Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

Chapter 2.3. From 10th September to 30th September, 1873.

Leave for Mount Olga. Change of scene. Desert oak-trees. The Mann range. Fraser's Wells. Mount Olga's foot. Gosse's expedition. Marvellous mountain. Running water. Black and gold butterflies. Rocky bath. Ayers' Rock. Appearance of Mount Olga. Irritans camp. Sugar-loaf Hill. Collect plants. Peaches. A patch of better country. A new creek and glen. Heat and cold. A pellucid pond. Zoe's Glen. Christy Bagot's Creek. Stewed ducks. A lake. Hector's Springs and Pass. Lake Wilson. Stevenson's Creek. Milk thistles. Beautiful amphitheatre. A carpet of verdure. Green swamp. Smell of camels. How I found Livingstone. Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit. Cotton and salt bush flats. The Champ de Mars. Sheets of water. Peculiar tree. Pleasing scene. Harriet's Springs. Water in grass. Ants and burrs. Mount Aloysius. Across the border. The Bell Rock.

We left this pretty glen with its purling stream and reedy bed, and entered very shortly upon an entirely different country, covered with porcupine grass. We went north-west to some ridges at seventeen miles, where there was excellent vegetation, but no water. I noticed to-day for the first time upon this expedition some of the desert oak trees (Casuarina Decaisneana). Nine miles farther we reached a round hill, from which Mount Olga bore north. We were still a considerable distance away, and as I did not know of any water existing at Mount Olga, I was anxious to find some, for the horses had none where we encamped last night. From this hill I could also see that the Musgrave chain still ran on to the west; though broken and parted in masses, it rose again into high mounts and points. This continuation is called the Mann Range. Near the foot of the round hill I saw a small flat piece of rock, barely perceptible among the grass; on it was an old native fireplace and a few dead sticks. On inspection there proved to be two fine little holes or basins in the solid rock, with ample water for all my horses. Scrub and triodia existed in the neighbourhood, and the feed was very poor. These were called Fraser's Wells. Mount Olga was still fifty miles away. We now pushed on for it over some stony and some scrubby country, and had to camp without water and with wretched feed for the horses. Casuarina trees were often passed. We generally managed to get away early from a bad camp, and by the middle of the next day we arrived at the foot of Mount Olga. Here I perceived the marks of a wagon and horses, and camel tracks; these I knew at once to be those of Gosse's expedition. Gosse had come down south through the regions, and to the watering places which I discovered in my former journey. He had evidently gone south to the Mann range, and I expected soon to overtake him. I had now travelled four hundred miles to reach this mount, which, when I first saw it, was only seventy-five or eighty miles distant.

The appearance of this mountain is marvellous in the extreme, and baffles an accurate description. I shall refer to it again, and may remark here that it is formed of several vast and solid, huge, and rounded blocks of bare red conglomerate stones, being composed of untold masses of rounded stones of all kinds and sizes, mixed like plums in a pudding, and set in vast and rounded shapes upon the ground. Water was running from the base, down a stony channel, filling several rocky basins. The water disappeared in the sandy bed of the creek, where the solid rock ended. We saw several quandongs, or native peach-trees, and some native poplars on our march to-day. I made an attempt to climb a portion of this singular mound, but the sides were too perpendicular; I could only get up about 800 or 900 feet, on the front or lesser mound; but without kites and ropes, or projectiles, or wings, or balloons, the main summit is unscaleable. The quandong fruit here was splendid — we dried a quantity in the sun. Some very beautiful black and gold, butterflies, with very large wings, were seen here and collected. The thermometer to-day was 95° in the shade. We enjoyed a most luxurious bath in the rocky basins. We moved the camp to softer ground, where there was a well-grassed flat a mile and a half away. To the east was a high and solitary mound, mentioned in my first journal as ranges to the east of Mount Olga, and apparently lying north and south; this is called Ayers' Rock; I shall have to speak of it farther on. To the west-south-west were some pointed ridges, with the long extent of the Mann Ranges lying east and west, far beyond them to the south.

The appearance of Mount Olga from this camp is truly wonderful; it displayed to our astonished eyes rounded minarets, giant cupolas, and monstrous domes. There they have stood as huge memorials of the ancient times of earth, for ages, countless eons of ages, since its creation first had birth. The rocks are smoothed with the attrition of the alchemy of years. Time, the old, the dim magician, has ineffectually laboured here, although with all the powers of ocean at his command; Mount Olga has remained as it was born; doubtless by the agency of submarine commotion of former days, beyond even the epoch of far-back history's phantom dream. From this encampment I can only liken Mount Olga to several enormous rotund or rather elliptical shapes of rouge mange, which had been placed beside one another by some extraordinary freak or convulsion of Nature. I found two other running brooks, one on the west and one on the north side. My first encampment was on the south. The position of this extraordinary feature is in latitude 25° 20´ and longitude 130° 57´.

