Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 3

Mr. Browne’s return — his account of the country — change of scene — continued rain — Toonda joins the party — story of the massacre — leave Lake Victoria — accident to flood — turn northwards — cross to the Darling — meet natives — Toonda’s haughty manner — Nadbuck’s cunning — abundance of feed — sudden floods — bad country — arrival at Williorara — consequent disappointment — perplexity — Mr. Poole goes to the ranges — Mr. Browne’s return — food of the natives — position of Williorara.

Lake Victoria is a very pretty sheet of water, 24 miles in circumference {DIAMETER in published text}, very shallow, and at times nearly dry. As I have previously observed of Lake Bonney, it is connected with the Murray by the Rufus, and by this distribution of its waters, the floods of the Murray are prevented from being excessive, or rising above a certain height.

The southern shore of Lake Victoria is very picturesque, as well as the line of the Rufus. The latter however is much wooded, whereas the S.W. shore of the lake is low and grassy, and beautiful umbrageous trees adorn it, in number not more than two or three to the acre. As Mr. Poole was engaged near me, I remained stationary on the 13th, but on the following day moved the camp seven miles to the westward, for his convenience. On the 15th I again moved so as to keep pace with him, and was highly delighted at the really park-like appearance of the scenery. This pretty locality is now occupied as a cattle run, and must be a place of amusement as well as profit.

We met Mr. Browne and Flood on their return to the camp from the journey on which I had sent them, about an hour before we halted.

Mr. Browne informed me that the day he left me he rode for some miles along the shore of the lake, and that after leaving it he encamped in the scrub, having travelled about seventeen miles. The brush was very dense, although there were open intervals; it consisted of trees and shrubs of the usual kind, the soil was very sandy, and there was a good deal of spinifex upon it.

The next day, still on a due east course (that on which he had travelled from the lake), and at five miles from where he had slept, Mr. Browne came on a salt lake, about 800 yards in circumference. A third of the bed was under water, and half of the remainder was white with crystallized salt, that glittered in the sun’s rays, and looked like water at a distance. At about five miles farther on there were two other lakes of the same kind, but both were dry and without any salt deposits in their beds. At five miles beyond these lakes Mr. Browne intersected the Ana-branch of the Darling, which I had detached him to examine. To within a short distance of the Ana-branch the country was similar to that through which he had passed the day before, but on nearing it he crossed an open plain. This old channel of the Darling had been crossed by Mr. Eyre on a recent journey to the north, but at that time was dry. Where Mr. Browne struck it the banks were rather high, and its course was N.W. by W. It was about eighty yards wide, with a strong current running upwards, caused by the back waters of the Murray. Its general course for 12 miles was N. by E. The country was very open, and high banks, similar to those on the Murray, occurred alternately on either side. The channel maintained the same appearance as far as Mr. Browne; rode and as he found the waters still running upwards, he considered that the object of his journey was attained, and that we should find no difficulty in pursuing our route northwards along this new line. It may be necessary for me to inform the reader that no water ever flows down the Ana-branch from the north. When Mr. Eyre first arrived on its banks it was dry, and he was consequently obliged to cross the country to the Darling itself, a distance of between 40 and 50 miles. Pulcanti, the native I sent with Mr. Browne, however, made a rough sketch of the two channels, by which it appeared that the Ana-branch held very much to the eastward, in proof of which he pointed to a high line of trees, at a great distance, as being the line of the river Darling. Considering from this that, even if water failed us in the Ana-branch, we should have no difficulty in crossing to the main stream, and that however short our progress might be, it would greatly curtail our journey to Laidley’s Ponds, I decided on trying the new route.

Ana-branch of the Darling

Mr. Browne saw a great many red kangaroos (foxy), some very young, others very large; and he chased a jerboa, which escaped him. He also saw a new bird with a black crest, about the size of a thrush.

The morning of the 14th had been cloudy, but the day was beautifully fine; so that we had really enjoyed our march, if so it might be called. From our tents there was a green and grassy slope to the shore of the lake, with a group of two or three immense trees, at distances of several hundred yards apart, and the tranquil waters lay backed by low blue hills.

On the morning of the 15th the barometer fell to 27.672, the thermometer standing at 56 degrees, at 8 a.m. The air was heavy, the sky dull, and the flies exceedingly troublesome. All these indications of an approaching change in the weather might have determined me to remain stationary, but I was anxious to push on. I therefore directed Mr. Poole to complete the survey of the lake, and at eleven moved the whole party forward.

The picturesque scenery which had, up to this point, adorned the shores of Lake Victoria ceased at two miles, when we suddenly and at once found ourselves travelling on sand, at the same time amidst reeds. The rich soil disappeared, the trees becoming stunted and low. As the travelling was also bad, we went along the margin of the lake, where the sand was firm, although marked with ripples like those left on the sea-shore by the tide, between the water and a line of rubbish and weeds inside of us, so that it appeared the lake had not yet risen so high as the former year. We had moved round to its eastern side, which being its lea side also, the accumulation of rubbish and sand was easily accounted for. We traversed about eight miles of as dreary a shore as can be imagined, backed, like Lake Bonney, by bare sand hills and barren flats, and encamped, after a journey of thirteen miles, on a small plain, separated from the lake by a low continuous sand ridge, on which the oat-grass was most luxuriant. The indications of the barometer did not deceive us, for soon after we started it began to rain, and did not cease for the rest of the day, the wind being in the N.E. quarter.

It continued showery all night, nor on the morning of the 16th was there any appearance of a favourable change. At nine a steady and heavy rain setting in we remained stationary.

The floods in the Rufus had obliged us to make a complete circuit of the lake, so that we had now approached that little stream to within six miles from the eastward. Our friend Nadbuck, therefore, thinking that we were about to leave the neighbourhood, rejoined the party. With him about eighty natives came to see us, and encamped close to our tents; forty-five men, sixteen women, and twenty-six children. I sent some of the former out to hunt, but they were not successful.

