Journal of an overland expedition in Australia,, by Ludwig Leichhardt

Chapter XII

Heaps of OysterShellsFalse Alarm of a Native in the CampTurner’s CreekWentworth’s CreekJournals Lost; Found AgainThe Van AlphenImportance of TeaChoice of Bullocks for an ExpeditionChoice of a DogThe CalvertThe Abel TasmanGlucking Bird AgainDiscover a Mode of Using the Fruit of the PandanusSeven Emu RiverCrocodileThe RobinsonShoal Of PorpoisesNative Method of Preparing the Fruit of the Pandanus and Cycas for FoodMr. Roper ConvalescentWear and Tear of ClothesSucceed in Dressing the Seeds of SterculiaThe MacarthurFriendly Parley with Circumcised NativesStore of Tea ExhaustedMedical Property of the Grevillea Discovered.

Sept. 2. — We travelled N.W. by W. and came, after passing some of the usual tea-tree scrub, to an undulating country, with scattered shrubs of the salt water tea-tree, which grew particularly on the sandy heads of salt water creeks. Salicornia was another sure indication of salt water; and, after about seven or eight miles, our course was intercepted by a broad salt-water creek. Its bed, however, was sandy, and the water shallow, which enabled us to cross it a little higher up, without difficulty. We turned again to the N.W. by W., steering for one of the numerous smokes of the natives’ fires which were visible in every direction. We soon came, however, to broad sands with deep impressions of the tracks of emus, wallabies, and natives; and to sandy depressions sloping towards narrow salt-water creeks densely fringed with Mangroves. A large river was no doubt before us. To get out of this difficult meshwork of salt-waters, I turned to the south-west, and continued in this direction until the sands, Mangrove creeks, and Salicornias, disappeared, and we were again fairly in the scrubs, which however we found more open, and frequently interspersed with bloodwood and Pandanus. I sent Charley and Brown in different directions to look for water, and a small pool with brackish ferruginous nasty water was found, which made a very miserable tea, and affected our bowels. In the Mangrove creeks we found Telescopium, Pleurotoma; and heaps of oyster-shells, for the first time on our journey. Arcas were frequent, but no Cythereas. The mussels (Unios) of the slightly brackish water were small, but plentiful.

It was on this stage that we first met with a leafless species of Bossiaea, from three to five feet high, with compressed stem, and branches of the habit of Bossiaea scolopendrium, with yellow blossoms, and smooth many-seeded pods little more than an inch long. This shrub was one of the principal components of all the scrubs we passed from this place to Limmen Bight, and was also found, though less frequently, towards the centre of Arnheim’s Land.

The day was exceedingly hot, though cloudy; the wind from the east: the night cool, without wind.

When Brown and Charley rejoined us, the former appeared so much alarmed and agitated, that I thought they had met some natives, and had received some injury, although they said they had not. My imagination was working on the possibility of an attack of the natives, and I consequently laid myself down without taking my boots and trowsers off, to be ready at a moment’s notice, and rose several times in the course of the night to see that the watches were strictly kept. In the morning watch, John Murphy roused me by saying that he saw a native: I felt certain now that an attack was about to be made upon us. I, therefore, immediately gave the alarm, and every one had his gun ready, when it was discovered that our own Brown was the man whom John had mistaken for a strange native. He had left his couch without being observed, and, when he returned, it was too dark to recognize him; he was, however, very near losing his life, or at least being shot at, for his wild yells “tis me! tis me!” which he uttered when he became aware of his dangerous position, were not understood, but only increased our belief that they were the war-cry of attacking natives.

The creek, on a water-hole of which we encamped in lat. 16 degrees 54 minutes 50 seconds, was doubtless one of the heads of the broad salt-water creek we crossed, and which I called “Turner’s Creek,” after Cowper Turner, Esq. of Sydney:

Sept. 3. — We travelled about nine miles west by north, through an open tea-tree forest skirting the heads of those scrubby creeks which went down to the salt water, the dark mangrove line of which we had seen yesterday. But we crossed four good sized dry creeks, lined with drooping tea-trees and white-gum trees. Their banks and flats were covered with groves of Pandanus, whose stately crowns were adorned with red-fruited cones: the seed-vessels contained in their stringy texture a rich mellow pear-like substance, which however was hot, and made our lips and tongues very sore. We encamped on some water-holes, with excellent water, in a fifth creek, which lower down contained some fine reaches of brackish water covered with wild geese (Anseranas melanoleuca, Gould.) and black ducks. As Charley was watching some geese, an emu walked up to him, which he shot; he succeeded besides in getting two geese, which were in most excellent condition, and weighed better than five pounds each.

A well beaten foot-path of the natives led up a broad salt-water creek, to the northward of the creek on which we were encamped, and which joined it lower down. Charley, when going after the horses, saw a camping place of the natives with spears and the usual utensils: but the inhabitants had either not yet returned from their hunting and fishing excursions, or had left it, frightened by the frequent discharge of our guns.

Sept. 4. — We travelled about eleven miles west by north. The first three miles and a half led us through scrub; we forded a salt-water creek about thirty yards broad, and then, for the next four miles, proceeded through a scrubby country, and came to a second salt-water creek as broad as the first, but containing only pools of water. The scrub now opened, and the last four miles lay through a fine box-flat, bounded by long hollows surrounded with drooping tea-trees and the white water-gum, the bright foliage of which formed a most agreeable contrast with the dull green of the scrubs and the box-trees. After crossing a small sandy creek, along which grew a few Sarcocephalus, we came to a large creek lined with drooping tea-trees and Sarcocephalus, and encamped on a fine pool of water, within its deep bed. I named this creek after W.C. Wentworth, Esq. M.C. who had kindly contributed to the outfit of my expedition.

