Two expeditions into the interior of southern Australia, by Charles Sturt

Chapter 2

Commencement of the expedition in November, 1829. — Joined by Mr. George M’Leay — Appearance of the party — Breadalbane Plains — Hospitality of Mr. O’Brien — Yass Plains — Hill of Pouni — Path of a hurricane — Character of the country between Underaliga and the Morumbidgee — Appearance of that river — Junction of the Dumot with it — Crossing and recrossing — Geological character and general aspect of the country — Plain of Pondebadgery — Few natives seen.

The expedition which traversed the marshes of the Macquarie, left Sydney on the 10th day of Nov. 1828. That destined to follow the waters of the Morumbidgee, took its departure from the same capital on the 3rd of the same month in the ensuing year. Rain had fallen in the interval, but not in such quantities as to lead to the apprehension that it had either influenced or swollen the western streams. It was rather expected that the winter falls would facilitate the progress of the expedition, and it was hoped that, as the field of its operations would in all probability be considerably to the south of the parallel of Port Jackson, the extreme heat to which the party and the animals had been exposed on the former journey, would be less felt on the present occasion.

As there was no Government establishment to the S.W. at which I could effect any repairs, or recruit my supplies, as I had done at Wellington Valley, the expedition, when it left Sydney, was completed in every branch, and was so fully provided with every necessary implement and comfort, as to render any further aid, even had such been attainable, in a great measure unnecessary. The Governor had watched over my preparations with a degree of anxiety that evidenced the interest he felt in the expedition, and his arrangements to ensure, as far as practicable, our being met on our return, in the event of our being in distress, were equally provident and satisfactory. It was not, however, to the providing for our wants in the interior alone that His Excellency’s views were directed, but orders were given to hold a vessel in readiness, to be dispatched at a given time to St. Vincent’s Gulf, in case we should ultimately succeed in making the south coast in its neighbourhood.

Leave Sydney.

The morning on which I left Sydney a second time, under such doubtful circumstances, was perfectly serene and clear. I found myself at 5 a.m. of that delightful morning leading my horses through the gates of those barracks whose precincts I might never again enter, and whose inmates I might never again behold assembled in military array. Yet, although the chance of misfortune flashed across my mind, I was never lighter at heart, or more joyous in spirit. It appeared to me that the stillness and harmony of nature influenced my feelings on the occasion, and my mind forgot the storms of life, as nature at that moment seemed to have forgotten the tempests that sometimes agitate her.

Appearance of the Party.

I proceeded direct to the house of my friend Mr. J. Deas Thomson, who had agreed to accompany me to Brownlow Hill, a property belonging to Mr. M’Leay, the Colonial Secretary, where his son, Mr. George M’Leay, was to join the expedition. As soon as we had taken a hasty breakfast, I went to the carters’ barracks to superintend the first loading of the animals. Mr. Murray, the superintendent, had arranged every article so well, and had loaded the drays so compactly that I had no trouble, and little time was lost in saddling the pack animals. At a quarter before 7 the party filed through the turnpike-gate, and thus commenced its journey with the greatest regularity. I have the scene, even at this distance of time, vividly impressed upon my mind, and I have no doubt the kind friend who was near me on the occasion, bears it as strongly on his recollection. My servant Harris, who had shared my wanderings and had continued in my service for eighteen years, led the advance, with his companion Hopkinson. Nearly abreast of them the eccentric Fraser stalked along wholly lost in thought. The two former had laid aside their military habits, and had substituted the broad brimmed hat and the bushman’s dress in their place, but it was impossible to guess how Fraser intended to protect himself from the heat or the damp, so little were his habiliments suited for the occasion. He had his gun over his shoulder, and his double shot belt as full as it could be of shot, although there was not a chance of his expending a grain during the day. Some dogs Mr. Maxwell had kindly sent me followed close at his heels, as if they knew his interest in them, and they really seemed as if they were aware that they were about to exchange their late confinement for the freedom of the woods. The whole of these formed a kind of advanced guard. At some distance in the rear the drays moved slowly along, on one of which rode the black boy mentioned in my former volume, and behind them followed the pack animals. Robert Harris, whom I had appointed to superintend the animals generally, kept his place near the horses, and the heavy Clayton, my carpenter, brought up the rear. I shall not forget the interest Thomson appeared to take in a scene that must certainly have been new to him. Our progress was not checked by the occurrence of a single accident, nor did I think it necessary to remain with the men after we had gained that turn which, at about four miles from Sydney, branches off to the left, and leads direct to Liverpool. From this Point my companion and I pushed forward, in order to terminate a fifty miles’ ride a little sooner than we should have done at the leisurely pace we had kept during the early part of our journey. We remained in Liverpool for a short time, to prepare the commissariat office for the reception, and to ensure the accommodation, of the party; and reached Brownlow Hill a little after sunset.

Liverpool-Goulburn Plains.