Amongst the natives there were two strangers from Laidley’s Ponds, the place to which we were bound. The one was on his way to Moorundi, the other on his return home. Pulcanti had given us a glowing account of Laidley’s Ponds, and had assured us that we should not only find water, but plenty of grass beyond the hills to the N.W. of that place. This account the strangers confirmed; and the one who was on his way home expressing a wish to join us, I permitted him to do so; in the hope that, what with him and old Nadbuck, we should be the less likely to have any rupture with the Darling natives, who were looked upon by us with some suspicion. I was, in truth, very glad to take a native of Williorara up with me, because I entertained great doubts as to the reception we should meet with from the tribe, on our arrival there, in consequence of the unhappy occurrence that took place between them and Sir Thomas Mitchell, during a former expedition; and I hoped also to glean from this native some information as to the distant interior. Both the Darling natives were fine specimens of their race. One in particular, Toonda, was a good-looking fellow, with sinews as tough as a rope. It also appeared to me that they had a darker shade of colour than the natives of the Murray.

Nadbuck turned out to be a merry old man, and a perfect politician in his way, very fond of women and jimbuck (sheep), and exceedingly good-humoured with all. He here brought Davenport a large quantity of the fruit of the Fusanus, of which he made an excellent jam, too good indeed to keep; but if we could have anticipated the disease by which we were afterwards attacked, its preservation would have been above all price. The natives do not eat this fruit in any quantity, nor do I think that in its raw state it is wholesome. They appeared to me tol ive chiefly on vegetables during the season of the year that we passed up the Murray, herbs and roots certainly constituted their principal food.

I had hoped that the weather would have cleared during the night, but in this I was disappointed. On the 17th we had again continued rain until sunset, when the sky cleared to windward and the glass rose. We were however unable to stir, and so lost another day. About noon Nadbuck came to inform me that the young native from Laidley’s Ponds, who was on his way to Moorundi, had just told him that only a few days before he commenced his journey, the Darling natives had attacked an overland party coming down the river, and had killed them all, in number fifteen. I therefore sent for the lad, and with Mr. Browne’s assistance examined him. He was perfectly consistent in his story; mentioned the number of drays, and said that the white fellows were all asleep when the natives attacked them amongst the lagoons, and that only one native, a woman, was killed; the blacks, he added, had plenty of shirts and jackets. Doubtful as I was of this story, and equally puzzled to guess what party could have been coming down the Darling, it was impossible not to give some little credit to the tale of this young cub; for he neither varied in his account or hesitated in his reply to any question. I certainly feared that some sad scene of butchery had taken place, and became the more anxious to push my way up to the supposed spot, where it was stated to have occurred, to save any one who might have escaped. I felt it my duty also before leaving Lake Victoria to report what I had heard to the Governor.

As the barometer fell before the rain, so it indicated a cessation of it, by gradually rising. The weather had indeed cleared up the evening before, but the morning of the 18th was beautifully fine and cool; we therefore yoked up the cattle and took our departure from Lake Victoria at 9 a.m. At first the ground was soft, but it soon hardened again. Shortly after starting we struck a little creek, which trended to the south, so that we were obliged to leave it, but we could trace the line of trees on its banks to a considerable distance. We traversed plains of great extent, keeping on the overland road until at length we gained the river, and encamped on a small neck of land leading to a fine grassy enclosure, into which we put our cattle. One side of this enclosure was flanked by the river, the other by a beautiful lagoon, that looked more like a scene on Virginia water than one in the wilds of Australia.

As we crossed the plains we again observed numerous cattle tracks, and regularly beaten paths leading from the brushes to the river, to the very point indeed where we encamped. The natives had previously informed us, as far back as the place where we shot the first bullock, that we should fall in with other cattle hereabouts; we did not however see any of them during the day. Our tents were pitched on the narrow neck of land leading to an enclosure into which we had turned our animals. It was so narrow indeed that nothing could pass either in or out of it without being observed by the guard, so that neither could our cattle escape or the wild ones join them. It was clear, however, that we had cut off the latter from their favourite pasture, for at night they were bellowing all round us, and frequently approached close up to our fires. We had no difficulty in distinguishing the lowing of the heifers from that of the bullocks; of which last there appeared to be a large proportion in the herd.

Some of our cattle were getting very sore necks, and our loads at this time were too heavy for me to relieve them. Flood therefore suggested our trying to secure two or three of the bullocks running in the bush. We therefore arranged that a party should go out in the morning to scour the wood, and drive any cattle they might find towards the river, at which I was to be prepared to entice them to our animals. Accordingly Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne, with Flood and Mack, started at sunrise. It was near twelve, however, when Mr. Browne returned with Flood, who had met with a sad accident, and had three of the first joints of the fingers of his right hand carried off by the discharge of his fusee whilst loading. He had incautiously put on the cap and was galloping at the time, but kept his seat. Mr. Browne informed me they had seen a great many cattle, but that they were exceedingly wild, and started off the moment the horsemen appeared, insomuch that they could not turn them, and it was with a view to drive them towards the river that Flood fired at them. However none approached the camp. Mr. Poole returned late in the afternoon equally unsuccessful. Mr. Browne dressed Flood’s hand, who bore it exceedingly well, and only expressed his regret that he should be of no use on the Darling in the event of any rupture with the natives. I remained stationary, as Mr. Browne thought it would be necessary to keep Flood quiet for a day or two. On the following day we resumed our journey, and reached the junction of the ancient channel of the Darling with the Murray about 11. The floods were running into it with great velocity, and the water had risen to a considerable height, so that many trees were standing in it. I remained here until noon, when a meridian altitude placed us in lat. 34 degrees 4 minutes 34 seconds. We then bade adieu to the Murray, and turned northwards to overtake the party, which under Nadbuck’s guidance had cut off the angle into which we had gone. With the Murray we lost its fine trees and grassy flats. The Ana-branch had a broad channel and long reaches of water; but was wholly wanting in pasture or timber of any size. The plains of the interior formed the banks, and nothing but salsolae grew on them. We encamped at eight miles from the junction, where there happened to be a little grass, but were obliged to keep the cattle in yoke and the horses tethered to prevent their wandering. As we advanced up the Ana-branch on the following day, its channel sensibly diminished in breadth, and at eleven miles we reached a hollow, beyond which the floods had not worked their way. Here we found a tribe of natives, thirty-seven in number, by whom the account we had heard of the massacre of the over-landers at the lagoons of the Darling was confirmed. Nadbuck now informed me that we should have to cross the Ana-branch and go to the eastward, and that it would be necessary to start by dawn, as we should not reach the Darling before sunset. Nadbuck had now become a great favourite, and there was a dry kind of humour about him that was exceedingly amusing, at the same time that his services were really valuable.