At early dawn, a flight of wild geese filed in long line over our camp, the flapping of their wings was heavy, but short, and the note they emitted resembled that of the common goose, but was some-what shriller. In the box-flat we started a flock of emus, and Spring caught a fine male bird. It would have been highly amusing for a looker on to observe how remarkably eager we were to pluck the feathers from its rump, and cut the skin, to see how thick the fat was, and whether it was a rich yellow, or only flesh-coloured. We had, indeed, a most extraordinary desire for anything fat; and we soon found where to look for it. In the emu it accumulates all over the skin, but particularly on the rump, and between the shoulders, and round the sternal plate. To obtain the oil, we skinned those parts, and suspended them before a slow fire, and caught the oil in our frying pan; this was of a light yellowish colour, tasteless, and almost free from scent. Several times, when suffering from excessive fatigue, I rubbed it into the skin all over the body, and its slightly exciting properties proved very beneficial. It has always been considered by the white inhabitants of the bush, a good anti-rheumatic.

The sea breeze from the northward still continued during the day; the nights were clear and dewy, but ceased to be so cold.

I found a piece of granite and a fragment of fortification agate in the sandy bed of the creek.

Sept. 5. — We travelled about ten miles west by north, to lat. 16 degrees 48 minutes 22 seconds. Having passed a rather open forest of bloodwood, apple-gum, and leguminous Ironbark, with isolated patches of scrub, and some dry teat-ree swamps with heaps of calcined mussel-shells, we came to a thick stringy-bark forest, on a sandy soil, with a hard sandstone cropping out frequently. This opened into the flats of a sandy Pandanus creek, which we crossed; and, three miles farther, we came to another broad creek with salt water. Its bed was rocky, and we forded it easily. I followed one of its branches for several miles, and found, after passing its salt-water pools, a small pool of fresh water in its rocky sandy bed, near which I observed an old camping place of the natives. I was considerably in advance of my train, and the dog was with me. As I was examining the pool of water and the numerous tracks round it, an emu came walking along the shady bed of the creek; I immediately mounted my horse and pursued it with the dog, and caught it after a very short run; to prevent its wounding the dog, I dismounted to kill it, when my horse became frightened, broke loose, and ran away. I returned with the emu to the water, and when the train arrived, I sent Charley after the horse, whilst I walked about two miles further up the creek to find a better supply of water. Not succeeding, however, I returned and encamped at the small pool, which we enlarged with the spade, and obtained a sufficient supply of very good water. Charley returned with the horse, but my saddlebags, my journals and a calabash were lost. I was in great anxiety, and blamed myself severely for having committed such an act of imprudence. Charley went, however, a second time on foot, and succeeded in finding everything but the calabash, which was a great loss to our dog.

In the camping place of the natives, I found a large round stone of porphyry, upon which the natives were accustomed to break the seed-vessels of Pandanus. I could discover no indications of this rock in the creek, not even the smallest pebble; and I am consequently inclined to think that this stone was brought by the natives from a considerable distance to the south-west. But, from the broken pieces of granite of our last camp, it became evident that a rocky primitive country, like that of the upper Lynd, could not be very distant. Even the vegetation agreed well with that of the same locality; as the dwarf Grevillea, G. chrysodendrum, and the falcate Grevillea of the upper Lynd, were here again observed. The tea-trees along the banks of the creek, as far as the salt-water extended, were leafless and dead. This may be accounted for by a succession of dry years in which usual freshes have not taken place; and by the supposition that the drooping tea-tree cannot live on water entirely salt.

Sept. 6. — We travelled twelve miles north-west, through Pandanus and bloodwood forest, alternating with scrub, stringy-bark forest, and tea-tree thickets; and, in the latter part of the stage, through broad-leaved tea-tree forest. We encamped at a fine river, with a bed three hundred yards broad from bank to bank, but with a narrow channel of running water. This channel was fringed with the water Pandanus, which we first observed at Beames’s Brook; the sandy bed was covered with drooping tea-trees and Grevillea chrysodendrum. Charley shot a bustard, the stomach of which was filled with seeds of Grewia, with small yellow seeds, and some beetles. On this stage, we again passed some of those remarkable dry tea-tree swamps — surrounded with heaps of very large mussel shells — evidently showing that they had been a long time under water, though they were now overgrown with small tea-trees, perhaps five or six years old; and which proved, like the drooping tea-trees on the banks of the creek, that the last few years had been exceedingly dry. I supposed the river to be the Van Alphen of the Dutch navigators, as its latitude, where I crossed it, was about 16 degrees 41 minutes, and its longitude I calculated to be 137 degrees 48 minutes.

Sept. 7. — We travelled about nine miles N. N. W. to latitude 16 degrees 35 minutes; the first part of the stage was scrubby, the latter part undulating with a fine open stringy-bark forest. The trees were tall, but rarely more than a foot in diameter. Here we met with hard baked sandstone, of a whitish grey colour. About seven miles from our camp, we saw a low blue range to the westward; and, soon after, passed a sandy Pandanus creek, with scrubby broken banks: this was joined by a second, and both together entered a broad tea-tree creek, coming from the south-west, in which we found a fine pool of water covered with white and yellow Villarsias and yellow Utricularias.

The rose-coloured Sterculia, and a smooth broad-leaved Terminalia, were observed on the sandy flats of the creek; and a small fan-leaved palm (Livistona humilis, R. Br.), a small insignificant trunkless plant, growing between sandstone rocks, was here first observed. A taller species of this palm, as we subsequently found, formed large tracts of forest on the Cobourg Peninsula, and near the Alligator rivers.

As our tea bag was getting very low, and as I was afraid that we should have to go a long time without this most useful article, I thought it advisable to make a more saving arrangement. We had, consequently, a pot of good tea at luncheon, when we arrived at our camp tired and exhausted, and most in want of an exciting and refreshing beverage. The tea-leaves remaining in the pot, were saved and boiled up for supper, allowing a pint to each person. In the morning, we had our soup, and drank water ad libitum. Tea is unquestionably one of the most important provisions of such an expedition: sugar is of very little consequence, and I believe that one does even better without it. We have not felt the slightest inconvenience from the want of flour; and we were a long time without salt. The want of the latter, however, made us costive, and, when we began to use it again, almost every one of us had a slight attack of diarrhoea.

