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

Chapter 3

Character of the Morumbidgee where it issues from the hilly country — Appearance of approach to swamps — Hamilton Plains — Intercourse with the natives — Their appearance, customs, &c. — Change in the character of the river — Mirage — Dreariness of the country — Ride towards the Lachlan river — Two boats built and launched on the Morumbidgee; and the drays, with part of the men sent back to Goulburn Plains.

Natives — Wild Game,&c.; Character of the River and the Adjoining Country.

From our camp, the Morumbidgee held a direct westerly course for about three miles. The hills under which we had encamped, rose so close upon our right as to leave little space between them and the river. At the distance of three miles, however, they suddenly terminated, and the river changed its direction to the S.W., while a chain of ponds extended to the westward, and separated the alluvial flats from a somewhat more elevated plain before us. We kept these ponds upon our left for some time, but, as they ultimately followed the bend of the river, we left them. The blacks led us on a W. by S. course to the base of a small range two or three miles distant, near which there was a deep lagoon. It was evident they here expected to have found some other natives. Being disappointed, however, they turned in towards the river again, but we stopped short of it on the side of a serpentine sheet of water, an apparent continuation of the chain of ponds we had left behind us, forming a kind of ditch round the S.W. extremity of the range, parallel to which we had continued to travel. This range, which had been gradually decreasing in height from the lagoon, above which it rose perpendicularly, might almost be said to terminate here. We fell in with two or three natives before we halted, but the evident want of population in so fine a country, and on so noble a river, surprised me extremely. We saw several red kangaroos in the course of the day, and succeeded in killing one. It certainly is a beautiful animal, ranging the wilds in native freedom. The female and the kid are of a light mouse-colour. Wild turkeys abound on this part of the Morumbidgee, but with the exception of a few terns, which are found hovering over the lagoons, no new birds had as yet been procured; and the only plant that enriched our collection, was an unknown metrosideros. In crossing the extremity of the range, the wheels of the dray sunk deep into a yielding and coarse sandy soil, of decomposed granite, on which forest-grass prevailed in tufts, which, being far apart, made the ground uneven, and caused the animals to trip. We rose at one time sufficiently high to obtain an extensive view, and had our opinions confirmed as to the level nature of the country we were so rapidly approaching. From the N. to the W.S.W. the eye wandered over a wooded and unbroken interior, if I except a solitary double hill that rose in the midst of it, bearing S. 82 degrees W. distant 12 miles, and another singular elevation that bore S. 32 degrees W. called by the natives, Kengal. The appearance to the E.S.E. was still that of a mountainous country, while from the N.E., the hills gradually decrease in height, until lost in the darkness of surrounding objects to the northward. We did not travel this day more than 13 miles on a W. by N. course. The Morumbidgee, where we struck it, by its increased size, kept alive our anticipations of its ultimately leading us to some important point. The partial rains that had fallen while we were on its upper branch, had swollen it considerably, and it now rolled along a vast body of water at the rate of three miles an hour, preserving a medium width of 150 feet; its banks retaining a height far above the usual level of the stream. A traveller who had never before descended into the interior of New Holland, would have spurned the idea of such a river terminating in marshes; but with the experience of the former journey, strong as hope was within my breast, I still feared it might lose itself in the vast flat upon which we could scarcely be said to have yet entered. The country was indeed taking up more and more every day the features of the N.W. interior. Cypresses were observed upon the minor ridges, and the soil near the river, although still rich, and certainly more extensive than above, was occasionally mixed with sand, and scattered over with the claws of crayfish and shells, indicating its greater liability to be flooded; nor indeed could I entertain a doubt that the river had laid a great part of the levels around us under water long after it found that channel in which nature intended ultimately to confine it. We killed another fine red kangaroo in the early part of the day, in galloping after which I got a heavy fall.

The two blacks who had been with us so long, and who had not only exerted themselves to assist us, but had contributed in no small degree to our amusement, though they had from M’Leay’s liberality, tasted all the dainties with which we had provided ourselves, from sugar to concentrated cayenne, intimated that they could no longer accompany the party. They had probably got to the extremity of their beat, and dared not venture any further. They left us with evident regret, receiving, on their departure, several valuable presents, in the shape of tomahawks &c. The last thing they did was to point out the way to us, and to promise to join us on our return, although they evidently little anticipated ever seeing us again.