As I have already described the country on this line of road as far us Goulburn Plains, it will not be considered necessary that I should again notice its features with minuteness.

Wallandilly-Tyranna.

The party arrived at Glendarewel, the farm attached to Brownlow Hill, on the 5th. I resumed my journey alone on the 8th. M’Leay had still some few arrangements to make, so that I dispensed with his immediate attendance. He overtook me, however, sooner than I expected, on the banks of the Wallandilly. I had encamped under the bluff end of Cookbundoon, and, having been disappointed in getting bearings when crossing the Razor Back, I hoped that I should be enabled to connect a triangle from the summit of Cookbundoon, or to secure bearings of some prominent hill to the south. I found the brush, however, so thick on the top of the mountain, that I could obtain no satisfactory view, and and M’Leay, who accompanied me, agreed with me in considering that we were but ill repaid for the hot scramble we had had. Crossing the western extremity of Goulburn Plains on the 15th, we encamped on a chain of ponds behind Doctor Gibson’s residence at Tyranna, and as I had some arrangements to make with that gentleman, I determined to give both the men and animals a day’s rest. I availed myself of Doctor Gibson’s magazines to replace such of my provisions as I had expended, as I found that I could do so without putting him to any inconvenience; and I added two of his men to the party, intending to send them back, in case of necessity, or, when we should have arrived at that point from which it might appear expedient to forward an account of my progress and ultimate views, for the governor’s information.

On the 17th we struck the tents, and, crossing the chain of ponds near which they had been pitched, entered a forest track, that gave place to barren stony ridges of quartz formation. These continued for six or seven miles, in the direction of Breadalbane Plains, upon which we were obliged to stop, as we should have had some difficulty in procuring either water or food, within any moderate distance beyond them. The water, indeed, that we were obliged to content ourselves with was by no means good. Breadalbane Plains are of inconsiderable extent, and are surrounded by ridges, the appearance of which is not very promising. Large white masses of quartz rock lie scattered over them, amongst trees of stunted growth. Mr. Redall’s farm was visible at the further extremity of the plains from that by which we had entered them. It would appear that these plains are connected with Goulburn Plains by a narrow valley, that was too wet for the drays to have traversed.

Breadalbane Plains.

Doctor Gibson had kindly accompanied us to Breadalbane Plains. On the morning of the 18th he returned to Tyranna, and we pursued our journey, keeping mostly on a W.S.W. course. From the barren hills over which we passed, on leaving the plains, we descended upon an undulating country, and found a change of rock, as well as of vegetation, upon it. Granite and porphyry constituted its base. An open forest, on which the eucalyptus mannifera alone prevailed, lay on either side of us, and although the soil was coarse, and partook in a great measure of the decomposition of the rock it covered, there was no deficiency of grass. On the contrary, this part of the interior is decidedly well adapted for pasturing cattle.

The Lorn.

About 1 p.m. we passed Mr. Hume’s station, with whom I remained for a short time. He had fixed his establishment on the banks of the Lorn, a small river, issuing from the broken country near Lake George, and now ascertained to be one of the largest branches of the Lachlan River. We had descended a barren pass of stringy bark scrub, on sandstone rock, a little before we reached Mr. Hume’s station, but around it the same, open forest tract again prevailed. We crossed the Lorn, at 2 o’clock, leaving Mr. Broughton’s farm upon our left, and passed through a broken country, which was very far from being deficient in pasture. We encamped on the side of a water-course, about 4 o’clock, having travelled about fifteen miles.

On the 19th, we observed no change in the soil or aspect of the country, for the first five miles. The eucalyptus mannifera was the most prevalent of the forest trees, and certainly its presence indicated a more flourishing state in the minor vegetation. At about five miles, however, from where we had slept, sandstone reappeared, and with it the barren scrub that usually grows upon a sandy and inhospitable soil. One of the drays was upset in its progress down a broken pass, where the road had been altogether neglected, and it was difficult to avoid accidents. Fortunately we suffered no further than in the delay that the necessity of unloading the dray, and reloading it, occasioned. Mr. O’Brien, an enterprising settler, who had pushed his flocks to the banks of the Morumbidgee, and who was proceeding to visit his several stations, overtook us in the midst of our troubles. We had already passed each other frequently on the road, but he now preceded me to his establishment at Yass; at which I proposed remaining for a day. We stopped about three miles short of the plains for the night, at the gorge of the pass through which we had latterly been advancing, and had gradually descended to a more open country. From the place at which we were temporarily delayed, and which is not inappropriately called the Devil’s Pass, the road winds about between ranges, differing in every respect from any we had as yet noticed. The sides of the hills were steeper, and their summits sharper, than any we had crossed. They were thickly covered with eucalypti and brush, and, though based upon sandstone, were themselves of a schistose formation.

Yass Plains.

