Narrative of an expedition into Central Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 6

The depot — further progress checked — character of the ranges — journey to the north-east — return — journey to the west — return — again proceed to the north — interview with natives — arrive at the farthest water — the party separates — progress northwards — continue to advance — sufferings of the horse — cross the 28th parallel — rejoin Mr. Stuart — journey to the westward — character of the country — find two ponds of water — the grassy park — return to the rang — excessive heat — a singular geological feature — regain the depot.

As the reader will have learnt from what I have stated at the conclusion of the last chapter, we pitched our tents at the place to which I have led him, and which I shall henceforth call the “Depot,” on the 27th of January, 1845. They were not struck again until the 17th of July following.

The Depot Glen

This ruinous detention paralyzed the efforts and enervated the strength of the expedition, by constitutionally affecting both the men and animals, and depriving them of the elasticity and energy with which they commenced their labours. It was not however until after we had run down every creek in our neighbourhood, and had traversed the country in every direction, that the truth flashed across my mind, and it became evident to me, that we were locked up in the desolate and heated region, into which we had penetrated, as effectually as if we had wintered at the Pole. It was long indeed ere I could bring myself to believe that so great a misfortune had overtaken us, but so it was. Providence had, in its allwise purposes, guided us to the only spot, in that wide-spread desert, where our wants could have been permanently supplied, but had there stayed our further progress into a region that almost appears to be forbidden ground. The immediate effect, however, of our arrival at the Depot, was to relieve my mind from anxiety as to the safety of the party. There was now no fear of our encountering difficulties, and perhaps perishing from the want of that life-sustaining element, without which our efforts would have been unavailing, for independently of the beautiful sheet of water, on the banks of which the camp was established, there was a small lagoon to the S.E. of us, and around it there was a good deal of feed, besides numerous water-holes in the rocky gully. The creek was marked by a line of gum-trees, from the mouth of the glen to its junction with the main branch, in which, excepting in isolated spots, water was no longer to be found. The Red Hill (afterwards called Mount Poole), bore N.N.W. from us, distant 3 1/2 miles; between us and it there were undulating plains, covered with stones or salsolaceous herbage, excepting in the hollows, wherein there was a little grass. Behind us were level stony plains, with small sandy undulations, bounded by brush, over which the Black Hill, bearing S.S.E. from the Red Hill, was visible, distant 10 miles. To the eastward the country was, as I have described it, hilly. Westward at a quarter of a mile the low range, through which Depot Creek forces itself, shut out from our view the extensive plains on which it rises. This range extended longitudinally nearly north and south, but was nowhere more than a mile and a half in breadth. The geological formation of the range was slate, traversed by veins of quartz, its interstices being filled with magnesian limestone. Steep precipices and broken rugged gullies alternated on either side of this creek, and in its bed there were large slabs of beautiful slate. The precipices shewed the lateral formation with the rock split into the finest laminae, terminating in sharp points. But neither on the ranges or on the plains behind the camp was there any feed for the cattle, neither were the banks of the creek or its neighbourhood to be put in comparison with Flood’s Creek in this respect, for around it there was an abundance as well as a variety of herbage. Still the vegetation on the Depot Creek was vigorous, and different kinds of seeds were to be procured. I would dwell on this fact the more forcibly, because I shall, at a future stage of this journey, have to remark on the state of the vegetation at this very spot, that is to say, when the expedition was on its return from the interior at the close of the year.

A few days after we had settled ourselves at the Depot, Mr. Browne had a serious attack of illness, that might have proved fatal; but it pleased God to restore him to health and reserve him for future usefulness. At this time, too, the men generally complained of rheumatism, and I suspected that I was not myself altogether free from that depressing complaint, since I had violent pains in my hip joints; but I attributed them to my having constantly slept on the hard ground, and frequently in the bed of some creek or other. It eventually proved, however, that I had been attacked by a more fearful malady than rheumatism in its worst stage.