In pursuing our journey, we entered a forest, consisting of box-trees, casuarinae, and cypresses, on a light sandy soil, in which both horses and bullocks sunk so deep that their labour was greatly increased, more especially as the weather had become much warmer. At noon I altered my course from N.W. by W. to W.N.W., and reached the Morumbidgee at 3 in the afternoon. The flats bordering it were extensive and rich, and, being partially mixed with sand, were more fitted for agricultural purposes than the stiffer and purer soil amidst the mountains; but the interior beyond them was far from being of corresponding quality. We crossed several plains on which vegetation was scanty, probably owing to the hardness of the soil, which was a stiff loamy clay, and which must check the growth of plants, by preventing the roots from striking freely into it. The river where we stopped for the night appeared to have risen considerably, and the fish were rolling about on the surface of the water with a noise like porpoises. No elevations were visible, so that I had not an opportunity of continuing the chain of survey with the points I had previously taken.

Travelling Down the River.

As we proceeded down the river on the 8th, the flats became still more extensive than they had ever been, and might almost be denominated plains. Vegetation was scanty upon them, although the soil was of the first quality. About nine miles from our camp, we struck on a small isolated hill, that could scarcely have been of 200 feet elevation; yet, depressed as it was, the view from its summit was very extensive, and I was surprised to find that we were still in some measure surrounded by high lands, of which I took the following bearings, connected with the present ones.

A High Peak. . . . .N. 66 E. distance 40 miles.
Kengal . . . . . . . . N. 110 E. distant.
Double Hill . . . S. 10 W. distant.

To the north, there were several fires burning, which appeared rather the fires of natives, than conflagrations, and as the river had made a bend to the N.N.W., I doubted not that they were upon its banks. From this hill, which was of compact granite, we struck away to the W.N.W., and shortly afterwards crossed some remarkable sand-hills. Figuratively speaking, they appeared like islands amidst the alluvial deposits, and were as pure in their composition as the sand on the sea-shore. They were generally covered with forest grass, in tufts, and a coarse kind of rushes, under banksias and cypresses. We found a small fire on the banks of the river, and close to it the couch and hut of a solitary native, who had probably seen us approach, and had fled. There cannot be many inhabitants hereabouts, since there are no paths to indicate that they frequent this part of the Morumbidgee more at one season than another.

On the 9th, the river fell off again to the westward, and we lost a good deal of the northing we had made the day before. We journeyed pretty nearly equidistant from the stream, and kept altogether on the alluvial flats. As we were wandering along the banks of the river, a black started up before us, and swam across to the opposite side, where he immediately hid himself. We could by no means induce him to show himself; he was probably the lonely being whom we had scared away from the fire the day before. In the afternoon, however we surprised a family of six natives, and persuaded them to follow us to our halting place. My boy understood them well; but the young savage had the cunning to hide the information they gave him, or, for aught I know, to ask questions that best suited his own purposes, and therefore we gained little intelligence from them.

Every day now produced some change in the face of the country, by which it became more and more assimilated to that I had traversed during the first expedition. Acacia pendula now made its appearance on several plains beyond the river deposits, as well as that salsolaceous class of plants, among which the schlerolina and rhagodia are so remarkable. The natives left us at sunset, but returned early in the morning with an extremely facetious and good-humoured old man, who volunteered to act as our guide without the least hesitation. There was a cheerfulness in his manner, that gained our confidence at once, and rendered him a general favourite. He went in front with the dogs, and led us a little away from the river to kill kangaroos, as he said. At about two miles we struck on an inconsiderable elevation, which the party crossed at the S.W. extremity. I ascended it at the opposite end, but although the view was extensive, I could not make out the little hill of granite from which I had taken my former bearings, and the only elevation I could recognise as connected with them, was one about ten miles distant, bearing S. 168 W. I could observe very distant ranges to the E.N.E. and immediately below me in that direction, there was a large clear plain, skirted by acacia pendula, stretching from S.S.E. to N.N.W. The crown and ridges of the hill on which I stood, were barren, stony, and covered with beef-wood, the rock-formation being a coarse granite. The drays had got so far ahead of me that I did not overtake them before they had halted on the river at a distance of ten miles.

Information from a Native.