Yharr or Yass Plains were discovered by Mr. Hovel, and Mr. Hume, the companion of my journey down the Macquarie, in 1828. They take their name from the little river that flows along their north and north-west boundaries. They are surrounded on every side by forests, and excepting to the W.N.W., as a central point, by hill. Undulating, but naked themselves, they have the appearance of open downs, and are most admirably adapted for sheep-walks, not only in point of vegetation, but also, because their inequalities prevent their becoming swampy during the rainy season. They are from nine to twelve miles in length and from five to seven in breadth, and although large masses of sandstone are scattered over them, a blue secondary limestone composes the general bed of the river, that was darker in colour and more compact than I had remarked the same kind of rock, either at Wellington Valley, or in the Shoal Haven Gully. I have no doubt that Yass Plains will ere long be wholly taken up as sheep-walks, and that their value to the grazier will in a great measure counterbalance its distance from the coast, or, more properly speaking, from the capital. Sheep I should imagine would thrive uncommonly well upon these plains, and would suffer less from distempers incidental to locality and to climate, than in many parts of the colony over which they are now wandering in thousands. And if the plains themselves do not afford extensive arable tracts, there is, at least, sufficient good land near the river to supply the wants of a numerous body of settlers.

Hospitality of Mr. O’brien.

We left Mr. O’Brien’s station on the morning of the 21st, and, agreeably to his advice, determined on gaining the Morumbidgee, by a circuit to the N.W., rather than endanger the safety of the drays by entering the mountain passes to the westward. Mr. O’Brien, however, would not permit us to depart from his dwelling without taking away with us some further proofs of his hospitality. The party had pushed forward before I, or Mr. M’Leay, had mounted our horses; but on overtaking it, we found that eight fine wethers had been added to our stock of animals.

Hill of Pouni; Aspect of the Country.

To the W.N.W. of Yass Plains there is a remarkable hill, called Pouni, remarkable not so much on account of its height, as of its commanding position. It had, I believe, already been ascended by one of the Surveyor-general’s assistants. The impracticability of the country to the south of it, obliged us to pass under its opposite base, from which an open forest country extended to the northward. We had already recrossed the Yass River, and passed Mr. Barber’s station, to that of Mr. Hume’s father, at which we stopped for a short time. Both farms are well situated, the latter I should say, romantically so, it being immediately under Pouni, the hill we have noticed. The country around both was open, and both pasture and water were abundant.

Mr. O’Brien had been kind enough to send one of the natives who frequented his station to escort us to his more advanced station upon the Morumbidgee. Had it not been for the assistance we received from this man, I should have had but little leisure for other duties: as it was however, there was no fear of the party going astray. This gave M’Leay and myself an opportunity of ascending Pouni, for the purpose of taking bearings; and how ever warm the exertion of the ascent made us, the view from the summit of the hill sufficiently repaid us, and the cool breeze that struck it, although imperceptible in the forest below, soon dried the perspiration from our brows. The scenery around us was certainly varied, yet many parts of it put me forcibly in mind of the dark and gloomy tracks over which my eye had wandered from similar elevations on the former journey. This was especially the case in looking to the north, towards which point the hills forming the right of the valley by which we had entered the plains, decreased so rapidly in height that they were lost in the general equality of the more remote country, almost ere they had reached abreast of my position. From E.S.E. to W.S.W. the face of the country was hilly, broken and irregular; forming deep ravines and precipitous glens, amid which I was well aware the Morumbidgee was still struggling for freedom; while mountains succeeded mountains in the back-ground, and were themselves overtopped by lofty and very distant peaks. To the eastward, however, the hills wore a more regular form, and were lightly covered with wood. The plains occupied the space between them and Pouni; and a smaller plain bore N.N.E. which, being embosomed in the forest, had hitherto escaped our notice.

We overtook the party just as it cleared the open ground through which it had previously been moving. A barren scrub succeeded it for about eight miles. The soil in this scrub was light and sandy.

We stopped for the night at the head of a valley that seemed to have been well trodden by cattle. The feed, therefore, was not abundant, nor was the water good. We had, however, made a very fair journey, and I was unwilling to press the animals. But in consequence, I fancy, of the scarcity of food, they managed to creep away during the night, with the exception of three or four of the bullocks, nor should we have collected them again so soon as we did, or without infinite trouble, had it not been for our guide and my black boy. We unavoidably lost a day, but left our position on the 23rd, for Underaliga, a station occupied by Doctor Harris, the gentleman I have already had occasion to mention. We reached the banks of the creek near the stock hut, about 4 p.m., having journeyed during the greater part of the day through a poor country, partly of scrub and partly of open forest-land, in neither of which was the soil or vegetation fresh or abundant. At about three miles from Underaliga, the country entirely changed its character, and its flatness was succeeded by a broken and undulating surface. The soil upon the hills was coarse and sandy, from the decomposition of the granite rock that constituted their base. Nevertheless, the grass was abundant on the hills, though the roots or tufts were far apart; and the hills were lightly studded with trees.

Course of a Hurricane.