Our horses were still in excellent condition, and even improving; and our five bullocks also kept in good working order, although the oldest of them rather lagged behind. In choosing bullocks for such a journey, one should be particularly careful to choose young powerful beasts, about five or six years old, and not too heavy. All our old and heavy bullocks proved to be bad travellers; only one had borne the journey until now, and he was only preserved by great care and attention. During summer, the ground is so hot, and frequently so rotten, that even the feet of a dog sink deep. This heat, should there be a want of water during a long stage, and perhaps a run after game in addition, would inevitably kill a soft dog. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance to have a good traveller, with hard feet: a cross of the kangaroo dog with the bloodhound would be, perhaps, the best. He should be light, and satisfied with little food in case of scarcity; although the dried tripe of our bullocks gave ample and good food to one dog. It is necessary to carry water for them; and to a little calabash, which we obtained from the natives of the Isaacs, we have been frequently indebted for the life of Spring.

Sept. 8. — We travelled about ten miles north-west by west, to latitude 16 degrees (Unclear:)81 minutes. The first and last parts of the stage were scrubby, or covered with a dense underwood of several species of Acacia, Grevillea chrysodendrum and a species of Pultenaea with leafless compressed stem. The intervening part of our journey was through a stringy-bark forest, with sandy, and frequently rotten soil, on sandstone ridges or undulations. Some patches of stiffer soil were covered with box or with straggling apple-gum and bloodwood. In the scrub, I again observed Fusanus with pinnate leaves. Several good sized dry sandy creeks were surrounded with Pandanus. We saw a low range in form of a horse-shoe, to the westward; and a higher one beyond it in the distance. We encamped at a small river, which had just ceased running, but contained in its bed two chains of small deep ponds full of perches, and shaded with Pandanus and drooping tea-trees, which grew to a large size all over the bed between the two ponds. I named this river the “Calvert,” in acknowledgment of the good services of Mr. Calvert during our expedition, and which I feel much pleasure in recording. We saw two emus, and Brown killed one of them, with the assistance of the dog, which received a severe cut in the neck from the sharp claw of the bird.

The whole country round the gulf was well-grassed, particularly before we crossed the Nicholson; and on the plains and approaches to the rivers and creeks. The large water-holes were frequently surrounded with a dense turf of Fimbristylis (a small sedge), which our horses liked to feed upon. Some stiff grasses made their appearance when we approached the sea-coast, as well on the plains as in the forest. The well-known kangaroo grass (Anthisteria) forms still one of the principal components of the pasture. The scrubby country had a good supply of a tufty wind-grass; and, although the feed was dry during this part of the year, our horses and cattle did exceedingly well, as I have already mentioned. Both took an occasional bite of some Acacias, of Grevillea chrysodendrum, and of several other shrubs. Cattle driven over the country we have passed, by short stages, and during the proper season, would even fatten on the road.

When we approached the water-hole on which we were going to encamp, John observed a fine large Iguana in the water, which was so strikingly coloured that he thought it different from those we had previously seen.

Xyris, Philydrum, a species of Xerotes, and an aromatic spreading herb, grew in great abundance round the water. I found a great quantity of the latter in the stomach of the emu. A species of Crotolaria, two or three feet high, with simple woolly oblong or oblongo-lanceolate leaves, and with a beautiful green blossom of the form and size of that of Kennedya rubicunda, grew in the bed of the river. Great numbers of large bright yellow hornets, with some black marks across the abdomen, visited the water. Flies were exceedingly troublesome: but the mosquitoes annoyed us very rarely, and only where water was very abundant. The nights have been very dewy, but not cold. The wind in the morning from the south-east, veering round to the northward during the day.

Sept. 9. — We travelled north-west by north, and for several miles, through a scrubby stringy-bark forest, when we came to steep sandstone ridges, composed of a hard flaggy horizontally stratified rock. Higher ranges were seen to the W.N.W. and west; and I found myself fairly caught between rocky hills when I least expected them, but hoped to enter upon a country corresponding in its character with the low coast marked down in the map, in this latitude. I turned to the northward, and found a practicable path between the hills, and came, after crossing a small sandy creek to a fine salt-water river, as broad as any we had seen. High hills were at its left bank; and, as we followed it up in a direction S. 60 degrees W., the right became more broken, and the vegetation richer. A very conspicuous foot-path led us through heaps of cockle shells to a fishing station of the natives, where they seemed to have a permanent camp; the huts being erected in a substantial manner with poles, and thatched with grass and the leaves of Pandanus; there were extensive fire places containing heaps of pebbles; and an abundance of fish bones. The weir was, as usual, formed with dry sticks, across a shallow part of the river. A spring of fresh water was below the camp at the edge of high water. As the tide was high, and an abundant supply of fresh water was found in a creek which joined the river a few hundred yards from the fishery, we encamped on the creek, in lat. 16 degrees 28 minutes 57 seconds, lon. 137 degrees 23 minutes. I consider this river to be the “Abel Tasman” of the Dutch navigators: and that it is probably joined by the Calvert. Its flats were well-grassed, and very openly timbered with bloodwood, stringy-bark, leguminous Ironbark, then in blossom, and a large tree with white smooth bark, spreading branches, and pinnate leaves. The salt water Hibiscus (Paritium) and Acacia (Inga moniliformis), were also in blossom.

Charley, Brown, and John, went to spear some fish, but the tide was out, the water shallow, and the fish were gone. Charley saw here, for the first time, the Torres Straits pigeon (Carpophaga luctuosa, Gould.)