The Morumbidgee appeared, on examination, to have increased in breadth, and continued to rise gradually. It is certainly a noble stream, very different from those I had already traced to their termination. The old black informed me that there was another large river flowing to the southward of west, to which the Morumbidgee was as a creek, and that we could gain it in four days. He stated that its waters were good, but that its banks were not peopled. That such a feature existed where he laid it down, I thought extremely probable, because it was only natural to expect that other streams descended from the mountains in the S.E. of the island, as well as that on which we were travelling. The question was, whether either of them held on an uninterrupted course to some reservoir, or whether they fell short of the coast and exhausted themselves in marshes. Considering the concave direction of the mountains to the S.E., I even at this time hoped that the rivers falling into the interior would unite sooner or later, and contribute to the formation of an important and navigable stream. Of the fate of the Morumbidgee, the old black could give no account. It seemed probable, therefore, that we were far from its termination.

View on the Morumbidgee River

I had hitherto been rather severe upon the animals, for although our journey had not exceeded from twelve to fifteen miles a day, it had been without intermission. I determined, therefore, to give both men and animals a day of rest, as soon as I should find a convenient place. We started on the 11th with this intention, but we managed to creep over eight or ten miles of ground before we halted. The country was slightly undulated, and much intersected by creeks, few of which had water in them. The whole tract was, however, well adapted either for agriculture, or for grazing, and, in spite of the drought that had evidently long hung over it, was well covered with vegetation. We had passed all high lands, and the interior to the westward presented an unbroken level to the eye. The Morumbidgee appeared to hold a more northerly course than I had anticipated. Still low ranges continued upon our right, and the cypress ridges became more frequent and denser; but the timber on the more open grounds generally consisted of box and flooded-gum. Of minor trees, the acacia pendula was the most prevalent, with a shrub bearing a round nut, enclosed in a scarlet capsule, and an interesting species of stenochylus. I had observed as yet, few of the plants of the more northern interior.

Natives — Their Ugliness.

In this neighbourhood, the dogs killed an emu and a kangaroo, which came in very conveniently for some natives whom we fell in with on one of the river flats. They were, without exception, the worst featured of any I had ever seen. It is scarcely possible to conceive that human beings could be so hideous and loathsome. The old black, who was rather good-looking, told me they were the last we should see for some time, and I felt that if these were samples of the natives on the lowlands, I cared very little how few of I them we should meet.

Extensive Plains.

The country on the opposite side of the river had all the features of that to the north of it, but a plain of such extent suddenly opened upon us to the southward, that I halted at once in order to examine it, and by availing myself of a day of rest, to fix our position more truly than we could otherwise have done. We accordingly pitched our tents under some lofty gum-trees, opposite to the plain, and close upon the edge of the sandy beach of the river. Before they were turned out, the animals were carefully examined, and the pack-saddles overhauled, that they might undergo any necessary repairs. The river fell considerably during the night, but it poured along a vast body of water, possessing a strong current. The only change I remarked in it was that it now had a bed of sand, and was generally deeper on one side than on the other. It kept a very uniform breadth of from 150 to 170 feet — and a depth of from 4 to 20. Its channel, though occasionally much encumbered with fallen timber, was large enough to contain twice the volume of water then in it, but it had outer and more distant banks, the boundaries of the alluvial flats, to confine it within certain limits, during the most violent floods, and to prevent its inundating the country.

Hamilton’s Plains.

With a view to examine the plain opposite to us, I directed our horses to be taken across the river early in the morning, and after breakfast, M’Leay and I swam across after them. We found the current strong, and could not keep a direct line over the channel, but were carried below the place at which we plunged in. We proceeded afterwards in a direction W.S.W. across the plain for five or six miles, before we saw trees on the opposite extremity, at a still greater distance. We thus found ourselves in the centre of an area of from 26 to 30 miles. It appeared to be perfectly level, though not really so. The soil upon it was good, excepting in isolated spots, where it was sandy. Vegetation was scanty upon it, but, on the whole, I should conclude that it was fitter for agriculture than for grazing. For I think it very probable, that those lands which lie hardening and bare in a state of nature, would produce abundantly if broken up by the plough. I called this Hamilton’s plains, in remembrance of the surgeon of my regiment. The Morumbidgee forms its N.E. boundary, and a creek rising on it, cuts off a third part on the western side, and runs away from the river in a southerly direction. This creek, even before it gets to the outskirts of the plains, assumes a considerable size. Such a fact would argue that heavy rains fall in this part of the interior, to cut out such a watercourse, or that the soil is extremely loose; but I should think the former the most probable, since the soil of this plain had a substratum of clay. I place our encampment on the river in latitude 34 degrees 41 minutes 45 seconds S., and in East longitude 146 degrees 50 minutes, the variation of the compass being 6 degrees 10 minutes E.

Intercourse with the Natives; Scantiness of the Population.