There being no immediate prospect of our removal, I determined to complete the charts up to thepoint to which we had penetrated. I therefore sent Mr. Stuart, on the 2nd February, to sketch in the ranges to the eastward, and connect them with the hills I had lately crossed over. I directed Lewis, who had been in the survey, to assist Mr. Stuart, and sent Flood with them to trace down the creek I had noticed from several of our stations on the northern ranges, as passing through a gap in the hills to the eastward. They returned to the camp on the 4th, Mr. Stuart having been very diligent in his work. Flood had also obeyed my orders; but could find no water in the lower branches of the creek, although there was so much in it nearer the hills. The party had fallen in with a small tribe of natives, for whom Flood had shot an emu. Mr. Stuart informed me that they were very communicative; but their language was unknown to him. He understood from them that they intended to visit the camp in a couple of days; but as I had some doubts on this head, and was anxious to establish a communication, and induce them to return with me to the camp, I rode on the 5th with Mr. Browne across the plain, at the farther extremity of which they were encamped near a little muddy puddle. Flood and Joseph in the light cart accompanied us.

Great as the heat had been, it appeared rather to increase than diminish. The wind constantly blew from the E.S.E. in the morning, with the deep purple tint to the west I have already had occasion to notice. It then went round with the sun, and blew heavily at noon; but gradually subsided to a calm at sunset, and settled in the west, the same deep tint being then visible above the eastern horizon which in the morning had been seen in the west. The thermometer ranged from 100 degrees to 117 degrees in the shade at 3 p.m.; the barometer from 29.300 degrees to 29.100 degrees. Water boiled at 211 degrees and a fraction; but there was no dew point. I should have stated, that both whilst Mr. Browne and I were in the hills and at the camp, there was thunder and rain on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th, but the showers were too light even to lay the dust, and had no effect whatever on the temperature.

The morning we started to pay a visit to the blacks was more than usually oppressive even at daybreak, and about 9 it blew a hot wind from the N.E. As we rode across the stony plain lying between us and the hills, the heated and parching blasts that came upon us were more than we could bear. We were in the centre of the plain, when Mr. Browne drew my attention to a number of small black specks in the upper air. These spots increasing momentarily in size, were evidently approaching us rapidly. In an incredibly short time we were surrounded by several hundreds of the common kite, stooping down to within a few feet of us, and then turning away, after having eyed us steadily. Several approached us so closely, that they threw themselves back to avoid contact, opening their beaks and spreading out their talons. The long flight of these birds, reaching from the ground into the heavens, put me strongly in mind of one of Martin’s beautiful designs, in which he produces the effect of distance by a multitude of objects gradually vanishing from the view. Whatever the reader may think, these birds had a most formidable aspect, and were too numerous for us to have overpowered, if they had really attacked us. That they came down to see what unusual object was wandering across the lonely deserts over which they soar, in the hope of prey, there can be no doubt; but seeing that we were likely to prove formidable antagonists, they wheeled from us in extensive sweeps, and were soon lost to view in the lofty region from whence they had descended.

Milvus Affinis

When we reached the place where the natives had been, we were disappointed in not finding them. They had, however, covered up their fires and left their nets, as if with the intention of returning. Nevertheless we missed them, and reached the tents late in the evening, after a ride of 40 miles.

After my return from this excursion, I was busily employed filling-in the charts; but the ink in our pens dried so rapidly, that we were obliged to have an underground room constructed to work in, and it proved of infinite service and comfort, insomuch that the air in it was generally from 7 degrees to 8 degrees cooler than that of the outer air.

