Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 5

Native women — sudden squall — journey to the eastward — view from Mount Lyell — increased temperature — Mr. Poole’s return — his report — leave Flood’s creek — entangled in the pine forest — drive the cattle to water — extricate the party — state of the men — Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne leave the camp — proceed northwards — Capt. Sturt leaves for the north — rapid disappearance of water — muddy creek — geological formation — gypsum — push on to the ranges — return to the creek — again ascend the ranges — find water beyond them — proceed to the W.n.w. — return to the ranges — ants and flies — turn to the eastward — no water — return to the camp — Mr. Poole finds water — Mack’s adventure with the natives — move the camp.

I was much surprised that the country was not better inhabited than it appeared to be; for however unfit for civilized man, it seemed a most desirable one for the savage, for there was no want of game of the larger kind, as emus and kangaroos, whilst in every tree and bush there was a nest of some kind or other, and a variety of vegetable productions of which these rude people are fond. Yet we saw not more than six or seven natives during our stay in the neighbourhood of Flood’s Creek.

One morning some of the men had been to the eastward after the cattle, and on their return informed me that they had seen four natives at a distance. On hearing this I ordered my horse to be saddled, with the intention of going after them; but just at that moment Tampawang called out that there were three blacks crossing from the flats, to the eastward, I therefore told him to follow me, and started after them on foot. The ground was very stony, so that the poor creatures, though dreadfully alarmed, could not get over it, and we rapidly gained upon them. At last, seeing there was no escape, one of them stopped, who proved to be an old woman with two younger companions. I explained to her when she got calm, for at first she was greatly frightened, that my camp was on the creek, and I wanted the blackfellows to come and see me; and taking Tampawang’s knife, which hung by a string round his neck, I shewed the old lady the use of it, and putting the string over her head, patted her on the back and allowed her to depart. To my surprise, in about an hour and a half after, seven natives were seen approaching the camp, with the slowness of a funeral procession. They kept their eyes on the ground, and appeared as if marching to execution. However, I made them sit under a tree; a group of seven of the most miserable human beings I ever saw. Poor emaciated creatures all of them, who no doubt thought the mandate they had received to visit the camp was from a superior being, and had obeyed it in fear and trembling. I made them sit down, gave them a good breakfast and some presents, but could obtain no information from them; when at length they slunk off and we never saw anything more of them. The men were circumcised, but not disfigured by the loss of the front teeth, perfectly naked, rather low in stature, and anything but good looking.

On the 12th, about midnight, we had a violent squall that at once levelled every tent in the camp to the ground. It lasted for about half an hour with terrific fury, but gradually subsided as the cloud from behind which it burst passed over us. A few drops of rain then fell and cooled the air, when I called all hands to replace the tents. I was up writing at the time, and of a sudden found myself sitting without anything above me save the blue vault of heaven. My papers, etc. were carried away, and the men could scarcely hear one another, so furiously did the wind howl in the trees.

On the 13th I left the camp in charge of Mr. Piesse my store-keeper, and with Mr. Stuart and Flood crossed the ranges to the eastward, intending to examine the country between us and the Darling. Immediately on the other side of the range there was a plain of great width, and beyond, at a distance of between 50 and 60 miles, was a range of hills running parallel to those near the camp. They terminated however at a bold hill, bearing E.N.E. from me, it was evidently of great height; beyond this hill there was another still higher to the north-east, which I believe was Mount Lyell. The first portions of the plain were open, and we could trace several creeks winding along them, but the distant parts were apparently covered with dense and black scrub. Descending to the eastward towards the plains we rode down a little valley, in which we found a small pool of water; at this we stopped for a short time, but as the valley turned too much to the north I left it, and pursuing an easterly course over the plains halted at seven miles, and slept upon them, under some low bushes. The early part of the day had been warm, with the wind at N.E., but in the evening it changed to the south, and the night was bitterly cold. On the morning of the 14th we were obliged to wrap ourselves up as well as we could, the wind still blowing keenly from the south. We travelled for more than five miles over grassy plains, and crossed the dry beds of several lagoons, in which not very long before there might have been water. At nine miles we entered a dense brush of pinetrees, acacia and other shrubs growing on pure sand. Through this we rode for more than 15 miles, to the great labour of our animals, as the soil was loose, and we had constantly to turn suddenly to avoid the matted and fallen timber. In this forest the temperature was quite different from that on the plains, and as we advanced it became perfectly oppressive. At about 15 miles we ascended a small clear sandy knoll, from whence we had a full view of Mount Lyell. I had expected that we should have found some creek near it, but the moment my eye fell on that naked and desolate mountain my hopes vanished. We had now approached it within five miles, and could discover its barren character. Although of great height (2000 feet), there did not appear to be a blade of vegetation, excepting on the summit, where there were a few casuarinae, but the pines grew high up in its rugged ravines, and the brush continued even to its base. I still however hoped that from the top we should see some creek or other, but in this expectation we were also disappointed. The same kind of dark and gloomy brush extended for miles all round, nor could we either with the eye or the telescope discover any change. Again to the eastward there were distant ranges, but no prominent hill or mountain to be seen. One dense forest lay between us and them, within which I could not hope to find water, and as we had been without from the time we left the little creek in the ranges near the camp, I determined on retracing my steps, my object in this journey having been fully gratified by the results. The country through which we had passed was barren enough, but that towards the Darling was still worse. I should, however, have pushed on to Mount Babbage, which loomed large and bore a little to the eastward of north; but I did not see that I should gain anything by prolonging my journey. We were now about 56 miles from the camp, and there was little likelihood of our finding any water on our way back; when we descended from the hill, therefore, I pressed into the pine forest, as far as I could, and then halted. On the following morning we crossed the plains more to the north than we had before done. About 11 a.m. we struck a creek, and startled a native dog in its bed which ran along the bank. In following this animal we stumbled on a pool of water, and stopped to breakfast. Wishing to examine the country there as far to the north as possible on my way back, I passed over the northern extremity of the ranges. They there appeared gradually to terminate, and a broad belt of pine scrub from the westward stretched across the country, below me, to the east, until it joined the forest, through a lower part of which we had penetrated to Mount Lyell; but beyond this scrub nothing was to be seen. On my return to the camp I examined the drays, and found that the hot weather had had a tremendous effect on the wheels; the felloes had shrunk greatly, and the tyres of all were loose. I therefore had them wedged and put into serviceable condition.

The heat at this period was every day increasing, and it blew violently from whatever point of the compass the wind came.

On the 17th I examined the stock, and was glad to find they were all in good condition, the horses fast recovering from their late fatigues, the cattle in excellent order, and the sheep really fat.

Mr. Stuart was generally employed over the chart, which now embraced more than 80 miles of a hilly country, and I was happy to find that our angles agreed.

As I have already observed, there were a great variety of the cereal grasses about Flood’s Creek, but they merely occupied a small belt on either side of it. All the grasses were exceedingly green, and there was a surprising appearance of verdure along the creek. Beyond it, on both sides, were barren stony plains, on which salsolaceous plants alone grew. About 13 miles to the westward the pine ridges commenced, and between us and these were large flats of grassy land, over which the waters of the creek spread in times of flood.

The white owl here appeared, like other birds, at noon-day; but there were also numerous other night birds. Here too the black-shouldered hawk collected in flights of thirty or forty constantly on the wing, but we never saw them take any prey; nor, (although we invariably examined their gizzards,) could we discover upon what they lived.

Our lunars placed us in long. 141 degrees 18 minutes 2 seconds E. and lat. 30 degrees 49 minutes 29 seconds S. Up to this point we had traversed nothing but a desert, which, as far as our examinations had extended, was worse on either side than the line on which we were moving; how much further that gloomy region extended, or rather how far we were destined to wander into it, was then a mystery.

