from the highest trees, observe any break on the horizon.
On the 2nd of January, Mr. Hume kept more northerly, being unable to
penetrate the brushes he encountered. At two miles he crossed a creek
leading to the N.W., between which and the place at which he had slept, he
passed a native burial ground, containing eight graves. The earth was
piled up in a conical shape, but the trees were not carved over as he had
seen them in most other places.
The country became more open after he had passed the last mentioned creek,
which he again struck upon at the distance of eight miles, and as it was
then leading to the N.N.E. he followed it down for eighteen or twenty
miles, and crossed it frequently during the day. The creek was dry in most
places, and where he stopped for the night the water was bad, and the
cattle feed indifferent.
Mr. Hume saw many huts, but none of them had been recently occupied,
although large quantities of muscle-shells were scattered about. He
computed that he had travelled about thirty miles, in a N.N.W.
direction, and the whole of the land he passed over was, generally
speaking, bad, nor did it appear to be subject to overflow.
On the 3rd, Mr. Hume proceeded down the creek on which he had slept, on a
northern course, under an impression that it would have joined the
Castlereagh, but it took a N.W. direction after he had ridden about four
miles, and then turned again to the eastward of north. In consequence of
this, he left it, and proceeded to the westward, being of opinion that the
river just mentioned must have taken a more northerly course than Mr.
Oxley supposed it to have done.
A short time after Mr. Hume turned towards the Macquarie, the country
assumed a more pleasing appearance. He soon cleared the brushes, and at
two miles came upon a chain of ponds, again running northerly in times of
flood. Shortly after crossing these, he found himself on an extensive
plain, apparently subject to overflow. The timber on it was chiefly of
the blue-gum kind, and the ground was covered with shells. He then thought
he was approaching the Macquarie, and proceeded due west across the flat
for about two miles. At the extremity of it there was a hollow, which he
searched in vain for water. Ascending about thirty feet, he entered a
thick brush of box and acacia pendula, which continued for fourteen miles,
when it terminated abruptly, and extensive plains of good soil commenced,
stretching from N. to S. as far as the eye could reach, on which there
were many kangaroos. Continuing to journey over them, he reached a creek
at 5 p.m. on which the wild fowl were numerous, running nearly north and
south, and he rested on its banks for the night. The timber consisted both
of blue and rough gum, and the soil was a light earth.
Mr. Hume expected in the course of the day to have reached the Macquarie,
but on arriving at the creek, he began to doubt whether it any longer
existed, or whether it had not taken a more westerly direction. On the
following morning, therefore, he crossed the creek, and travelled
W.S.W., for about two miles over good plains; then through light brushes
of swamp-oak, cypress, box, and acacia pendula, for about twelve miles, to
another creek leading northerly. He shortly afterwards ascended a range of
hills stretching W.N.W. to which he gave the name of New Year's Range.
From these hills, he had an extensive view, although not upon the highest
part, but the only break he could see in the horizon was caused by some
hills bearing by compass W. by S. distant about twenty-five miles. There
was, however, an appearance as of high land to the northward, although Mr.
Hume thought it might have been an atmospheric deception. From the range
he looked in vain for the Macquarie, or other waters, and, as his
provisions were nearly consumed, he was obliged to give up all further
pursuit, and to retrace his steps. He fell in with two parties of natives,
which, taken collectively, amounted to thirty-five in number, but had no
communication with them.
It was evident, from the above account, that supposing a line to have been
drawn from the camp northerly, Mr. Hume must have travelled considerably
to the westward of it, and as I had run on a N.W. course from the marshes,
it necessarily followed that our lines of route must have intersected each
other, or that want of extension could alone have prevented them from
having done so; but that, under any circumstances, they could not have
been very far apart. This was too important a point to be left undecided,
as upon it the question of the Macquarie's termination seemed to depend.
Both Mr. Hume and myself were of opinion, that a medium course would be
the most satisfactory for us to pursue, to decide this point; and it
appeared that we could not do better than, by availing ourselves of the
creek on which we were, and skirting the reeds, to take the first
opportunity of dashing through them in a westerly direction.
DOUBTS OF THE FURTHER EXTENSION OF THE RIVER.
I entertained great doubts as to the longer existence of the river, and as
I foresaw that, in the event of its having terminated we should strike at
once into the heart of the interior, I became anxious for the arrival of
supplies at Mount Harris; and although I could hardly expect that they had
yet reached it, I determined to proceed thither. Mr. Hume was too unwell
for me to think of imposing additional fatigue upon him; I left him,
therefore, to conduct the party, by easy stages, to the northward, until
such time as I should overtake them. Even in one day there was a visible
improvement in the men, and Dawber's attack seemed to be rather the
effects of cold than of any thing else. A death, however, under our
circumstances, would have been so truly deplorable an event, that the
least illness was sufficient to create alarm.
I can hardly say that I was disappointed on my arrival at Mount Harris, to
find its neighbourhood silent and deserted. I remained, however, under it
for the greater part of the next day, and, prior to leaving it, placed a
sheet of paper with written instructions against a tree, though almost
without a hope that it would remain untouched.
A little after sun-set we reached the first small marsh, at which we
slept; and on the following morning I crossed the plains of the Macquarie,
and joined the party at about fifteen miles from the creek at which I had
left it. I found it in a condition that was as unlooked for by Mr. Hume as
it was unexpected by me, and really in a most perplexing situation.
On the day I left him, Mr. Hume only advanced about two miles, in
consequence of some derangement in the loads. Having crossed the creek,
he, the next morning, proceeded down its right bank, until it entered the
marshes and was lost. He then continued to move on the outskirts of the
latter, and having performed a journey or about eight miles, was anxious
to have stopped, but there was no water at hand. The men, however, were so
fatigued, in consequence of previous illness, that he felt it necessary to
halt after travelling about eleven miles.
No water could be procured even here, notwithstanding that Mr. Hume, who
was quite unfit for great exertion, underwent considerable bodily fatigue
in his anxiety to find some. He was, therefore, obliged to move early on
the following morning, but neither men nor animals were in a condition to
travel; and he had scarcely made three miles' progress, when he stopped
and endeavoured to obtain a supply or water by digging pits among the
reeds. From these he had drawn sufficient for the wants of the people when
I arrived. Some rain had fallen on the 6th and 7th of the month, or it is
more than probable the expedient to which he resorted would have failed of
success. Mr. Hume, I was sorry to observe, looked very unwell; but nothing
could prevent him from further endeavours to extricate the party from its
As soon as I had taken a little refreshment, therefore, I mounted a fresh
horse; and he accompanied me across a small plain, immediately in front of
the camp, which was subject to overflow and covered with polygonum, having
a considerable extent of reeds to its right.