Our observations and lunars placed us in latitude 29 degrees 40 minutes 14 seconds S., and in longitude 141 degrees 30 minutes 41 seconds E. Mount Hopeless, therefore, bore W. by S. {N.N.W. in published text} of us, as we were still 7 miles to the north of it {25 MILES TO THE SOUTH OF IT in published text}, the difference of longitude being about 110 {171 in published text} miles, and our distance from the eastern shore of Lake Torrens about 85 {120 in published text}. The result of our lunars, however, placed us somewhat to the westward of the longitude I have given; and when I came to try my angles back from the Depot to Williorara, I found that they terminated considerably to the westward of Sir Thomas Mitchell’s position there. My lunars at Williorara, however, had not been satisfactory, and I therefore gave that officer credit for correctness, and in the first chart I transmitted to the Secretary of State assumed his position to be correct. There was a small range, distant about 20 miles to the westward of the stony range connected with the Depot Creek. It struck me that we might from them obtain a distant view of Mount Serle, or see some change of country favourable to my future views. Under this impression, I left the camp on the 7th of the month, with Mr. Poole and two of the men. The ranges were at a greater distance than I had imagined, but were of trifling elevation, and on arriving at them I found that the horizon to the westward was still closed from my view, by rising ground that intervened. I should have pushed on for it, but Mr. Poole was unfortunately taken ill, and I felt it necessary to give him my own horse, as having easier paces than the one he was riding. It was with difficulty I got him on his way back to the camp as far as the upper waterhole, just outside the Rocky Glen, at which we slept, and by that means reached the tents early on the following morning. I had anticipated rain before we should get back, from the masses of heavy clouds that rose to the westward, after the wind, which had been variable, had settled in that quarter; but they were dispersed during the night, and the morning of the 8th was clear and warm. We had felt it exceedingly hot the day we left the camp — there the men were oppressed with intolerable heat, the thermometer having risen to 112 degrees in the shade. We had not ourselves felt the day so overpowering, probably because we were in motion, and it is likely that a temporary change in the state of the atmosphere, had influenced the temperature, as the eastern horizon was banded by thunder clouds, though not so heavy as those to the westward, and there was a good deal of lightning in that quarter.

I have said that I was not satisfied with the result of my last excursion with Mr. Browne to the north. I could not but think that we had approached to within a tangible distance of an inland sea, from the extreme depression and peculiar character of the country we traversed. I determined, therefore, to make another attempt to penetrate beyond the point already gained, and to ascertain the nature of the interior there; making up my mind at the same time to examine the country both to the eastward and westward of the northern ranges before I should return to the camp. Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne being too weak to venture on a protracted excursion of such a kind, I took Mr. Stuart, my draftsman, with me. I should have delayed this excursion for a few days, however, only that I feared the total failure of the creeks in the distant interior; I proposed, in the first place, to make for the last and most distant water-hole in the little creek beyond the ranges. Thence to take the light cart with one horse, carrying as much water as he could draw, and with one man, on foot, to pursue a due north course into the brush. I hoped by this arrangement to gain the 27th parallel, and in so doing to satisfy myself as to the point on which I was so anxious. I selected a fine young lad to accompany me, named Joseph Cowley, because I felt some confidence in his moral courage in the event of any disaster befalling us. On this occasion I had the tank reconstructed, and took all the barrels I could, to enable me to go as far as possible, and the day after I returned to the camp with Mr. Poole, again left it with Mr. Stuart, Joseph, and Flood, in whose charge I intended to leave my horse during my absence — during which I also proposed that Mr. Stuart should employ his time tracing in the hills.

We reached the muddy creek at the foot of the hills at 2 p.m., after a ride of 25 miles, over the stony and barren plains I have described, and as the distance to the next water was too great for us to attempt reaching it until late, we stopped here for the night. Some natives had been on the creek in the early part of the day, and had apparently moved down it to the eastward. The water had diminished fearfully since the time we passed on our return from the north.

The day was cool and pleasant, as the wind blew from the south, and the thermometer did not rise above 95 degrees.