The little creek, at which we were encamped, had formed its channel through sandstone rock; and its narrow bed, containing a ferruginous water supplied by springs, was crowded with high reeds, and shaded with various trees of a dense green foliage. Frogs croaked, and crickets chirped, the whole night; and the call of goat-suckers, and the hooting of owls, were heard in every direction; large fish were splashing in the water; wallabies were bleating as they came down to the creek, and saw our horses; and mosquitoes by their loud humming prevented our sleeping. This noise of animal life during the night formed an agreeable contrast to the dead silence which we had observed at almost all our camps around the gulf, with the exception of the one occupied on the 1st September, and of that at the Marlow, where the flying-fox was the merry reveller of night.

Sept. 10. — We were again too late for low tide, to cross at the fishery of the natives, and consequently travelled about two miles and a half higher up, passing in our way three other fisheries; where we crossed the river, the bed was very wide, and covered with shrubs, shingle, and blocks of sandstone; but its rapid stream of fresh water was only about fifteen or twenty yards broad, and three feet deep. At the left side of the river, we saw four or five fine Cycas palms, from eight to ten feet high, and the stem from six to nine inches in diameter. High rocky sandstone ridges extended on the same side, in a direction parallel to the river, and at the distance of two or three miles. They were covered with scrub, open box, and stringy-bark forest; and the wallabi and kangaroo tracks going down to the river, were very numerous. The appearance of the Cypress pine, which formed groups within the stringy-bark forest, and particularly on the rises and sandy slopes, was of a most striking character. A new species of Grevillea, and also of Calythrix, were found in blossom. Beyond the ridges, the stringy-bark forest was obstructed by the leguminous shrub with broad stem (Bossiaea). Several Pandanus creeks went down to the north-east; and the second contained a little water. After travelling about twelve miles to the north-west by north, we encamped at a fine creek with large pools of water, in lat. 16 degrees 21 minutes. During the night, we heard the well-known note of what we called the “Glucking bird,” when we first met with it, in the Cypress pine country, at the early part of our expedition. Its re-appearance with the Cypress pine corroborated my supposition, that the bird lived on the seeds of that tree.

Sept. 11. — We travelled about twelve miles north by west, over a country in which scrub, stringy-bark forest, and Cypress pine thickets alternated. We passed some patches of broad-leaved tea-tree forest. The raspberry-jam tree became again more frequent. About a mile from the camp, we crossed a small creek with water; and at seven miles further, another, but it was dry; and, at the end of the stage we came to a fine sandy creek with large pools. Seeing that the natives had encamped here frequently, and some very lately, by the heaps of broken Pandanus fruit, I did not hesitate to pitch our tents; but, on examining the water, I was greatly disappointed in finding it so brackish that the horses and cattle would not drink it. I, therefore, started with Charley in search of better, and, in the upper part of the creek, we found some large water-holes just dried up: but, on digging, they yielded an ample supply of good water. On this little excursion, we were fortunate enough, by the aid of Spring, to kill two emus; but the poor dog again received some deep scratches.

The camps of the natives were, as usual, distinguished by heaps of shells of Cytherea, oysters, fresh-water mussels, and fish bones. The fresh-water mussel was small, and of a yellowish colour.

We had some few drops of rain at about half-past 11 o’clock, A. M,

Sept. 12. — The horses, though hobbled, had strayed so far in search of water, that we had to wait for them until 1 o’clock. We started, however, but, after travelling a short distance, finding the day far advanced, and our chance of finding water very doubtful, I determined to return to the water-hole which we had dug yesterday; about two miles and a half west by south. The flats of the creek were well-grassed; large drooping tea-trees with groves of Pandanus grew on the hollows near the creek, and tea-tree thickets farther off.

I frequently tasted the fine-looking fruit of the Pandanus, but was every time severely punished with sore lips and a blistered tongue; and the first time that I ate it, I was attacked by a violent diarrhoea. I could not make out how the natives neutralized the noxious properties of the fruit; which, from the large heaps in their camps, seemed to form no small portion of their food. The fruit appeared either to have been soaked, or roasted and broken, to obtain the kernels; for which purpose we invariably found large flat stones and pebbles to pound them with. I supposed that they washed out the sweet mealy matter contained between the stringy fibres, and that they drank the liquid, as they do with the honey; and that their large koolimans which we had occasionally seen, were used for the purpose. I, consequently, gathered some very ripe fruit, scraped the soft part with a knife, and washed it until all the sweet substance was out, and then boiled it; by which process it lost almost all its sharpness, had a very pleasant taste, and, taken in moderate quantities, did not affect the bowels. The fruit should be so ripe as to be ready to drop from the tree.

Sept. 13. — We travelled about ten miles N. 50 degrees W., through a succession of tea-tree and Cypress pine thickets of the worst description, interrupted by three creeks, the first dry, the second with pools of brackish water, and the third with chains of Nymphaea ponds within and parallel to its bed. We came at last to the steep banks of a salt-water creek densely covered with Cypress pine scrub, and followed it for several miles up to its head, when two kites betrayed to us a fine lagoon, surrounded with Polygonums and good pasture. The natives were either able to drink very brackish water, or they carried the necessary supply of fresh water to these Pandanus groves, at which they had evidently remained a long time to gather the fruit.

Sept. 14. — We travelled three or four miles north-west, through a tea-tree forest, when the country opened, and a broad salt-water river intercepted our course. It came from W.S.W., and went to E.N.E. We proceeded eight or ten miles along its banks before we came to fresh water. In its immediate neighbourhood, the country was beautifully grassed, and openly timbered with bloodwood, stringy-bark, the leguminous Ironbark, and the white-barked tree of the Abel Tasman. Over the short space of eight miles we saw at least one hundred emus, in flocks of three, five, ten, and even more, at a time: they had been attracted here by the young herbage. We killed seven of them, but they were not fat, and none seemed more than a year old. The extraordinary success induced me to call this river, the “Seven Emu River.”