From the plain we entered a wood of blue-gum, in which reeds, grass, and
brush formed a thick coppice. We at length passed into an open space,
surrounded on every side by weeds in dense bodies. The great marsh bore
south of us, and was clear and open, but behind us the blue-gum trees
formed a thick wood above the weeds.
About two hundred yards from the outskirts of the marsh there was a line
of saplings that had perished, and round about them a number of the tern
tribe (sea swallow) were flying, one of which Mr. Hume had followed a
considerable way into the reeds the evening before, in the hope that it
would have led him to water. The circumstance of their being in such
numbers led us to penetrate towards them, when we found a serpentine sheet
of water of some length, over which they were playing. We had scarcely
time to examine it before night closed in upon us, and it was after nine
when we returned to the tents.
From the general appearance of the country to the northward, and from the
circumstance of our having got to the bottom of the great marsh, which but
a few days before had threatened to be so formidable, I thought it
probable that the reeds would not again prove so extensive as they had
been, and I determined, if I could do so, to push through them in a
westerly direction from our position.
SECOND GREAT MARSH.
The pits yielded us so abundant a supply during the night, that in the
morning we found it unnecessary to take the animals to water at the
channel we had succeeded in finding the evening before; but pursuing a
westerly course we passed it, and struck deep into the reeds. At mid-day
we were hemmed in by them on every side, and had crossed over numerous
channels, by means of which the waters of the marshes are equally and
generally distributed over the space subject to their influence. Coming to
a second sheet of water, narrower, but longer, as well as we could judge,
than the first, we stopped to dine at it; and, while the men were resting
themselves, Mr. Hume rode with me in a westerly direction, to ascertain
what obstacles we still had to contend with. Forcing our way through
bodies of reeds, we at length got on a plain, stretching from S.E. to
N.W., bounded on the right by a wood of blue-gum, under which the reeds
still extended, and on the left by a wood in which they did not appear to
exist. Certain that there was no serious obstacle in our way, we returned
to the men; and as soon as they had finished their meal, led them over the
plain in a N.W. by W. direction. It was covered with shells, and was full
of holes from the effects of flood.
CONCLUSIONS IN REGARD TO THE MACQUARIE.
As we were journeying over it, I requested Mr. Hume to ride into the wood
upon our left, to ascertain if it concealed any channel. On his return he
informed me that he descended from the plain into a hollow, the bottom of
which was covered with small shells and bulrushes. He observed a new
species of eucalypti, on the trunks of which the water-mark was three feet
high. After crossing this hollow, which was about a quarter of a mile in
breadth, he gained an open forest of box, having good grass under it; and,
judging from the appearance of the country that no other channel could
exist beyond him, and that he had ascertained sufficient for the object I
had in view, he turned back to the plain. We stopped for the night under a
wood of box, where the grass, which had been burnt down, was then
springing up most beautifully green, and was relished exceedingly by the
It was in consequence of our not having crossed any channel, while
penetrating through the reeds, that could by any possible exaggeration
have been laid down as the bed of the river, that I detached Mr. Hume; and
the account he brought me at once confirmed my opinion in regard to the
Macquarie, and I thenceforth gave up every hope of ever seeing it in its
characteristic shape again.
Independently however of all circumstantial evidence, it was clear that
the river had not re-formed at a distance of twenty-five miles to the
north of us, since Mr. Hume had gone to the westward of that point, at
about the same distance on his late journey, without having observed the
least appearance of reeds or of a river. He had, indeed, noticed a hollow,
which occasionally contained water, but he saw nothing like the bed of a
permanent stream. I became convinced, also, from observation of the
country through which we had passed, that the sources of the Macquarie
could not be of such magnitude as to give a constant flow to it as a
river, and at the same time to supply with water the vast concavity into
which it falls. In very heavy rains only could the marshes and adjacent
lands be laid wholly under water, since the evaporation alone would be
equal to the supply.
The great plains stretching for so many miles to the westward of Mount
Harris, even where they were clear of reeds, were covered with shells and
the claws of cray-fish and their soil, although an alluvial deposit, was
superficially sandy. They bore the appearance not only of frequent
inundation, but of the floods having eventually subsided upon them. This
was particularly observable at the bottom of the marshes. We did not find
any accumulation of rubbish to indicate a rush of water to any one point;
but numerous minor channels existed to distribute the floods equally and
generally over every part of the area subject to them, and the marks of
inundation and subsidence were everywhere the same. The plain we had last
crossed, was, in like manner, covered with shells, so that we could not
yet be said to be out of the influence of the marshes; besides which we
had not crossed the hollow noticed by Mr. Hume, which it was clear we
should do, sooner or later.
SITUATION OF THE PARTY.
To have remained in our position would have been impossible, as there was
no water either for ourselves or the animals; to have descended into the
reeds again, for the purpose of carrying on a minute survey, would, under
existing circumstances, have been imprudent. Our provisions were running
short, and if a knowledge of the distant interior was to be gained, we had
no time to lose. It was determined, therefore, to defer our further
examination of the marshes to the period of our return; and to pursue such
a course as would soonest and most effectually enable us to determine the
character of the western interior.
Prosecution of our course into the interior--Mosquito Brush--Aspect and
productions of the country--Hunting party of natives--Courageous conduct
of one of them--Mosquitoes--A man missing--Group of hills called
New-Year's Range--Journey down New-Year's Creek--Tormenting attack of the
kangaroo fly--Dreariness and desolation of the country--Oxley's Table
Land--D'Urban's Group--Continue our journey down New-Year's Creek--
Extreme Disappointment on finding it salt--Fall in with a tribe of
natives--Our course arrested by the want of fresh water--Extraordinary
sound--Retreat towards the Macquarie.
We left our position at the head of the plain early on the 13th of
January, and, ere the sun dipped, had entered a very different country
from that in which we had been labouring for the last three weeks. We had,
as yet, passed over little other than an alluvial soil, but found that it
changed to a red loam in the brushes immediately backing the camp. An open
forest track succeeded this, over which the vegetation had an unusual
freshness, indicating that the waters had not long subsided from its
surface. We shortly afterwards crossed a hollow, similar to that Mr. Hume
had described, in which bulrushes had taken the place of reeds.