We had not ridden four miles on the following morning, when we observed several natives on the plain at a little distance to the south, to whom we called out, and who immediately came to us. We stopped with these people for more than two hours, in the hope that we should gain some information from them, either as to when we might expect rain, or of the character of the distant interior, but they spoke a language totally different from the river tribes, although they had some few words in common, so that I could not rely on my interpretation of what they said. They were all of them circumcised, and all but one wanted the right front tooth of the upper jaw. When we left these people I gave them a note for Mr. Poole, in the faint hope that they would deliver it, and I explained to them that he would give them a tomahawk and blankets, but, as I afterwards learnt, they never went to the camp.

When Mr. Browne and I were in this neighbourhood before, he had some tolerable sport shooting the new pigeon, the flesh of which was most delicious. At that time they were feeding upon the seed of the rice grass, and were scattered about, but we now found them, as well as many other birds, congregated in vast numbers preparing to migrate to the north-east, apparently their direct line of migration; they were comparatively wild, so that our only chance of procuring any was when they came to water.

On the 9th we slept at the water in the creek at the top of the ranges; but, on the 10th, instead of going through the pass, and by the valley, under the two little peaks, through which we had entered the plains on the first journey, we now turned to the westward in order to avoid that rugged line, and discovered that the creek, instead of losing itself in the flat to the eastward, continued on a westerly course to our left; for being attracted by a flight of pigeons, wheeling round some gum-trees, we might otherwise have overlooked it; I sent Flood to examine the ground, who returned with the pleasing information that the creek had reformed, and that there was a pool of water under the trees, nearly as large as the one we had just left.

I was exceedingly pleased at this discovery and determined to send Mr. Stuart back to it, as it would place him nearer his work. We reached the farthest water, from which we had the second time driven the poor native, late in the afternoon, and on examining the hut, found he had ventured back to it and taken away his traps; but the water in the creek was almost dried up; thick, muddy, and putrid, we could hardly swallow it, and I regretted that we had not brought water with us from the hills, but I had been influenced by a desire to spare my poor horse, as I knew the task that was before him, although the poor brute was little aware of it. About sunset an unfortunate emu came to water, and unconsciously approached us so near that Flood shot it with his fusee. This was a solitary wanderer, for we had seen very few either of these birds or kangaroos in these trackless solitudes.

On the morning of the 10th we were up early, and had loaded the cart with 69 gallons of water before breakfast, when Joseph and I took our departure, and Mr. Stuart with Flood returned to the hills. I had selected one of our best horses for this journey, an animal I had purchased from Mr. Frew of Adelaide. He was strong, powerful, and in good condition, therefore well qualified for the journey. I had determined on keeping a general north course, but in the kind of country in which I soon found myself it was impossible to preserve a direct line. At about four miles from the creek the brush became thick, and the country sandy, and at six miles the sand ridges commenced. Wishing to ease the horse as much as possible, Joseph endeavoured to round them by keeping on the intervening flats, but this necessarily lengthened the day’s journey, and threw me more to the eastward than I had intended. A noon I halted for two hours, and then pushed on, the day being cool, with the wind as it had been for the last three or four days from the south. Had the country continued as it was, we might have got on tolerably, but as we advanced it changed greatly for the worse. We lost the flats, on a general coating of sand thickly matted with spinifex, through which it was equally painful to ourselves and poor Punch to tread. We crossed small sandy basins or hollows, and were unable to see to any distance. The only trees growing in this terrible place were a few acacias in the hollows, and some straggling melaleuca, with hakeae and one or two other common shrubs, all of low growth; there was no grass, neither were the few herbs that grew on the hollows such as the horse would eat. We stopped a little after sunset, having journeyed about 22 miles, on a small flat on which there were a few acacias, and some low silky grass as dry as a chip, so that if we had not been provident in bringing some oats poor Punch would have gone without his supper. A meridian altitude of Capella placed us in lat. 28 degrees 41 minutes 0 seconds. Our longitude by account being 141 degrees 15 minutes E. When I rose at daylight on the following morning, I observed that the horse had eaten but little of the dry and withered food on which he had been tethered; however, in consequence of our tank leaking, I was enabled to give him a good drink, when he seemed to revive, but no sooner commenced pulling than he perspired most profusely. We kept a more regular course than on the previous day, over a country that underwent no change. Before we started I left a nine gallon cask of water in a small flat to ease the horse, and as the water in the tank had almost all leaked out, his load was comparatively light. Still it was a laborious task to draw the cart over such a country. Fortunately for us the weather was cool, as the wind continued south, for I do not know what we should have done if we had been exposed to the same heat Mr. Browne and myself had experienced on our return from the little stony ranges now about 10 miles to the westward of us. A little before noon the wind shifted to the N.E.; I had at this time stopped to rest the horse, but we immediately experienced a change of temperature, and the thermometer which stood at 81 degrees rose before we again started to 93 degrees, and at half-past three had attained 119 degrees. We were then in one of the most gloomy regions that man ever traversed. The stillness of death reigned around us, no living creature was to be heard; nothing visible inhabited that dreary desert but the ant, even the fly shunned it, and yet its yielding surface was marked all over with the tracks of native dogs.

