Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 1

Character of the Australian continent — of its rivers — peculiarity of the Darling — sudden floods to which it is subject — character of the Murray — its periodical rise — bounty of providence — geological position of the two rivers — observations — results — Sir Thomas Mitchell’s journey to the darling — its junction with the Murray — anecdote of Mr. Shannon — Captain Grey’s expedition — Captain Sturt’s journey — Mr. Eyre’s second expedition — voyage of the Beagle — Mr. Oxley’s opinions — state of the interior in 1828 — character of its plains and rivers — junction of the Darling — fossil bed of the Murray — former state of the continent — theory of the interior.

The Australian continent is not distinguished, as are many other continents of equal and even of less extent, by any prominent geographical feature. Its mountains seldom exceed four thousand feet in elevation, nor do any of its rivers, whether falling internally or externally, not even the Murray, bear any proportion to the size of the continent itself. There is no reason, however, why rivers of greater magnitude, than any which have hitherto been discovered in it, should not emanate from mountains of such limited altitude, as the known mountains of that immense and sea-girt territory. But, it appears to me, it is not in the height and character of its hilly regions, that we are to look for the causes why so few living streams issue from them. The true cause, I apprehend, lies in its climate, in its seldom experiencing other than partial rains, and in its being subject to severe and long continued droughts. Its streams descend rapidly into a country of uniform equality of surface, and into a region of intense heat, and are subject, even at a great distance from their sources, to sudden and terrific floods, which subside, as the cause which gave rise to them ceases to operate; the consequence is, that their springs become gradually weaker and weaker, all back impulse is lost, and whilst the rivers still continue to support a feeble current in the hills, they cease to flow in their lower branches, assume the character of a chain of ponds, in a few short weeks their deepest pools are exhausted by the joint effects of evaporation and absorption, and the traveller may run down their beds for miles, without finding a drop of water with which to slake his thirst.

In illustration of the above, I would observe that during the progress of the recent expedition up the banks of the Darling, and at a distance of more than 300 miles from its sources, that river rose from a state of complete exhaustion, until in four days it overflowed its banks. It was converted in a single night, from an almost dry channel, into a foaming and impetuous stream, rolling along its irresistible and turbid waters, to add to those of the Murray.

There can be no doubt, but, that this sudden rise in the river, was caused by heavy rains on the mountains, in which its tributaries are to be found, for the Darling does not receive any accession to its waters below their respective junctions, of sufficient magnitude to account for such an occurrence. 1

1. The principal tributaries of the Darling, are the Kindur, the Keraula, the Namoy, and the Gwydir. They are beautiful mountain streams, and rise in the hilly country, behind Moreton Bay, in lat. 27 degrees, and in longitude 152 degrees E.

When, on the return of the expedition homewards the following year, some two months later in the season than that of which I have just been speaking, Oct. 1844, there had been no recurrence of the flood of the previous year, but the Darling was at a still lower ebb than before, and every lagoon, and creek in its vicinity had long been exhausted and waterless. 2 Now, it is evident, as far as I can judge, that if the rains of Australia were as regular as in other countries, its rivers would also be more regular in their flow, and would not present the anomaly they now do, of being in a state of rapid motion at one time, and motionless at another.

2. It may be necessary to warn my readers that a creek in the Australian colonies, is not always an arm of the sea. The same term is used to designate a watercourse, whether large or small, in which the winter torrents may or may not have left a chain of ponds. Such a watercourse could hardly be called a river, since it only flows during heavy rains, after which it entirely depends on the character of the soil, through which it runs, whether any water remains in it or not.

A lagoon is a shallow lake, it generally constitutes the back water of some river, and is speedily dried up. In Australia, there is no surface water, properly so called, of a permanent description.

But, although I am making these general observations on the rivers, and to a certain extent of climate of Australia, I would not be understood to mean more than that its seasons are uncertain, and that its summers are of comparatively long duration.

In reference to its rivers also, the Murray is an exception to the other known rivers of this extensive continent. The basins of that fine stream are in the deepest recesses of the Australian Alps — which rise to an elevation of 7000 feet above the sea. The heads of its immediate tributaries, extend from the 36th to the 32nd parallel of latitude, and over two degrees of longitude, that is to say, from the 146 degrees to the 148 degrees meridian, but, independently of these, it receives the whole westerly drainage of the interior, from the Darling downwards. Supplied by the melting snows from the remote and cloud-capped chain in which its tributaries rise, the Murray supports a rapid current to the sea. Taking its windings into account, its length cannot be less than from 1300 to 1500 miles. Thus, then, this noble stream preserves its character throughout its whole line. Uninfluenced by the sudden floods to which the other rivers of which we have been speaking are subject, its rise and fall are equally gradual. Instead of stopping short in its course as they do, its never-failing fountains have given it strength to cleave a channel through the desert interior, and so it happened, that, instead of finding it terminate in a stagnant marsh, or gradually exhausting itself over extensive plains as the more northern streams do, I was successfully borne on its broad and transparent waters, during the progress of a former expedition, to the centre of the land in which I have since erected my dwelling.