Toonda, on the other hand, was a man of singular temperament. He was good-looking and more intelligent than any native I had ever before seen. His habit was spare, but his muscles were firm, and his sinews like whipcord He must indeed have had great confidence in his own powers to have undertaken a journey of more than 200 miles from his own home. He was very taciturn, and would rather remain at the officers’ fire than join his fellows.

The country we had passed through during the day had been miserable. Plains of great extent flanked the Ana-branch on either side, on which there were sandy undulations covered with stunted cypress trees or low brush.

Flood had from the time of his accident suffered great pain; but as he did not otherwise complain, Mr. Browne did not entertain any apprehension as to his having any attack of fever.

On the morning of the 24th, the natives paid us an early visit with their boys, and remained at the camp until we started. At the head of the water they had made a weir, through the boughs of which the current was running like a sluice; but the further progress of the floods was stopped by a bank that had been gradually thrown up athwart the channel. Crossing the Ana-branch at this point, we struck across barren sandy plains, on a N.N.E. course. From them we entered a low brush, in which there were more dead than living trees. At four miles this brush terminated, and we had again to traverse open barren plains. At their termination we had to force our way through a second brush, consisting for the most part of fusani, acaciae, hakeae, and other low shrubs, but there were no cypresses here as in the first brush. On gaining more open ground, the country gradually rose before us, and a ferruginous conglomerate cropped out in places. We at length began our descent towards the valley of the Darling. The country became better wooded: the box-tree was growing on partially flooded land, and there was no deficiency of grass. Mr. Browne went on a-head with Toonda and Flood, whilst I and Mr. Poole remained with the party. From the appearance of the country, however, I momentarily expected to come on the river; but the approach to it from the westward is extremely deceptive, and we had several miles of box-tree flats to traverse before the gum-trees shewed their white bark in the distance. We reached the Darling at half-past five, as the sun’s almost level beams were illuminating the flats, and every blade of grass and every reed appeared of that light and brilliant green which they assume when held up to the light. The change from barrenness and sterility to richness and verdure was sudden and striking, and nothing certainly could have been more cheering or cheerful than our first camp on the Darling River. The scene itself was very pretty. Beautiful and drooping trees shaded its banks, and the grass in its channel was green to the water’s edge. Evening’s mildest radiance seemed to linger on a scene so fair, and there was a mellow haze in the distance that softened every object. The cattle and horses were up to their flanks in grass and young reeds, and plants indicative of a better soil, such as the sowthistle, the mallow, peppermint, and indigofera were growing in profusion around us. Close to our tents there was a large and hollow gum-tree, in which a new fishing net had been deposited, but where the owner intended to use it was a puzzle to us, for it was impossible that any fish could remain in the shallow and muddy waters of the Darling; which was at its lowest ebb, and the current was so feeble that I doubted if it really flowed at all. Whether the natives anticipated the flood which shortly afterwards swelled it I cannot say, although I am led to believe they did, either from habit or experience.

So abundant had been the feed that none of the cattle stirred out of sight of the camp, and we should have started at an early hour, but for the visit of an old native, the owner of the net we had discovered. It was with some hesitation that he crossed the river to us, but he did so; and as soon as he saw me he recognised me as having been in the boat on the Murray in 1830, though fourteen years had passed since that time, and he could only have seen me for an hour or two. He was not, however, singular in his recollection of me, since one of the natives of the Ana-branch also recollected me; and Tenbury, the native constable at Moorundi, not only knew me the moment he saw me, but observed that a little white man sat by my side in the stern of the boat, and that I had something before me, which was a compass. There was a suspicious manner about our visitor, for which we could not very well account; but it arose from doubts he entertained as to the safety of his net, for after he had seen that it had not been taken away, his demeanour changed, and he expressed great satisfaction that we had not touched it.

We commenced our journey up the Darling at nine o’clock, on a course somewhat to the westward {EASTWARD in published text} of north. We passed flat after flat of the most vivid green, ornamented by clumps of trees, sufficiently apart to give a most picturesque finish to the landscape. Trees of denser foliage and deeper shade dropped over the river, forming long dark avenues, and the banks of the river, grassed to the water, had the appearance of having been made so by art.

We halted, after a journey of fourteen miles, on a flat little inferior to that we had left, and again turned the cattle out to feed on the luxuriant herbage around them.

The Darling must have been in the state in which we found it for a great length of time, and I am led to infer, from the very grassy nature of its bed, that it seldoms contains water to any depth, or length of time, since in such case the grass would be killed. Its flats, like those of the Murray, are backed by lagoons, but they had long been dry, and the trees growing round them were either dead or dying.

With the exception of the tribe at the Ana-branch, and the old man, we had seen no natives since leaving the Murray; but, from the reports we had heard of the recent massacre of the overland party at Williorara, and the character of the Darling blacks, I was induced to take double precautions as I journeyed up the river, and had the camp so formed that it could not be surprised. Two drays were ranged close to each other on either side, the boat carriage formed a face to the rear, and the tents occupied the front; thus leaving sufficient room in the centre to fold the sheep in netting. The guard, augmented to six men, occupied a tent at one angle. My own tent was in the centre of the front, and another tent at the angle opposite the guard tent. So that it would have been difficult for the natives to have got at the sheep (which they most coveted), without alarming us. Still, although we had no apprehension of the natives, both Nadbuck and Toonda were constantly on the watch, and it was evident the former considered himself in no mean capacity at this time. He put on an air of great importance, and shewed great anxiety about our next interview with the natives; but Toonda took everything quietly, and there was a haughty bearing about him, that contrasted strangely with the bustling importance of his companion.