We started shortly after noon, and passed a pointed sand-hill, from whence we could not only see the stony range but also the main range of hills. The little peak on which Mr. Browne and I took bearings on our last journey bore 150 degrees, the pass through which we had descended into the plains 170 degrees, when I turned however to take bearings of the stony range it had disappeared, having been elevated by refraction above its true position. It bore about N.W. 1/2 W., distant from eight to nine miles. It was again some time after sunset before we halted, on a small flat that might contain two or at the most three acres. There was some silky grass upon it, but this I knew the horse would not eat, neither had I more than a pint of oats to give him. Our latitude here was 28 degrees 22 minutes 0 seconds.

On the morning of the 13th we still pushed on, leaving, as before, a cask of water to pick up on our return. I had been obliged to limit the horse to six gallons a day, but where he had been in the habit of drinking from 25 to 30, so small a quantity would not suffice. We had not gone many miles when he shewed symptoms of exhaustion, and rather tottered than walked. He took no pains to avoid anything, but threw Joseph into every bush he passed. The country still continued unchanged, sand and spinifex were the universal covering of the land, and only round the edges of the little flats were a few stunted shrubs to be seen. It was marvellous to me that such a country should extend to so great a distance without any change. I could at no time see beyond a mile in any direction. Several flights of parrots flew over our heads to the north-west, at such an elevation as led me to suppose they would not pitch near us; but not a bird of any kind did we see in the desert itself. The day being exceedingly hot I stopped at one, rather from necessity than inclination, having travelled 12 or 14 miles. Both Joseph and myself had walked the whole way, and our legs were full of the sharp ends of the spinifex, but it was more in mercy to poor Punch than to ourselves that I pulled up, and held a consultation with Joseph as to the prudence of taking the cart any further, when it was decided that our doing so would infallibly lead to Punch’s destruction. According to my calculation we were now in latitude 28 degrees 9 minutes 0 seconds or thereabouts. I had hoped to have advanced some 60 miles beyond this point, but now found that it would be impossible to do so. There was no indication of a change of country from any rising ground near us, and as it was still early in the day I resolved on pushing forward until I should feel satisfied that I had passed into the 27th parallel; my reason for this being a desire to know what the character of the country, so far in the interior from, and in the same parallel as Moreton Bay, would be. I had intended tethering Punch out, and walking with Joseph, but as he remonstrated with me, and it did not appear that my riding him would do the horse any harm, I mounted, though without a saddle, and taking our guns, with a quart of water, we commenced our journey. We moved rapidly on, as I was anxious to return to the cart whilst there was yet daylight, to enable us to keep our tracks, but no material change took place in the aspect of the country. We crossed sand-ridge after sand-ridge only to meet disappointment, and I had just decided on turning, when we saw at the distance of about a quarter of a mile from us, a little rounded hill some few feet higher than any we had ascended. It was to little purpose however that we extended our ramble to it. At about a mile from where we left the cart, we had crossed two or three small plains, if pieces of ground not a quarter of a mile long might be so termed, on which rhagodia bushes were growing, and I had hoped that this trifling change would have led to a greater, but as I have stated such did not prove to be the case. From the top of the little hill to which we walked (and from which we could see to a distance of six or eight miles, but it was difficult to judge how far the distant horizon was from us), there was no apparent change, but the brush in the distance was darker than that nearer to us, as if plains succeeded the sandy desert we had passed over. The whole landscape however was one of the most gloomy character, and I found myself obliged to turn from it in disappointment. As far as I could judge we passed about a mile beyond the 28th parallel. Our longitude by account only being 141 degrees 18 minutes E. The boiling point of water was 211 degrees 75/100. The evening had closed in before we got back to the cart, but our course was fortunately true, and having given poor Punch as liberal a draught as reason would justify we laid down to rest.