Flooded-gum trees, of large size, were also growing in it, but on either
side box alone prevailed, under which the forest grass grew to a
considerable height. We crossed the hollow two or three times, and as
often remarked the line of separation between those trees. The last time
we crossed it the country rose a few feet, and we journeyed for the
remainder of the day, at one time over good plains, at another through
brushes, until we found water and feed, at which we stopped for the night,
after having travelling about thirteen miles on a W. by N. course. The
mosquitoes were so extremely troublesome at this place that we called it
Mosquito Brush. At this time my men were improving rapidly, and Mr. Hume
complained less, and looked better. I hoped, therefore, that our progress
would be rapid into the interior.
CREEK LEADING NORTHERLY; PRODUCTIONS OF THE COUNTRY.
On the 14th we took up a westerly course, and in the first instance
traversed a plain of great extent; the soil of which was for the most part
a red sandy loam, but having patches of light earth upon it. The former
was covered with plants of the chenopedia kind; the latter had evidently
been quagmires, and bore even then the appearance of moisture. At about
seven miles from Mosquito Brush we struck upon a creek of excellent water,
upon which the wild fowl were numerous. Some natives was seen, but they
were only women, and seemed so alarmed that I purposely avoided them. As
the creek was leading northerly, we traced it down on that course for
about seven miles, and then halted upon its banks, which were composed of
a light tenacious earth. Brushes of casuarina existed near it, but a
tortuous box was the prevailing tree, which, excepting for the knees of
small vessels, could not have been applied to any use, while the
flooded-gum had entirely disappeared. Some ducks were shot in the
afternoon, which proved a great treat, as we had been living for some time
on salt provisions. Our animals fared worse than ourselves, as the bed of
the creek was occupied by coarse rushes, and but little vegetation was
elsewhere to be seen. I here killed a beautiful snake, of about four feet
in length, and of a bright yellow colour: I had not, however, the means of
preserving it. Fraser collected numerous botanical specimens, and among
them two kinds of caparis. Indeed a great alteration had taken place in
the minor shrubs, and few of those now prevalent had been observed to the
eastward of the marshes.
From the creek, which both I and Mr. Hume must have crossed on our
respective journeys, we held a westerly course for about fifteen miles,
through a country of alternate plain and brush, the latter predominating,
and in its general character differing but little from that we had
traversed the day previous.
The acacia pendula still continued to exist on the plains backed by dark
rows of cypresses (Cupressus callitris). In the brushes, box and
casuarina (Casuarina tortuosa), with several other kinds of eucalypti,
prevailed; but none of them were sufficiently large to be of use. The
plains were so extremely level that a meridian altitude could have been
taken without any material error; and I doubt much whether it would have
been possible to have traversed them had the season been wet.
HUNTING PARTY OF NATIVES.
As we were travelling through a forest we surprised a hunting party of
natives. Mr. Hume and I were considerably in front of our party at the
time, and he only had his gun with him. We had been moving along so
quietly that we were not for some time observed by them. Three were seated
on the ground, under a tree, and two others were busily employed on one of
the lower branches cutting out honey. As soon as they saw us, four of them
ran away; but the fifth, who wore a cap of emu feathers, stood for a
moment looking at us, and then very deliberately dropped out of the tree
to the ground. I then advanced towards him, but before I got round a bush
that intervened, he had darted away. I was fearful that he was gone to
collect his tribe, and, under this impression, rode quickly back for my
gun to support Mr. Hume. On my arrival I found the native was before me.
He stood about twenty paces from Mr. Hume, who was endeavouring to explain
what he was; but seeing me approach he immediately poised his spear at
him, as being the nearest. Mr. Hume then unslung his carbine, and
presented it; but, as it was evident my re-appearance had startled the
savage, I pulled up; and he immediately lowered his weapon. His coolness
and courage surprised me, and increased my desire to communicate with him.
He had evidently taken both man and horse for one animal, and as long as
Mr. Hume kept his seat, the native remained upon his guard; but when he
saw him dismount, after the first astonishment had subsided, he stuck his
spear into the ground, and walked fearlessly up to him. We easily made him
comprehend that we were in search of water; when he pointed to the west,
as indicating that we should supply our wants there. He gave his
information in a frank and manly way, without the least embarrassment,
and when the party passed, he stepped back to avoid the animals, without
the smallest confusion. I am sure he was a very brave man; and I left him
with the most favourable impressions, and not without hope that he would
From a more open forest, we entered a dense scrub, the soil in which was
of a bright-red colour and extremely sandy, and the timber of various
kinds. A leafless species of stenochylus aphylta, which, from the
resemblance, I at first thought one of the polygonum tribe, was very
abundant in the open spaces, and the young cypresses were occasionally so
close as to turn us from the direction in which we had been moving. In the
scrub we crossed Mr. Hume's tract, and, from the appearance of the ground,
I was led to believe mine could not be very distant.
FATE OF THE MACQUARIE.
We struck upon a creek late in the afternoon, at which we stopped; New
Year's Range bearing nearly due west at about four miles' distance. Had we
struck upon my track, the question about which we were so anxious would
still have been undecided; but the circumstance of our having crossed Mr.
Hume's, which, from its direction, could not be mistaken, convinced me of
the fate of the Macquarie, and I felt assured that, whatever channels it
might have for the distribution of its waters, to the north of our line of
route, the equality of surface of the interior would never permit it
again to form a river; and that it only required an examination of the
lower parts of the marshes to confirm the theory of the ultimate
evaporation and absorption of its waters, instead of their contributing to
the permanence of an inland sea, as Mr. Oxley had supposed.
NEW YEAR'S RANGE.
On the 17th of January we encamped under New Year's Range, which is the
first elevation in the interior of Eastern Australia to the westward of
Mount Harris. Yet when at its base, I do not think that we had ascended
above forty feet higher than the plains in the neighbourhood of that last
mentioned eminence. There certainly is a partial rise of country, where
the change of soil takes place from the alluvial deposits of the marshes,
to the sandy loam so prevalent on the plains we had lately traversed; but
I had to regret that I was unable to decide so interesting a question by
other than bare conjecture.
Notwithstanding that Mr. Hume had already been on them, I encouraged hopes
that a second survey of the country from the highest point of New Year's
Range would enable us to form some opinion of it, by which to direct our
future movements; but I was disappointed.
The two wooded hills I had seen from Oxley's Table Land were visible from
the range, bearing south; and other eminences bore by compass S.W.
and W. by S.; but in every other direction the horizon was unbroken. To
the westward, there appeared to be a valley of considerable extent,
stretching N. and S., in which latter direction there was a long strip of
cleared ground, that looked very like the sandy bed of a broad and rapid
river. The bare possibility of the reality determined me to ascertain by
inspection, whether my conjecture was right, and Mr. Hume accompanied me
on this excursion. After we left the camp we crossed a part of the range,
and travelled for some time through open forest land that would afford
excellent grazing in most seasons. We passed some hollows, and noticed
many huts that had been occupied near them; but the hollows were now quite
dry, and the huts had been long deserted. After about ten miles' ride we
reached a plain of white sand, from which New Year's Range was distinctly
visible; and this no doubt was the spot that had attracted my attention.