We here heard that there was a large encampment of natives about three miles above us, but none of them ventured to our camp; nor, it is more than probable, were the people aware of our being in the neighbourhood; but our friend Nadbuck, as I have stated, was in a great bustle, and shewed infinite anxiety on the occasion. Neither were his apprehensions allayed on the following morning when we started. He went in advance to prepare the natives for our approach, and to ask permission for us to pass through their territory, but returned without having found them. Not long afterwards it was reported that the natives were in front.

On hearing this the old gentleman begged of me to stop the party, and away he went, full of bustle and importance, to satisfy himself. In a few minutes he returned and said we might go on. We had halted close to the brow of a gentle descent into a small creek junction at this particular spot, and on advancing a few paces came in view of the natives, assembled on the bank of the river below. Men only were present, but they appeared to have been taken by surprise, and were in great alarm. They had their spears for hunting, and a few hostile weapons, but not many; and certainly had not met together with any hostile intention.

Some of the men were very good looking and well made, but I think the natives of the Darling generally are so. They looked with astonishment on the drays, which passed close to them; and I observed that several of them trembled greatly. At this time Nadbuck had walked to some little distance with two old men, holding each by the hand in the most affectionate manner, and he was apparently in deep and earnest conversation with them. Toonda, on the other hand, had remained seated on one of the drays, until it descended into the creek. He then got off, and walking up to the natives, folded his blanket round him with a haughty air, and eyed the whole of them with a look of stern and unbending pride, if not of ferocity. Whether it was that his firmness produced any effect I cannot say, but after one of the natives had whispered to another, he walked up to Toonda and saluted him, by putting his hands on his shoulders and bending his head until it touched his breast. This Toonda coldly returned, and then stood as frigid as before, until the drays moved on, when he again resumed his seat and left them without uttering a word. Nadbuck had separated from his friends, after having as it seemed imparted to them some important information, and coming up to myself and Mr. Browne, whispered to us, “Bloody rogue that fellow, you look after jimbuck.” The contrast between these two men was remarkable: the crafty duplicity of the one, and the haughty bearing of the other. But I am led to believe that there was some latent cause for Toonda’s conduct, since he asked me to shoot the natives, and was so excited that he pushed his blanket into his mouth, and bit it violently in his anger. On this I offered him a pistol to shoot them himself, but he returned it to me with a smile. Of course it will be understood that I should not have allowed him to fire it.

Two of the old men followed when we left the other natives, to whom I made presents in the afternoon; but it is remarkable that many of them trembled whilst we staid with them, and although their women were not present, they hovered on the opposite bank of the Darling all the time. We kept wide of the river almost all day, travelling between the scrub and lagoons, but we had occasionally to ascend and cross ridges of loose sand, over which the bullock-drivers were obliged to help each other with their teams. There was not the slightest change in the character of the distant interior, but the vicinity of the Darling was thickly timbered for more than three-quarters of a mile from its banks, but the wood was valueless for building purposes.

I was exceedingly surprised at the course of the river at this point. We had gone a good deal to the eastward the day before, but on this day we sometimes travelled on a course to the southward of east, and never for the whole day came higher up than east by north. The consequence was, that we proceeded into a deep bight, and made no progress northwards up the river. At our camp it had dwindled to a mere thread, so narrow was the line of water in its bed. Its banks were as even and as smooth as those of a fortification, and covered with a thick, even sward. There was no perceptible current and the water was all muddy; but the scenery in its precincts was still verdant and picturesque, grassy flats with ornamental trees succeeding each other at every bend of the stream.

The dogs killed a large kangaroo on the plains, the greater part of which we gave to the natives, all indeed but a leg, which Jones, whose duty it was to feed them, reserved for the dogs. Yet this appropriation excited Toonda’s anger. “Kangaroo mine, sheep yours,” said he, threatening Jones with his waddy; but he soon recovered his temper, and carried off his share of the animal, subduing his feelings with as much apparent facility as he had given vent to them.

About this time the weather had become much warmer, although we had occasional cold winds. We started early on the morning of the 27th, without the intention of making a long journey, because the bullocks had been kept in yoke all night. We travelled for six miles over firm and even plains, but soon afterwards got upon deep sand, through which the teams fairly ploughed their way. I therefore turned towards the river, and encamped on the first flat we reached, having run about ten miles on an east-north-east course.

We here found the Darling so diminished in size, and so still, that I began to doubt whether or not we should find water higher up. Its channel, however preserved the appearance of a canal, with sloping grassy sides, shaded by trees of drooping habit and umbrageous foliage, but the soil of the flats had become sandy, and they appeared to be more subject to inundation than usual.

About this time I regretted to observe that many of the bullocks had sore necks, and I was in consequence obliged to make a different distribution of them; an alternative always better if possible to avoid, as men become attached to their animals, and part even with bad ones reluctantly.

On counting our sheep at this camp, I found that we had 186 remaining. Toonda came as usual to take his share of one that had just been killed; but I said, No! that, according to his own shewing, he had no claim to any — thinking this the best way of speaking to his reason.

He seemed much astonished at the view I took of the matter, but on his acknowledging himself in error, I forgave his recent ebullition and allowed him his wonted meal; for, although I was always disposed to be kind to the natives, I still felt it right to shew them that they were not to be unruly. Neither is it without great satisfaction that I look back to the intercourse I have had with these people, from the fact of my never having had occasion to raise my arm in hostility agianst them.

The cattle fared well on the luxuriant grass into which they had been turned when we halted, and as they had no inducement to wander, so they were close to the camp at daybreak, and we started at 7 on an east-north-east course, which at a mile we changed to a northerly one; but soon afterwards finding that a pine ridge crossed our course, and extended to the banks of the river, I turned to the north-west to avoid it, but the country becoming generally sandy I again turned towards the stream, and by going round the sandy points instead of over them, lessened the labour to the cattle, although I increased the distance. We were glad to find that the Darling held a general northerly course, or one somewhat to the westward of that point, for we had during the last three or four days made a great deal of easting, and I had thus been prevented making the rapid progress I anticipated to Laidley’s Ponds.