It was with great difficulty that we got our exhausted animal on, the following morning, although I again gave him as much water as I could spare. His docility under urgent want of food was astonishing. He was in fact troublesomely persevering, and walked round and round the cart and over us as we sat drinking our tea, smelling at the casks, and trying to get his nose into the bung holes, and implored for relief as much as an animal could do so by looks. Yet I am satisfied that a horse is not capable of strong attachment to man, but that he is a selfish brute, for however kindly he may be treated, where is the horse that will stay, like the dog, at the side of his master to the last, although hunger and thirst are upon him, and who, though carnivorous himself, will yet guard the hand that has fed him and expire upon its post? but, turn the horse loose at night, and where will you find him in the morning, though your life depended on his stay?

We reached the creek on the morning of the 14th, about half-past 10, having still a gallon of water remaining, that was literally better than the water in the muddy puddle from which we had originally taken it. I had thought it probable that we might find either Flood or Mr. Stuart awaiting our return, but not seeing any trace of recent feet I concluded they were in the ranges, and as the distance was too great for the horse to travel in a day, in his exhausted state, I pushed on at 4 p.m., and halted on the plains after having ridden about 6 miles. It was well indeed that I did so, for we did not gain the ranges until near sunset on the following day. Our exhausted horse could hardly drag one leg after the other, although he pricked up his ears and for a time quickened his pace as he fell into the track of the cart coming out. Both Mr. Stuart and Flood were astonished at the manner in which he had fallen off, nor did he ever after recover from the effects of that journey.

Mr. Stuart had completed his work with great accuracy, and had filled in the chart so much that he saved me a good deal of trouble. The 16th being Sunday, was a day of rest to us all, but one of excessive heat. Mr. Stuart had stationed himself in the bed of the creek, which sloped down on either side, and was partially shaded by gum-trees. The remains of what must have been a fine pond of water occupied the centre, and although it was thick and muddy it was as nectar to myself and Joseph. I was surprised and delighted to see that the creek had here so large a channel, and Flood, who had ridden down it a few miles, assured me that it promised very well. During my absence he had shot at and wounded one of the new pigeons, which afterwards reached my house alive.

I had intended proceeding to the eastward on my return from the north, but was prevented by the total failure of water. I therefore determined to trace the creek down, in the hope that it would favour my advance with the party into the interior. On the 17th, therefore, leaving Joseph to take care of Punch, I mounted my horse, and with Mr. Stuart and Flood, rode away to the westward. At first the creek held a course between S. W. and W. S. W. occasionally spreading over large flats, but always reforming and increasing in size. It ran through a flat valley, bounded by sand hills, against which it occasionally struck. The soil of the valley was not bad, but there was little or no vegetation upon it. At 15 miles we arrived at the junction of another creek from the south, and running down their united channels, at three miles found a small quantity of water in a deep and shaded hollow. It was but a scanty supply however, yet being cleaner and purer than any we had for some time seen, I stopped and had some tea. There was a native’s hut on the bank, from which the owner must have fled at our approach; it was quite new, and afforded me shelter during our short halt. The fugitive had left some few valuables behind him, and amongst them a piece of red ochre. From this point the creek trended more to the north, spreading over numerous flats in times of flood, dividing its channels into many smaller ones, but always uniting into one at the extremity of the flats. At 21 miles the creek changed its course to 20 degrees to the west of north, and the country became more open and level. There were numerous traces of natives along its banks, and the remains of small fires on either side of it as far as we could see. It was, therefore, evident that at certain seasons of the year they resorted to it in some numbers, and I was then led to hope for a favourable change in the aspect of the country.