Leaving the mountain, we next traversed a region of sandy soil, rising into sandhills, with patches of level ground between. There were casuarinas and triodia in profusion — two different kinds of vegetation which appear to thoroughly enjoy one another's company. We went to the hills south south-westerly, and had a waterless camp in the porcupine, triodia, spinifex, Festuca irritans, and everything-else-abominable, grass; 95° in shade. At about thirty-two miles from Mount Olga we came to the foot of the hills, and I found a small supply of water by digging; but at daylight next morning there was not sufficient for half the horses, so I rode away to look for more; this I found in a channel coming from a sugar-loaf or high-peaked hill. It was a terribly rough and rocky place, and it was too late to get the animals up to the ledges where the water was, and they had to wait till next day.

From here I decided to steer for a notch in the Mann Range, nearly south-west. The country consisted chiefly of sandhills, with casuarina and flats with triodia. We could get no water by night. I collected a great quantity of various plants and flowers along all the way I had come in fact, but just about Mount Olga I fancied I had discovered several new species. To-day we passed through some mallee, and gathered quandongs or native peach, which, with sugar, makes excellent jam; we also saw currajongs and native poplars. We now turned to some ridges a few miles nearer than the main range, and dug a tank, for the horses badly wanted water. A very small quantity drained in, and the animals had to go a second night unwatered. It was now the 22nd of September, and I had hoped to have some rain at the equinox, but none had yet fallen. The last two days have been very warm and oppressive. The country round these ridges was very good, and plenty of the little purple vetch grew here. The tank in the morning was quite full; it however watered only seventeen horses, but by twelve o'clock all were satisfied, and we left the tank for the benefit of those whom it might concern.


Zoe's Glen.

We were steering for an enticing-looking glen between two high hills about south-south-west. We passed over sandhills, through scrubs, and eventually on to open ground. At two or three miles from the new range we crossed a kind of dry swamp or water flat, being the end of a gum creek. A creek was seen to issue from the glen as we approached, and at twelve miles from our last camp we came upon running water in the three channels which existed. The day was warm, 94°. The water was slightly brackish. Heat and cold are evidently relative perceptions, for this morning, although the thermometer stood at 58°, I felt the atmosphere exceedingly cold. We took a walk up the glen whence the creek flows, and on to some hills which environ it. The water was rushing rapidly down the glen; we found several fine rock-basins — one in particular was nine or ten feet deep, the pellucid element descending into it from a small cascade of the rocks above; this was the largest sheet of water per se I had yet discovered upon this expedition. It formed a most picturesque and delightful bath, and as we plunged into its transparent depths we revelled, as it were, in an almost newly discovered element. I called this charming spot Zoe's Glen. In our wanderings up the glen we had found books in the running brooks, and sermons in stones. The latitude of this pretty little retreat was 25° 59´. I rode a mile or two to the east to inspect another creek; its bed was larger than ours, and water was running down its channel. I called it Christy Bagot's Creek. I flushed up a lot of ducks, but had no gun. On my return Gibson and Jimmy took the guns, and walked over on a shooting excursion; only three ducks were shot; of these we made an excellent stew. A strong gale of warm wind blew from the south all night. Leaving Zoe's Glen, we travelled along the foot of the range to the south of us; at six or seven miles I observed a kind of valley dividing this range running south, and turned down into it. It was at first scrubby, then opened out. At four miles Mr. Tietkens and I mounted a rocky rise, and he, being ahead, first saw and informed me that there was a lake below us, two or three miles away. I was very much gratified to see it, and we immediately proceeded towards it. The valley or pass had now become somewhat choked with low pine-clad stony hills, and we next came upon a running creek with some fine little sheets of water; it meandered round the piny hills and exhausted itself upon the bosom of the lake. I called these the Hector Springs and Hector Pass after Hector Wilson*. On arrival at the lake I found its waters were slightly brackish; there was no timber on its shores; it lay close under the foot of the mountains, having their rocky slopes for its northern bank. The opposite shore was sandy; numerous ducks and other water-fowl were floating on its breast. Several springs from the ranges ran into its northern shore, and on its eastern side a large creek ran in, though its timber did not grow all the way. The water was now eight or nine miles round; it was of an oblong form, whose greatest length is east and west. When quite full this basin must be at least twenty miles in circumference; I named this fine sheet of water Lake Wilson*. The position of this lake I made out to be in longitude 129° 52´. A disagreeable warm wind blew all day.

The morning was oppressive, the warm south wind still blowing. We left Lake Wilson, named after Sir Samuel, who was the largest contributor to this expedition fund, in its wildness, its loneliness, and its beauty, at the foot of its native mountains, and went away to some low hills south-south-west, where in nine miles we got some water in a channel I called Stevenson's* Creek. In a few miles further we found ourselves in a kind of glen where water bubbled up from the ground below. The channel had become filled with reeds, and great quantities of enormous milk or sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceous). Some of the horses got bogged in this ravine, which caused considerable delay. Eventually it brought us out into a most beautiful amphitheatre, into which several creeks descended. This open space was covered with the richest carpet of verdure, and was a most enchanting spot. It was nearly three miles across; we went over to its southern side, and camped under the hills which fenced it there, and among them we obtained a supply of water. The grass and herbage here were magnificent. The only opening to this beautiful oval was some distance to the east; we therefore climbed over the hills to the south to get away, and came upon another fine valley running westward, with a continuous line of hills running parallel to it on the north. We made a meandering course, in a south-westerly direction, for about fifteen miles, when the hills became low and isolated, and gave but a poor look out for water. Other hills in a more continuous line bore to the north of west, to which we went. In three miles after this we came to a valley with a green swamp in the middle; it was too boggy to allow horses to approach. A round hill in another valley was reached late, and here our pack-horses, being driven in a mob in front of us, put their noses to the ground and seemed to have smelt something unusual, which proved to be Mr. Gosse's dray track. Our horses were smelling the scent of his camels from afar. The dray track was now comparatively fresh, and I had motives for following it. It was so late we had to encamp without finding the water, which I was quite sure was not far from us, and we turned out our horses hoping they might discover it in the night.