As I have had occasion to remark, the rise and fall of the Murray are both gradual. It receives the first addition to its waters from the eastward, in the month of July, and rises at the rate of an inch a day until December, in which month it attains a height of about seventeen feet above its lowest or winter level. As it rises it fills in succession all its lateral creeks and lagoons, and it ultimately lays many of its flats under water.

The natives look to this periodical overflow of their river, with as much anxiety as did ever or now do the Egyptians, to the overflowing of the Nile. To both they are the bountiful dispensation of a beneficent Creator, for as the sacred stream rewards the husbandman with a double harvest, so does the Murray replenish the exhausted reservoirs of the poor children of the desert, with numberless fish, and resuscitates myriads of crayfish that had laid dormant underground; without which supply of food, and the flocks of wild fowl that at the same time cover the creeks and lagoons, it is more than probable, the first navigators of the Murray would not have heard a human voice along its banks; but so it is, that in the wide field of nature, we see the hand of an over-ruling Providence, evidences of care and protection from some unseen quarter, which strike the mind with overwhelming conviction, that whether in the palace or in the cottage, in the garden, or in the desert, there is an eye upon us. Not to myself do I accord any credit in that I returned from my wanderings to my home. Assuredly, if it had not been for other guidance than the exercise of my own prudence, I should have perished: and I feel satisfied the reader of these humble pages, will think as I do when he shall have perused them.

An inspection of the accompanying chart, will shew that the course of the Murray, as far as the 138 degrees meridian is to the W.N.W., but that, at that point, it turns suddenly to the south, and discharges itself into Lake Victoria, which again communicates with the ocean, in the bight of Encounter Bay. This outlet is called the “Sea mouth of the Murray,” and immediately to the eastward of it, is the Sand Hill, now called Barker’s Knoll — under which the excellent and amiable officer after whom it is named fell by the hands of the natives, in the cause of geographical research.

Running parallel with its course from the southerly bend, or great N.W. angle of the Murray, there is a line of hills, terminating southwards, at Cape Jarvis; but, extending northwards beyond the head of Spencer’s Gulf. These hills contain the mineral wealth of South Australia, and immediately to the westward of them is the fair city of Adelaide.

On gaining the level interior, the Murray passes through a desert country to the 140 degrees meridian, when it enters the great fossil formation, of which I shall have to speak hereafter. In lat. 34 degrees, and in long. 142 degrees, the Darling forms a junction with it; consequently, as that river rises in latitude 27 degrees, and in long. 152 degrees, its direct course will be about S.W. There is a distance of nine degrees of latitude, therefore, between their respective sources, and, as the Darling forms a considerable angle with the Murray at this junction, it necessarily follows, as I have had occasion to remark, that the two rivers must receive all the drainage from the eastward, falling into that angle. If I have been sufficiently clear in explaining the geographical position and character of these two rivers, which in truth almost make an island of the S.E. angle of the Australian continent, it will only remain for me to add in this place, that neither the Murray nor the Darling receive any tributary stream from the westward or northward, and at the time at which I commenced my last enterprise, the Darling was the boundary of inland discovery, if I except the journey of my gallant friend Eyre, to Lake Torrens, and the discovery by him of the country round Mount Serle. Sir Thomas Mitchell had traced the Darling, from the point at which I had been obliged from the want of good water to abandon it, in 1828, to lat. 32 degrees 26 minutes, and had marked down some hills to the westward of it. Still I do not think that I detract from his merit, and I am sure I do not wish to do so, when I say that his having so marked them can hardly be said to have given us any certain knowledge of the Cis-Darling interior.