The gum-trees as we proceeded down the creek increased in size, and their foliage was of a vivid green. The bed of the creek was of pure sand, as well as the plains through which it ran, although there was alluvial soil partially mixed with the sand, and they had an abundance of grass upon them, the seed having been collected by the natives for food. At about 14 miles from the place where we stopped, the creek lost its sandy bed, and got one of tenacious clay. We soon afterwards pulled up for the night, at two pools of water that were still of considerable size, and on which there were several new ducks. They must, indeed, have been large deep ponds not many weeks before, but had now sunk several feet from their highest level, and, however valuable to a passing traveller, were useless in other respects, as our cattle would have drained them in three or four days. From this place also the natives appeared to have suddenly retreated, since there was a quantity of the Grass9 spread out on the sloping bank of the creek to dry, or ripen in the sun. We could not, however, make out to what point they had gone. The heat during the day had been terrific, in so much that we were unable to keep our feet in the stirrups, and the horses perspired greatly, although never put out of a walk.

9. “Panicum laevinode” of Dr. Lindley.

It was singular that we had no moisture on our skin; the reason why, perhaps, we were at that time much distressed by violent headaches.

At about a quarter of a mile below the ponds the creek spreads over an immense plain, almost as large as that of Cawndilla. A few trees marked its course to a certain distance, but beyond them all trace of its channel was lost, nor was it possible from the centre of the plain to judge at what point its waters escaped. The plain was surrounded by sand hills of about thirty feet in elevation, covered with low scrub. When we started in the morning we crossed it on a west course, but saw nothing to attract our notice from the tops of the sand hills. We then turned to the northward, and at about two miles entered a pretty, well wooded, but confined valley, in the bottom of which we once more found ourselves on the banks of the creek. Running it down in a north-west direction for seven miles, we were at length stopped by a bank of white saponaceous clay, crossing the valley like a wall. As we rode down the creek we observed large plains of red soil, precisely similar to the plains of the Darling, receding from it to a great distance on either side. These plains had deep water-worn gutters leading into the valley, so that I conclude the lateral floods it receives are as copious as those from the hills. On arriving at the bank running across the channel there were signs of eddying waters, as if those of the creek had been thrown back; but there was a low part in the bank over which it is evident they pour when they rise to its level. Mr. Stuart and Flood were the first to ascend the bank, and both simultaneously exclaimed that a change of country was at hand. On ascending the bank myself, I looked to the west and saw a beautiful park-like plain covered with grass, having groups of ornamental trees scattered over it. Whether it was the suddenness of the change, from barrenness and sterility to verdure and richness, I know not; but I thought, when I first gazed on it, that I never saw a more beautiful spot. It was, however, limited in extent, being not more than eight miles in circumference. Descending from the bank we crossed the plain on a south course. It was encircled by a line of gum-trees, between whose trunks the white bank of clay was visible. We crossed the plain amidst luxuriant grass; but the ground was rotten, and the whole area was evidently subject to flood. It was also clear that the creek exhausted itself in this extensive basin, from which, after the strictest search, we could find no outlet. On reaching the southern extremity of the plain, we crossed a broad bare channel, having a row of gum-trees on either side, and ascending a continuation of the clay bank, at once found ourselves in the scrub and amidst barrenness again; and at less than a mile, on a north-west course, beheld the sand ridges once more rising before us. I continued on this course, however, for eight miles, when I turned to the north-east, in order to cut any watercourse that might be in that direction, and to assure myself of the failure of the creek. After riding for five miles, I turned to the south, with the intention of ascending a sand hill at some distance, that swept the horizon in a semicircular form and was much higher than any others. Mr. Poole had informed me that he noticed a similar bank just before he made Lake Torrens, and I was anxious to see if it hid any similar basin from my view; but it did not. Sand hills of a similar kind succeeded it to the westward, but there was no change of country. Although we had travelled many miles, yet the zigzag course we had taken had been such that at this point we were not more than sixteen miles from the pools we had left in the morning; and as the day had been intolerably hot, and we had found no water, I determined on returning to them; but I was obliged to stop for a time for Flood, who complained of a violent pain in his head, occasioned by the intense heat. There was no shelter, however, for him under the miserable shrubs that surrounded us; but I stopped for half an hour, during which the horses stood oppressed by languor, and without the strength to lift up their heads, whilst their tails shook violently. Being anxious to get to water without delay, I took a straight line for the water-holes, and reached them at half-past 6 p.m., after an exposure, from morning till night, to as great a heat as man ever endured; but if the heat of this day was excessive, that of the succeeding one on which we returned to Joseph was still more so. We reached our destination at 3 p.m., as we started early, and on looking at the thermometer fixed behind a tree about five feet from the ground, I found the mercury standing at 132 degrees; on removing it into the sun it rose to 157 degrees. Only on one occasion, when Mr. Browne and I were returning from the north, had the heat approached to this; nor did I think that either men or animals could have lived under it.