On our return to the camp we found several natives with our people, and among them one of the tallest I had ever seen. Their women were with them, and they appeared to have lost all apprehension of any danger occurring from us. The animals were benefited greatly by this day of rest. We left the plain, therefore, on the 13th with renewed spirits, and passed over a country very similar to that by which we had approached it, one well adapted for grazing, but intersected by numerous creeks, at two of which we found natives, some of whom joined our party. Our old friend left us in quest of some blacks, who, as he informed Hopkinson, had seen the tracks of our horses on the Darling. I was truly puzzled at such a statement, which was, however, further corroborated by the circumstance of one of the natives having a tire-nail affixed to a spear, which he said was picked up, by the man who gave it to him, on one of our encampments. I could not think it likely that this story was true, and rather imagined they must have picked up the nail near the located districts, and I was anxious to have the point cleared up. When we halted we had a large assemblage of natives with us, amounting in all to twenty-seven, but I awaited in vain the return of the old man. The night passed away without our seeing him, nor did he again join us.

We started in the morning with our new acquaintances, and kept on a south-westerly course during the day, over an excellent grazing, and, in many places, an agricultural country, still intersected by creeks, that were too deep for the water to have dried in them. The country more remote from the river, however, began to assume more and more the character and appearance of the northern interior. I rode into several plains, the soil of which was either a red sandy loam, bare of vegetation, or a rotten and blistered earth, producing nothing but rhagodiae, salsolae, and misembrianthemum.

We fell in with another tribe of blacks during the journey, to whom we were literally consigned by those who had been previously with us, and who now turned back, while our new friends took the lead of the drays. They were two fine young men, but had very ugly wives, and were for a long time extremely diffident. I found that I could obtain but little information through my black boy — whether from his not understanding me, or because he was too cunning, is uncertain. One of these young men, however, clearly stated that he had seen the tracks of bullocks and horses, a long time ago, to the N.N.W. in the direction of some detached hills, that were visible from 20 to 25 miles distant. He remembered them, he said, as a boy, and added that the white men were without water. It was, therefore, clear that he alluded to Mr. Oxley’s excursion, northerly from the Lachlan, and I had no doubt on my mind, that he had been on one of that officer’s encampments, and that the hills to the north of us were those to the opposite base of which he had penetrated. I was determined, therefore, if practicable, to reach these hills, deeming it a matter of great importance to connect the surveys, but I deferred my journey for a day or two, in hopes, from the continued northerly course of the river, that we should have approached them nearer.

In the evening we fell in with some more blacks, among whom were two brothers, of those who were acting as our guides. One had a very pretty girl as a wife, and all the four brothers were very good-looking young men. There cannot, I should think, be a numerous population on the banks of the Morumbidgee, from the fact of our having seen not more than fifty in an extent of more than 180 miles. They are apparently scattered along it in families. I was rather surprised that my boy understood their language well, since it certainly differed from that of the Macquarie tribes, but nevertheless as these people do not wander far, our information as to what was before us was very gradually arrived at, and only as we fell in with the successive families. Moreover, as my boy was very young, it may be that he was more eager in communicating to those who had no idea of them, the wonders he had seen, than in making inquiries on points that were indifferent to him.

Character of the Country.

We passed a very large plain in the course of the day, which was bounded by forests of box, cypress, and the acacia pendula, of red sandy soil and parched appearance. The Morumbidgee evidently overflows a part of the lands we crossed, to a greater extent than heretofore, though the alluvial deposits beyond its influence were still both rich and extensive. The crested pigeon made its appearance on the acacias, which I took to be a sure sign of our approach to a country more than ordinarily subject to overflow; since on the Macquarie and the Darling, those birds were found only to inhabit the regions of marshes, or spaces covered by the acacia pendula, or the polygonum. We had not, however, yet seen any of the latter plant, although we were shortly destined to be almost lost amidst fields of it.

Change in the Country.

We were now approaching that parallel of longitude in which the other known rivers of New Holland had been found to exhaust themselves; the least change therefore, for the worse was sufficient to raise my apprehensions; yet, although the Morumbidgee had received no tributary from the Dumot downwards, and was leading us into an apparently endless level, I saw no indication of its decreasing in size, or in the rapidity of its current. Certainly, however, I had, from the character of the country around us, an anticipation that a change was about to take place in it, and this anticipation was verified in the course of the following day. The alluvial flats gradually decreased in breadth, and we journeyed mostly over extensive and barren plains, which in many places approached so near the river as to form a part of its bank. They were covered with the salsolaceous class of plants, so common in the interior, in a red sandy soil, and were as even as a bowling green. The alluvial spaces near the river became covered with reeds, and, though subject to overflow at every partial rise of it, were so extremely small as scarcely to afford food for our cattle. Flooded-gum trees of lofty size grew on these reedy spaces, and marked the line of the river, but the timber of the interior appeared stunted and useless.