Pools of water continued on it, from which circumstance it would appear
that the sand had a substratum of clay or marl. From this plain we
proceeded southerly through acacia scrub, bounding gently undulating
forest land, and at length ascended some small elevations that scarcely
deserved the name of hills. They had fragments of quartz profusely
scattered over them; and the soil, which was sandy, contained particles of
The view from them was confused, nor did any fresh object meet our
observation. We had, however, considerably neared the two wooded hills,
and the elevations that from the range were to the S.W., now bore N.W.
of us. We had wandered too far from the camp to admit of our returning to
it to sleep; we therefore commenced a search for water, and having found
some, we tethered our horses near it for the night, and should have been
tolerably comfortable, had not the mosquitoes been so extremely
troublesome. They defied the power of smoke, and annoyed me so much, that,
hot as it was, I rolled myself in my boat cloak, and perspired in
consequence to such a degree, that my clothes were wet through, and I had
to stand at the fire in the morning to dry them. Mr. Hume, who could not
bear such confinement, suffered the penalty, and was most unmercifully
A MAN MISSING.
We reached the camp about noon the following day, and learnt, to our
vexation, that one of the men, Norman, had lost himself shortly after we
started, and had not since been heard of. Dawber, my overseer, was out in
search of him. I awaited his return, therefore, before I took any measures
for the man's recovery; nor was I without hopes that Dawber would have
found him, as it appeared he had taken one of the horses with him, and
Dawber, by keeping his tracks, might eventually have overtaken him. He
returned, however, about 3 p.m. unsuccessful, when Mr. Hume and I mounted
our horses, and proceeded in different directions in quest of him, but
were equally disappointed.
We met at the creek in the dark, and returned to the camp together, when I
ordered the cypresses on the range to be set on fire, and thus illuminated
the country round for many miles. In the morning, however, as Norman had
not made his appearance, we again started in search of the poor fellow,
on whose account I was now most uneasy; for his horse, it appeared, had
escaped him, and was found with the others at watering time.
I did not return to the camp until after sunset, more fatigued than I
recollect ever having been before. I was, however, rejoiced on being
informed that the object of my anxiety was safe in his tent; that he had
caught sight of the hill the evening before, and that he had reached the
camp shortly after I left it. He had been absent three nights and two
days, and had not tasted water or food of any kind during that time.
To my enquiries he replied, that, being on horseback, he thought he could
have overtaken a kangaroo, which passed him whilst waiting at the creek
for the cattle, and that in the attempt, he lost himself. It would appear
that he crossed the creek in the dark, and his horse escaped from him on
the first night. He complained more of thirst than of hunger, although he
had drunk at the watering-place to such an excess, on his return, as to
make him vomit; but, though not a little exhausted, he had escaped better
than I should have expected.
COUNTRY AROUND NEW YEAR'S RANGE.
New Year's Range consists of a principal group of five hills, the loftiest
of which does not measure 300 feet in height. It has lateral ridges,
extending to the N.N.W. on the one hand, and bending in to the creek on
the other. The former have a few cypresses, sterculia, and iron bark upon
them; the latter are generally covered with brush, under box; the brush
for the most part consisting of two distinct species of stenochylus, and a
new acacia. The whole range is of quartz formation, small fragments of
which are profusely scattered over the ridges, and are abundantly
incrusted with oxide of iron. The soil in the neighbourhood of New Year's
Range is a red loam, with a slight mixture of sand. An open forest country
lies between it and the creek, and it is not at all deficient in pasture.
NEW YEAR'S CREEK.
That a change of soil takes place to the westward of the creek, is
obvious, from the change of vegetation, the most remarkable feature of
which is the sudden check given to the further extension of the acacia
pendula, which is not to be found beyond it, it being succeeded by another
acacia of the same species and habits; neither do the plants of the
chenopedia class exist in the immediate vicinity of the range.
I place these hills, as far as my observations will allow, in east
lon. 146 degrees 32 minutes 15 seconds, and in lat. 30 degrees 21 minutes
south; the variation of the compass being 6 degrees 40 minutes easterly.
As New Year's Creek was leading northerly, it had been determined to trace
it down as long as it should keep that course, or one to the westward of
it. We broke up the camp, therefore, under the range, on the evening of
the 18th, and moved to the creek, about two miles north of the place at
which we had before crossed it, with the intention of prosecuting our
journey on the morrow. But both Mr. Hume and I were so fatigued that we
were glad of an opportunity to rest, even for a single day. We remained
stationary, therefore, on the 19th; nor was I without hope that the
natives whom we had surprised in the woods, would have paid us a visit,
since Mr. Hume had met them in his search for Norman, and they had
promised not only to come to us, but to do all in their power to find
the man, whose footsteps some of them had crossed. They did not, however,
venture near us; and I rather attribute their having kept aloof, to the
circumstance of Mr. Hume's having fired a shot, shortly after he left
them, as a signal to Norman, in the event of his being within hearing of
the report. They must have been alarmed at so unusual a sound; but I am
sure nothing was further from Mr. Hume's intention than to intimidate
them; his knowledge of their manners and customs, as well as his
partiality to the natives, being equally remarkable. The circumstance is,
however, a proof of the great caution that is necessary in communicating
ANNOYED BY KANGAROO FLIES.
I have said that we remained stationary the day after we left the range,
with a view to enjoy a little rest; it would, however, have been
infinitely better if we had moved forward. Our camp was infested by the
kangaroo fly, which settled upon us in thousands. They appeared to rise
from the ground, and as fast as they were swept off were succeeded by
fresh numbers. It was utterly impossible to avoid their persecution,
penetrating as they did into the very tents.
The men were obliged to put handkerchiefs over their faces, and stockings
upon their hands; but they bit through every thing. It was to no purpose
that I myself shifted from place to place; they still followed, or were
equally numerous everywhere. To add to our discomfort, the animals were
driven almost to madness, and galloped to and fro in so furious a manner
that I was apprehensive some of them would have been lost. I never
experienced such a day of torment; and only when the sun set, did these
little creatures cease from their attacks.