More than sixteen years had elapsed from the period when I undertook the exploration of the Murray River, to that at which I commenced my preparations for an attempt to penetrate Central Australia. Desolate, however, as the country for the most part had been, through which I passed, my voyage down that river had been the forerunner of events I could neither have anticipated or foreseen. I returned indeed to Sydney, disheartened and dissatisfied at the result of my investigations. To all who were employed in that laborious undertaking, it had proved one of the severest trial and of the greatest privation; to myself individually it had been one of ceaseless anxiety. We had not, as it seemed, made any discovery to gild our enterprise, had found no approximate country likely to be of present or remote advantage to the Government by which we had been sent forth; the noble river on whose buoyant waters we were hurried along, seemed to have been misplaced, through such an extent of desert did it pass, as if it was destined thus never to be of service to civilized man, and for a short time the honour of a successful undertaking, as far as human exertion could ensure it, was all that remained to us after its fatigues and its dangers had terminated, as the reader will conclude from the tenour of the above passage; for, although at the termination of the Murray, we came upon a country, the aspect of which indicated more than usual richness and fertility, we were unable, from exhausted strength, to examine it as we could have wished, and thus the fruits of our labours appeared to have been taken from us, just as we were about to gather them. But if, amidst difficulties and disappointments of no common description, I was led to doubt the wisdom of Providence, I was wrong. The course of events has abundantly shewn how presumptuous it is in man to question the arrangements of that Allwise Power whose operations and purposes are equally hidden from us, for in six short years from the time when I crossed the Lake Victoria, and landed on its shores, that country formed another link in the chain of settlements round the Australian continent, and in its occupation was found to realize the most sanguine expectations I had formed of it. Its rich and lovely valleys, which in a state of nature were seldom trodden by the foot of the savage, became the happy retreats of an industrious peasantry; its plains were studded over with cottages and corn-fields; the very river which had appeared to me to have been so misplaced, was made the high road to connect the eastern and southern shores of a mighty continent; the superfluous stock of an old colony was poured down its banks into the new settlement to save it from the trials and vicissitudes to which colonies, less favourably situated, have been exposed; and England, throughout her wide domains, possessed not, for its extent, a fairer or a more promising dependency than the province of South Australia. Such, there can be no doubt, have been the results of an expedition from which human foresight could have anticipated no practical good.

During my progress down the Murray River I had passed the junction of a very considerable stream with it3, in lat. 34 degrees 8 minutes and long. 142 degrees. Circumstances, however, prevented my examining it to any distance above its point of union with the main river. Yet, coming as it did, direct from the north, and similar as it was to the Darling in its upper branches, neither had I, nor any of the men then with me, and who had accompanied me when I discovered the Darling in 1828, the slightest doubt as to its identity. Still, the fact might reasonably be disputed by others, more especially as there was abundant space for the formation of another river, between the point where I first struck the Darling and this junction.

3. The Darling

It was at all events a matter of curious speculation to the world at large, and was a point well worthy of further investigation. Such evidently was the opinion of her Majesty’s Government at the time, for in accordance with it, in the year 1835, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, was directed to lead an expedition into the interior, to solve the question, by tracing the further course of the Darling. This officer left Sydney in May, 1835, and pushing to the N.W. gradually descended to the low country on which the Macquarie river all but terminates its short course. In due time he gained the Bogan river (the New Year’s Creek of my first expedition, and so called by my friend, Mr. Hamilton Hume, who accompanied me as my assistant, because he crossed it on that day), and tracing it downwards to the N. W., Sir Thomas Mitchell ultimately gained the banks of the Darling, where I had before been upon it, in latitude 30 degrees. He then traced it downwards to the W.S.W {S.S.W. in published text} to latitude 32 degrees 26 seconds. At this point he determined to abandon all further pursuit of the river, and he accordingly returned to Sydney, in consequence, as he informs us, of his having ascertained that just below his camp a small stream joined the Darling from the westward. The Surveyor-General had noticed distant hills also to the west; and it is therefore to be presumed that he here gave up every hope of the Darling changing its course for the interior, and of proving that I was wrong and that he was right. The consequence, however, was, that he left the matter as much in doubt as before, and gained but little additional knowledge of the country to the westward of the river.