I had observed for more than twenty miles below us that the immediate precincts of the river were not so rich in soil, or the flats so extensive as at first; they now however began to open out, and assumed the character and size of those of the Murray. The state of the two rivers however was very different, for the Darling still continued without breadth or current, (I speak of its appearance in lat. 33 degrees 43 minutes S.) whilst the Murray ever presents its bright and expanded waters to the view.

We had communicated with a native tribe the day before that of which I am now speaking, and again this day fell in with another, which we evidently took by surprise. All the men had their spears, but on seeing us approach they quietly deposited them under a tree. Amongst these people there was another native who recognised me as an old acquaintance of fourteen years’ standing; but I began to doubt these patriarchs, to whom I generally made a present for old acquaintance sake. This tribe numbered forty-eight. All of them were handsome and well-made men, though short in stature, and their lower extremities bore some proportion to their busts.

For the first time this day we observed a ferruginous sandstone in the bed of the Darling, and saw it cropping out from under the sand hills on the western extremity of the flats.

Shortly after leaving the natives we arrived at a small plain, where they could only just have killed a kangaroo that was lying on the ground partly prepared for cooking. On seeing it I ordered the dogs to be tied up, and left it untouched. Indeed if I had been fortunate enough to kill a kangaroo at this place, I would have given it to these poor people. Three of them, who afterwards came to our camp, mentioned the circumstance, and seemed to be sensible of our feelings towards them. There can be no doubt but that the Australian aboriginal is strongly susceptible of kindness, as has been abundantly proved to me, and to the influence of such feeling I doubtlessly owe my life; for if I had treated the natives harshly, and had thrown myself into their power afterwards, as under a kind but firm system I have ever done without the slightest apprehension, they would most assuredly have slain me; and when I assure the reader that I have traversed the country in every direction, meeting numerous tribes of natives, with two men only, and with horses so jaded that it would have been impossible to have escaped, he will believe that I speak my real sentiments. Equally so the old native, (to whom the net we discovered in the hollow of a tree where we first struck the Darling belonged), evinced the greatest astonishment and gratification, when he found that his treasure had been untouched by us.

The flats of the Darling are certainly of great extent, but their verdure reached no farther than the immediate precincts of the river at this part of its course. Beyond its immediate neighbourhood they are perfectly bare, but lightly wooded, having low and useless box-trees (the Gobero of Sir Thomas Mitchell), growing on them. Their soil is a tenacious clay, blistered and rotten. These flats extend to uncertain distances from the river, and vary in breadth from a quarter of a mile to two miles or more. Beyond them the country is sandy, desolate, and scrubby. Pine ridges, generally lying parallel to the stream, render travelling almost impracticable where they exist, whilst the deep fissures and holes on the flats, into which it is impossible to prevent the drays from falling, give but little room for selection. Our animals were fairly worn out by hard pulling on the one, and being shaken to pieces on the other.

Some days prior to the 29th, Mr. Browne and I, on examining the waters of the river, thought that we observed a more than usual current in it; grass and bark were floating on its surface, and it appeared as if the water was pushed forward by some back impulse. On the 28th it was still as low as ever; but on the morning of the 29th, when we got up it was wholly changed. In a few hours it had been converted into a noble river, and had risen more than five feet above its recent level. It was now pouring along its muddy waters with foaming impetuosity, and carrying away everything before it. Whence, it may be asked, come these floods? and was it from the same cause that the Murray, as Tenbury stated, rose so suddenly? Such were the questions that occurred to me. From the natives I could gather nothing satisfactory. We were at this time between three and four hundred miles from the sources of the Darling, and I could hardly think that this fresh had come from such a distance. I was the more disposed to believe, perhaps, because I hoped such would be the case, that it was caused by heavy rains in the hills to the north-west of Laidley’s Ponds, and that it was pouring into the river through that rivulet.

The natives who had accompanied us from the last tribe left at sunset, as is their custom, after having received two blankets and some knives. Being anxious to get to Laidley’s Ponds, I started early, with the intention of making a long journey, but circumstances obliged me to halt at six miles. We crossed extensive and rich flats the whole of the way, and found as usual an abundance of feed for our cattle. It would perhaps be hazardous to give an opinion as to the probable availability of the flats of the Darling: those next the stream had numerous herbs, as spinach, indigoferae, clover, etc., all indicative of a better soil; but the out flats were bare of vegetation, although there was no apparent difference in their soil. One peculiarity is observable in the Darling, that neither are there any reeds growing in its channel or on the flats.

Our journey on the last day of September terminated at noon, as we arrived at a point from which it was evident the river takes a great sweep to the eastward; and Nadbuck informed me that by going direct to the opposite point, where, after coming up again, it turned to the north, we should cut off many miles, but that it would take a whole day to perform the journey. I determined therefore to follow his advice, and to commence our journey across the bight at an early hour the following morning, the 1st of October. I availed myself of the remainder of the day to examine the country for some miles to the westward, but there was no perceptible change in it. The same barren plains, covered sparingly with salsolae and atriplex, characterised this distant part of the interior; and sandy ridges covered with stunted cypress trees, acaciae, hakeae, and other similar shrubs, proved to me that the productions of it were as unchanged as the soil.

As we had arranged, we broke up our camp earlier than usual on the 1st of October, for, from what Nadbuck had stated, I imagined that we had a long journey before us; but after going fifteen miles, we gained the river, and found that it was again trending to the north. It had now risen more than bank high, and some of its flats were partly covered with water. We had kept a N.N.W. course the whole day, and crossed hard plains without any impediment; but, although we kept at a great distance from the stream, we did not observe any improvement in the aspect of the country.

Our specimens, both of natural history and botany, were as yet very scanty; but we found a new and beautiful shrub in blossom, on some of the plains as we crossed the bight; and Mr. Browne discovered three nests of a peculiar rat, that have been partially described by Sir Thomas Mitchell.