It will be supposed that we did not stay to subject ourselves to another
trial; indeed it was with some degree of horror that the men saw the first
light of morning streak the horizon. They got up immediately, and we moved
down the creek, on a northerly course, without breakfasting as usual. We
found that dense brushes of casuarina lined the creek on both sides,
beyond which, to our left, there was open rising ground, on which
eucalypti, cypresses, and the acacia longifolia, prevailed; whilst to the
east, plains seemed to predominate.
Although we had left the immediate spot at which the kangaroo flies
(cabarus) seemed to be collected, I did not expect that we should have got
rid of them so completely as we did. None of them were seen during the
day; a proof that they were entirely local. They were about half the size
of a common house fly, had flat brown bodies, and their bite, although
sharp and piercing, left no irritation after it.
About noon we stopped at the creek side to take some refreshment. The
country bore an improved appearance around us, and the cattle found
abundance of pasture. It was evident that the creek had been numerously
frequented by the natives, although no recent traces of them could be
found. It had a bed of coarse red granite, of the fragments of which the
natives had constructed a weir for the purpose of taking fish. The
appearance of this rock in so isolated a situation, is worthy of the
consideration of geologists.
DESOLATION OF THE COUNTRY.
The promise of improvement I have noticed, gradually disappeared as we
proceeded on our day's journey, and we at length found ourselves once more
among brushes, and on the edge of plains, over which the rhagodia
prevailed. Nothing could exceed in dreariness the appearance of the tracks
through which we journeyed, on this and the two following days. The creek
on which we depended for a supply of water, gave such alarming indications
of a total failure, that I at one time, had serious thoughts of abandoning
my pursuit of it. We passed hollow after hollow that had successively
dried up, although originally of considerable depth; and, when we at
length found water, it was doubtful how far we could make use of it.
Sometimes in boiling it left a sediment nearly equal to half its body; at
other times it was so bitter as to be quite unpalatable. That on which we
subsisted was scraped up from small puddles, heated by the sun's rays;
and so uncertain were we of finding water at the end of the day's journey,
that we were obliged to carry a supply on one of the bullocks. There was
scarcely a living creature, even of the feathered race, to be seen to
break the stillness of the forest. The native dogs alone wandered about,
though they had scarcely strength to avoid us; and their melancholy howl,
breaking in upon the ear at the dead of the night, only served to impress
more fully on the mind the absolute loneliness of the desert.
It appeared, from their traces that the natives had lingered on this
ground, on which they had perhaps been born, as long as it continued to
afford them a scanty though precarious subsistence; but that they had at
length been forced from it. Neither fish nor muscles remained in the
creek, nor emus nor kangaroos on the plains. How then could an European
expect to find food in deserts through which the savage wandered in vain?
There is no doubt of the fate that would have overtaken any one of the
party who might have strayed away, and I was happy to find that Norman's
narrow escape had made a due impression on the minds of his comrades.
SANDY PLAINS; LEAVE THE CREEK.
We passed some considerable plains, lying to the eastward of the creek, on
parts of which the grass, though growing in tufts, was of luxuriant
growth. They were, however, more generally covered with salsola and
rhagodia, and totally destitute of other vegetation, the soil upon them
being a red sandy loam. The paths across the plains, which varied in
breadth from three to eight miles, were numerous; but they had not been
recently trodden. The creek continued to have a thick brush of casuarina
and acacia near it, to the westward of which there was a rising open
forest track; the timber upon it being chiefly box, cypress, and the
acacia longifolia. It was most probably connected with New Year's Range,
those elevations being about thirty miles distant. It terminated in some
gentle hills which, though covered in places with acacia shrub, were
sufficiently open to afford an extensive view. From their summit Oxley's
Table Land, towards which we had been gradually working our way, was
distinctly visible, distant about twenty miles, and bearing by compass
W. by S. On descending from these hills (called the Pink Hills, from the
colour of a flower upon them) which were scattered over with fragments of
slaty quartz, we traversed a box flat, apparently subject to overflow,
having a barren sandy scrub to its left. I had desired the men to preserve
a W.N.W. direction, on leaving them, supposing that that course would have
kept them near the creek; but, on overtaking the party, I found that they
had wandered completely away from it. The fact was, that the creek had
taken a sudden bend to the eastward of N. and had thus thrown them out.
It was with some difficulty that we regained it before sunset; and we were
at length obliged to stop for the night at a small plain, about a quarter
of a mile short of it, but we had the satisfaction of having excellent
feed for the animals.
OXLEY'S TABLE LAND.
Fearful that New Year's Creek would take us too far to the eastward, and
being anxious to keep westward as much as possible, it struck me that we
could not, under existing circumstances, do better than make for Oxley's
Table Land. Water, I knew, we should find in a swamp at it's base, and we
might discover some more encouraging feature than I had observed on my
hasty visit to it. We left the creek, therefore on the 23rd, and once more
took up a westerly course. Passing through a generally open country, we
stopped at noon to rest the animals; and afterwards got on an excellent
grazing forest track, which continued to the brush, through another part
of which I had penetrated to the marsh more to the south. While making our
way through it, we came upon a small pond of water, and must have alarmed
some natives, as there was a fresh made fire close to it. Our journey had
been unusually long, and the cattle had felt the heat so much, that the
moment they saw water they rushed into it; and, as this created some
confusion, I thought it best to stop where we were for the night.
In the morning, Mr. Hume walked with me to the hill, a distance of about a
mile. It is not high enough to deserve the name of a mountain, although a
beautiful feature in the country, and showing well from any point of view.
We ascended it with an anxiety that may well be imagined, but were wholly
disappointed in our most sanguine expectations. Our chief object, in this
second visit to Oxley's Table Land, had been to examine, more at leisure,
the face of the country around it, and to discover, if possible, some
fixed point on which to move.
If the rivers of the interior had already exhausted themselves, what had
we to expect from a creek whose diminished appearance where we left it
made us apprehend its speedy termination, and whose banks we traversed
under constant apprehension? In any other country I should have followed
such a water course, in hopes of its ultimately leading to some reservoir;
but here I could encourage no such favourable anticipation.
The only new object that struck our sight was a remarkable and distant
hill of conical shape, bearing by compass S. 10 E. To the southward and
westward, in the direction of D'Urban's Group, a dense and apparently low
brush extended; but to the N. and N.W., there was a regular alternation of
wood and plain. I left Mr. Hume upon the hill, that he might the more
readily notice any smoke made by the natives; and returned myself to the
camp about one o'clock, to move the party to the swamp. Mr. Hume's
perseverance was of little avail. The region he had been overlooking was,
to all appearance, uninhabited, nor did a single fire indicate that there
was even a solitary wanderer upon its surface.
EXCURSION TO D'URBAN'S GROUP.