The heat now became so great that it was almost unbearable, the thermometer every day rose to 112 degrees or 116 degrees in the shade, whilst in the direct rays of the sun from 140 degrees to 150 degrees. I really felt much anxiety on account of Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne, who did not return to the camp until the 25th. So great was the heat, that the bullocks never quitted the shade of the trees during the day, and the horses perspired from their exertions to get rid of the mosquitos. On the 22nd the natives fired the hills to the north of us, and thus added to the heat of the atmosphere, and filled the air with smoke.

At 7 a.m. on the morning of that day the thermometer stood at 97 degrees; at noon it had risen 10 degrees, and at 3 p.m., the hottest period of the day, it rose to 118 degrees in the shade. The wind was generally from the E.S.E., but it drew round with the sun, and blew fresh from the north at mid-day, moderating to a dead calm at sunset, or with light airs from the west. A deep purple hue was on the horizon every morning and evening, opposite to the rising and setting sun, and was a sure indication of excessive heat.

On the 23rd I sent Flood and Lewis to the N.E., with instructions to return on Christmas-day. At this time the men generally complained of disordered bowels and sore eyes, but I attributed both to the weather, and to the annoyance of the flies and mosquitos. The seeds were ripening fast along the banks of the creek, and we collected as many varieties as we could; but they matured so rapidly, and the seed-vessels burst so suddenly that we had to watch them.

The comet, which we had first noticed on the 17th of the month, now appeared much higher and brighter than at first. Its tail had a slight curve, and it seemed to be rather approaching the earth than receding from it.

On the morning of the 24th, about 5 a.m., I was roused from sleep by an alarm in the camp, and heard a roaring noise as of a heavy wind in that direction. Hastily throwing on my clothes, I rushed out, and was surprised to see Jones’s dray on fire; the tarpaulin was in a blaze, and caused the noise I have mentioned. As this dray was apart from the others, and at a distance from any fire, I was at a loss to account for the accident; but it appeared that Jones had placed a piece of lighted cowdung under the dray the evening before, to drive off the mosquitos, which must have lodged in the tarpaulin and set it on fire. Two bags of flour were damaged, and the outside of the medicine chest was a good deal scorched, but no other injury done. The tarpaulin was wholly consumed, and Jones lost the greater part of his clothes, a circumstance I should not have regretted if he had been in a situation to replace them.

Flood returned on the 25th, at 2 p.m., having found water in several places, but none of a permanent kind like that in the creek. He had fallen on a small and shallow lagoon, and had seen a tribe of natives, who ran away at his approach, although he tried to invite them to remain.

About an hour before sunset Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne returned, to the great relief of my mind; for, with every confidence in their prudence, I could not help being anxious in such a situation as that in which I was placed, my only companions having then been many days absent. They had nearly reached the 28th parallel, and had discovered an abundance of water, but Mr. Poole was more sanguine than Mr. Browne of its permanency.

The first water they found at the commencement of their journey, was at a distance of 40 miles and upwards, and as I felt assured we should have great difficulty in taking the cattle so far without any, I sent Flood, on the 26th, to try if he could find some intermediate pool at which I could stop. Mr. Poole informed me that the ranges still continued to the north, but that they were changed in character, and he thought they would altogether terminate ere long.

He also reported to me that the day he left the camp he pursued a N.N.E. course, skirting an acacia scrub, and that arriving at a small puddle of water at 12 miles, he halted. That on the 12th he started at six, and after travelling about three miles first got a view of distant ranges to the north; he soon afterwards entered an acacia scrub, and at 15 miles crossed a creek, the course of which was to the S.W., but there was no water in it. At five the party reached the hills, the acacia scrub continuing to within a mile of them; and as the day had been exceedingly warm, Mr. Poole encamped in a little gully. He then walked with Mr. Browne to the top of the nearest hill, and from it observed two lines of gum-trees in the plains below them to the north, which gave them hopes of finding water in the morning, as they were without any. Saw two detached ranges bearing 320 degrees and 329 degrees respectively, and a distant flat-topped hill, bearing 112 degrees from them, the country appearing to be open to the north.

On the 13th, the party pushed on at an early hour for the gum-trees, but found no water. Observed numerous flights of pigeons going to the N.W. Traced the creek down for two miles, when they arrived at a place where the natives had been digging for water; here Mr. Poole left Mr. Browne and went further down the creek, when he succeeded in his search; but finding, on his return, that Mr. Browne and Mack had cleared out the well and got a small supply of water, with which they had relieved the horses and prepared breakfast, he did not return to the water he had discovered, but proceeded to the next line of gum-trees where there was another creek, but without water in it; coming on a small quantity in its bed at two miles, however, they encamped. A meridian altitude of Aldebaran here gave their latitude 30 degrees 10 minutes 0 seconds S. On the following morning Mr. Poole started on a W.N.W. course for a large hill, from whence he was anxious to take bearings, and which he reached and ascended after a journey of 22 miles. From this hill, which he called the Magnetic Hill (Mount Arrowsmith), because on it the north point of the compass deviated to within 3 degrees of the south point, he saw high ranges to the north and north-east; a hill they had already ascended bore 157 degrees 30 minutes, and the flat-topped hill 118 degrees 30 minutes. From the Magnetic Hill, Mr. Poole went to the latter, and ascended the highest part of it. The range was rugged, and composed of indurated quartz, and there was a quantity of gypsum in round flat pieces scattered over the slopes of the hills. The country to the W. and W.N.W. appeared to be very barren. The range on which they were was perfectly flat at the top, and covered with the same vegetation as the plains below. From this point Mr. Poole went to the north, but at 12 miles changed his course to the N.E. for three miles, when he intersected a creek with gum-trees, and shortly afterwards found a large supply of permanent water. Their latitude at this point was 29 degrees 47 minutes S., and up to it no change for the better had taken place in the appearance of the country. On Monday, the 15th, Mr. Poole ascended several hills to take bearings before he moved on; he then proceeded up the creek to the north-west, and passed from fifteen to twenty large water-holes. At about three miles, Mr. Poole found himself on an open table land, on which the creek turned to the west. He, therefore, left it, and at two miles crossed a branch creek with water and grass. At 7 1/2 miles farther to the north crossed another creek, followed it for a mile, when it joined a larger one, the course of which was to the north-east. In this creek there were numerous large pools of water. Crossing it, Mr. Poole ascended a hill to take bearings, from which he descended to a third creek, where he stopped for the night. On the following morning he continued his journey to the north, being anxious to report to me the character of the ranges. At 12 miles over open plains he intersected a creek trending to the eastward, in which there was an abundant supply of water; but this creek differed from the others in having muddy water, and but little vegetation in its neighbourhood. Passed some native huts, and saw twenty wild turkeys. At 10 miles from this creek Mr. Poole struck another, the ranges being still 12 miles distant. The horses having travelled for the last 10 miles over barren stony plains, had lost their shoes, and were suffering greatly. Mr. Poole, therefore, stopped at this place, and on consulting with Mr. Browne, determined to return to the camp without delay. Accordingly on the following morning he rode to the hills with Mr. Browne, leaving Mack with the other horses to await his return, and at 10 a.m. ascended the range. The view from it was not at all encouraging. The hills appeared to trend to the N.E., and were all of them flat-topped and treeless. The country to the west and north-west was dark with scrub, and the whole region barren and desolate. After taking bearings, Mr. Poole descended, returned to the creek on which he had left Mack, and as I have already stated, reached the camp on the evening of the 25th.