In the course of the day we crossed the line of a hurricane that had just swept with resistless force over the country, preserving a due north course, and which we had heard from a distance, fortunately too great to admit of its injuring us. It had opened a fearful gap in the forest through which it had passed, of about a quarter of a mile in breadth. Within that space, no tree had been able to withstand its fury, for it had wrenched every bough from such as it had failed to prostrate, and they stood naked in the midst of the surrounding wreck. I am inclined to think that the rudeness of nature itself in these wild and uninhabited regions, gives birth to these terrific phenomena. They have never occurred, so far as I know, in the located districts. Our guide deserted us in the early part of the day without assigning any reason for doing so. He went off without being noticed, and thus lost the reward that would have been bestowed on him had he mentioned his wish to return to Yass. I the more regretted his having sneaked off, because he had had the kindness to put us on a track we could not well lose.

Country from Underaliga to Morumbidgee.

Underaliga, is said to be thirty miles from the Morumbidgee. The country between the two has a sameness of character throughout. It is broken and irregular, yet no one hill rises conspicuously over the rest. We found ourselves at one time on their summits beside huge masses of granite, at others crossing valleys of rich soil and green appearance. A country under cultivation is so widely different from one the sod of which has never been broken by the plough, that it is difficult and hazardous to form a decided opinion on the latter. If you ask a stockman what kind of a country lies, either to his right, or to his left, he is sure to condemn it, unless it will afford the most abundant pasture. Accustomed to roam about from one place to another, these men despise any but the richest tracts, and include the rest of the neighbourhood in one sweeping clause of condemnation. Thus I was led to expect, that we should pass over a country of the very worst description, between Underaliga and the Morumbidgee. Had it been similar to that midway between Yass and Uuderaliga, we should, in truth, have found it so; but it struck me, that there were many rich tracts of ground among the valleys of the former, and that the very hills had a fair covering of grass upon them. What though the soil was coarse, if the vegetation was good and sufficient? Perhaps the greatest drawback to this part of the interior is the want of water; yet we crossed several creeks, and remarked some deep water holes, that can never be exhausted, even in the driest season. Wherever the situation favoured our obtaining a view of the country on either side of us, while among these hills, we found that to the eastward lofty and mountainous; whilst that to the westward, had the appearance of fast sinking into a level.

Juggiong.

A short time before we reached the Morumbidgee, we forded a creek, which we crossed a second time where it falls into the river. After crossing it the first time we opened a flat, on which the marks of sheep were abundant. In the distance there was a small hill, and on its top a bark hut. We were not until then aware of our being so near the river, but as Mr. O’Brien had informed me that he had a station for sheep, at a place called Juggiong, by the natives, on the immediate banks of the river, I did not doubt that we had, at length, arrived at it. And so it proved. I went to the hut, to ascertain where I could conveniently stop for the night, but the residents were absent. I could not but admire the position they had taken up. The hill upon which their hut was erected was not more than fifty feet high, but it immediately overlooked the river, and commanded not only the flat we had traversed in approaching it, but also a second flat on the opposite side. The Morumbidgee came down to the foot of this little hill from the south, and, of course, running to the north, which latter direction it suddenly takes up from a previous S.W. one, on meeting some hills that check its direct course. From the hill on which the hut stands, it runs away westward, almost in a direct line, for three miles, so that the position commands a view of both the reaches, which are overhung by the casuarina and flooded-gum. Rich alluvial flats lie to the right of the stream, backed by moderate hills, that were lightly studded with trees, and clothed with verdure to their summits. Some moderate elevations also backed a flat, on the left bank of the river, but the colour of the soil upon the latter, as well as its depressed situation, showed clearly that it was subject to flood, and had received the worst of the depositions from the mountains. The hills behind it were also bare, and of a light red colour, betraying, as I imagined, a distinct formation from, and poorer character than, the hills behind us. At about three miles the river again suddenly changes its direction from west to south, for about a mile, when it inclines to the S.E. until it nearly encircles the opposite hills, when it assumes its proper direction, and flows away to the S.W.

Cross the Underaliga; Reach the Morumbidgee.