Our situation, at this time, was extremely embarrassing, and the only
circumstance on which we had to congratulate ourselves was, the improved
condition of our men; for several of the cattle and horses were in a sad
plight. The weather had been so extremely oppressive, that we had found it
impossible to keep them free from eruptions. I proposed to Mr. Hume,
therefore, to give them a few days' rest, and to make an excursion, with
such of them as were serviceable, to D'Urban's Group. We were both of us
unwilling to return to the creek, but we foresaw that a blind reliance
upon fortune, in our next movements, might involve us in inextricable
On the other hand, there was a very great risk in delay. It was more than
probable, from the continued drought, that our retreat would be cut off
from the want of water, or that we should only be enabled to effect our
retreat with loss of most of the animals. The hope, however, of our
intersecting some stream, or of falling upon a better country, prevailed
over other considerations; and the excursion was, consequently, determined
DISTRESS FROM WANT OF WATER.
We left the camp on the 25th, accompanied by Hopkinson and the tinker;
and, almost immediately after, entered an acacia scrub of the most sterile
description, and one, through which it would have been impossible to have
found a passage for the boat carriage. The soil was almost a pure sand,
and the lower branches of the trees were decayed so generally as to give
the whole an indescribable appearance of desolation. About mid-day, we
crossed a light sandy plain, on which there were some dirty puddles of
water. They were so shallow as to leave the backs of the frogs in them
exposed, and they had, in consequence, been destroyed by solar heat, and
were in a state of putrefaction. Our horses refused to drink, but it was
evident that some natives must have partaken of this sickening beverage
only a few hours before our arrival. Indeed, it was clear that a wandering
family must have slept near this spot, as we observed a fresh made gunneah
(or native hut), and their foot-prints were so fresh along the line we
were pursuing, that we momentarily expected to have overtaken them. It was
late in the evening when we got out of this brush into better and more
open ground, where, in ordinary seasons we should, no doubt, have found
abundance of water. But we now searched in vain for it, and were contented
to be enabled to give our wearied animals better food than they had tasted
for many days, the forest grass, though in tufts, being abundant.
We brought up for the night at the edge of a scrub, having travelled from
thirty-two to thirty-five miles, judging the distance from the mountains
still to be about twelve.
BEARINGS FROM OXLEY'S TABLE LAND.
In the morning we started at an early hour, and immediately entered the
brush, beneath which we had slept; pursuing a westerly course through it.
After a short ride, we found ourselves upon a plain, that was crowded with
flocks of cockatoos. Here we got a supply of water, such as it was--so
mixed with slime as to hang in strings between the fingers; and, after a
hasty breakfast, we proceeded on our journey, mostly through a barren
sandy scrub that was a perfect burrow from the number of wombats in it, to
within a mile of the hill group, where the country appeared like one
continuous meadow to the very base of them. I never saw anything like the
luxuriance of the grass on this tract of country, waving as it did higher
than our horses' middles as we rode through it. We ascended the S.W. face
of the mountain to an elevation of at least 800 feet above the level of
the plain, and had some difficulty in scaling the masses of rock that
opposed themselves to our progress. But on gaining the summit, we were
amply repaid for our trouble. The view extended far and wide, but we were
again disappointed in the main object that had induced us to undertake the
journey. I took the following bearings by compass. Oxley's Table Land bore
N. 40 E. distant forty-five miles; small and distant hill due E.; conical
peak seen from Oxley's Table Land S. 60 E., very distant; long ridge of
high land, S.E., distant thirty-five miles; high land, S. 30 E., distant
thirty miles; long range, S. 25 W.
To the westward, as a medium point. the horizon was unbroken, and the eye
wandered over an apparently endless succession of wood and plain. A
brighter green than usual marked the course of the mountain torrents in
several places, but there was no glittering light among the trees, no
smoke to betray a water hole, or to tell that a single inhabitant was
traversing the extensive region we were overlooking. We were obliged to
return to the plain on which we had breakfasted, and to sleep upon it.
D'Urban's Group is of compact sandstone formation. Its extreme length is
from E.S.E. to W.N.W., and cannot be more than from seven to nine miles,
whilst its breadth is from two to four. The central space forms a large
basin, in which there are stunted pines and eucalyptus scrub, amid huge
fragments of rocks. It rises like an island from the midst of the ocean,
and as I looked upon it from the plains below, I could without any great
stretch of the imagination, picture to myself that it really was such.
Bold and precipitous, it only wanted the sea to lave its base; and I
cannot but think that such must at no very remote period have been the
case, and that the immense flat we had been traversing, is of
comparatively recent formation.
We reached the camp on the 28th of the month, by nearly the same route;
and were happy to find that, after the few days' rest they had enjoyed,
there was a considerable improvement in the animals.
Our experience of the nature of the country to the southward, and the
westward, was such as to deter us from risking anything, by taking such a
direction as was most agreeable to our views. Nothing remained to us but
to follow the creek, or to retreat; and as we could only be induced to
adopt the last measure when every other expedient should have failed, we
determined on pursuing our original plan, of tracing New Year's Creek as
far as practicable.
DESCRIPTION OF OXLEY'S TABLE LAND.
Oxley's Table Land is situated in lat. 29 degrees 57 minutes 30 seconds,
and in E. long. 145 degrees 43 minutes 30 seconds, the mean variation
being 6.32 easterly. It consists of two hills that appear to have been
rent asunder by some convulsion of nature, since the passage between them
is narrow and their inner faces are equally perpendicular. The hill which
I have named after the late Surveyor-general, is steep on all sides; but
the other gradually declines from the south, and at length loses itself in
a large plain that extends to the north. It is from four to five miles in
length, and is picturesque in appearance, and lightly wooded. A few
cypresses were growing on Oxley's Table Land; but it had, otherwise, very
little timber upon its summit. Both hills are of sandstone formation, and
there are some hollows upon the last that deserve particular notice. They
have the appearance of having been formed by eddies of water, being deeper
in the centre than at any other part, and contain fragments and slabs of
sandstone of various size and breadth, without a particle of soil or of
sand between them. It is to be observed that the edges of these slabs,
which were perfect parallelograms, were unbroken, and that they were as
clean as if they had only just been turned out of the hand of the mason.
We counted thirteen of these hollows in one spot about twenty-five feet in
diameter, but they are without doubt of periodical formation, since a
single hollow was observed lower than the summit of the hill upon its
south extremity, that had evidently long been exposed to the action of the
atmosphere, and had a general coating of moss over it.
CONTINUE THE JOURNEY; DOWN NEW YEAR'S CREEK.