It will be obvious to the reader that the great danger I had to apprehend was that of having my retreat cut off from the failure of water in my rear; or if I advanced without first of all exploring the country, of losing the greater number of my cattle. It may be said that my officers had now removed every difficulty; but notwithstanding that Mr. Poole was sanguine in his report of the probable permanency of the water he had found, I hesitated whether to advance or not; but considering that under all circumstances the water they had found would still be available for a considerable time, and that it would enable me to push still further to the north, I decided on moving forward at once; but the weather was at this time so terrifically hot, that I hardly dared move whilst it continued, more especially as we had so great a distance to travel without water. I kept the party in readiness, however, to move at a moment’s notice. On the 27th we had thunder, but no rain fell, and the heat seemed rather to increase than to decrease. On the 28th, at 2 p.m., the wind suddenly flew round to the south, and it became cooler. In hopes that it would continue, I ordered the tents to be struck, and we left Flood’s Creek at half-past 4. As soon as I had determined on moving, I directed Mr. Poole to lead on the party in the direction he thought it would be best to take, and mounting my horse, rode with Mr. Browne and Mr. Stuart towards the ranges, to take bearings from a hill I had intended to visit, but had been prevented from doing in consequence of the extreme heat of the weather. I did not, indeed, like leaving the neighbourhood without going to this hill. The distance, however, was greater than it appeared to be, and it was consequently late before we reached it; but once on the top we stood on the highest and last point of the Barrier Range; for although, as we shall learn, other ranges existed to the north, there was a broad interval of plain between us and them, nor were they visible from our position. We stood, as it were, in the centre of barrenness. I feel it impossible, indeed, to describe the scene, familiar as it was to me. The dark and broken line of the Barrier Range lay behind us to the south; eastward the horizon was bounded by the hills I had lately visited, and the only break in the otherwise monotonous colour of the landscape was caused by the plains we had crossed before entering the pine forest. From the south-west round to the east northwards, the whole face of the country was covered with a gloomy scrub that extended like a sea to the very horizon. To the north-west, at a great distance, we saw a long line of dust, and knowing it to be raised by the party, after having taken bearings and tried the point of boiling water, we descended to overtake it. In doing this we crossed several spurs, and found tolerably wide and grassy flats between them. Following one of these down we soon got on the open plains, and about half-past seven met Mr. Poole, who had left the party to go to a fire he had noticed to the eastward, which he thought was a signal from us that we had found water; but such had not been our good fortune.

I now halted the party until the moon should rise, and we threw ourselves on the ground to take a temporary repose, the evening being cool and agreeable. At 11 we again moved on, keeping a north course, under Mr. Poole’s guidance, partly over stony plains, and partly over plains of better quality, having some little grass upon them, until 8 a.m. of the morning of the 29th, when we stopped for an hour. As day dawned, Mr. Poole had caught sight of the hill, as he thought, to the base of which he wished to lead the party, and under this impression we continued our northerly course at 9, until by degrees we entered a low brush, and from it got into a pine forest and amongst ridges of sand. Mr. Poole had crossed a similar country; but the sandy ridges had soon ceased, and in the hope that such would now be the case he pushed forward until it was too late to retreat, for the exertion had already been very great to the animals in so heated and inhospitable a desert. In vain did the men urge their bullocks over successive ridges of deep loose sand, the moment they had topped one there was another before them to ascend. Seeing that they were suffering from the heat, I desired the men to halt, and sending Mr. Poole and Mr. Stuart forward with the spare horses and sheep to relieve them as soon as possible, I remained with the drays, keeping Mr. Browne with me. We had not travelled more than half a mile, on resuming our journey, when we arrived at a dry salt lagoon, at which the sheep had stopped. I here determined on leaving two of the drays, in the hope that by putting an additional team into each of the others we should get on, although before this we had discovered that Mr. Poole had mistaken his object, and had inadvertently led us into the thickest of the pinery. The drivers, however, advanced but slowly with the additional strength I had given them, and it was clear they would never get out of their difficulties, unless some other plan were adopted. I therefore again stopped the teams, and sent Mr. Browne to the eastward to ascertain how far the ridges extended in that direction, since Mr. Poole’s track appeared to be leading deeper into them. On his return he informed me that the ridges ceased at about a mile and a quarter; in consequence of which I turned to the north-east, but the bullocks were now completely worn out and refused to pull. To save them, therefore, it became necessary to unyoke and to drive them to water, and as Mr. Browne felt satisfied he could lead the way to the creek, I adopted that plan, and telling the men with the sheep to follow on our tracks, we left the drays, at 6 p.m., taking two of the men only with us, and clearing the sand ridges at dusk, entered upon and traversed open plains. We then stopped to rest the cattle until the moon should rise, and laid down close to them; but although we kept watch, they had well nigh escaped us in search for water. At half-past ten we again moved on, and at midnight reached a low brush, in which one of the bullocks fell, and I was obliged to leave him. About two hours afterwards another fell, but these were the total of our casualties. We reached the creek at 3 in the morning of the 30th, and rode to a fire on its banks, where we found Davenport and Joseph with the cart; they had separated from Mr. Poole, who was then encamped about a quarter of a mile to the westward of them, although Davenport did not know where he was, nor had he found water. Our situation would have been exceedingly perplexing, if Mr. Browne, who had led me with great precision to this point, had not assured me that he recognised the ground, and that as soon as day dawned he would take me to the water. Just at this moment we saw another fire to the eastward, to which I sent Morgan on horseback, who returned with Mr. Poole, when we were enabled to give the poor animals the relief they so much required.

Having thus secured the horses and bullocks, I turned my attention to the men in the forest, with regard to whom I had no occasion to feel any alarm, as I had left ten gallons of water for their use, and strictly cautioned them not to be improvident with it. However, as soon as he had had a little rest, I sent Morgan with a spare horse for their empty casks to replenish them. At 2 o’clock I sent Flood with four gallons of water to the nearest bullock that had fallen. About 11 Brock came up with the sheep all safe and well. Flood returned at 7, with information that the bullock was dead, but night closed in without our seeing anything of Morgan, and having nothing to eat we looked out rather anxiously for him. The water on which we rested was at some little distance from the creek, in a long narrow lagoon, but we had scarcely any shade from the intense heat of the sun, the water being muddy, thick, and full of frogs and crabs. I have observed upon the extreme and increasing heat that prevailed at this time. Notwithstanding this, however, the night was so bitterly cold that we were glad to put on anything to keep us warm. Our situation may in some measure account for this extreme variation of temperature, as we were in the bed of the creek which might yet have been damp, as its surface had only just dried up; perhaps also from exposure to such heat during the day we were more susceptible of the least change. Be that as it may, certain it is that as morning dawned on this occasion, when the thermometer stood at 67 degrees, we crept nearer to our fires for warmth, and in less than six hours afterwards were in a temperature of 104 degrees.

As we passed through the acacia scrub, we observed that the natives had lately been engaged collecting the seed. The boughs of the trees were all broken down, and there were numerous places where they had thrashed out the seed, and heaped up the pods. These poor people must indeed be driven to extremity if forced to subsist on such food, as its taste is so disagreeable that one would hardly think their palates could ever be reconciled to it. Natives had evidently been in our neighbourhood very lately, but we saw none.

At this time I was exceedingly anxious both about Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne, who were neither of them well. The former particularly complained of great pain, and I regretted to observe that he was by no means strong.