By following a track of the natives, I found a fine well in the bed of the river, under the banks; the water was almost perfectly fresh; and that of the river was only slightly brackish. A fishing weir crossed the stream, where it was about twenty yards broad, and from two to three feet deep. We were occupied to a late hour of the night in cutting up our emus. I had intended to stop the next day, but, as our camp in the bed of the river was surrounded by a thick underwood; as the dew was very heavy, the water brackish, and the young feed dangerous for our cattle, which had fed so long on dry grass, I thought it prudent to continue my journey. The longitude of this river, according to my daily distances, was 137 degrees 5 minutes.

Sept. 15. — We travelled about fifteen miles N. 25 degrees W., passing for the first eight miles over a very fine available country, but without meeting with water, or even with a watercourse. Beyond that, however, the country became more undulating, and we crossed, for about four miles, a most wretched sandstone scrub. Here we saw some natives, but they avoided us. The scrub opened upon fine box flats, with numerous shallow watercourses; farther on, they were interrupted by scrubby or thickly timbered elevations, on which we met with some Cycas palms from thirty to fifty feet high, thick at the butt, and tapering gradually towards the crown. At one of the shallow creeks, which suddenly became rocky, and probably formed falls and rapids in the wet season, we struck upon a well beaten foot-path of the natives, which led us through Cypress pine thickets, and over open lawns to a creek, whose right bank was covered with Cycas groves of the most strikingly picturesque appearance; and here I observed that the Cycas, although it generally has a simple stem, frequently grew with two or three arms. The foot-path went up the creek: lower down, I found broad, deep, but dry water-holes; and, still lower, Salicornia indicated the approach to the salt water. The foot-path conducted us from one Zamia grove to another, which alternated with fine forest composed principally of white-gum, the fresh green foliage of which was extremely pleasing to the eye. I observed some large wells, ten or twelve feet deep, and eight or ten in diameter, which the natives had dug near the Zamia groves, but they were without the slightest indication of moisture. I continued to follow the path for five miles, until I came to a broad-leaved tea-tree forest. The sun was then low, and my companions far behind: I, therefore, returned to ascertain the cause of their delay; and found that our old bullock had refused to carry his pack, and it had been put on a horse; but that, even then, the poor beast was scarcely able to crawl before us. His weakness had been occasioned by a diarrhoea brought on by the green feed and the brackish water at Seven Emu River; and I congratulated myself on not having remained there longer, as probably all my bullocks would have been equally affected. We encamped without water, hobbled our horses, and watched the bullocks, which were all very tired and little inclined to feed during the greater part of the night.

Our emu meat became tainted, in consequence of the heat and the long stage.

Sept. 16. — We continued our course N. 25 degrees W. and, at the end of two miles, came to another foot-path of the natives, which I requested Charley to follow. We passed through tea-tree forest, and a succession of Cycas groves, and came out into plains, and to the heads of sandy creeks with tea-tree shrubs and Salicornia. We were just turning to the westward, expecting to find a large salt-water river before us, when we heard Charley’s gun, the signal of his having found water. He soon after joined us, and guided us on the foot-path, three miles south-west, to a large well, near a much frequented camping place of the natives, under the banks of a magnificent salt-water river. Its banks were covered with a close forest of Cycas palms. The well was formed by the natives, who had raised a wall of clay, by which they caught the fresh water which sparingly oozed out of a layer of clay very little above the mark of high water.

We unloaded our bullocks: but, having watered our horses, we found that the supply of the well was not even sufficient for them, and that it was filling very slowly. The poor bullocks had, therefore, to wait until the water could again collect. We had fairly to defend it against our horses, which eagerly pressed towards the water, or stood anxiously waiting on the steep slopes, like cats and dogs round a dog’s meat cart, now and then uttering a neigh of discontent. When Charley first discovered the well, he saw a crocodile leaning its long head over the clay wall, enjoying a drink of fresh water.

The river or creek at which we encamped, and which I called “Cycas Creek,” at two miles lower down, entered a still larger river coming from the westward, which I called the “Robinson,” in acknowledgment of the liberal support which I received from J. P. Robinson, Esq., in the outfit of my expedition. Charley saw a shoal of porpoises in it when he went down the river to fetch the horses. Wishing to ascertain how far the salt water extended, and whether any fresh water lagoons were near us, I took Charley, and followed a foot-path of the natives which led up Cycas Creek, and passed a succession of Cycas groves, of tea-tree forest with bloodwood and white-gum, and some Cypress pine thickets. After seven miles, the salt water ceased, and a ledge of rock separated it from a fine pool of slightly brackish water, on which some natives were encamped, but they left the place directly we made our appearance. I crossed, and found on the left side a fine rocky lagoon, above the level of the water in the creek. After paying a visit to the deserted camp, we returned to our companions, made our dinner on tainted emu meat, reloaded our bullocks and horses, and travelled by moonlight up to the lagoon. About three miles before we reached it, we were obliged to leave our old bullock, as he refused to walk any farther: but Mr. Calvert and Brown brought him next morning to the camp.

As we passed the Cycas groves, some of the dry fruit was found and tasted by several of my companions, upon whom it acted like a strong emetic, resembling in this particular the fruit of Zamia spiralis, (R. Br.) of New South Wales. The natives, at this season, seemed to live principally on the seeds of Pandanus spiralis, (R. Br.) and Cycas; but both evidently required much preparation to destroy their deleterious properties. At the deserted camp of the natives, which I visited yesterday, I saw half a cone of the Pandanus covered up in hot ashes, large vessels (koolimans) filled with water in which roasted seed-vessels were soaking; seed-vessels which had been soaked, were roasting on the coals, and large quantities of them broken on stones, and deprived of their seeds. This seems to show that, in preparing the fruit, when ripe, for use, it is first baked in hot ashes, then soaked in water to obtain the sweet substance contained between its fibres, after which it is put on the coals and roasted to render it brittle when it is broken to obtain the kernels.

I also observed that seeds of Cycas were cut into very thin slices, about the size of a shilling, and these were spread out carefully on the ground to dry, after which, (as I saw in another camp a few days later) it seemed that the dry slices are put for several days in water, and, after a good soaking, are closely tied up in tea-tree bark to undergo a peculiar process of fermentation.