In the course of the following year Sir Thomas Mitchell was again sent into the interior to complete the survey of the Darling. On this occasion, instead of proceeding to the point at which he had abandoned it, the Surveyor-General followed the course of the Lachlan downwards, and crossing from that river to the Murrumbidgee, from it gained the banks of the Murray. In due time he came to the disputed junction, which he tells us he recognised from its resemblance to a drawing of it in my first work. As I have since been on the spot, I am sorry to say that it is not at all like the place, because it obliges me to reject the only praise Sir Thomas Mitchell ever gave me; but I mention the circumstance because it gives me the opportunity to relate an anecdote, connected with the drawing, in which my worthy and amiable friend, Mr. Shannon, a clergyman of Edinburgh, and a very popular preacher there, but who is now no more, took a chief part. I had lost the original drawing of the junction of the Murray, and having very imperfect vision at the time I was publishing, I was unable to sketch another. It so happened that Mr. Shannon, who sketched exceedingly well with the pen, came to pay me a visit, when I asked him to try and repair my loss, by drawing the junction of the Darling with the Murray from my description. This he did, and this is the view Sir Thomas Mitchell so much approved. I take no credit to myself for faithfulness of description, for the features of the scene are so broad, that I could not but view them on my memory; but I give great credit to my poor friend, who delineated the spot, so as that it was so easily recognised. It only shews how exceedingly useful such things are in books, for if Sir Thomas Mitchell had not so recognised the view, he might have doubted whether that was really the junction of the Darling or not, for he had well nigh fallen into the mistake of thinking that he had discovered another river, when he came upon the Darling the year before, and had as much difficulty in finding a marked tree of Mr. Hume’s upon its banks, as if it had been a needle in a bundle of straw. Fortunately, however, the Surveyor-General was enabled to satisfy himself as to this locality, and he accordingly left the Murray, and traced the junction upwards to the north for more than eight miles, when he was suddenly illuminated. A ray of light fell upon him, and he became convinced, as I had been, of the identity of this stream with the Darling, and suddenly turning his back upon it, left the question as much in the dark as before. Neither did he therefore on this occasion, throw any light on the nature and character of the distantinterior.

In the year 1837 the Royal Geographical Society, assisted by Her Majesty’s Government, despatched an expedition under the command of Lieuts. afterwards Captains Grey and Lushington — the former of whom has since been Governor of South Australia, and is at the present moment Governor in Chief of New Zealand — to penetrate into the interior of the Australian continent from some point on the north-west or west coast; but those gentlemen were unable to effect such object. The difficulties of the country were very great, and their means of transport extremely limited; and in consequence of successive untoward events they were ultimately obliged to abandon the enterprise, without any satisfactory result. But I should be doing injustice to those officers, more particularly to Captain Grey, if I did not state that he shewed a degree of enthusiasm and courage that deserve the highest praise.

As, however, both Sir Thomas Mitchell and Capt. Grey4 have published accounts of their respective expeditions, it may not be necessary for me to notice them, beyond that which may be required to connect my narrative and to keep unbroken the chain of geographical research upon the continent.

4. Journals of Expeditions of Discovery in North-West and Western Australia, during the years 1837-8-9, by Captain George Grey.

In the year 1838, I myself determined on leading a party overland from New South Wales to South Australia, along the banks of the Murray; a journey that had already been successfully performed by several of my friends, and among the rest by Mr. Eyre. They had, however, avoided the upper branches of the Murray, and particularly the Hume, by which name the Murray itself is known above the junction of the Murrumbidgee with it. Wishing therefore to combine geographical research with my private undertaking, I commenced my journey at the ford where the road crosses the Hume to Port Phillip, and in so doing connected the whole of the waters of the south-east angle of the Australian continent.

In this instance, however, as in those to which I have already alluded, no progress was made in advancing our knowledge of the more central parts of the continent.

In the year 1839 Mr. Eyre, now Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand, fitted out an expedition, and under the influence of the most praiseworthy ambition, tried to penetrate into the interior from Mount Arden; but, having descended into the basin of Lake Torrens, he was baffled at every point. Turning, therefore, from that inhospitable region, he went to Port Lincoln, from whence he proceeded along the line of the south coast to Fowler’s Bay, the western limit of the province of South Australia.

He then determined on one of those bold movements, which characterise all his enterprises, and leaving the coast, struck away to the N.E. for Mount Arden along the Gawler Range; but the view from the summit of that rugged line of hills, threw darkness only on the view he obtained of the distant interior, and he returned to Adelaide without having penetrated further north than 29 degrees 30 minutes, notwithstanding the unconquerable perseverance and energy he had displayed.

In the following year, the colonists of South Australia, with the assistance of the local government, raised funds to equip another expedition to penetrate to the centre of the continent, the command of which was entrusted to the same dauntless officer. On the morning on which he was to take his departure, from the fair city of Adelaide, Colonel Gawler, the Governor, gave a breakfast, to which he invited most of the public officers and a number of the colonists, that they might have the opportunity of thus collectively bidding adieu to one who had already exerted himself so much for the public good.