About 10 o’clock on the morning of the last day of the year 1844, I was with Tampawang at the head of the lagoon, trying to capture one of the building rats, a nest of which we had found under a polygonum bush. We had fired the fabric, and were waiting for the rats to bolt, when we saw Morgan riding up to us. He stopped when he got to the water, and throwing himself on the ground drank long at it. Seeing that he came without anything for which he had been sent, I began to apprehend some misfortune; but on questioning him I learnt that he had been at the drays, and was on his return, when, stopping on the plains to let his horses feed, he fell fast asleep, during which time they strayed, and he was obliged to leave everything and walk until he overtook his horse near the creek. He said the men had consumed all the water I had left with them, and were in great alarm lest they should die of thirst; I was exceedingly provoked at Morgan’s neglect, more particularly as the comfort of the other men was involved in the delay, although they deserved to suffer for the prodigal waste of their previous supply. But it is impossible to trust to men in their sphere of life under such circumstances, as they are seldom gifted with that moral courage which ensures calmness in critical situations. I made every allowance too for their being in so hot a place, and it only remained for me to relieve them as soon as I could. I sent the ever ready Flood for the casks and provisions Morgan had left behind him, but it was necessarily late before he returned; I then directed him to get up two teams of the strongest bullocks, and with him and another of the men left Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne to go myself to the pine forest for two of the drays. About seven miles from the creek we met Lewis, who was on our tracks. He said he apprehended that Morgan had lost himself, and that he came on to ensure relief to the other men, who he said were suffering greatly from the want of water. At 9 p.m. we rounded up the cattle until the moon should rise, and made fires to prevent their escape. At 11 she rose, but it was behind clouds, so that it was 12 before we could move on. About two miles from the drays we saw Kirby wandering away from the track and called to him. This man would infallibly have been lost if we had not thus accidentally seen him. On reaching the party I found that Lewis had somewhat exaggerated the state of affairs, still the men were bad enough, although they had not then been 36 hours without water.

Notwithstanding that the moon had risen behind clouds, the first sun of the new year (1845) rose upon us in all his brightness, and the temperature increased as he advanced to the meridian. As Jones was with the hindmost drays, I sent Sullivan on my horse with some water for him, and ordered Flood to precede me with two of the drays along a flat I had noticed as I rode along, by which they would avoid a good many of the ridges. Sullivan returned with Jones about half-past ten, who, he told me, so far from wanting water had given all I had sent him to the dogs. As there were twelve bullocks to each dray I was obliged to give the drivers assistance, and consequently had to leave Jones by himself in the forest. I allowed him however to keep two of the dogs, and gave him four gallons of water, promising to send for him in two days. I then mounted my horse to overtake the teams, which by the time I came up with them had got on better than I expected. But the heat was then so intense that I feared the bullocks would drop. I therefore ordered the men to come slowly and steadily on, and as I foresaw that they would want more water ere long, I rode ahead to send them some. On my arrival at the creek I was sorry to find both Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne complaining, and very much indisposed. During the short time we had been at this spot, the water in the lagoon had rapidly diminished, and was now not more than a foot deep and very muddy. Fearing that the quality of the water was disagreeing with my officers, I ordered a well to be dug in the bed of the creek, from which we soon got a small quantity both clearer and better. Having despatched Joseph with a fresh supply for the party with the drays, I sat down to break my own fast which I had not done for many hours. In speaking to Mr. Browne of the intense heat to which we had been exposed in the pine forest, he informed me that the day had not been very hot with them, the thermometer not having risen above 94 degrees at 2 p.m.

The drays reached the creek at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd, both men and cattle fairly worn out. I had hoped they would have arrived earlier, but the men assured me that shortly after I left them the heat was so great they could hardly move onwards. The ground became so heated that the bullocks pawed it to get to a cool bottom, every time they stopped to rest. The upper leathers of Mack’s shoes were burnt as if by fire, and Lewis’s back was sadly blistered. The dogs lost the skin off the soles of their feet, and poor Fingall, one of our best, perished on the road.

Amidst all the sufferings of the other animals the sheep thrived exceedingly well under Tampawang’s charge who was a capital shepherd. Their fleeces were as white as snow, and some of them were exceedingly fat. On the 3rd I sent Mr. Stuart to the Magnetic hill, Mount Arrowsmith, to verify Mr. Poole’s bearings, in consequence of the great deviation of the compass from its true point, and also to sketch in that isolated group of hills; but as he found the same irregularity in his compass, I did not trust to the bearings either he or Mr. Poole had taken. The rock of which that hill was composed is a compact sandstone, with blocks of specular iron ore scattered over it, highly magnetic.

In the hope that a ride would do both my officers good, I sent them on the 4th to trace the creek up, and to fix on our next halting place. I also despatched Flood to the pine forest for the remaining drays, sending an empty one to lighten the other loads; a precaution that proved of great advantage, as the bullocks got on much easier than on the former occasion, but the day also was much cooler.

Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne returned at 11 on the 5th, but I was sorry to observe that Mr. Browne looked very unwell, and Mr. Poole continued to complain. They had however succeeded in their mission, and as I was very anxious to get them to better water, our lagoon being all but dry, I determined on moving northward on the 7th.

Flood re-crossed the creek on the morning of the 6th, when the bullocks completed a task of about 170 miles in eight days.

As I had determined on moving on the 7th, it became necessary to examine the drays, and I was vexed to find that they wanted as much repair as they had done at Flood’s Creek. The men were occupied wedging them up, and greasing them on the 6th, and finished all but that of Lewis, the repair of which threw it late in the day on the 7th, before we proceeded on our journey. Independently, however, of my anxiety on account of my officers, several of the men were indisposed, and I was glad to break up our camp and fix it in a healthier spot than this appeared to be.

We started at 5 p.m., but as we had only about eight miles to go, it was not a matter of much consequence. We arrived at our destination at 10 p.m., but had some difficulty in finding the water, nor do I think we should have done so if we had not been guided to it by the hoarse and discordant notes of a bull-frog.

I had sent Mr. Stuart in the morning to some hills on our left, and Mr. Browne had ridden in the same direction to collect some seeds of a purple Hibiscus, and neither had joined the party when it reached the creek, as soon therefore as the cattle were unyoked, I fired a shot which they fortunately heard. Our collection of natural history still continued scanty. A very pretty tree, a new species of Grevillia, out of flower, however, and which I only concluded to be a Grevillia from its habit, and the appearance of its bark, had taken the place of the gum-trees on the creeks, and the jasmine was everywhere common, but, with the exception of a few solani and some papilionaceous plants, we had seen nothing either new or rare.

Of birds the most numerous were the new pigeon and the black-shouldered hawk; but there was a shrike that frequented the creeks which I should have noticed before. This bird was about the size of a thrush, but had the large head and straight-hooked bill of its species; in colour it was a dirty brownish black, with a white bar across the wings. Whilst we were staying at Flood’s Creek, one of these birds frequented the camp every morning, intimating his presence by a shrill whistle, and would remain for an hour trying to catch the tunes the men whistled to him. His notes were clear, loud, metallic and yet soft; their variety was astonishing, and his powers of imitation wonderful; there was not a bird of the forest that he did not imitate so exactly as to deceive. I would on no account allow this songster to be disturbed, and the consequence was that his rich note was the first thing heard at dawn of day, during the greater part of our residence in that neighbourhood.

We passed several native huts shortly after leaving the creek that were differently constructed from any we had seen. They were all arched elliptically by bending the bough of a tree at a certain height from the ground, and resting the other end on a forked stick at the opposite side of the arch. A thick layer of boughs was then put over the roof and back, on which there was also a thick coating of red clay, so that the hut was impervious to wind or heat. These huts were of considerable size, and close to each there was a smaller one equally well made as the larger. Both were left in perfect repair, and had apparently been swept prior to the departure of their inmates.

On the 8th we started at 5 a.m., and reached our destination (a place to which Mr. Poole had already been) at 11. We crossed barren stony plains, having some undulating ground to our left, and the magnetic hill as well as another to the south of it shewed as thunder clouds above the horizon. On our arrival at the creek we found about 30 fires of natives still burning, whom we must have frightened away. We did not see any of them, nor did I attempt to follow on their tracks which led up the creek.

As I have already stated the fall of Flood’s Creek was to the west. The creek from which we had just removed, as well as the one on which we then were, fell in the opposite direction or to the eastward, terminating after short courses either in grassy plains or in shallow lagoons.