Mr. Browne was fortunate enough to secure one of these animals, which is here figured. The nests they construct are made of sticks, varying in length from three inches to three feet, and in thickness from the size of a quill to the size of the thumb. They were arranged in a most systematic manner, so as to form a compact cone like a bee-hive, four feet in diameter at the base, and three feet high. This fabric is so firmly built, as to be pulled to pieces with difficulty. One of these nests had five holes or entrances from the bottom, nearly equi-distant from each other, with passages leading to a hole in the ground, beneath which I am led to conclude they had their store. There were two nests of grass in the centre of the pyramid, and passages running up to them diagonally from the bottom. The sticks, which served for the foundations of the nests, were not more than two or three inches long, and so disposed as to form a compact flooring, whilst the roofs were arched. The nests were close together, but in separate compartments, with passages communicating from the one to the other.

In a pyramid that we subsequently opened, there was a nest nearly at the top; so that it would appear that these singular structures are common to many families, and that the animals live in communities. The heap of sticks, thus piled up, would fill four large-sized wheel-barrows, and must require infinite labour. This ingenious little animal measures six inches from the tip of the nose to the tail, which is six inches long. The length of the head is two and a half inches, of the ears one and a quarter, and one inch in breadth. Its fur is of a light brown colour, and of exceedingly fine texture. It differs very little in appearance from the common rat, if I except the length of its ears, and an apparent disproportion in the size of the hind feet, which were large. The one figured is a male, which I obtained from one of the natives who followed us to the camp.

Mus conditor

At this period of our journey the weather was exceedingly cold, and the winds high. We were about 45 miles from Laidley’s Ponds; but could not, from the most elevated point, catch a glimpse of the ranges in its neighbourhood. It appeared to me that the river flats were getting smaller on both sides of it, the river still continuing to rise. It was now pouring down a vast body of water into the Murray. There was, however, an abundance of luxuriant pasture along its banks. Late in the afternoon the lubras (wives) of the natives, at our camp, made their appearance on the opposite side of the river, and Nadbuck, who was a perfect gallant, wanted to invite them over; but I told him that I would cut off the head of the first who came over with my long knife — my sword. The old gentleman went off to Mr. Browne, to whom he made a long complaint, asking him if he really thought I should execute my threat. Mr. Browne assured him that he was quite certain I should not only cut off the lubra’s head, but his too. On this Nadbuck expressed his indignation; but however much he might have ventured to risk the lubra’s necks, he had no idea of risking his own.

One of the natives who visited us at this place was very old, with hair as white as snow. To this man I gave a blanket, feeling assured it would be well bestowed; although a circumstance occurred that had well night prevented my behaving with my usual liberality to the natives who were here with us. The butcher had been killing a sheep, and carelessly left the steel, an implement we could ill spare, under the tree in which he had slung the animal: and it was instantly taken by the natives. On hearing this, I sent for Nadbuck and Toonda, and told them that I should not stir until the steel was brought back, or make any more presents on the river. On this there was a grand consultation between the two. Toonda at length went to the natives, who had retired to some little distance, and, after some earnest remonstrances, he walked to the tree near which the sheep had been killed, and, after looking at the ground for a moment, began to root up the ground with his toes, when he soon discovered the stolen article, and brought it to me. The thief was subsequently brought forward, and we made him thoroughly ashamed of himself; although I have no doubt the whole tribe would have applauded his dexterity if he had succeeded.

The day was exceedingly cold, as the two or three previous ones had been, but still the temperature was delightful. We travelled, on this day, across the river flats, which again opened out to a distance of two or three miles; the ground, however, was of a most distressing character, and we had to cross several sandy points projecting into them, so that the poor animals were much jaded. This, however, was only the beginning of their troubles, for we were, in like manner, obliged to travel for several successive days over the same kind of ground — land on which floods have gradually subsided, and which has been blistered and cracked by solar heat. Travelling on this kind of ground was, indeed, more distressing to the cattle than even the hard pull over sand; for it was impossible for the bullock-drivers to steer clear of the many fissures and holes on these flats, and the shock, when the drays fell into any of them, was so great, that it shook the poor brutes almost to pieces.

From this period to the 9th there was a sameness in our progress up the Darling. On the 3rd we crossed a small creek, into which the waters of the river were flowing fast; and which both Nadbuck and Toonda informed us joined Yertello Lake, and that the Ana-branch was on the other side of the lake. This explanation accounted to us for a statement made by Toonda, shortly after he first joined us, that the Ana-branch hereabouts formed a great lake. On the 4th a little rain fell, but not in such quantity as to interfere with our travelling. On the 5th we passed a tribe of natives, in number about thirty-four. We were again led by Nadbuck across the country, to avoid the more circuitous route along the river. We passed through a more pleasing country than usual, and one that was better timbered and better grassed than it had been at any distance from the river.

I have mentioned that Toonda was attended by a young lad, his nephew, who, with another young lad, joined us at Lake Victoria. These two young lads used to keep in front with myself or Mr. Poole, or Mr. Browne, and were quite an amusement to us. This day both of them disappeared, not very long after we passed the last tribe. On making inquiries I ascertained, to my surprise, that they had been forcibly taken back by three men from the last tribe, and that both cried most bitterly at leaving the party. The loss of his nephew greatly afflicted poor Toonda, who sobbed over it for a long time. We could not understand why the natives had thus detained the boys; but, I believe, they were members of that tribe, between which and a tribe higher up the river some ground of quarrel existed. After the departure of these boys we had only three natives with us, who had been with the party from Lake Victoria, i. e. Nadbuck, Toonda, and Munducki, a young man who had attached himself to Kirby, who cooked for the men. The latter turned out to be a son of old Boocolo, a chief of the Williorara tribe, whom I shall, ere long, have occasion to introduce to the reader. Mr. Browne, with the assistance of Nadbuck, gathered a good deal of information from the natives then with us, as to the inhospitable character of the country to the north-west of the Williorara, or Laidley’s Ponds, that agreed very little with the accounts we had previously heard. They stated that we should not be able to cross the ranges, as they were covered with sharp pointed stones and great rocks, that would fall on and crush us to death; but that if we did get across them to the low country on the other side, the heat would kill us all. That we should find neither water or grass, or wood to light a fire with. That the native wells were very deep, and that the cattle would be unable to drink out of them; and, finally, that the water was salt, and that the natives let down bundles of rushes to soak it up.