Few, who were present at that breakfast will ever forget it, and few who were there present, will refuse to Colonel Gawler the mead of praise due to him, for the display on that occasion of the most liberal and generous feelings. It was an occasion on which the best and noblest sympathies of the heart were roused into play, and a scene during which many a bright eye was dim through tears.

Some young ladies of the colony, amongst whom were Miss Hindmarsh and Miss Lepson, the one the daughter of the first Governor of the province, the other of the Harbour-master, had worked a silken union to present to Mr. Eyre, to be unfurled by him in the centre of the continent, if Providence should so far prosper his undertaking, and it fell to my lot, at the head of that fair company, to deliver it to him.

When that ceremony was ended, prayers were read by the Colonial Chaplain, after which Mr. Eyre mounted his horse, and escorted by a number of his friends, himself commenced a journey of almost unparalleled difficulty and privation5 — a journey, which, although not successful in its primary objects, yet established the startling fact, that there is not a single watercourse to be found on the South coast of Australia, from Port Lincoln to King George’s Sound, a distance of more than 1500 miles. To what point then, let me ask, does the drainage of the interior set? It is a question of deep interest to all — a question bearing strongly on my recent investigations, and one that, in connection with established facts, will, I think, enable the reader to draw a reasonable conclusion, as to the probable character of the country, which is hid from our view by the adamantine wall which encircles the great Australian bight.

5. Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, and Overland from Adelaide to King George’s Sound, in the years 1840 and 41, by E. J. Eyre, Esq.

On this long and remarkable journey, Mr. Eyre again found it impossible to penetrate to the north, but steadily advancing to the westward, he ultimately reached the confines of Western Australia, with one native boy, and one horse only. Neither, however, did this tremendous undertaking throw any light on the distant interior, and thus it almost appeared that its recesses were never to be entered by civilized man.

From this time neither the government of South Australia, or that of New South Wales, made any further effort to push geographical inquiry, and all interest in it appeared to have past away.

It remains for me to observe, however, that, whilst these attempts were being made to prosecute inland discovery, Her Majesty’s naval service was actively employed upon the coast. Captain Wickham, in command of the Beagle, was carrying on a minute survey of the intertropical shores of the continent, which led to the discovery of two considerable rivers, the Victoria and the Albert, the one situated in lat. 14 degrees 26 minutes S. and long. 129 {139 in published text} degrees 22 minutes E., the other in lat. 17 degrees 35 minutes and long. 139 degrees 54 minutes; but in tracing these up to lat. 15 degrees 30 minutes and 17 degrees 58 minutes, and long. 130 degrees 50 minutes and 139 degrees 28 minutes respectively, no elevated mountains were seen, nor was any opening discovered into the interior. Captain Wickham having retired, the command of the Beagle devolved on Lieut. now Captain Stokes, to whose searching eye the whole of the coast was more or less subjected, and who approached nearer to the centre than any one had ever done before 6, but still no light was thrown on that hidden region; and the efforts which had been made both on land and by water, were, strictly speaking, unsuccessful, to push to any conclusive distance from the settled districts on the one hand, or from the coast into the interior on the other. Reasoning was lost in conjecture, and men, even those most interested in it, ceased to talk on the subject.

6. Discoveries in Australia, and Expeditions into the Interior, surveyed during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, between the years 1837 and 43, by Captain J. Lort Stokes.

It may not be of any moment to the public to be made acquainted with the cause which led me, after a repose of more than fourteen years, to seek the field of discovery once more. It will be readily admitted, that from the part, as I have observed in my preface, which I had ever taken in the progress of Geographical Discovery on the Australian continent, I must have been deeply interested in its further developement.

I had adopted an impression, that this immense tract of land had formerly been an archipelago of islands, and that the apparently boundless plains into which I had descended on my former expeditions, were, or rather had been, the sea-beds of the channels, which at that time separated one island from the other; it was impossible, indeed, to traverse them as I had done, and not feel convinced that they had at one period or the other been covered by the waters of the sea. It naturally struck me, that if I was correct in this conjecture, the difficulty or facility with which the interior might be penetrated, would entirely depend on the breadth and extent of these once submarine plains, which in such case would now separate the available parts of the continent from each another, as when covered with water they formerly separated the islands. This hypothesis, if I may so call it, was based on observations which, however erroneous they may appear to be, were made with an earnest desire on my part to throw some light on the apparently anomalous structure of the Australian interior. No one could have watched the changes of the country through which he passed, with more attention than did I— not only from a natural curiosity, but from an anxious desire to acquit myself to the satisfaction of the Government by which I was employed.