On the 20th we again crossed the ranges, and after a journey of 32 miles, reached the lateral creek at their southern extremity, where I had rested on my former journey. There was more water in it than I expected to have found; but it was nevertheless much reduced, and in a week afterwards was probably dry. On the 21st we gained the Muddy Creek, but had to search for water where only a few days before there had been a pond of more than a third of a mile in length. Here, on the following day, I was obliged to leave Flood and Joseph, as the wheels of the cart had shrunk so much that we could not take it on. I should have gained the camp early in the day, but turned to the eastward to take bearings from some hills intermediate between Mount Poole and the Northern Range, as the distance between these points was too great. Our ride was over a singularly rugged country, of equally singular geological formation, nor can I doubt but that at one time or other there were currents sweeping over it in every direction. At one place that we passed there was a broad opening in a rocky but earth covered bank. Through this opening the eye surveyed a long plain, which at about two miles was bounded by low dark hills. Along this plain the channel of a stream was as distinctly marked in all its windings by small fragments of snow-white quartz as if water had been there instead. On either side the landscape was dark; but the effect was exceedingly striking and unusual. From the hills we ascended I obtained bearings to every station of consequence, and was quite glad that I had thus turned from my direct course. It was dark, the night indeed had closed in before we reached the tents; but I had the satisfaction to learn that both Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne were better, though not altogether well, and that every thing had gone on regularly during my absence. On the following morning, I sent Lewis and Jones with a dray to fetch the cart, and for the next three or four days was occupied charting the ground we had travelled over.

The greatest distance I went northwards on this occasion was to the 28th parallel, and about 27 {17 in published text} miles to the eastward of the 141st meridian. Our extreme point to the westward being lat. 28 degrees 56 minutes, and long. 140 degrees 54 minutes. From what I have said, the reader will be enabled to judge what prospects of success I had in either quarter; for myself I felt that I had nothing to hope either in the north or the east; for even if I had contemplated crossing eastward to the Darling, which was more than 250 miles from me, the dreadful nature of the country would have deterred me; but such an idea never entered my head — I could not, under existing circumstances, have justified such a measure to myself; having therefore failed in discovering any change of country, or the means of penetrating farther into it, I sat quietly down at my post, determined to abide the result, and to trust to the goodness of Providence to release me from prison when He thought best.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/sturt/charles/s93n/chapter6.html

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