Such was the account the natives gave of the region into which we were going. We were of course aware that a great deal was fiction, but I was fully prepared to find it bad enough. From the opinion I had formed of the distant interior, and from my knowledge of the country, both to the eastward and westward of me, I had no hope of finding it good within any reasonable distance.

Prepared, however, as I was for a bad country, I was not prepared for such as the natives described.

It was somewhat strange, that as we neared the supposed scene of the slaughter of the overlanders, we should fail in obtaining intelligence regarding it; neither were the natives, who must have participated in it, so high up the river as we now were, afraid of approaching us, as they undoubtedly would have been if they had been parties to it. I began, therefore, to suspect that it was one of those reports which the natives are, unaccountably, so fond of spreading without any apparent object in view.

As we approached Williorara the course of the river upwards was somewhat to the westward of north. The country had an improved appearance as we ascended it, and grass seemed to be more generally distributed over the flats. We passed several large lagoons, which had already been filled from the river, and were much pleased with the picturesque scenery round them.

On the 7th Jones broke the pole of his dray, and Morgan again broke his shaft, but we managed to repair both without the loss of much time — and made about ten miles of northing during the day.

We hereabouts shot several new birds; and the dogs killed a very fine specimen of the Dipus of Mitchell, but, unfortunately, in the scuffle, they mangled it so much that we could not preserve it.

On the 8th the weather was oppressively hot, but we managed to get on some fifteen miles before we halted.

Our journey up the Darling had been of greater length than I had anticipated, and it appeared to me that I could not do better than reduce the ration of flour at this early stage of the expedition to provide the more certainly for the future. I accordingly reduced it to eight pounds a week, still continuing to the men their full allowance of meat and other things.

Nadbuck had assured me on the 9th that if the bullocks did not put out their tongues we should get to Laidley’s Ponds that day, but I hardly anticipated it myself, although I was aware we could not be many miles from them.

We had a great many natives in the neighbourhood at our encampment of the 8th, but they did not approach the tents. Their families generally were on the opposite side of the river, but one man had his lubra and two children on our side of it. My attention was drawn to him, from his perseverance in cutting a bark canoe, at which he laboured for more than an hour without success. Mr. Browne walked with me to the tree at which he was working, and I found that his only tool was a stone tomahawk, and that with such an implement he would hardly finish his work before dark. I therefore sent for an iron tomahawk, which I gave to him, and with which he soon had the bark cut and detached. He then prepared it for launching by puddling up its ends, and putting it into the water, placed his lubra and an infant child in it, and giving her a rude spear as a paddle pushed her away from the bank. She was immediately followed by a little urchin who was sitting on the bank, the canoe being too fragile to receive him; but he evidently doubted his ability to gain the opposite bank of the river, and it was most interesting to mark the anxiety of both parents as the little fellow struck across the foaming current. The mother kept close beside him in the canoe, and the father stood on the bank encouraging his little son. At length they all landed in safety, when the native came to return the tomahawk, which he understood to have been only lent to him. However I was too much pleased with the scene I had witnessed to deprive him of it, nor did I ever see a man more delighted than he was when he found that the tomahawk, the value and superiority of which he had so lately proved was indeed his own. He thanked me for it, he eyed it with infinite satisfaction, and then turning round plunged into the stream and joined his family on the opposite bank.

We journeyed as usual over the river flats, and occasionally crossed narrow sandy parts projecting into them. From one of these Mr. Poole was the first to catch a glimpse of the hills for which we had been looking out so long and anxiously. They apparently formed part of a low range, and bore N.N.W. from him, but his view was very indistinct, and a small cone was the only marked object he could distinguish. He observed a line of gum-trees extending to the westward, and a solitary signal fire bore due west from him, and threw up a dark column of smoke high into the sky above that depressed interior. A meridian altitude placed us in latitude 32 degrees 33 minutes 0 seconds S., from which it appeared that we were not more than eight or ten miles from Laidley’s Ponds, but we halted short of them, and received visits from a great many of the natives during the afternoon, who came to us with their families, a circumstance which led me to hope that we should get on very well with them. Poor Toonda here heard of the death of some relative during his absence, and had a great cry over it. He and the native who communicated the news sat down opposite to one another with crossed legs, and their hands on each other’s shoulders. They then inclined their heads forward, so as to rest on each other’s breasts and wept violently. This overflow of grief, however, did not last long, and Toonda shortly afterwards came to me for some flour for his friend, who he said was very hungry.

As it appeared to me that we should have to remain for some time in the neighbourhood of Laidley’s Ponds, I had directed my inquiries to the state of the country near them, and learnt both from Nadbuck and Toonda, that we should find an abundance of grass for the cattle. I was not however very well satisfied with the change that had taken place within a few miles, in the appearance of the river, and the size of the flats, these latter having greatly diminished, and become less verdant. On the 10th we started on a west course, but at about a mile changed it for a due north one, which we kept for about five miles over plains rather more than usually elevated above the river flats. From these plains the range was distinctly visible, now bearing N. 10 degrees E., and N. 26 degrees and 38 degrees W., distant 35 miles. It still appeared low, nor could we make out its character; three cones marked its southern extremity, and I concluded that it was a part of Scrope’s Range. With the exception of these hills there were none other visible from Laidley’s Ponds.

The ground whereon we now travelled was hard and firm, so that we progressed rapidly, and at five miles descended into a bare flat of whitish clay, on which a few bushes of polygonum were alone growing under box-trees. At about two hundred yards we were stopped by a watercourse, into which the floods of the Darling were flowing with great velocity. It was about fifty yards broad, had low muddy banks, and was decidedly the poorest spot we had seen of the kind. This, Nadbuck informed me, was the Williorara or Laidley’s Ponds, a piece of intelligence at which I was utterly confounded. I could not but reproach both him and Toonda for having so deceived me; but the latter said he had been away a long time and that there was plenty of grass when he left. Nadbuck, on the other hand, said he derived his information from others, and only told me what they told him. Be that as it may, it was impossible for me to remain in such a place, and I therefore turned back towards the Darling, and pitched my tents at its junction with the Williorara.