On the 9th I remained stationary, and thus gave Mr. Piesse an opportunity to examine a part of our stores. He reported to me that the flour had lost weight nearly 10 per cent., some of the bags not weighing their original quantity by upwards of sixteen pounds. As the men had their full allowance of meat, I thought it advisable, in consequence of this, to reduce the ration of flour to 7 lb. per week, and I should be doing an injustice to them if I did not give them credit for the readiness with which they acquiesced in this arrangement.

The 10th of the month completed the fifth of our wanderings. We left our position rather late in the day, and halted a little after sunset at the outskirt of a brush, into which I was afraid to enter by that uncertain light, and as the animals had been watered at a small creek we crossed not long before, I had no apprehension as to their suffering. We started at 4 a.m. on the morning of the 11th, and soon passed the scrub; we then traversed open plains thickly covered in many places with quartz, having crossed barren sandy plains on the other side of the scrub. We now found the country very open, and entirely denuded of timber, excepting on the creeks, the courses of which were consequently most distinctly marked. Keeping a little to the eastward to avoid the gullies connected with some barren stony hills to our left, we descended to the ground Mr. Poole had fixed upon as our next temporary resting place. To the eye of an inexperienced bushman its appearance was in every respect inviting; there was a good deal of grass in its neighbourhood; the spot looked cheerful and picturesque, with a broad sheet of water in the creek, which when Mr. Poole first saw it must have been much larger and deeper; but in the interval between his first and second visit, it had been greatly reduced, and now presented a broad and shallow surface, and I felt assured that it would too soon dry up. Convinced therefore of the necessity of exertion, to secure to us if possible a supply of water, on which we could more confidently rely, I determined on undertaking myself the task of looking for it without delay. Both Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne were better, and the men generally complained less than they had done. On Sunday, the 12th, we had thunder with oppressive heat, but no rain. On Monday the wind, which had kept with the regularity of a monsoon to the E.S.E., flew round to the N.W., the thermometer at noon standing at 108 degrees in the shade.

From the period at which we left Flood’s Creek we had not seen any hills to the eastward, the ranges having terminated on that side. The hills we had passed were detached from each other, and to the westward of our course. The fall of the creek on which we were at this time encamped was consequently to the eastward, but there was a small hill about five miles to the E.N.E., under which it ran; that hill was the southern extremity of the ranges Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne had lately visited.

I left the camp on the 14th of the month, in the anxious hope that I should succeed in finding some place of more permanent safety than the one we then occupied, for we could almost see the water decrease, so powerful was the evaporation that was going on. I was accompanied by Mr. Browne and Mr. Poole, with Flood, Joseph, and Mack; but Mr. Poole only attended me with a view to his returning the next day with Mack, in the event of our finding water, to which he might be able to remove during my absence. We traced the creek upwards to the north-west, and at about four miles came to another, joining it from the westward. There was no water, but a good deal of grass about its banks, and it was evidently a tributary of no mean consequence. Crossing this we traced up the main creek on a more northerly course, having the Red Hill, subsequently called Mount Poole, on our left. We were obliged to keep the banks of the creek to avoid the rough and stony plains on either side. A little above the junction of the creek I have noticed, we passed a long water-hole, at which Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne had stopped on their excursion to the north; but it was so much diminished that they could hardly recognise it. The fact however shewed how uncertain our prospects were at this period. The bed of the creek was grassy, but broad, level, and gravelly. At almost every turn to which we came Mr. Poole assured me there had been, when he passed, a large sheet of water; but not a drop now remained, nor could we by scratching find the least appearance of moisture. Yet it was evident that this creek was at times highly flooded, there being a great accumulation of rubbish at the butts of the trees on the flats over which its waters must sweep, and the trunks of trees were lodged at a considerable height in the branches of those growing in its bed. Following its general course for 14 miles, we were led somewhat to the eastward of north, towards some hills in that direction, from which the creek appeared to issue, and then halted for the night, after a vain search for water. The Red Hill bore S. 47 degrees W., and some hills of less elevation were seen more to the westward of it, but beyond the last towards the north there were vast open and stony plains, destitute of timber and with very little vegetation upon them. On the morning of the 15th, at 5 p.m., we traversed these plains on a north course, and at 11 miles struck the creek of which Mr. Poole had spoken as containing muddy water, and found it precisely as he described. There were long water-holes about twenty-five feet broad, and three or four deep; but the water was exceedingly muddy. The banks were of a stiff, light-coloured clay, without any vegetation either on them or the contiguous flats, except a few bushes of polygonum growing under box-trees.

We here stopped to breakfast, although there was but little for the horses to eat. We then proceeded on a north-east {SOUTH-EAST in published text} course down the creek, keeping close upon its banks to avoid the macadamized plains on either side. To our left there were some undulating hills, and beyond them the summits of some remarkable flat-topped hills were visible. After leaving the place where we had breakfasted, we did not find any more water in the bed of the creek, but halted late in the afternoon at a small lagoon, not far from it. This lagoon was surrounded by trees; but like those of the creek its waters were muddy and not more than 18 inches deep. Our latitude at this point was 29 degrees 14 minutes S., and our longitude 141 degrees 42 minutes E.; the variation being 5 degrees 5 minutes E.

Not wishing to keep Mr. Poole any longer away from the party, I sent him back to the camp on the 16th, with Mack, directing him to examine the creek we had crossed on his way homewards; as it appeared to me to break through some hills about three miles from its junction with the main creek, and I thought it probable he might there find water. I also directed him during my absence to trace the creek on which the camp was established downwards, to ascertain if there was water in it below us.

In the mean time Mr. Browne and I pushed on for the ranges, which presented a very singular appearance as we surveyed them from the lagoon.

The geological formation of these hills was perfectly new, for they were now composed almost exclusively of indurated or compact quartz. The hills themselves no longer presented the character of ranges, properly so called, but were a group of flat-topped hills, similar to those figured by Flinders, King, and other navigators. Some were altogether detached from the main group, not more than two-thirds of a mile in length, with less than a third of that breadth, and an elevation of between three and four hundred feet. These detached hills were perfectly level at the top, and their sides declined at an angle of 54 degrees. The main group as we now saw it appeared to consist of a number of projecting points, connected by semicircular sweeps of greater or less depth. There was no vegetation on the sides either of the detached hills or of the projecting points, but they consisted of a compact white quartz, that had been split by solar heat into innumerable fragments in the form of parallelograms. Vast heaps of these laid at the base of the hills, and resembled the ruins of a town, the edifices of which had been shaken to pieces by an earthquake, and on a closer examination it appeared to me that a portion of the rock thus scaled off periodically. We approached these hills by a gradual ascent, over ground exceedingly stony in places; but as we neared them it became less so, the soil being a decomposition of the geological structure of the hills. It was covered with a long kind of grass in tufts, but growing closer together than usual. There were bare patches of fine blistered soil, that had as it were been raised into small hillocks, and on these, rounded particles, or stools, if I may so call them, of gypsum rested, oval or round, but varying in diameter from three to ten inches or more. These stools were perfectly flat and transparent, the upper surface smooth, but in the centre of the under surface a pointed projection, like that in a bull’s eye in window glass was buried in the ground, as if the gypsum was in process of formation.