We left Oxley's Table Land on the morning of the 31st of January, pursuing
a northern course through the brush and across a large plain, moving
parallel to the smaller hill, and keeping it upon our left. The soil upon
this plain differed in character from that on the plains to the eastward,
and was much freer from sand. We stopped to dine at a spot, whence Oxley's
Table Land bore by compass, S. by W., distant about twelve miles.
Continuing our journey, at 2 p.m. we cleared the plain, and entered a
tract covered with the polygonum junceum, on a soil evidently the deposit
of floods. Box-trees were thinly scattered over it, and among the
polygonum, the crested pigeons were numerous. These general appearances,
together with a dip of country to the N.N.W., made us conclude that we
were approaching the creek, and we accordingly intersected it on a N.N.E.
course, at about three miles' distance from where we had dined. It had,
however, undergone so complete a change, and had increased so much in size
and in the height of its banks, that we were at a loss to recognise it.
Still, with all these favourable symptoms, there was not a drop of water
in it. But small shells lay in heaps in its bed, or were abundantly
scattered over it; and we remarked that they differed from those on the
plains of the Macquarie. A circumstance that surprised us much, was the
re-appearance of the flooded-gum upon its banks, and that too of a large
size. We had not seen any to the westward of the marshes, and we were,
consequently, led to indulge in more sanguine expectation as to our
ultimate success than we had ever ventured to do before.
The party crossed to the right bank of the creek, and then moved in a
westerly direction along it in search of water. A brush extended to our
right, and some broken stony ground, rather elevated, was visible, to
which Mr. Hume rode; nor did he join me again until after I had halted the
party for the night.
DISTRESSED FOR WATER.
My search for water had been unsuccessful, and the sun had set, when I
came upon a broad part of the creek that appeared very favourable for an
encampment, as it was encompassed by high banks, and would afford the men
a greater facility of watching the cattle, that I knew would stray away if
My anxiety for them led me to wander down the bed of the creek, when, to
my joy, I found a pond of water within a hundred yards of the tents. It is
impossible for me to describe the relief I felt at this success, or the
gladness it spread among the men. Mr. Hume joined me at dusk, and informed
me that he had made a circuit, and had struck upon the creek about three
miles below us but that, in tracing it up, he had not found a drop of
water until he came to the pond near which we had so providentially
encamped. On the following morning, we held a westerly course over an open
country for about eight miles and a half. The prevailing timber appeared
to he a species of eucalypti, with rough bark, of small size, and
evidently languishing from the want of moisture. The soil over which we
travelled was far from bad, but there was a total absence of water upon
it. At 6 p.m. Oxley's Table Land was distant from us about fifteen miles,
bearing S. 20 E. by compass.
We had not touched upon the creek from the time we left it in the morning,
having wandered from it in a northerly direction, along a native path that
we intersected, and that seemed to have been recently trodden, since
footsteps were fresh upon it. At sunset, we crossed a broad dry creek that
puzzled us extremely, and were shortly afterwards obliged to stop for the
night upon a plain beyond it. We had, during the afternoon, bent down to
the S.W. in hopes that we should again have struck upon New Year's Creek;
and, under an impression that we could not be far from it, Mr. Hume and I
walked across the plain, to ascertain if it was sufficiently near to be of
any service to us. We came upon a creek, but could not decide whether it
was the one for which we had been searching, or another.
Its bed was so perfectly even that it was impossible to say to what point
it flowed, more especially as all remains of debris had mouldered away. It
was, however, extremely broad, and evidently, at times, held a furious
torrent. In the centre of it, at one of the angles, we discovered a pole
erected, and at first thought, from the manner in which it was propped up,
that some unfortunate European must have placed it there as a mark to tell
of his wanderings, but we afterwards concluded that it might be some
superstitious rite of the natives, in consequence of the untowardness of
the season, as it seemed almost inconceivable that an European could have
wandered to such a distance from the located districts in safety.
REACH A LARGE RIVER.
The creek had flooded-gum growing upon its banks, and, on places
apparently subject to flood, a number of tall straight saplings were
observed by us. We returned to the camp, after a vain search for water,
and were really at a loss what direction next to pursue. The men kept the
cattle pretty well together, and, as we were not delayed by any
preparations for breakfast, they were saddled and loaded at an early hour.
The circumstance of there having been natives in the neighbourhood, of
whom we had seen so few traces of late, assured me that water was at hand,
but in what direction it was impossible to guess. As the path we had
observed was leading northerly, we took up that course, and had not
proceeded more than a mile upon it, when we suddenly found ourselves on
the banks of a noble river. Such it might in truth be called, where water
was scarcely to be found. The party drew up upon a bank that was from
forty to forty-five feet above the level of the stream. The channel of the
river was front seventy to eighty yards broad, and enclosed an unbroken
sheet of water, evidently very deep, and literally covered with pelicans
and other wild fowl. Our surprise and delight may better be imagined than
described. Our difficulties seemed to be at an end, for here was a river
that promised to reward all our exertions, and which appeared every moment
to increase in importance to our imagination. Coming from the N.E.,and
flowing to the S.W., it had a capacity of channel that proved that we were
as far from its source as from its termination. The paths of the natives
on either side of it were like well trodden roads; and the trees that
overhung it were of beautiful and gigantic growth.
DISAPPOINTMENT ON FINDING THE RIVER SALT.
Its banks were too precipitous to allow of our watering the cattle, but
the men eagerly descended to quench their thirst, which a powerful sun had
contributed to increase; nor shall I ever forget the cry of amazement that
followed their doing so, or the looks of terror and disappointment with
which they called out to inform me that the water was so salt as to be
unfit to drink! This was, indeed, too true: on tasting it, I found it
extremely nauseous, and strongly impregnated with salt, being apparently
a mixture of sea and fresh water. Whence this arose, whether from local
causes, or from a communication with some inland sea, I knew not, but the
discovery was certainly a blow for which I was not prepared. Our hopes
were annihilated at the moment of their apparent realization. The cup of
joy was dashed out of our hands before we had time to raise it to our
lips. Notwithstanding this disappointment, we proceeded down the river,
and halted at about five miles, being influenced by the goodness of the
feed to provide for the cattle as well as circumstances would permit. They
would not drink of the river water, but stood covered in it for many
hours, having their noses alone exposed above the stream. Their condition
gave me great uneasiness. It was evident they could not long hold out
under their excessive thirst, and unless we should procure some fresh
water, it would impossible for us to continue our journey. On a closer
examination, the river appeared to me much below its ordinary level, and
its current was scarcely perceptible. We placed sticks to ascertain if
there was a rise or fall of tide, but could arrive at no satisfactory
conclusion, although there was undoubtedly a current in it. Yet, as I
stood upon its banks at sunset, when not a breath of air existed to break
the stillness of the waters below me, and saw their surface kept in
constant agitation by the leaping of fish, I doubted whether the river
could supply itself so abundantly, and the rather imagined, that it owed
such abundance, which the pelicans seemed to indicate was constant, to
some mediterranean sea or other. Where, however, were the human
inhabitants of this distant and singular region? The signs of a numerous
population were around us, but we had not seen even a solitary wanderer.