We crossed the Underaliga creek a little below the stock hut, and encamped about a mile beyond it, in the centre of a long plain. We were surrounded on every side by hills, from which there was no visible outlet, as they appeared to follow the bend of the river, with an even and unbroken outline. The scenery around us was wild, romantic, and beautiful; as beautiful as a rich and glowing sunset in the most delightful climate under the heavens could make it. I had been more anxious to gain the banks of the Morumbidgee on this occasion, than I had been on a former one to gain those of the Macquarie, for although I could not hope to see the Morumbidgee all that it had been described to me, yet I felt that on its first appearance I should in some measure ground my anticipations of ultimate success. When I arrived on the banks of the Macquarie, it had almost ceased to flow, and its current was so gentle as to be scarcely perceptible. Instead, however, of a river in such a state of exhaustion, I now looked down upon a stream, whose current it would have been difficult to breast, and whose waters, foaming among rocks, or circling in eddies, gave early promise of a reckless course. It must have been somewhat below its ordinary level, and averaged a breadth of about 80 feet. Its waters were hard and transparent, and its bed was composed of mountain debris, and large fragments of rock. As soon as the morning dawned, the tents were struck and we pursued our journey. We followed the line of the river, until we found ourselves in a deep bight to the S.E. The hills that had been gradually closing in upon the river, now approached it so nearly, that there was no room for the passage of the drays. We were consequently obliged to turn back, and, moving along the base of the ranges, by which we were thus apparently enclosed, we at length found a steep pass, the extreme narrowness of which had hidden it from our observation. By this pass we were now enabled to effect our escape. On gaining the summit of the hills, we travelled south for three or four miles, through open forests, and on level ground. But we ultimately descended into a valley in which we halted for the night. On a closer examination of the neighbourhood, it appeared that our position was at the immediate junction of two valleys, where, uniting the waters of their respective creeks, the main branch declines rapidly towards the river. One of these valleys extended to to the S.W., the other to the W.N.W. It was evident to us that our route lay up the former; and I made no doubt we should easily reach Whaby’s station on the morrow.

Adjacent Country.

We were now far beyond the acknowledged limits of the located parts of the colony, and Mr. Whaby’s station was the last at which we could expect even the casual supply of milk or other trifling relief. Yet, although the prospect of so soon leaving even the outskirts of civilization, and being wholly thrown on our own resources, was so near, it never for a moment weighed upon the minds of the men. The novelty of the scenery, and the beauty of the river on which they were journeying, excited in them the liveliest anticipations of success. The facility with which we had hitherto pushed forward blinded them to future difficulties, nor could there be a more cheerful spectacle than that which the camp daily afforded. The animals browzing in the distance, and the men talking over their pipes of the probable adventures they might encounter. The loads had by this time settled properly, and our provisions proved of the very best quality, so that no possible improvement could have been made for the better.

Whaby’s Station.

On the morrow we pushed up the southernmost of the valleys, at the junction of which we had encamped, having moderate hills on either side of us. At the head of the valley we crossed a small dividing range into another valley, and halted for the night, on the banks of a creek from the westward, as we found it impossible to reach Whaby’s station, as we had intended, before sunset. Nothing could exceed the luxuriance of the vegetation in this valley, but the water of the creek was so impregnated with iron, as to be almost useless. Being anxious to obtain a view of the surrounding country, I ascended a hill behind the camp, just as the sun was sinking, a time the most favourable for the object I had in view. The country, broken into hill and dale, seemed richer than any tract I had as yet surveyed; and the beauty of the near landscape was greatly heightened by the mountainous scenery to the S. and S.E. Both the laxmania, and zanthorea were growing around me; but neither appeared to be in congenial soil. The face of the hill was very stony, and I found, on examination, that a great change had taken place in the rock-formation, the granite ranges having given place to chlorite schist.

We reached Whaby’s about 9 a.m. of the morning of the 27th, and received every attention and civility from him. The valley in which we had slept opened upon an extensive plain, to the eastward of which the Morumbidgee formed the extreme boundary; and it was in a bight, and on ground rather elevated above the plain, that he had fixed his residence. He informed me that we should have to cross the river, as its banks were too precipitous, and the ranges too abrupt, to admit of our keeping the right side; and recommended me to examine and fix upon a spot at which to cross, before I again moved forward, expressing his readiness to accompany me as a guide. We accordingly rode down the river, to a place at which some stockman had effected a passage — after a week’s labour in hewing out a canoe. I by no means intended that a similar delay should occur in our case, but I saw no objection to our crossing at the same place; since its depth, and consequent tranquillity, rendered it eligible enough for that purpose.

The River Dumot.

The Dumot river, another mountain stream, joins the Morumbidgee opposite to Mr. Whaby’s residence. It is little inferior to the latter either in size or in the rapidity of its current, and, if I may rely on the information I received, waters a finer country, the principal rock-formation upon it being of limestone and whinstone. It rises amidst the snowy ranges to the S.E., and its banks are better peopled than those of the stream into which it discharges itself. Of course, such a tributary enlarges the Morumbidgee considerably: indeed, the fact is sufficiently evident from the appearance of the latter below the junction.

During our ride with Whaby down its banks, we saw nothing but the richest flats, almost entirely clear of timber and containing from 400 to 700 acres, backed by ranges that were but partially wooded, and were clothed with verdure to their very summits. The herds that were scattered over the first were almost lost in the height of the vegetation, and the ranges served as natural barriers to prevent them from straying away.

Cross and Re-Cross the Morumbidgee.