On leaving the lagoon, we crossed the creek, riding on a north-east course over stony plains, and at five miles struck another creek in which we found a good supply of water, coming direct from the hills, and continuing to the S.S.E., became tributary to the one we had just left. I had taken bearings of two of the most prominent points on the ranges from the lagoon, and directing Flood to go to one of them with Joseph, and wait for me at the base, I rode away with Mr. Browne to ascend the other; but finding it was much farther than we had imagined, that it would take us out of our way, and oblige us to return, we checked our horses and made for the other hill, at the foot of which Flood had already arrived. The ascent was steep and difficult, nor did the view from its summit reward our toil. If there was anything interesting about it, it was the remarkable geological formation of the ranges. The reader will understand their character and structure from the accompanying cut, better than from any description I can give. They were, in fact, wholly different in formation from hills in general. To the westward there was a low, depressed tract, with an unbroken horizon and a gloomy scrub. Southwards the country was exceedingly broken, hilly, and confused; but there was a line of hills bounding this rugged region to the eastward, and immediately beyond that range were the plains I had crossed in going to Mount Lyell. From the point on which we stood there were numerous other projecting points, similar to those of the headlands in the channel, falling outwards at an angle of 55 degrees, as if they had crumbled down from perpendicular precipices. The faces of these points were of a dirty white, without any vegetation growing on them; they fell back in semicircular sweeps, and the ground behind sloped abruptly down to the plains. The ranges were all flat-topped and devoid of timber, but the vegetation resembled that of the country at their base, and the fragments of rock scattered over them were similar: that is to say, milky quartz, wood opal, granite, and other rocks (none of which occurred in the stratification of these ranges), were to be found on their summits as on the plains, and in equal proportion, as if the whole country had once been perfectly level, and that the hills had been forced up. Such indeed was the impression upon Mr. Poole’s mind, when he returned to me from having visited these ranges. “They appear,” he remarked, “to have been raised from the plains, so similar in every respect are their tops to the district below.” Our eyes wandered over an immense expanse of country to the south, and we were enabled to take bearings of many of the hills near the camp, although there was some uncertainty in our recognition of them at the distance of 40 miles. The Red Hill, however, close to the camp bore south, and was full that distance from us. We could also see the course of the creeks we had been tracing, ultimately breaking through the range to the eastward and passing into the plains beyond. Behind us to the north there were many projecting points appearing above the level of the range. These seemed to be the northern termination of these hills, and beyond them the country was very low. The outline of the projecting points was hilly, and they were so exactly alike that it would have been impossible to have recognised any to which we might have taken bearings; but there were two little cones in a small range to the north upon which I felt I could rely with greater certainty. They respectively bore 302 and 306 from me; and as they were the only advanced points on which I could now keep up bearings, although in the midst of hills, I determined as soon as I should have examined the neighbourhood a little more, to proceed to them. From our first position we went to the next, a hill of about 450 feet in height, perfectly flat-topped, and detached from the main group.

In crossing over to this point the ground was stony, but there was a good deal of grass growing in tufts upon it, and bare patches of blistered earth on which flat stools of gypsum were apparently in process of formation. Immediately to the left there were five remarkable conical hills. These we successively passed, and then entered a narrow, short valley, between the last of these cones and the hill we were about to ascend. The ground was covered with fragments of indurated quartz (of which the whole group was composed), in parallelograms of different dimensions. The scene was like that of a city whose structures had been shaken to pieces by an earthquake — one of ruin and desolation. The faces of the hills, both here and in other parts of the group, were cracked by solar heat, and thus the rock was scaling off. We were here obliged to dismount and walk. The day being insufferably hot, it was no pleasant task to climb under such exposure to an elevation of nearly 500 feet. We had frequently to take breath during our ascent, and reached the summit of the hill somewhat exhausted. The view was precisely similar to that we had overlooked from the opposite point, which bore W. by N. from us. Again the two little peaks were visible to the N.N.W., and after taking bearings of several distant points, we descended, as I had determined on returning for the night to the creek we had passed in the morning, and tracing it into the hills on my way to the westward. Accordingly, on the following morning we commenced our journey up it at an early hour, not knowing where we should next find the water. At about six miles we had entered a valley, with high land on either side, and at a mile beyond reached the head of the creek, and had the steep brow of a hill to ascend, which I thought it most prudent first to attempt on foot. Mr. Browne and I, therefore, climbed it, and on looking back to the north-east, saw there was a declining plain in that direction. Over the level outline the tops of the projections of this range were to be seen all exactly alike; but there was an open space to the north-east, as if the fall of waters was to that point. There were also some low scattered trees upon the plain, seeming to mark the course of a creek. Anxious to ascertain if we had been so fortunate, I looked for a practicable line for the horses to ascend, and having got them up the hill, we pushed forward. On arriving at the first trees, there was a little channel, or rather gutter, and a greener verdure marked its course along the plain to the next trees. Gradually it became larger, and at last was fully developed as a creek. After tracing it down for some miles, having stony barren plains on both sides, we turned to look for the hill we had so lately left, and only for a red tint it had peculiar to itself, should we again have recognised it. We now pushed on in eager anticipation that sooner or later water would appear, and this hope was at last gratified by our arrival at a fine pool, into which we drove a brood of very young ducks, and might, if we had pleased, shot the mother; but although a roast duck would have been very acceptable, we spared her for her children’s sake. This was a nice pond, but small. It was shaded by gum-trees, and there was a cavernous clay bank on the west side of it, in which gravel stones were embedded. Here we staid but for a short time, as it was early in the day. We had flushed numerous pigeons as we rode along, and flights came to the water while we stopped, but were not treated with the same forbearance as the duck. We shot two or three, and capital eating they were. About 3, we had left the creek, as it apparently turned to the eastward, and was lost on the plain, and crossing some stony ground, passed between two little ranges. We then found ourselves on the brow of a deep valley that separated us from the little cones we purposed ascending. The side of it which trended to the north-west was very abrupt and stony, and it was with some difficulty we descended into it; but that done, we left Morgan and Flood with the cart, and ascended the nearer peak.

From the summit of the highest of the cones we had a clear view round more than one half of the horizon. Immediately at the base of the ranges northwards, there was a long strip of plain, and beyond it a dark and gloomy scrub, that swept round from S.W. to E., keeping equi-distant from the hills, excepting at the latter point where it closed in upon them. On the N.W. horizon there was a small low undulating range, apparently unconnected with any other, and distant about 40 miles. No change had taken place in the geological formations of the main range. The same abrupt points, and detached flat-topped hills, characterised their northern as well as the southern extremity. We had now however reached their termination northwards, but they continued in an easterly direction until they were totally lost in the dark mass of scrub that covered and surrounded them, not one being of sufficient height to break the line of the horizon. To the S.W. a column of smoke was rising in the midst of the scrub, otherwise that desolate region appeared to be uninhabited. On descending from the peak, we turned to the N.W. along the line of a water-course at the bottom of the valley, tracing it for about four miles with every hope of finding the element we were in search of in its green bed, but we gained the point where the valley opened out upon the plains, and halted under disappointment, yet with good grass for the horses. Our little bivouac was in lat. 29 degrees 2 minutes 14 seconds S. The above outline will enable the reader to judge of the character of the hills, that still existed to the eastward of us, and the probability of their continuance or cessation. I must confess that they looked to me as if they had been so many small islands, off the point of a larger one. They rose in detached groups from the midst of the plains, as such islands from the midst of the sea, and their aspect altogether bore such a striking resemblance to many of the flat-topped islands round the Australian continent described by other travellers, that I could not but think they had once been similarly situated.

On the 18th I passed into the plains until we had cleared the hills, when we rode along their base on a course somewhat to the east of north. We kept about half a mile from the foot of the ranges, with the brush about three miles to our left, and a clear space between us and them. I had been induced to take this direction in the hope that if there were any creeks falling from the hills into the plains we should intersect them, and accordingly after a ride of about seven miles we observed some gum-trees, about two miles ahead. On a nearer approach we saw flights of pigeons, cockatoos, and parrots winging round about them, and making the air resound with their shrill notes. The anticipations these indications of our approach to water raised, were soon verified by our arrival on the banks of a small creek coming from the hills. Under the trees there were two little puddles, rather than pools of water. The one had been reduced to its last dregs, and smelt offensively, the other was very muddy but drinkable, and such as it was we were most grateful for it. The horses requiring rest here, I halted for the night, more especially as the day was unusually hot, and as we could see the creek line of trees extending to the N.W., towards the low range we had noticed in that direction from the little peak, I determined therefore to run it down in the morning, and to make for them, in the hope that something new would develop itself.