Description of the Natives; Manners and Customs of the Natives.

We found this part of the Morumbidgee much more populous than its upper branches. When we halted, we had no fewer than forty-one natives with us, of whom the young men were the least numerous. They allowed us to choose a place for ourselves before they formed their own camp, and studiously avoided encroaching on our ground so as to appear troublesome. Their manners were those of a quiet and inoffensive people, and their appearance in some measure prepossessing. The old men had lofty foreheads, and stood exceedingly erect. The young men were cleaner is their persons and were better featured than any we had seen, some of them having smooth hair and an almost Asiatic cast of countenance. On the other hand, the women and children were disgusting objects. The latter were much subject to diseases, and were dreadfully emaciated. It is evident that numbers of them die in their infancy for want of care and nourishment. We remarked none at the age of incipient puberty, but the most of them under six. In stating that the men were more prepossessing than any we had seen, I would not be understood to mean that they differed in any material point either from the natives of the coast, or of the most distant interior to which I had been, for they were decidedly the same race, and had the same leading features and customs, as far as the latter could be observed. The sunken eye and overhanging eyebrow, the high cheek-bone and thick lip, distended nostrils, the nose either short or acquiline, together with a stout bust and slender extremities, and both curled and smooth hair, marked the natives of the Morumbidgee as well as those of the Darling. They were evidently sprung from one common stock, the savage and scattered inhabitants of a rude and inhospitable land. In customs they differed in no material point from the coast natives, and still less from the tribes on the Darling and the Castlereagh. They extract the front tooth, lacerate their bodies, to raise the flesh, cicatrices being their chief ornament; procure food by the same means, paint in the same manner, and use the same weapons, as far as the productions of the country will allow them. But as the grass-tree is not found westward of the mountains, they make a light spear of a reed, similar to that of which the natives of the southern islands form their arrows. These they use for distant combat, and not only carry in numbers, but throw with the boomerang to a great distance and with unerring precision, making them to all intents and purposes as efficient as the bow and arrow. They have a ponderous spear for close fight, and others of different sizes for the chase. With regard to their laws, I believe they are universally the same all over the known parts of New South Wales. The old men have alone the privilege of eating the emu; and so submissive are the young men to this regulation, that if, from absolute hunger or under other pressing circumstances, one of them breaks through it, either during a hunting excursion, or whilst absent from his tribe, he returns under a feeling of conscious guilt, and by his manner betrays his guilt, sitting apart from the men, and confessing his misdemeanour to the chief at the first interrogation, upon which he is obliged to undergo a slight punishment. This evidently is a law of policy and necessity, for if the emus were allowed to be indiscriminately slaughtered, they would soon become extinct. Civilised nations may learn a wholesome lesson even from savages, as in this instance of their forebearance. For somewhat similar reasons, perhaps, married people alone are here permitted to eat ducks. They hold their corrobories, (midnight ceremonies), and sing the same melancholy ditty that breaks the stillness of night on the shores of Jervis’ Bay, or on the banks of the Macquarie; and during the ceremony imitate the several birds and beasts with which they are acquainted. If these inland tribes differ in anything from those on the coast, it is in the mode of burying their dead, and, partially, in their language. Like all savages, they consider their women as secondary objects, oblige them to procure their own food, or throw to them over their shoulders the bones they have already picked, with a nonchalance that is extremely amusing; and, on the march, make them beasts of burden to carry their very weapons. The population of the Morumbidgee, as far as we had descended it at this time, did not exceed from ninety to a hundred souls. I am persuaded that disease and accidents consign many of them to a premature grave.