For three or four days prior to our arrival at Laidley’s Ponds, the upward course of the river had been somewhat to the west of north. The course of Laidley’s Ponds was exceedingly tortuous, but almost due west. The natives explained to us that it served as a channel of communication between two lakes that were on either side of it, called Minandichi and Cawndilla. They stated that the former extended between the Darling and the ranges, but that Cawndilla was to the westward at the termination of Laidley’s Ponds, by means of which it is filled with water every time the Darling rose; but they assured me that the waters had not yet reached the lake. It was nevertheless evident that we were in an angle, and our position was anything but a favourable one. From the point where we had now arrived the upward course of the Darling for 300 miles is to the N.E., that which I was anxious to take, was to the W.N.W. It was evident, therefore, that until every attempt to penetrate the interior in that direction had proved impracticable, I should not have been justified in pushing farther up the river. My hopes of finding the Williorara a mountain stream had been wholly disappointed, and the intelligence both Mr. Eyre and I had received of it from the Murray natives had turned out to be false, for instead of finding it a medium by which to gain the hills, I now ascertained that it had not a course of more than nine or ten miles, and that it stood directly in my way. We were as yet ignorant what the conduct of the natives towards us would be, having seen none or very few who could have taken part in the dispute between Sir Thomas Mitchell and the Williorara tribe in 1836. Expecting that they might be hostilely disposed towards us, I hesitated leaving the camp, lest any rupture should take place between my men and the natives during my absence; much less could I think of fortifying the party in a position from which, in the event of an attack, they would find it difficult to retreat. I thought it best therefore to move the camp to a more distant situation with as little delay as possible, and send Mr. Poole to visit the ranges, and ascertain from their summit the probable character of the N.W. interior.

Having come to this decision, I procured a guide to accompany that officer to the hills, who accordingly started for them, with Mr. Stuart, my draftsman, the morning after our arrival at the ponds. Some of the natives had informed us that there was plenty of feed at the head of Cawndilla Lake, a distance of seven or eight miles to the W.S.W.; but we could not understand from them how far the waters of the Darling had passed up the creek, although it was clear from what they said that they had not yet reached Cawndilla. My instructions to Mr. Poole were framed with a view to our removal from our present position nearer to the ranges, and I therefore told him to cross the creek at the head of the water, and if he should find grass there, to return to the camp, if not, to continue his journey to the hills, and use every effort to find water and feed. We had had a good deal of rain during the night of the 10th; the morning of the 11th was hazy, with the wind at S.W., and there appeared to be every prospect of continued wet. Under less urgent circumstances, therefore, I should have detained Mr. Poole until the weather cleared, but our movements at this time were involved in too much uncertainty to admit of delay. I had hoped that the morning would have cleared, but a light rain set in and continued for several days.

We had seen fewer natives on the line of the Darling than we had expected; but as we approached Williorara they were in greater numbers. Our tents were hardly pitched at that place, when, as I have observed, we were visited by the local tribe, with their women and children, who sat down at some little distance from the drays, and contented themselves with watching our motions. I had tea made for the ladies, of which they seemed to approve highly, and gave the youngsters two or three lumps of sugar a-piece. The circumstance of the women and children thus venturing to us, satisfied me that no present hostile movement was contemplated by the men; but, not-withstanding that there was a seeming friendly feeling towards us, there was a suspicious manner about them, which placed me doubly on my guard, and caused me to doubt the issue of our protracted sojourn in the neighbourhood.

I had several of the natives in my tent, and with Mr. Browne’s assistance questioned them closely as to the character of the country to the north west, but we could gather nothing from what they said. They spoke of it in terror, as a region into which they did not dare to venture, and gave me dreadful accounts of the rocks and difficulties against which I should have to contend. They agreed, however, in saying that there was both water and grass at the lake; in consequence, I sent Mr. Browne with Nadbuck to examine the locality on the morning of the 12th, as the distance was not greater than from six to seven miles. He returned about one P. M., and informed me that there was plenty of feed for the cattle, and water also; but that the water was at least a mile and a half from the grass, which was growing in tufts round the edge of the lake. It appeared that the Williorara made a circuitous and extensive sweep and entered Cawndilla on the opposite side to that of the river, so that he had to cross a portion of the lake, and thus found that the floods had not reached it. Mr. Browne also stated that the extent of the lake was equal to that of Lake Victoria, but that it could at no time be more than eighteen inches deep. It was indeed nothing more than a shallow basin filled by river floods, and retaining them for a short time only. Immense numbers of fish, however, pass into these temporary reservoirs, which may thus be considered as a providential provision for the natives, whose food changes with the season. At this period they subsisted on the barilla root, a species of rush which they pound and make into cakes, and some other vegetables; their greatest delicacy being the large caterpillar (laabka), producing the gum-tree moth, an insect they procure out of the ground at the foot of those trees, with long twigs like osiers, having a small hook at the end. The twigs are sometimes from eight to ten feet long, so deep do these insects bury themselves in the ground.

Mr. Browne communicated with a tribe of natives, one of whom, a very tall woman, as well as her child, was of a copper colour.

From the information he gave me of the neighbourhood of Cawndilla, I determined, on the return of Mr. Poole, and in the event of his not having found a better position, to move to that place; for it was evident from his continued absence that he must have crossed the creek at a distance from the lake, and not seeing any grass in its neighbourhood, had pushed on to the hills. I was now anxious for his return, for we had had almost ceaseless though not heavy rain since he left us. On the 12th, the day he started, we had thunder; on the 13th it was showery, with wind at N.W., and the thermometer at 62 degrees at 3 P. M., and the barometer at 29.742; the boiling point of water being 211.25.

Assuming Sir Thomas Mitchell’s data to be correct, my position here was in long. 142 degrees 5 minutes E., and in lat. 32 degrees 25 minutes S.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:31