The Cycas disappeared where the fresh water commenced; and it seemed to be confined to the sandy soil near the salt water.

Sept. 17. — I stopped at Cycas Creek, to allow our old bullock to recover, as it was easier for us to drive him than to carry his meat, heavily laden as our other bullocks were.

The emu meat became so tainted that it affected our bowels, and I had consequently to reserve it for the dog. As the nutritious qualities of our meat decreased, I had increased the daily allowance from five pounds to seven; allowing two pounds and a half for breakfast, the same quantity for luncheon, and two pounds for dinner. Mr. Roper had slowly recovered, but sufficiently to mount his horse without assistance.

We were sadly distressed for want of clothing. The few shirts which we had taken with us, became so worn and threadbare, that the slightest tension would tear them. To find materials for mending the body, we had to cut off the sleeves, and, when these were used, pieces were taken from the lower part of the shirt to mend the upper. Our trowsers became equally patched: and the want of soap prevented us from washing them clean. We had, however, saved our shoes so well, by wearing mocassins while travelling along the eastern coast, that every one was well provided, particularly after the death of Mr. Gilbert, whose stock of clothes I divided among my companions.

Sept. 18. — I went with Charley to reconnoitre the country between Cycas creek and the Robinson. A foot-path led us from one to the other, passing through a series of Cycas groves, box and tea-tree forest, and thickets of tea-tree and Cypress pine. The latter covered long tracts near the Robinson, and frequently attained a large size.

The river was about two hundred yards broad, with sleep banks intersected by deep gullies. Two tea-tree creeks, which entered it at the point where our examination stopped, contained fresh water in the upper part of their short courses. We crossed the river by a rocky bar, and, below it, was another, on which the natives had erected a rude wall of stone, for catching fish. The upper bar was not covered even by the tide; but, above it, the water although very bitter, was not salt. We found here the carcase of a crocodile; and the skull of another was found near our camp at Cycas Creek. After crossing the river, we followed down its left bank to the lower ford, in order to find some fresh water, and at last came to a small tea-tree gully with two pools of water, near which some natives were encamped; there were, however, only two very old men in the camp at the time, who, on seeing us, began to chaunt their incantations. We were too anxious to examine the water to stand upon ceremony, and, when they saw us approach, they retired across the river to their friends, who were probably occupied at no great distance in collecting the seeds of Pandanus and Cycas. In the camp, we observed Cycas seeds sliced and drying on the ground; and some Pandanus seeds soaking in large vessels; emu bones were lying in the ashes, and the feet of the emu were rolled up and concealed between the tea-tree bark of the hut. A small packet contained red ochre to colour their bodies, and larger packets contained soaked Cycas seeds, which seemed to be undergoing fermentation. They were of a mealy substance, and harmless; but had a musty taste and smell, resembling that of the common German cheese. There was also a very large stone tomahawk made of greenstone; and some fans of emu feathers.

In returning, we chased and shot an emu.

Sept. 19. — We moved our camp to the water-holes at the left bank of the Robinson, about six miles and a half west by north, from the head of the salt-water in Cycas Creek. The longitude of the Robinson is, according to my reckoning, 136 degrees 43 minutes. On our way we again met the natives, men, women, and children, who ran away screaming loudly. I visited their camp again, and found that they had been there to fetch the emu feet; but had left all the other things behind. I went with Brown to examine the country before us. The first three or four miles lay through an open well-grassed forest and over some small plains, on which we gave an unsuccessful chase to three emus. The Cycas disappeared as we receded from the river. We passed a small scrubby creek, and a long tract of stringy-bark forest, mixed with bloodwood and Pandanus, and patches of Cypress pine. Here we again observed the gum-tree with orange blossoms and large ribbed seed-vessels, which we found at the upper Lynd, and had called Melaleuca gum. Sterculia was frequent, and we collected a great quantity of its ripe seeds. We passed several dry swamps, surrounded with tea-tree thickets, and heaps of fresh water mussel shells. A rich iron-stone rock cropped out frequently; its surface had the appearance of having been netted.

In a tract of broad-leaved tea-tree forest, we came to a watercourse, which led us to a fine creek surrounded with Pandanus and drooping tea-trees, and containing a chain of deep water-holes in its bed. Its course was from west to east.

Sept. 20. — We removed our camp to the creek I had found last night, about nine miles north-west from the Robinson. On our way, we saw two flocks of emus, and Spring caught one of the birds. According to Charley, who is a native of Bathurst, the emus of this part of the country are much smaller than those of his country, which frequently yield from two to three gallons of oil; but very few of the gulf emus contained fat enough to fry their own liver; and their skin was as dry as that of the native dog. A similar difference has been observed in the bustard, which, at the gulf, rarely weighed more than three pounds and a half; whereas individuals of twenty and twenty-eight pounds weight have been shot to the southward.

I succeeded here in cooking the seeds of Sterculia, which had recently been gathered; first by separating them from their prickly husks, and roasting them slightly, and then pounding and boiling them for a short time. They produced not only a good beverage with an agreeable flavour, but ate well and appeared to be very nourishing. They contained a great quantity of oil.

Brown caught an Agama, of a light yellowish colour, about a foot long.

The nights had been generally cloudy, with the exception of the last, which was clear with heavy dew. The days were very hot before the setting in of the sea breeze, which now generally took place at half past eleven. But the refreshing breeze was little felt in the close stringy-bark forest, which, with the dust rising under our bullocks’ feet, rendered the heat almost suffocating.