From this camp, one family only accompanied us. We journeyed due west over plains of great extent. The soil upon them was soft and yielding, in some places being a kind of light earth covered with rhagodiae, in others a red tenacious clay, overrun by the misembrianthemum and salsolae. Nothing could exceed the apparent barrenness of these plains, or the cheerlessness of the landscape. We had left all high lands behind us, and were now on an extensive plain, bounded in the distance by low trees or by dark lines of cypresses. The lofty gum-trees on the river followed its windings, and, as we opened the points, they appeared, from the peculiar effect of a mirage, as bold promontories jutting into the ocean, having literally the blue tint of distance. This mirage floated in a light tremulous vapour on the ground, and not only deceived us with regard to the extent of the plains, and the appearance of objects, but hid the trees, in fact, from our view altogether; so that, in moving, as we imagined, upon the very point or angle of the river, we found as we neared it, that the trees stretched much further into the plain, and were obliged to alter our course to round them. The heated state of the atmosphere, and the sandy nature of the country could alone have caused a mirage so striking in its effects, as this — exceeding considerably similar appearances noticed during the first expedition. The travelling was so heavy, that I was obliged to make a short day’s journey, and when we struck the river for the purpose of halting, it had fallen off very much in appearance, and was evidently much contracted, with low banks and a sandy bed. It was difficult to account for this sudden change, but when I gazed on the extent of level country before me, I began to dread that this hitherto beautiful stream would ultimately disappoint us.

Excursion Towards a Ridge of Hills.

I had deferred my intended excursion to the hills under which I imagined Mr. Oxley had encamped, until we were out of sight of them, and I now feared that it was almost too late to undertake it, but I was still anxious to determine a point in which I felt considerable interest. I was the more desirous of surveying the country to the northward, because of the apparent eagerness with which the natives had caught at the word Colare, which I recollected having heard a black on the Macquarie make use of in speaking of the Lachlan. They pointed to the N.N.W., and making a sweep with the arm raised towards the sky, seemed to intimate that a large sheet of water existed in that direction; and added that it communicated with the Morumbidgee more to the westward. This information confirmed still more my impressions with regard to Mr. Oxley’s line of route; and, as I found a ready volunteer in M’Leay, I gave the party in charge to Harris until I should rejoin him, and turned back towards the hills, with the intention of reaching them if possible. No doubt we should have done so had it not been for the nature of the ground over which we travelled, and the impossibility of our exceeding a walk. We rode to a distance of 18 miles, but still found ourselves far short of the hills, and therefore gave up the point. I considered, however, that we were about the same distance to the south, as Mr. Oxley had been to the north of them, and in taking bearings of the highest points, I afterwards found that they exactly tallied with his bearings, supposing him to have taken them from his camp.

Quiet Demeanour of the Natives.

On our way to the river, we Passed through some dense bushes of casuarinae and cypresses, to the outskirts of the plains through which the Morumbidgee winds. We reached the camp two or three hours after sunset, and found it crowded with natives to the number of 60. They were extremely quiet and inoffensive in their demeanour, and asked us to point out where they might sleep, before they ventured to kindle their fires. One old man, we remarked, had a club foot, and another was blind, but, as far as we could judge from the glare of the fires, the generality of them were fine young men, and supported themselves in a very erect posture when standing or walking. There were many children with the women, among whom colds seemed to prevail. It blew heavily from the N.W. during the night, and a little rain fell in the early part of the morning. Our route during the day, was over as melancholy a tract as ever was travelled. The plains to the N. and N.W. bounded the horizon; not a tree of any kind was visible upon them. It was equally open to the S., and it appeared as if the river was decoying us into a desert, there to leave us in difficulty and in distress. The very mirage had the effect of boundlessness in it, by blending objects in one general hue; or, playing on the ground, it cheated us with an appearance of water, and on arriving at the spot, we found a continuation of the same scorching plain, over which we were moving, instead of the stream we had hoped for.

The cattle about this time began to suffer, and, anxious as I was to push on, I was obliged to shorten my journeys, according to circumstances. Amidst the desolation around us, the river kept alive our hopes. If it traversed deserts, it might reach fertile lands, and it was to the issue of the journey that we had to look for success. It here, however, evidently overflowed its banks more extensively than heretofore, and broad belts of reeds were visible on either side of it, on which the animals exclusively subsisted. Most of the natives had followed us, and their patience and abstinence surprised me exceedingly. Some of them had been more than twenty-four hours without food, and yet seemed as little disposed to seek it as ever. I really thought they expected me to supply their wants, but as I could not act so liberal a scale, George M’Leay undeceived them; after which they betook themselves to the river, and got a supply of muscles. I rather think their going so frequently into the water engenders a catarrh, or renders them more liable to it than they otherwise would be. In the afternoon the wind shifted to the S.W. It blew a hurricane; and the temperature of the air was extremely low. The natives felt the cold beyond belief and kindled large fires. In the morning, when we moved away, the most of them started with fire-sticks to keep themselves warm; but they dropped off one by one, and at noon we found ourselves totally deserted.