On the other side of the creek from that on which we remained, there was a new but unfinished hut. Round about it were the fresh impressions of feet of all sizes, so that it was clear a family of natives must have been engaged in erecting this simple edifice when we were approaching, and that we must have frightened them away. Under this idea Mr. Browne and I tried to find them, perhaps hid in some low brush near us, but we could not. The plains were exceedingly open on both sides, so that they must have seen us at a great distance, and thus had time for flight.

On the 19th we started at daylight, as I proposed if possible to gain the hills before sunset, that being as much as the horses would do. Running the creek down at three and a half miles we were again attracted by a number of birds, pigeons, the rose cockatoo, the crested paroquet, and a variety of others flying round a clump of trees at no great distance from us, but they were exceedingly wild and watchful. We found a pool under, or rather shaded by the trees, of tolerable size, and much better than the water nearer to the hills. Close to it also, on a sloping bank, there was another more than half finished hut from which the natives could only just have retreated, for they had left all their worldly goods behind them; thus it appeared we had scared these poor people a second time from their work. I was really sorry for the trouble we had unintentionally given them, and in order to make up for it, I fastened my own knife with a glittering blade, to the top of a spear that stood upright in front of the hut; not without hopes that the owner of the weapon seeing we intended them no harm, would come to us on our return from the hills.

Below this water-hole the creek sensibly diminished. Crossing and abandoning it we struck away to the N.W. At about half a mile we entered the scrub, which had indeed commenced from the water, but which at that distance became thick. We were then in a perfect desert, from the scrub we got on barren sandy flats, bounded at first by sandy ridges at some little distance from each other, but the formation soon changed, and the sand ridges succeeded each other like waves of the sea. We had no sooner descended one than we were ascending another, and the excessive heat of so confined a place oppressed us greatly. We had on our journey to the westward found an abundance of grass on the sand ridges as well as the flats; but in this desert there was not a blade to be seen. The ridges were covered with spinifex, through which we found it difficult to force a way, and the flats with salsolaceous productions alone. There were no pine trees, but the brush consisted of several kinds of acacia, casuarina, cassia, and hakeae, and these were more bushes than shrubs, for they seldom exceeded our own height, and had leaves only at the termination of their upper branches, all the under leaves having dropped off, withered by the intensity of the reflected surface heat. At one we stopped to rest the horses, but mounted again at half-past one, and reached the hills at 5 p.m. The same dreary desert extended to their base, only that as we approached the hills the flats were broader, and the fall of waters apparently to the east. The surface of the flats was furrowed by water, and there were large bare patches of red soil, but with the exception of a flossy grass that grew sparingly on some of them, nothing but rhagodia and atriplex flourished.

I had tried the temperature of boiling water at the spot where we stopped in the Rocky Glen, and found it to be 211 degrees and a small fraction; and as we descended a little after leaving the creek, we could not have been much above the sea level at one period of the day, although now more than 450 miles from the coast. Our ascent to the top of the little range was very gradual; its sides destitute alike of trees and vegetation, being profusely covered with fragments of indurated quartz, thinly coated with oxide of iron: when on the summit we could not have risen more than 120 feet. It extended for some miles to the N.E., apparently parallel to the ranges from which we had come, whose higher points were visible from it, but to the north and west the horizon was as level as that of the ocean. A dark gloomy sea of scrub without a break in its monotonous surface met our gaze, nor was there a new object of any kind to be seen indicative of a probable change of country. Had other hills appeared to the north I should have made for them, but to have descended into such a district as that below me, seemed to be too hazardous an experiment at this stage of our journey. I determined therefore to return to the main range, and examine it to the north-east. I could not but think, however, from the appearance of the country as far as we had gone, that we could not be very far from the outskirts of an inland sea, it so precisely resembled a low and barren sea coast. This idea I may say haunted me, and was the cause of my making a second journey to the same locality; but on the present occasion, as the sun had set, I retraced my steps to a small flat where we had noticed a little grass, and tethering our horses out laid down to rest.

The desert ridden through the day before, seemed doubly desolate as we returned. The heat was intolerable, in consequence of a hot wind that blew upon us like a sirocco from the N.W., and the air so rarified that we could hardly breathe, and were greatly distressed. To our infinite relief we got back to the creek at half-past two, after a ride of about 37 miles.

The first thing we did on arriving, was to visit the hut of the natives to see if they had been there during our absence, but as my knife still dangled on the spear, we were led to conclude they had not. On examining the edifice, however, we missed several things that had been left untouched by us, and from the fresh footsteps of natives over our own of the day before, it was clear they had been back. The knife which was intended as a peace-offering, seems to have scared them away in almost as much haste as if we had been at their heels. There can be no doubt but that they took it for an evil spirit, at which they were, perhaps, more alarmed than at our uncouth appearance. Be that as it may, we departed from the creek without seeing anything of these poor people.

Native Village in the Northern Interior

At a little distance from the creek to the N.W., upon a rising piece of ground, and certainly above the reach of floods, there were seven or eight huts, very different in shape and substance from any we had seen. They were made of strong boughs fixed in a circle in the ground, so as to meet in a common centre; on these there was, as in some other huts I have had occasion to describe, a thick seam of grass and leaves, and over this again a compact coating of clay. They were from eight to ten feet in diameter, and about four and a half feet high, the opening into them not being larger than to allow a man to creep in. These huts also faced the north-west, and each had a smaller one attached to it as shewn in the sketch. Like those before seen they had been left in the neatest order by their occupants, and were evidently used during the rainy season, as they were at some little distance from the creek, and near one of those bare patches in which water must lodge at such times. At whatever season of the year the natives occupy these huts they must be a great comfort to them, for in winter they must be particularly warm, and in summer cooler than the outer air; but the greatest benefit they can confer on these poor people must be that of keeping them from ants, flies, and mosquitos: it is impossible to describe to the reader the annoyance we experienced from the flies during the day, and the ants at night. The latter in truth swarmed in myriads, worked under our covering, and creeping all over us, prevented our sleeping. The flies on the other hand began their attacks at early dawn, and whether we were in dense brush, on the open plain, or the herbless mountain top, they were equally numerous and equally troublesome. On the present occasion Mr. Browne and I regretted we had not taken possession of the deserted huts, as, if we had, we should have got rid of our tormentors, for there were not any to be seen near them. From the fact of these huts facing the north-west I conclude that their more inclement weather is from the opposite point of the compass. It was also evident from the circumstance of their being unoccupied at that time (January), that they were winter habitations, at which season the natives, no doubt, suffer greatly from cold and damp, the country being there much under water, at least from appearances. I had remarked that as we proceeded northwards the huts were more compactly built, and the opening or entrance into them smaller, as if the inhabitants of the more northern interior felt the winter’s cold in proportion to the summer heat.

Our position at this point was in latitude 29 degrees 43 minutes S., and in longitude 141 degrees 14 minutes E., the variation being 5 degrees 21 minutes East. I had intended pushing on immediately to the ranges, and examining the country to the north-east; but I thought it prudent ere I did this to ascertain the farther course of this creek, as it appeared from observations we had just made that the fall of waters was to the eastward. We accordingly started at daylight on the 20th, but after tracing it for a few miles, found that it turned sharp round to the westward and spread over a flat, beyond which its channel was nowhere to be found. I therefore turned towards the ranges, and arriving at the upper water-hole at half-past two, determined to stop until the temperature should cool down in the afternoon before I proceeded along the line of hills to the N.E., for the day had been terrifically hot, and both ourselves and our horses were overpowered with extreme lassitude. At a quarter past 3, p.m. on the 21st of January, the thermometer had risen to 131 degrees in the shade, and to 154 degrees in the direct rays of the sun. In the evening however we pushed on for about ten miles, and halted on a plain about a mile from the base of the hills, without water.