Sept. 21. — Our journey to-day was in a N. 50 degrees W. direction for about eleven miles, through stringy-bark forest, in which the Melaleuca and the Cypress pine were either scattered, or formed small patches of forest. We then crossed a shallow sandy creek surrounded with thickets of Cypress pine; passed some broad-leaved tea-tree forest, and came to a fine open country timbered with tea-tree, and, farther on, with box and white gum. After fifteen miles, our course was intercepted by the largest salt-water river we had yet seen, and we turned at once to the W.S.W. in order to head it. Deep hollows surrounded by tea-trees, but quite dry, extended parallel to the river. We observed several islands in the river; and it was joined by some deep creeks filled with salt water at their lower parts, but dry higher up. The whole country was equally open and well grassed. The leguminous Ironbark, the white-barked tree of the Abel Tasman, the fig tree, and Sterculia in fruit, grew in the forest; and the white water-gum in the hollows, the drooping tea-tree at the level of the freshes, and a species of salt-water Casuarina below it.

I called this river the “Macarthur,” in acknowledgment of the liberal support my expedition received from Messrs. James and William Macarthur of Cambden.

When we were passing through the stringy-bark forest, about four or five miles from the camp of the 20th, we heard the calls of some natives behind us, and I stopped our train to ascertain what they wanted: they were soon perceived running after us, and, when they were sufficiently near, I dismounted and advanced slowly to have a parley, and was met by an old man with three or four young fellows behind him. As soon as he saw that I intended to make him a present, he prepared one in return; and when I gave him some rings and buckles, he presented me with some of the ornaments he wore on his person. As our confidence in each other was thus established, some of my companions and several others of the natives came up, and we exchanged presents in a very amicable manner. They were all well made, good looking men; and one young man, whose body was coloured red, was even handsome, although his expression was somewhat wild and excited. All of them seemed to have been circumcised. Charley told me afterwards, that, at my first approach, some of them held their bommerangs ready to throw, but I do not think that it was more than a simple attitude of defence, in case I should have proved the aggressor. On my inquiring about water, they pointed in the direction which we were going, and seemed to say, “It is far, but it is large; Baco! Baco! Umara!” they frequently repeated with emphasis. John also told me that an old man had made signs of a large water, but not fit to drink, and was very anxious for us to change our course, Mr. Roper had understood the same. But, as long as we were ignorant what was before us, the pantomime and words of the natives enabled us to form but very vague and hopeless guesses. It was easy to understand them, when we knew the reality. These natives must have had some intercourse with white men, or Malays, for they knew the use of a knife, and valued it so highly, that one of them offered a gin for one. They appeared equally acquainted with the use of our fire-arms. No doubt they had seen the Malays, and probably some had accompanied them to the islands; as it is a common custom of the Malays to take natives home with them, that they may become friendly to them when fishing for trepang at this part of the gulf.

As the stage lengthened, our old bullock began to lag behind, and at last lay down incapable of walking any farther. In the hope of finding water, I continued my journey until the decline of day compelled me to encamp. We watched our bullocks as usual during the night, and I was distressed to find that another of them, a young but heavy beast, had suffered so much, that I feared he would soon have to be slaughtered, and the number of our pack bullocks be again reduced.

Sept. 22. — I sent Mr. Calvert and Charley back to fetch the bullock, whilst we continued our journey up the river. The country maintained the same character, being open and well-grassed. At the end of about seven miles, we came to a range of sandstone hills with horizontal strata, deeply fissured and worn by the waters and the atmosphere. A creek at the northern side of the range was dry; but, at its southern foot, there was another, which contained several small pools and two deep rocky basins with an ample supply of water. Here, therefore, we encamped to wait for our old bullock, which I now resolved to kill; being well aware that he would be a constant drawback to our progress. Wallabies were exceedingly numerous, and their tracks as broad as the foot-paths of the natives. Our lat. was 16 degrees 5 minutes 26 seconds; long. according to reckoning, 136 degrees 10 minutes.

Mr. Calvert and Charley had succeeded in driving our bullock to within about three miles of our camp, where he had again lain down. As soon as the moon rose, I went with Charley to bring him on; but when we came to the place where they had left him, he was gone. It was impossible even for Charley to track him in the uncertain moonlight; and, as the night was very cold and foggy along the flats and hollows of the river, we made a fire, to wait for daylight. By a most unfortunate accident, my hat caught fire, and was consumed in an instant; it was a great loss to me in such a climate, and under daily exposure to a most powerful sun. I had to make shift with a small bag made of strong canvass, the long end of which I turned over my face to shade it. When the sun rose, we resumed our search, and succeeded in finding the poor beast, after tracking him for six miles across the country; he had evidently rambled in search of water, and had generally been attracted by shady hollows, in which any one would have reasonably expected to find it. He had, however, been completely unsuccessful; the hollows appeared to have been dry for a very long time; he travelled tolerably well to our camp, where he was immediately killed, skinned, quartered, and cut up. His meat was not quite so flaccid and watery as that of our last bullock; but it was by no means good. He was an old, and a heavy beast, and the experience we had of him strongly corroborates my observations, that such beasts can neither bear the fatigues of a long journey, nor travel with a load, unless regularly well fed and watered.

On this occasion we made a grand discovery, of which we afterwards profited greatly. A portion of the skin of the bullock was dried, and a certain quantity was added to our soup at night; which we soon found to be not only a great improvement, but to be in itself much preferable to the tasteless meat of our knocked-up bullocks. The stomach was also made use of on this occasion, as our useful dog, Spring, was well provided with emu meat. We had our last pot of tea on the 22nd, and we were now fairly put on dry beef and water.

By a mere accident, we discovered a remarkable medicinal property of the glutinous secretion of the seed-vessels of a drooping Grevillea. John Murphy, having no pockets in his trowsers, put the seeds which he found during the stage into his bosom, close to the skin, where he had already deposited a great number of Sterculia, and was much inconvenienced by the starry prickles which surround the seeds. Afterwards, finding the drooping Grevillea in fruit, he gathered some capsules and placed them as before stated. Upon arriving at the camp, he felt great pain; and, on examining the place, he saw, to his greatest horror, that the whole of the skin of the epigastric region was coloured black, and raised into a great number of painful blisters. Upon his showing it to me, I thought that it was caused by the Sterculia prickles having irritated the skin, and rendered it more sensitive to the sharp properties of the exudation of the seed-vessels of Grevillea. Brown, however, merely touched the skin of his arm with the matter, when blisters immediately rose; showing clearly its properties. The discoloration of the skin was like the effects of nitrate of silver.