The water of the river was not, by any means, so salt as that of the
ocean, but its taste was precisely similar. Could it be that its unnatural
state had driven its inhabitants from its banks?
One would have imagined that our perplexities would have been sufficient
for one day, but ere night closed, they increased upon us, although our
anxiety, with regard to the cattle, was happily removed. Mr. Hume with his
usual perseverance, walked out when the camp was formed; and, at a little
distance from it, ascended a ridge of pure sand, crowned with cypresses.
From this, he descended to the westward, and, at length, struck upon the
river, where a reef of rocks creased its channel, and formed a dry passage
from one side to the other; but the bend, which the river must have taken,
appeared to him so singular, that he doubted whether it was the same
beside which we had been travelling during the day. Curiosity led him to
cross it, when he found a small pond of fresh water on a tongue of land,
and, immediately afterwards, returned to acquaint me with the welcome
tidings. It was too late to move, but we had, at least, the prospect of a
comfortable breakfast in the morning.
JUNCTION OF NEW YEAR'S CREEK.
In consequence of the doubts that hung upon Mr. Hume's mind, as to the
course of the river, we arranged that the animals should precede us to the
fresh water; and that we should keep close in upon the stream, to
ascertain that point. After traversing a deep bight, we arrived nearly as
soon as the party, at the appointed rendezvous. The rocks composing the
channel of the river at the crossing place, were of indurated clay. In the
course of an hour, the animals appearing quite refreshed, we proceeded on
our journey, and at about four miles crossed New Year's Creek, at its
junction with the salt river. We passed several parts of the main channel
that were perfectly dry, and were altogether at a loss to account for the
current we undoubtedly had observed in the river when we first came upon
it. At midday D'Urban's Group bore S. 65 E. distant about 32 miles. We
made a little westing in the afternoon. The river continued to maintain
its character and appearance, its lofty banks, and its long still reaches:
while, however, the blue-gum trees upon its banks were of magnificent
size, the soil had but little vegetation upon it, although an alluvial
We passed over vast spaces covered with the polygonum junceum, that bore
all the appearance of the flooded tracks in the neighbourhood of the
marshes, and on which the travelling was equally distressing to the
animals. Indeed, it had been sufficiently evident to us that the waters of
this river were not always confined to its channel, capacious as it was,
but that they inundated a belt of barren land, that varied in width from a
quarter of a mile to a mile, when they were checked by an outer embankment
that prevented them from spreading generally over the country, and upon
the neighbouring plains. At our halting place, the cattle drank sparingly
of the water, but it acted as a violent purgative both on them and the men
who partook of it.
On the 5th, the river led us to the southward and westward. Early in the
day, we passed a group of seventy huts, capable of holding from twelve to
fifteen men each. They appeared to be permanent habitations, and all of
them fronted the same point of the compass. In searching amongst them we
observed two beautifully made nets, of about ninety yards in length. The
one had much larger meshes than the other, and was, most probably,
intended to take kangaroos; but the other was evidently a fishing net.
In one hut, the floor of which was swept with particular care, a number of
white balls, as of pulverised shells or lime, had been deposited--the
use of which we could not divine. A trench was formed round the hut to
prevent the rain from running under it, and the whole was arranged with
more than ordinary attention.
TERROR OF THE NATIVES.
We had not proceeded very far when we came suddenly upon the tribe to
which this village, as it might be called, belonged.
In breaking through some brush to an open space that was bounded on one
side by the river, we observed three or four natives, seated on a bank at
a considerable distance from us; and directly in the line on which we were
moving. The nature of the ground so completely favoured our approach, that
they did not become aware of it until we were within a few yards of them,
and had ascended a little ridge, which, as we afterwards discovered, ended
in an abrupt precipice upon the river, not more than thirty yards to our
right. The crack of the drayman's whip was the first thing that aroused
their attention. They gazed upon us for a moment, and then started up and
assumed an attitude of horror and amazement; their terror apparently
increasing upon them. We stood perfectly immovable, until at length they
gave a fearful yell, and darted out of sight.
THEY FIRE THE BUSH.
Their cry brought about a dozen more natives from the river, whom we had
not before observed, but who now ran after their comrades with surprising
activity, and without once venturing to look behind them. As our position
was a good one, we determined to remain upon it, until we should ascertain
the number and disposition of the natives. We had not been long
stationary, when we heard a crackling noise in the distance, and it soon
became evident that the bush had been fired. It was, however, impossible
that we could receive any injury on the narrow ridge upon which we stood,
so that we waited very patiently to see the end of this affair.
REMARKS ON THE NATIVES; DISEASE AMONG THEM.
In a short time the fire approached pretty near to us, and dense columns
of smoke rose into the air over our heads. One of the natives, who had
been on the bank, now came out of the bush, exactly from the spot into
which he had retreated. He advanced a few paces towards us, and bending
his body so that his hands rested on his knees, he fixed his gaze upon us
for some time; but, seeing that we remained immovable, he began to throw
himself into the most extravagant attitudes, shaking his foot from time to
time. When he found that all his violence had no effect, he turned his
rear to us in a most laughable manner, and absolutely groaned in spirit
when he found that this last insult failed of success.
He stood perplexed and not knowing what next to do, which gave Mr. Hume an
opportunity to call out to him, and with considerable address he at length
got the savage to approach close up to him; Mr. Hume himself having
advanced a short distance from the animals in the first instance. As soon
as I thought the savage had sufficiently recovered from his alarm, I went
up to him with a tomahawk, the use of which he immediately guessed. We now
observed that the natives who had fled from the river, had been employed
in setting a net. They had placed it in a semicircle, with either end to
the shore, and rude pieces of wood were attached to it to keep the upper
part perpendicular. It was in fact a sein, only that the materials, with
the exception of the net-work, were simpler and rougher than cork or
lead--for which last, we afterwards discovered stones had been
We had on this occasion a remarkable instance of the docility of the
natives of the interior, or of the power they have of subduing their
apprehensions; manifesting the opposite extremes of fear and confidence.
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