On the 22nd we continued our journey to the north-east, through a country that was anything but promising. Although we were traversing plains, our view was limited by acacias and other trees growing upon them. Notwithstanding that we kept close in to the ranges, the water-courses we crossed could hardly be recognised as such, as they scarcely reached to a greater distance than a mile and a half on the plains, before they spread out and terminated. As we advanced the brush became thicker, nor was there anything to cheer us onwards. In the afternoon therefore I turned towards the hills, and ascended one of them, to ascertain if there was any new object in sight, but here again disappointment awaited us.

The hills were more detached than in other places, and much lower. The brush swept over them, and we could see it stretching to the horizon on the distant plains between them. Excepting where the nearer hills rose above it, that horizon was unbroken; nor were the hills, although detached groups still existed to the north-east, distinguishable from the dark plains round them, as the brush extended over all, and the same sombre hue pervaded everything. I should still, however, have persevered in exploring that hopeless region; but my mind had for the last day or two been anxiously drawn to the state of the camp, and the straits to which I felt assured it would have been put, if Mr. Poole had not succeeded in finding water in greater quantity than that on which the people depended when Mr. Browne and I left them. Having been twelve days absent, I felt convinced that the water in the creek had dried up, and thought it more than probable that Mr. Poole had been forced to move from his position. Under such circumstances, I abandoned, for the time, any further examination of the north-east interior, and turning round to the south-west, passed up a flat rather than a valley between the hills, and halted on it at half-past 6 p.m. On the 23rd, we continued on a south-west course, and gradually ascended the more elevated part of the range; at 2 p.m. reached the water-hole we discovered the day we crossed the hills to the little peaks. Our journey back to the camp was only remarkable for the heat to which we were exposed. We reached it on the 24th of the month, and were really glad to get under shelter of the tents. All the water in the different creeks we passed in going out, had sunk many inches, and as I had feared, that at the camp had entirely vanished, and Mr. Poole having been obliged to dig a hole in the middle of the creek, was obtaining a precarious supply for the men, the cattle being driven to a neighbouring pond, which they had all but exhausted.

As the reader will naturally conclude, I was far from satisfied with the result of this last excursion. It had indeed determined the cessation of high land to the north and north-east; for although I had not reached the termination of the ranges in the latter direction, no doubt rested on my mind but that they gradually fell to a level with the plains. We had penetrated to lat. 28 degrees 43 minutes S., and to long. 141 degrees 4 minutes 30 seconds; but had found a country worse than that over which we had already passed — a country, in truth, that under existing circumstances was perfectly impracticable. Yet from appearances I could not but think that an inland sea existed not far from the point we had gained. As I have already observed, the fall of all the creeks from Flood’s Creek had been to the eastward, and from what we could judge at our extreme north, the dip of the country was also to the eastward. I thought it more than probable, therefore, that we were still in the valley of the Darling, and that if we could have persevered in a northerly course, we should have crossed to the opposite fall of waters, and to a decided change of country.

We had hitherto made but few additions to our collections. A new hawk and a few parrots were all the birds we shot; and if I except another new and beautiful species of Grevillia, we added nothing to our botanical collections. The geological formation was such as I have already described — a compact quartz of a dirty white. Of this adamantine rock all the hills were now composed.

A remarkable feature in the geology of the hills we had recently visited was, as I have remarked, that they were covered with the same productions and the same stones as the plains below, of which they seemed to have formed a part. Milky quartz was scattered over them, although no similar formation was visible; of manganese, basalt, and ironstone, with other substances, there were now no indications. None of these fragments had been rounded by attrition, but still retained their sharp edges and seemed to be little changed by time.

Mr. Poole informed me, that the day he returned to the party he proceeded towards the little range I had directed him to examine; in which, I should observe, both he and Mr. Browne thought there might be water, as they had passed to the westward of it, on their last journey towards the hills, and had then noticed it. Mr. Poole stated, that on approaching the range he arrived at a line of gumtrees, under which there was a long deep sheet of water; that crossing at the head of this, he entered a rocky glen, where there were successive pools in stony basins, in which he considered there was an inexhaustible supply of water for us; but that although the water near the camp had dried up, he had been unwilling to move until my return. The reader may well imagine the satisfaction this news gave me; for had my officer not been so fortunate, our retreat upon the Darling would have been inevitable, whatever difficulties might have attended such a movement — for we were in some measure cut off from it, or should only have made the retreat at an irreparable sacrifice of animals. Mr. Poole had also been down the creek whereon the camp was posted, and had found that it overflowed a large plain, but failing to recover the channel, he supposed it had there terminated. He met a large tribe of natives, amounting in all to forty or more, who appeared to be changing their place of abode. They were very quiet and inoffensive, and seemed rather to avoid than to court any intercourse with the party.

Foulkes, one of the bullock drivers, had had a sharp attack of illness, but was in some degree recovered. In all other respects everything was regular, and the stock at hand in the event of their being wanted.

I was exceedingly glad to find that the natives had not shewn any unfriendly disposition towards Mr. Poole and his men; but I subsequently learnt from him a circumstance that will in some measure account for their friendly demonstrations. It would appear that Sullivan and Turpin when out one day, during my absence, after the cattle, saw a native and his lubra crossing the plains to the eastward, with some stones for grinding their grass seed, it being their harvest time. Sullivan went after them; but they were exceedingly alarmed, and as he approached the woman set fire to the grass; but on seeing him bound over the flaming tussocks, they threw themselves on the ground, and as the lad saw their terror he left them and returned to his companion. No sooner, however, had these poor creatures escaped one dreaded object than they encountered another, in the shape of Mack, who was on horseback. As soon as they saw him they took to their heels; but putting his horse into a canter, he was up with them before they were aware of it; on this they threw down their stones, bags, net, and fire-stick, and scrambled up into a tree. The fire-stick set the grass on fire, and all their valuables would have been consumed, if Mack had not very properly dismounted and extinguished the flames, and put the net and bags in a place of safety. He could not, however, persuade either of the natives to descend, and therefore rode away. Mack happened to be with Mr. Poole at the time he met the tribe, and was recognised by the man and woman, who offered both him and Mr. Poole some of their cakes. Had the behaviour of my men been different, they would most likely have suffered for it; but I was exceedingly pleased at their strict compliance with my orders in this respect, and did not fail to express my satisfaction, and to point out the beneficial consequences of such conduct.

Mr. Poole having thus communicated with the natives, I was anxious to profit by it, and if possible to establish a friendly intercourse; the day after my arrival at the camp, therefore, I went down the creek with Mack in the hope of seeing them. I took a horse loaded with sugar and presents, and had every anticipation of success; but we were disappointed, since the whole tribe had crossed the plains, on the hard surface of which we lost their tracks. On this ride I found a beautiful little kidney bean growing as a runner amongst the grass, on small patches of land subject to flood. It had a yellow blossom, and the seed was very small and difficult to collect, as it appeared to be immediately attacked by insects.

The fact of the natives having crossed the plain confirmed my impression that the creek picked up beyond it, and I determined on the first favourable opportunity to ascertain that fact. It now, however, only remained for me to place the camp in a more convenient position. To do this we moved on the 27th, and whilst Mr. Browne led the party across the plains, I rode on ahead with Mr. Poole to select the ground on which to pitch our tents. At the distance of seven miles we arrived at the entrance of the little rocky glen through which the creek passes, and at once found ourselves on the brink of a fine pond of water, shaded by trees and cliffs. The scenery was so different from any we had hitherto seen, that I was quite delighted, but the ground being sandy was unfit for us, we therefore turned down the creek towards the long sheet of water Mr. Poole had mentioned, and waited there until the drays arrived, when we pitched our tents close to it, little imagining that we were destined to remain at that lonely spot for six weary months. We were not then aware that our advance and our retreat were alike cut off.

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