Dreariness of the Landscape.

It is impossible for me to describe the kind of country we were now traversing, or the dreariness of the view it presented. The plains were still open to the horizon, but here and there a stunted gum-tree, or a gloomy cypress, seemed placed by nature as mourners over the surrounding desolation. Neither beast nor bird inhabited these lonely and inhospitable regions, over which the silence of the grave seemed to reign. We had not, for days past, seen a blade of grass, so that the animals could not have been in very good condition. We pushed on, however, sixteen miles, in consequence of the coolness of the weather. We observed little change in the river in that distance, excepting that it had taken up a muddy bottom, and lost all the sand that used to fill it. The soil and productions on the plains continued unchanged in every respect. From this time to the 22nd, the country presented the same aspect. Occasional groups of cypress showed themselves on narrow sandy ridges, or partial brushes extended from the river, consisting chiefly of the acacia pendula, the stenochylus, and the nut I have already noticed. The soil on which they grew was, if possible, worse than that of the barren plain which we were traversing; and their colour and drooping state rendered the desolate landscape still more dreary.

On the 21st, we found the same singular substance(gypsum) embedded in the bank of the river that had been collected, during the former expedition, on the banks of the Darling; and hope, which is always uppermost in the human breast, induced me to think that we were fast approaching that stream. My observations placed me in 34 degrees 17 minutes 15 seconds S. and 145 degrees of E. longitude.

Black Boy Deserts.

On the 22nd, my black boy deserted me. I was not surprised at his doing so, neither did I regret his loss, for he had been of little use under any circumstances. He was far too cunning for our purpose. I know not that the term ingratitude can be applied to one in his situation, and in whose bosom nature had implanted a love of freedom. We learnt from four blacks, with whom he had spoken, and who came to us in the afternoon, that he had gone up the river — as I conjectured, to the last large tribe we had left, with whom he appeared to become very intimate.

A creek coming from the N.N.W. here fell into the Morumbidgee; a proof that the general decline of country was really to the south, although a person looking over it would have supposed the contrary.

Country Subject to Inundation.

We started on the 23rd, with the same boundlessness of plain on either side of us; but in the course of the morning a change took place, both in soil and productions; and from the red sandy loam, and salsolaceous plants, amidst which we had been toiling, we got upon a light tenacious and blistered soil, evidently subject to frequent overflow, and fields of polygonum junceum, amidst which, both the crested pigeon and the black quail were numerous. The drays and animals sank so deep in this, that we were obliged to make for the river, and keep upon its immediate banks. Still, with all the appearance of far-spread inundation, it continued undiminished in size, and apparently in the strength of its current. Its channel was deeper than near the mountains, but its breadth was about the same.

On the 24th, we were again entangled amidst fields of polygonum, through which we laboured until after eleven, when we gained a firmer soil. Some cypresses appeared upon our right, in a dark line, and I indulged hopes that a change was about to take place in the nature of the country. We soon, however, got on a light rotten earth, and were again obliged to make for the river, with the teams completely exhausted. We had not travelled many miles from our last camp, yet it struck me, that the river had fallen off in appearance. I examined it with feelings of intense anxiety, certain, as I was, that the flooded spaces, over which we had been travelling would, sooner or later, be succeeded by a country overgrown with reeds. The river evidently overflowed its banks, on both sides, for many miles, nor had I a doubt that, at some periods, the space northward, between it and the Lachlan, presented the appearance of one vast sea. The flats of polygonum stretched away to the N.W. to an amazing distance, as well as in a southerly direction, and the very nature of the soil bore testimony to its flooded origin. But the most unaccountable circumstance to me was, that it should be entirely destitute of vegetation, with the exception of the gloomy and leafless bramble I have noticed.

M’Leay, who was always indefatigable in his pursuit after subjects of natural history, shot a cockatoo, of a new species, hereabouts, having a singularly shaped upper mandible. It was white, with scarlet down under the neck feathers, smaller than the common cockatoo, and remarkable for other peculiarities.

Intercourse with Natives; the Colare or Lachlan.