When Mr. Oxley, the first Surveyor-General of New South Wales, a man of acknowledged ability and merit, pushed his investigations into the interior of that country, by tracing down the rivers Lachlan and Macquarie, he was checked in his progress westward by marshes of great extent, beyond which he could not see any land. He was therefore led to infer that the interior, to a certain extent, was occupied by a shoal sea, of which the marshes were the borders, and into which the rivers he had been tracing discharged themselves.

My friend, Mr. Allan Cunningham, who was for several years resident in New South Wales, and who made frequent journeys into the interior of the continent as botanist to his late Majesty King George IV. and who also accompanied Captain P. P. King, during his survey of its intertropical regions, if he did not accompany Mr. Oxley also on one of his expeditions, strongly advocated the hypothesis of that last-mentioned officer; but as Mr. Cunningham kept on high ground on his subsequent excursions, he could not on such occasions form a correct opinion as to the nature of the country below him. His impressions were however much influenced by the observations made by Captain King in Cambridge Gulf, the water of which was so much discoloured, as to lead that intelligent and careful officer to conclude, that it might prove to be the outlet of the waters of the interior, and hence a strong opinion obtained, that the dip of the continent was in the direction of that great inlet, or to the W. N. W. I therefore commenced my investigations, under an impression that I should be led to that point, in tracing down any river I might discover, and that sooner or later I should be stopped by a large body of inland waters. I descended rapidly from the Blue Mountains, into a level and depressed interior, so level indeed, that an altitude of the sun, taken on the horizon, on several occasions, approximated very nearly to the truth. The circumference of that horizon was unbroken, save where an isolated hill rose above it, and looked like an island in the ocean.

When I reached the point at which Mr. Oxley had been checked, I found the Macquarie, not “running bank high,” as he describes it, but almost dry; and although ten years had passed since his visit to this distant spot, the grass had not yet grown over the foot-path, leading from his camp to the river; nor had a horse-shoe that was found by one of the men lost its polish. In this locality there are two hills, to which Mr. Oxley gave the names of Mount Harris and Mount Foster, distant from each other about five miles, on a bearing of 45 degrees to the west of south. Of these two hills Mount Foster is the highest and the nearest, and as the Macquarie runs between them to the westward, it must also be closer than Mount Harris to the marshes. I therefore naturally looked for any discovery that was to be made from Mount Foster, and I according ascended that hill just as the sun was setting. I looked in vain however for the region of reeds and of water, which Mr. Oxley had seen to the westward; so different in character were the seasons, and the state of the country at the different periods in which the Surveyor-General and I visited it. From the highest point I could gain I watched the sun descend; but I looked in vain for the glittering of a sea beneath him, nor did the sky assume that glare from reflected light which would have accompanied his setting behind a mass of waters. I could discover nothing to intercept me in my course. I saw, it is true, a depressed and dark region in the line of the direction in which I was about to go. The terrestrial line met the horizon with a sharp and even edge, but I saw nothing to stay my progress, or to damp my hopes. As I had observed the country from Mount Foster, so I found it to be when I advanced into it. I experienced little difficulty therefore in passing the marshes of the Macquarie, and in pursuing my course to the N. W. traversed plains of great extent, until at length I gained the banks of the Darling, in lat. 30 degrees. S. and in long. 146 degrees. E. This river, instead of flowing to the N. W. led me to the S. W.; but I was ultimately obliged to abandon it in consequence of the saltness of its waters. I could not, however, fail to observe that the plains over which I had wandered were wholly deficient in timber of any magnitude or apparently of any age, excepting the trees which grew along the line of the rivers; that the soil of the plains was sandy, and the productions almost exclusively salsolaceous. Their extreme depression, indeed their general level, since they were not more than 250 or 300 feet above the level of the sea, together with their general aspect, instinctively, as it were, led the mind to the conviction that they had, at a comparatively recent period, been covered by the ocean. On my return to the Blue Mountains, and on a closer examination of the streams falling from them into the interior, I observed that at a certain point, and that too nearly on the same meridian, they lost their character as rivers, and soon after gaining the level interior, terminated in marshes of greater or less extent; and I further remarked that at certain points, and that too where the channels of the rivers seemed to change, certain trees, as the swamp oak, casuarina, and others ceased, or were sparingly to be found on the lower country — a fact that may not be of any great importance in itself, but which it is still as well to record. The field, however, over which I wandered on this occasion was too limited to enable me to draw any conclusions applicable to so large a tract of land as the Australian continent. On this, my first expedition, I struck the Darling River twice, 1st, as I have stated in latitude 30 degrees S. and in long. 146 degrees; and seconndly, in lat. 30 degrees 10 minutes 0 seconds S., and in long. 147 degrees 30 minutes E. From neither of these points was any elevation visible to the westward of that river, but plains similar to those by which I had approached it continued beyond the range of vision or telescope from the highest trees we could ascend; beyond the Darling, therefore, all was conjecture.