Sept. 24. — When Charley returned with the horses from a higher part of the river, he told us that he had seen so many wallabies and such numerous tracks of emus and crocodiles, that I sent John and Brown to procure some game. They returned with only a red wallabi (Halmaturus agilis) and a spoonbill. According to their account, the river enlarged into an immense sandy bed, like that of the Lynd, and was covered with trees and shrubs, very much resembling those of that river. Its course was from the westward; and in that direction large plains extended. They had seen three crocodiles, one of which lay in the shade of a Sarcocephalus tree. The bean of the Mackenzie grew plentifully along the river, and was covered with ripe seeds. In the morning of the 25th, I sent John and Brown to collect as many of them as they could, for coffee; whilst I and Charley went to reconnoitre the country for water. A W.N.W. course brought us so much into sandstone ranges, gullies, and heads of creeks, that we turned to the northward, until we came again into the open box and tea-tree forest, mixed with bloodwood and gum. About four miles from the camp, we found water-holes supplied by springs, and which had just been left by the natives, who were busy in burning the grass along the ridges, and on the fine intervening flats. It was here that I again met with a species of Banksia, on the sandy flats immediately below the sandstone ranges, which was either a variety of B. integrifolia, or a species very nearly allied to it. We found it afterwards all over Arnheim’s Land, especially on the table land and on the rocky heads of the South Alligator River, where it grew on sandy flats surrounding the rocks, and particularly round sandy swamps. The Cypress-pine and Pandanus were frequent, but Sterculia was rare. We remarked that the little finches generally anticipated us in the harvest of the ripe fruit of the latter. About eight miles from the springs, after crossing a great number of small dry sandy watercourses, we came to a fine creek with two large Nymphaea ponds.

On our return, we ran down an emu, the stomach of which was full of the fruit of the little Severn tree. The meat of the whole body was so exceedingly bitter, that I could scarcely eat it. Brown and John had returned with a good supply of beans, and of the large eatable roots of a Convolvolus growing on the plains. The former allowed us again a pot of coffee at luncheon for the next three weeks. This coffee had at first a relaxing effect, but we soon became accustomed to it, and enjoyed it even to the grounds themselves.

Sept. 26. — We removed our camp to the water-holes I had found the day before. We crossed the river at the head of the salt water, where the shallow stream of fresh water was about fifteen yards broad. Sandstone ridges were all round our last camp, and on the opposite side of the river, where it was joined by a deep Pandanus creek. John Murphy told me that he shot a fish at the crossing place, which had the first ray of the dorsal fin very much prolonged, like one of the fresh-water fishes of Darling Downs; they had been in such a hurry to roast it, that I had no chance of examining it.

The day was exceedingly hot, particularly from 7 to 11 o’clock, when the strong sea breeze set in from the north-east.

Sept. 27. — I went with Brown to reconnoitre the country to the north-west. About a mile from the camp, we crossed a fine creek with a chain of ponds and a tiny stream densely fringed with Pandanus. To the north-west of it, we rode through a succession of scrubby and open stringy-bark forest of tea-tree flats and thickets, and over long tracts of stringy-bark saplings which had been recently burned. The Melaleuca gum was very frequent in the stringy-bark forest: the Cypress-pine formed either small thickets or occurred scattered. Sterculia, which at the time was particularly valuable to us, was rare.

Red ironstone cropped out every where, and formed large shallow basins, surrounded by tea-tree thickets; like those swamps I have mentioned on several occasions. About eight miles from the camp, we crossed a good sized waterless creek, with drooping tea-trees, and groves of Pandanus; and about three miles farther, came to a large creek with some very long water-holes, which were all stocked with small fish. On our return, it became so dark that we missed our tracks; and, by keeping too much to the eastward, we came to a very wild rocky country, in which the large Pandanus creek, as well as that on which we were encamped, changed their character so much that we crossed without recognising them. We encamped out, and the next morning, the 28th, we changed our course to the southward, which brought us to a little hill we had passed two days before, and which Brown immediately recognised: thus affording another instance of the quickness of his eye, and of his wonderful memory for localities. We returned on our former bullock tracks to the camp; and having taken some breakfast, and loaded our bullocks, we immediately started for the water-holes, which were situated about eleven miles to the north-west, in lat. 15 degrees 47 minutes 23 seconds.

Sept. 29. — I reconnoitered with Charley in a north by west course, and travelled through a most wretched country. Cypress-pine thickets alternated with scrubby stringy-bark forest, acacia and tea-tree thickets, and with broad tea-tree forest. The Bossiaea with broad leafless stem, was one of the principal components of the scrub. About eight miles from our camp, we crossed a small creek with good water-holes; and at four miles and a half further, came to a river with several channels, separated by high and irregular bergues, with a sandy bed containing large pools of water surrounded with water Pandanus and drooping tea-trees. Acacia neurocarpa, and a species of Cassia, which we had observed since leaving Seven Emu River, grew on the sands. After giving our horses a short rest, during which we refreshed ourselves with a pot of Sterculia coffee, we returned towards our camp; but, wishing to find a more open road, kept more to the eastward, and came sooner than I expected to Sterculia Creek: which name I had given to the creek on which we were encamped, in reference to the groves of Sterculias of both species, rose-coloured as well as heterophylla, which grow on its banks. We followed it up for seven miles, when the setting sun, and our great fatigue, induced us to stop. The creek changed its character every quarter of a mile, forming now a broad sandy or pebbly bed, then a narrow channel between steep banks; and again several channels, either with fine water-holes, or almost entirely filled up and over-grown with a scanty vegetation. On the banks, thickets alternated with scrubs and open country, and, lower down, the country became very fine and open. Early in the morning of the 30th, we started again, and arrived at the camp after a long ride, both hungry and tired.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38