I went to sleep that night dreaming how I had met Mr. Gosse in this wilderness, and produced a parody upon ‘How I found Livingstone.’ We travelled nearly thirty miles to-day upon all courses, the country passed over being principally very fine valleys, richly clothed with grass and almost every other kind of valuable herbage. Yesterday, the 28th of September, was rather a warm day; I speak by the card, for at ten o'clock at night Herr Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit had not condescended to fall below 82°. The horses found water in the night, and in the morning looked sleek and full. I intended now, as I said before, to follow Gosse's dray track, for I knew he could not be very far in advance.

We followed the track a mile, when it turned suddenly to the south-west, down a valley with a creek in it that lay in that direction. But as a more leading one ran also in a more westerly direction, I left the dray track almost at right angles, and proceeded along the more westerly line. The valley I now traversed became somewhat scrubby with mallee and triodia. In seven or eight miles we got into much better country, lightly timbered with mulga and splendidly grassed. Here also were some cotton and salt bush flats. To my English reader I may say that these shrubs, or plants, or bushes are the most valuable fodder plants for stock known in Australia; they are varieties of the Atriplex family of plants, and whenever I can record meeting them, I do it with the greatest satisfaction. At twelve miles the hills to our north receded, and there lay stretched out before us a most beautiful plain, level as a billiard table and green as an emerald. Viewing it from the top of a hill, I could not help thinking what a glorious spot this would make for the display of cavalry manoeuvres. In my mental eye I could see

“The rush of squadrons sweeping,

Like whirlwinds o'er the plain;”

and mentally hear

“The shouting of the slayers,

The screeching of the slain.”

I called this splendid circle the Champ de Mars; it is, I dare say, fifteen or sixteen miles round. The hills on the northern side were much higher than those near us, and appeared more inviting for water; so we rode across the circle to them. In a kind of gully between the hills, at four and a half miles, I found a rock-hole full of water in a triodia creek; it was seven or eight feet deep, and almost hidden amongst rocks and scrubs. The water drained into the hole from above. By the time my horses were all satisfied they had lowered it very considerably, and I did not think there would be a drink for them all in the morning; but when we took them up next day I found the rocky basin had been replenished during the night.

A valley led away from here, along the foot of the northern hills, almost west. At five miles we crossed the channel of a fine little creek, coming from thence; it had several sheets of water with rocky banks, and there were numerous ducks on the waters. The timber upon this creek was mostly blood-wood or red gum; the blood-wood has now almost entirely supplanted the other eucalypts. There was another tree of a very peculiar leaf which I have often met before, but only as a bush; here it had assumed the proportions of a tree. This was one of the desert acacias, but which of them I could not tell. Farther on were several bare red hills, festooned with cypress pines, which always give a most pleasing tone to any Australian view. These I called Harriet's Springs. The creek meandered away down the valley amongst pine-clad hills to the south-westward, and appeared to increase in size below where we crossed it.

I ascended a hill and saw that the two lines of hills encircling the Champ de Mars had now entirely separated, the space between becoming gradually broader.

A pointed hill at the far end of the southern line bore west, and we started away for it. We continued on this west course for fifteen or sixteen miles, having the southern hills very close to our line of march. Having travelled some twenty miles, I turned up a blind gully or water-channel in a small triodia valley, and found some water lying about amongst the grass. The herbage here was splendid. Ants and burrs were very annoying, however; we have been afflicted with both of these animal and vegetable annoyances upon many occasions all through these regions. There was a high, black-looking mountain with a conical summit, in the northern line of ranges, which bore north-westward from here. I named it Mount Aloysius, after the Christian name of Sir A.F. Weld, Governor of Western Australia. We had entered the territory of the Colony of Western Australia on the last day of September; the boundary between it and South Australia being the 129th meridian of east longitude. The latitude by stars of this camp was 26° 9´. Leaving it early, we continued upon the same line as yesterday, and towards the same hill, which we reached in five miles, and ascended. It was nearly the most westerly point of the line of hills we had been following. The summit of this hill I found to consist of great masses of rifted stone, which were either solid iron or stone coated thickly with it. The blocks rang with the sound of my iron-shod boots, while moving over them, with such a musical intonation and bell-like clang, that I called this the Bell Rock. Mount Aloysius bore north 9° west, distant about ten miles; here I saw it was quite an isolated range, as, at its eastern and western extremities, open spaces could be seen between it and any other hills.

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