At the close of the year 1829, I was again sent into the interior to trace its streams and to ascertain the further course of the Darling. I proceeded on this occasion to the south of Sydney, and intersecting the Murrumbidgee, a river at that time but little known, but which Mr. Hume had crossed, in lat. 35 degrees 10 minutes, and long. 147 degrees 28 minutes 30 seconds E., on his journey to the south coast, at a very early period of discovery, and which thereabouts is a clear, rapid and beautiful stream. I traced it downwards to the west to lat. 34 degrees 44 minutes, and to long. 143 degrees 5 minutes 0 seconds E. or thereabouts, having taken to my boats a few miles above the junction of the Lachlan with it, in lat. 34 degrees 25 minutes 0 seconds and in long. 144 degrees 3 minutes E.; having at that point left all high lands 200 miles behind me, and being then in a low and depressed country, precisely similar to that over which I had crossed the previous year. As on the first expedition, so on the present one, I descended rapidly into a country of general equality of surface; reeds grew in extensive patches along the line of the river, but beyond them sandy plains extended, covered with salsolae of various kinds. From the Murrumbidgee, I passed into the Murray, the largest known river in Australia, unless one of greater magnitude has recently been discovered by Sir Thomas Mitchell to the north.

In lat. 34 degrees and in long. 142 degrees, I arrived, (as I have already had occasion to inform my readers), at the junction of a very considerable stream with the Murray. At this point, being then 200 miles distant from the south coast in a direct line, I was less than 100 feet above the level of the sea; circumstances prevented my examining this new river however for many miles above its junction with the main stream, but coming, as I have elsewhere remarked, direct from the north, and possessing, as it did, all the character and appearance of the Upper Darling, I had no doubt as to its identity; in which case no stronger fact could have been adduced to prove the southerly fall or dip of the interior as far as it had been explored. Proceeding down the Murray, I reached at length the commencement of the great fossil formation, through which that river flows. This immense bed rose gradually before me as I pushed to the westward, until it gained an elevation of from 2 to 250 feet, but on my turning southward, it presented an horizontal and undulating surface, until at the point at which the river enters the Lake Victoria, it suddenly dipped and ceased. The lower part of this formation was entirely composed of Serritullae, but every description of shell with the bones and teeth of sharks and other animals, have subsequently been found in the upper parts of the bed, the summit of which is in many places covered with oyster shells so little changed by time, as to appear as if they had only just been thrown in a heap on the ground they occupy.

The general appearance of the country through which I had passed, and the numerous deposits of fine sand upon the face of it, like sea dunes, still more convinced me, that, when the events which had produced such a change in the physical structure of the continent took place, a current of some description or other must have swept over the interior from the northward; and that this current had deposited the great fossil bed where it now rests; for I cannot conceive that such a mass and mixture of animal remains could have been heaped together in any other way. From the outline of this bed, it struck me that some natural obstacle or other had checked the detritus, brought down by the current, as sand and gravel are checked and accumulated against a log or other impediment athwart a stream, presenting a gradual ascent on the side next the current and a sudden fall on the other. Such, in truth, is the apparent form of the great fossil bed of the Murray. This idea, which struck me as I journeyed down the river, was strengthened, when at a lower part of it I observed a ridge of coarse red granite, running across the channel of the river, and disappearing under the fossil formation on either side of it. It appeared to me to be probable that this ridge of granite might rise higher in other places, and that stretching across the current as it did, that is to say from west to east, the great accumulation of fossil and other remains had been gradually deposited against it, forming a gradual ascent on the northern side of the ridge, and a precipitous fall upon the other.

I have already observed that at a particular point the rivers of the interior, which I had traced on my first expedition, appeared to lose their character as such, and that they soon afterwards ceased in some extensive marsh, the evaporation and absorption over such extensive surfaces being greater than the supply of water they received. This point is about 250 or 300 feet above the level of the sea, and if we draw a line eastward, from the summit of the fossil formation, and prolong it to the western base of the Blue Mountains, we shall find that it will pass over the marshes of the several rivers falling into the interior, and will strike these rivers where their channels appear to fail, as if that had been the former sea-level.