On the following morning, we started for the place at which it had been arranged that we should cross the Morumbidgee, but, though no more than five miles in a direct line from Whaby’s house, in consequence of the irregularity of the ground, the drays did not reach it before noon. The weight and quantity of our stores being taken into consideration, the task we had before us was not a light one. Such, however, was the industry of the men, that before it became dark the whole of them, including the drays and sheep, were safely deposited on the opposite bank. We were enabled to be thus expeditious, by means of a punt that we made with the tarpaulins on an oblong frame. As soon as it was finished, a rope was conveyed across the river, and secured to a tree, and a running cord being then fastened to the punt, a temporary ferry was established, and the removal of our stores rendered comparatively easy. M’Leay undertook to drive the horses and cattle over a ford below us, but he did not calculate on the stubborn disposition of the latter, and, consequently, experienced some difficulty, and was well nigh swept away by the current. So great was his difficulty, that he was obliged to land, to his great discomfiture, amidst a grove of lofty nettles. Mulholland, who accompanied him, and who happened to be naked, was severly stung by them. The labour of the day was, however, satisfactorily concluded, and we lay down to rest with feelings of entire satisfaction.

A great part of the following day was consumed in reloading, nor did we pursue our journey until after two o’clock. We then passed over tracks on the left of the river of the same rich description that existed on its right; they were much intersected by creeks, but were clear of timber, and entirely out of the reach of floods. At about seven miles from where we started, we found ourselves checked by precipitous rocks jutting into the stream, and were obliged once more to make preparations for crossing it. Instead of a deep and quiet reach, however, the Morumbidgee here expanded into a fretful rapid; but it was sufficiently shallow to admit of our taking the drays over, without the trouble of unloading them. There was still, however, some labour required in cutting down the banks, and the men were fully occupied until after sunset; and so well did they work, that an hour’s exertion in the morning enabled us to make the passage with safety. On ascending the right bank, we found that we had to force through a dense body of reeds, covering some flooded land, at the base of a range terminating upon the river; and we were obliged, in order to extricate ourselves from our embarrassments, to pass to the N.W. of the point, and to cross a low part of the range. This done, we met with no further interruptions during the day, but travelled along rich and clear flats to a deep bight below an angle of the river called Nangaar by the natives; where we pitched our camp, and our animals revelled amid the most luxuriant pasture. Only in one place did the sandy superficies upon the plain indicate that it was there subject to flood.

The Morumbidgee from Juggiong to our present encampment had held a general S.S.W. course, but from the summit of a hill behind the tents it now appeared to be gradually sweeping round to the westward; and I could trace the line of trees upon its banks, through a rich and extensive valley in that direction, as far as my sight could reach. The country to the S.E. maintained its lofty character, but to the westward the hills and ranges were evidently decreasing in height, and the distant interior seemed fast sinking to a level. The general direction of the ranges had been from N. to S., and as we had been travelling parallel to them, their valleys were shut from our view. Now, however, several rich and extensive ones became visible, opening from the southward into the valley of the Morumbidgee, and, as a further evidence of a change of country from a confused to a more open one, a plain of considerable size stretched from immediately beneath the hill on which I was to the N.W.

Geology of the Neighbourhood.

The Morumbidgee itself, from the length and regularity of its reaches, as well as from its increased size, seemed to intimate that it had successfully struggled through the broken country in which it rises, and that it would henceforward meet with fewer interruptions to its course. It still, however, preserved all the characters of a mountain stream; having alternate rapids and deep pools, being in many places encumbered with fallen timber, and generally running over a shingly bed, composed of rounded fragments of every rock of which the neighbouring ranges were formed, and many others that had been swept by the torrents down it. The rock formation of the hills upon its right continued of that chlorite schist which prevailed near Mr. Whaby’s, which I have already noticed, and quartz still appeared in large masses, on the loftier ranges opposite, so that the geology of the neighbourhood could not be said to have undergone any material change. It might, however, be considered an extraordinary feature in it, that a small hill of blue limestone existed upon the left bank of the river. The last place at which we had seen limestone was at Yass, but I had learned from Mr. Whaby, that, together with whinstone, it was abundant near a Mr. Rose’s station on the Dumot, that was not at any great distance. The irregularity, however, of the intervening country, made the appearance of this solitary rock more singular.

Although the fires of the natives had been frequent upon the river, none had, as yet, ventured to approach us, in consequence of some misunderstanding that had taken place between them and Mr. Stuckey’s stockmen. Mr. Roberts’ stockmen [these men had lately fixed themselves on the river a little below Mr. Whaby’s], however, brought a man and a boy to us at this place in the afternoon, but I could not persuade them to accompany us on our journey — neither could I, although my native boy understood them perfectly, gain any particular information from them.