The impressions I have on this interesting subject are clear enough in my own mind, but they are difficult to explain, and I fear I have but ill expressed myself so as to be understood by my readers. I only wish however to record my own ideas, and if I am in error in any particular, I shall thank any one of the many who are better versed in these matters than myself to correct me.

I have stated in a former part of this chapter, that I undertook a journey to South Australia in 1838. I advert to the circumstance again because it is connected with the present inquiry. After I had turned the north-west angle of the Murray, and had proceeded southwards to latitude 34 degrees 26 minutes (Moorundi), where Mr. Eyre has built a residence, I turned from the river to the westward, along the summit of the fossil formation, which, at the distance of a few miles, was succeeded by sandstone, and this rock again, as we gained the hills, by a fine slate, and this again, as we crossed the Mount Barker and Mount Lofty ranges, by a succession of igneous rocks, of a character and form such as could not but betray to a less experienced geologist even than myself the abundant mineral veins they contained. On descending to the plains of Adelaide I again crossed sandstone, and to my surprise discovered that the city of Adelaide stood on the same kind of fossil formation I had left behind me on the banks of the Murray, and it was on the discovery of this fact that the probability of the Australian continent having once been an archipelago of islands first occurred to me.

A more intimate acquaintance with the opinions of Flinders, as to the probable character of the interior of the continent, from the character and appearance of the coast along the Great Australian Bight; the information I have collected as to the extent of the fossil bed, and my own past experience, have led me to the following general conclusions. That the continent of Australia has been subjected to great changes from subigneous agency, and that it has been bodily raised, if I may so express myself, to its present level above the sea; that, as far as we can judge, the north and N.E. portions of the continent are higher than the southern or S.W. parts of it, and that there has consequently been a current or rush of waters, from the one point to the other — that this current was divided in its progress into two branches, by hills, or some other intervening obstacle, and that one branch of it, following the line of the Darling, discharged itself into the sea, through the opening between the western shores of Encounter Bay and Cape Bernouilli; that the other, taking a more westerly direction, escaped through the Great Australian Bight. From what I could judge, the desert I traversed is about the breadth of that remarkable line of coast, and I am inclined to think that it (the desert) retains its breadth the whole way, as it comes gradually round to the south, thus forming a double curve, from the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the N.E. angle of the continent, to the Great Bight on its south-west coast; but my readers will, as they advance into my narrative, see the grounds upon which I have rested these ideas. If such an hypothesis is correct, it necessarily follows, that the north and north-west coasts of the Continent were once separated from the south and east coasts by water; and as I have stated my impression that the current from the north, passed through vast openings, both to the eastward and westward of the province of South Australia, it as necessarily follows, that that province must also have been an island. I hope it will be understood that I started with the supposition that the continent of Australia was formerly an archipelago of islands, but that some convulsion, by which the central land has been raised, has caused the changes I have suggested. It was still a matter of conjecture what the real character of Central Australia really was, for its depths had been but superficially explored before my recent attempt. My own opinion, when I commenced my last expedition, inclined me to the belief, and perhaps this opinion was fostered by the hope that such would prove to be the case, as well as by the reports of the distant natives, which invariably went to confirm it, that the interior was occupied by a sea of greater or less extent, and very probably by large tracts of desert country.

With such a conviction I commenced my recent labours, although I was not prepared for the extent of desert I encountered — with such a conviction I returned to the abodes of civilized man. I am still of opinion that there is more than one sea in the interior of the Australian continent, but such may not be the case. All I can say is, Would that I had discovered such a feature, for I could then have done more upon its waters tenfold, than I was enabled to accomplish in the gloomy and burning deserts over which I wandered during more than thirteen months. My readers, however, will judge for themselves as to the probable correctness of my views, and also as to the probable character of the yet unexplored interior, from the data the following pages will supply. I have recorded my own impressions with great diffidence, claiming no more credit than may attach to an earnest desire to make myself useful, and to further geographical research. My desire is faithfully to record my own feelings and impulses under peculiar embarrassments, and as faithfully to describe the country over which I wandered.

My career as an explorer has probably terminated for ever, and only in the cause of humanity, had any untoward event called for my exertions, would I again have left my home. I wish not to hide from my readers the disappointment, if such a word can express the feeling, with which I turned my back upon the centre of Australia, after having so nearly gained it; but that was an achievement I was not permitted to accomplish.

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