In consequence of rain, we did not strike the tents so early as usual. At 7 a.m. a heavy thunder storm occurred from the N.W. after which the sky cleared, and we were enabled to push forward at 11 a.m., moving on a general W.N.W, course, over rich flats, which, having been moistened by the morning’s showers, showed the dark colour of the rich earth of which they were composed. Some sand-hills were, however, observed near the river, of about fifteen feet in elevation, crowned by banksias; and the soil of the flats had a very partial mixture of sand in it. How these sand-hills could have been formed it is difficult to say; but they produced little minor vegetation, and were as pure as the sand of the sea-shore. Some considerable plains were noticed to our right, in appearance not inferior to the ground on which we were journeying. At noon we rose gradually from the level of these plains, and travelled along the side of a hill, until we got to a small creek, at which we stopped, though more than a mile and a half from the river. The clouds had been gathering again in the N.W. quarter, and we had scarcely time to secure our flour, when a second storm burst upon us, and it continued to rain violently for the remainder of the day.

Beautiful Prospect.

From a small hill that lay to our left Mr. M’Leay and I enjoyed a most beautiful view. Beneath us to the S. E. the rich and lightly timbered valley through which the Morumbidgee flows, extended, and parts of the river were visible through the dark masses of swamp-oak by which it was lined, or glittering among the flooded-gum trees, that grew in its vicinity. In the distance was an extensive valley that wound between successive mountain ranges. More to the eastward, both mountain and woodland bore a dark and gloomy shade, probably in consequence of the light upon them at the time. Those lofty peaks that had borne nearly south of us from Pouni, near Yass, now rose over the last-mentioned ranges, and by their appearance seemed evidently to belong to a high and rugged chain. To the westward, the decline of country was more observable than ever; and the hills on both sides of the river, were lower and more distant from it. Those upon which we found ourselves were composed of iron-stone, were precipitous towards the river in many places, of sandy soil, and were crowned with beef-wood as well as box. The change in the rock-formation and in the soil, produced a corresponding change in the vegetation. The timber was not so large as it had been, neither did the hills any longer bear the green appearance which had distinguished those we had passed to their very summits. The grass here grew in tufts amidst the sand, and was of a burnt appearance as if it had suffered from drought.

Natives — Their Suffering from Cold.

Some natives had joined us in the morning, and acted as our guides; or it is more than probable that we should have continued our course along the river, and got enbarrassed among impediments that were visible from our elevated position; for it was evident that the range we had ascended terminated in an abrupt precipice on the river, that we could not have passed. The blacks suffered beyond what I could have imagined, from cold, and seemed as incapable of enduring it as if they had experienced the rigour of a northern snow storm.

The morning of the 2nd December was cloudy and lowering, and the wind still hung in the N.W. There was truly every appearance of bad weather, but our anxiety to proceed on our journey overcame our apprehensions, and the animals were loaded and moved off at 7 a.m. The rain which had fallen the evening previous, rendered travelling heavy; so that we got on but slowly. At 11, the clouds burst, and continued to pour down for the rest of the day. On leaving the creek we crossed the spine of the range, and descending from it into a valley, that continued to the river on the one hand, and stretched away to the N.W. on the other, we ascended some hills opposite to us, and moved generally through open, undulating forest ground, affording good pasturage.

Smoking an Opossum.

One of the blacks being anxious to get an opossum out of a dead tree, every branch of which was hollow, asked for a tomahawk, with which be cut a hole in the trunk above where he thought the animal lay concealed. He found however, that he had cut too low, and that it had run higher up. This made it necessary to smoke it out; he accordingly got some dry grass, and having kindled a fire, stuffed it into the hole he had cut. A raging fire soon kindled in the tree, where the draft was great, and dense columns of smoke issued from the end of each branch as thick as that from the chimney of a steam engine. The shell of the tree was so thin that I thought it would soon be burnt through, and that the tree would fall; but the black had no such fears, and, ascending to the highest branch, he watched anxiously for the poor little wretch he had thus surrounded with dangers and devoted to destruction; and no sooner did it appear, half singed and half roasted, than he seized upon it and threw it down to us with an air of triumph. The effect of the scene in so lonely a forest, was very fine. The roaring of the fire in the tree, the fearless attitude of the savage, and the associations which his colour and appearance, enveloped as he was in smoke, called up, were singular, and still dwell on my recollection. We had not long left the tree, when it fell with a tremendous crash, and was, when we next passed that way, a mere heap of ashes.

Accidents.

Shortly before it commenced raining, the dogs started an emu, and took after it, followed by M’Leay and myself. We failed in killing it, and I was unfortunate enough to lose a most excellent watch upon the occasion, which in regularity was superior to the chronometer I had with me.

As there was no hope of the weather clearing up, I sent M’Leay and one of the blacks with the flour to the river, with directions to pile it up and cover it with tarpaulins, as soon as possible, remaining myself to bring up the drays. It was not, however, until after 4 p.m. that we gained the river-side, or that we were enabled to get into shelter. Fraser met with a sad accident while assisting the driver of the teams, who, accidentally, struck him with the end of the lash of his whip in the eye, and cut the lower lid in two. The poor fellow fell to the ground as if he had been shot, and really, from the report of the whip, I was at first uncertain of the nature of the accident.

Pondebadgery.

We had gradually ascended some hills; and as the sweep of the valley led southerly, we continued along it until we got to its very head; then, crossing the ridge we descended the opposite side, towards a beautiful plain, on the further extremity of which the river line was marked by the dark-leafed casuarina. In spite of the badness of the weather and the misfortunes of the day, I could not but admire the beauty of the scene. We were obliged to remain stationary the following day, in consequence of one of the drays being out of repair, and requiring a new axle-tree. I could hardly regret the necessity that kept us in so delightful a spot. This plain, which the natives called Pondebadgery, and in which a station has since been formed, is about two miles in breadth, by about three and a-half in length. It is surrounded apparently on every side by hills. The river running E. and W. forms its southern boundary. The hills by which we had entered it, terminating abruptly on the river to the north-east, form a semi-circle round it to the N.N.W. where a valley, the end of which cannot be seen, runs to the north-west, of about half a mile in breadth. On the opposite side of the river moderate hills rise over each other, and leave little space between them and its banks. The Morumbidgee itself, with an increased breadth, averaging from seventy to eighty yards, presents a still, deep sheet of water to the view, over which the casuarina bends with all the grace of the willow, or the birch, but with more sombre foliage. To the west, a high line of flooded-gum trees extending from the river to the base of the hills which form the west side of the valley before noticed, hides the near elevations, and thus shuts in the whole space. The soil of the plain is of the richest description, and the hills backing it, together with the valley, are capable of depasturing the most extensive flocks.

Such is the general landscape from the centre of Pondebadgery Plain. Behind the line of gum-trees, the river suddenly sweeps away to the south, and forms a deep bight of seven miles, when, bearing up again to the N.W. it meets some hills about 10 miles to the W.N.W. of the plain, thus encircling a still more extensive space, that for richness of soil, and for abundance of pasture, can nowhere be excelled; such, though on a smaller scale, are all the flats that adorn the banks of the Morumbidgee, first on one side and then on the other, as the hills close in upon them, from Juggiong to Pondebadgery.

Travelling Down the River.

It is deeply to be regretted that this noble river should exist at such a distance from the capital as to be unavailable. During our stay on the Pondebadgery Plain, the men caught a number of codfish, as they are generally termed, but which are, in reality, a species of perch. The largest weighed 40lb. but the majority of the others were small, not exceeding from six to eight. M’Leay and I walked to the N.W. extremity of the plain, in order to ascertain how we should debouche from it, and to get, if possible, a view of the western interior. We took with us two blacks who had attached themselves to the party, and had made themselves generally useful. On ascending the most westerly of the hills, we found it composed of micaceous schist, the upper coat of which was extremely soft, and broke with a slaty fracture, or crumbled into a sparkling dust beneath our feet. The summit of the hill was barren, and beef-wood alone grew on it. The valley, of which it was the western boundary, ran up northerly for two or three miles, with all the appearance of richness and verdure. To the south extended the flat I have noticed, more heavily timbered than we had usually found them, bounded, or backed rather, by a hilly country, although one fast losing in its general height. To the W.N.W. there was a moderate range of hills on the opposite side of an extensive valley, running up northerly, from which a lateral branch swept round to the W.N.W. with a gradual ascent into the hills, which bore the same appearance of open forest, grazing land, as prevailed in similar tracts to the eastward. The blacks pointed out to us our route up the valley, and stated that we should get on the banks of the river again in a direction W. by N. from the place on which we stood. We accordingly crossed the principal valley on the following morning, and gradually ascended the opposite line of hills. They terminate to the S.E. in lofty precipices, overlooking the river flats, and having a deep chain of ponds under them. The descent towards the river was abrupt, and we encamped upon its banks, with a more confined view than any we had ever had before. There was an evident change in the river; the banks were reedy, the channel deep and muddy, and the neighbourhood bore more the appearance of being subject to overflow than it had done in any one place we had passed over. The hills were much lower, and as we gained the southern brow of that under which we encamped, we could see a level and wooded country to the westward. The line of the horizon was unbroken by any hills in the distance, and the nearer ones seemed gradually to lose themselves in the darkness of the landscape.

The two natives, whom the stockmen had named Peter and Jemmie, were of infinite service to us, from their knowledge of all the passes, and the general features of the country. Having, however, seen us thus far on the journey from their usual haunts, they became anxious to return, and it was with some difficulty we persuaded them to accompany us for a few days longer, in hopes of reward. The weather had been cool and pleasant; the thermometer averaging 78 of Fahrenheit at noon, in consequences of which the animals kept in good condition, the men healthy and zealous. The sheep Mr. O’Brien had presented to us, gave no additional trouble; they followed in the rear of the party without attempting to wander, and were secured at night in a small pen or fold. No waste attended their slaughter, nor did they lose in condition, from being driven from ten to fifteen miles daily, so much as I had been led to suppose they would have done.

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