Two or three natives made their appearance at some distance from the party, but would not approach it until after we had halted. They then came to the tents, seven in number, and it was evident from their manner, that their chief or only object was to pilfer anything they could. We did not, therefore, treat them with much ceremony. They were an ill-featured race, and it was only by strict watching during the night that they were prevented from committing theft. Probably from seeing that we were aware of their intentions, they left us early, and pointing somewhat to the eastward of north, said they were going to the Colare, and on being asked how far it was, they signified that they should sleep there. I had on a former occasion recollected the term having been made use of by a black, on the Macquarie, when speaking to me of the Lachlan, and had questioned one of the young men who was with us at the time, and who seemed more intelligent than his companions, respecting it. Immediately catching at the word, he had pointed to the N.N.W., and, making a sweep with his arms raised towards the sky had intimated, evidently, that a large sheet of water existed in that direction, in the same manner that another black had done on a former occasion: on being further questioned, he stated that this communicated with the Morumbidgee more to the westward, and on my expressing a desire to go to it, he said we could not do so under four days. We had, it appeared, by the account of the seven natives, approached within one day’s journey of it, and, as I thought it would he advisable to gain a little knowledge of the country to the north, I suggested to M’Leay to ride in that direction, while the party should be at rest, with some good feed for the cattle that fortune had pointed out to us.

Excursion Towards the Lachlan.

Our horses literally sank up to their knees on parts of the great plain over which we had in the first instance to pass, and we rode from three to four miles before we caught sight of a distant wood at its northern extremity; the view from the river having been for the last two or three days, as boundless as the ocean. As we approached the wood, two columns of smoke rose from it, considerably apart, evidently the fires of natives near water. We made for the central space between them, having a dead acacia scrub upon our right. On entering the wood, we found that it contained for the most part, flooded-gum, under which bulrushes and reeds were mixed together. The whole space seemed liable to overflow, and we crossed numerous little drains, that intersected each other in every direction. From the resemblance of the ground to that at the bottom of the marshes of the Macquarie, I prognosticated to my companion that we should shortly come upon a creek, and we had not ridden a quarter of a mile further, when we found ourselves on the banks of one of considerable size. Crossing it, we proceeded northerly, until we got on the outskirts of a plain of red sandy soil, covered with rhagodia alone, and without a tree upon the visible horizon. The country appeared to be rising before us, but was extremely depressed to the eastward. After continuing along this plain for some time, I became convinced from appearances, that we were receding from water, and that the fires of the natives, which were no longer visible, must have been on the creek we had crossed, that I judged to be leading W.S.W. from the opposite quarter. We had undoubtedly struck below to the westward of the Colare or Lachlan, and the creek was the channel of communication between it and the Morumbidgee, at least such was the natural conclusion at which I arrived. Having no further object in continuing a northerly course, we turned to the S.E., and, after again passing the creek, struck away for the camp on a S. by W. course, and passed through a dense brush of cypress and casuarina in our way to it.

Connection of Lachlan with Morumbidgee.

Considering our situation as connected with the marshes of the Lachlan, I cannot but infer that the creek we struck upon during this excursion serves as a drain to the latter, to conduct its superfluous waters into the Morumbidgee in times of flood, as those of the Macquarie are conducted by the creek at the termination of its marshes into Morrisset’s Chain of Ponds. It will be understood that I only surmise this. I argue from analogy, not from proof. Whether I am correct or not, my knowledge of the facts I have stated, tended very much to satisfy my mind as to the LAY of the interior; and to revive my hopes that the Morumbidgee would not fail us, although there was no appearance of the country improving.

Country Covered with Reeds.

We started on the 26th, on a course somewhat to the N.W., and traversed plains of the same wearisome description as those I have already described. The wheels of the drays sank up to their axle-trees, and the horses above their fetlocks at every step. The fields of polygonum spread on every side of us like a dark sea, and the only green object within range of our vision was the river line of trees. In several instances, the force of both teams was put to one dray, to extricate it from the bed into which it had sunk, and the labour was considerably increased from the nature of the weather. The wind was blowing as if through a furnace, from the N.N.E., and the dust was flying in clouds, so as to render it almost suffocating to remain exposed to it. This was the only occasion upon which we felt the hot winds in the interior. We were, about noon, endeavouring to gain a point of a wood at which I expected to come upon the river again, but it was impossible for the teams to reach it without assistance. I therefore sent M’Leay forward, with orders to unload the pack animals as soon as he should make the river, and send them back to help the teams. He had scarcely been separated from me 20 minutes, when one of the men came galloping back to inform me that no river was to be found — that the country beyond the wood was covered with reeds as far as the eye could reach, and that Mr. M’Leay had sent him back for instructions. This intelligence stunned me for a moment or two, and I am sure its effect upon the men was very great. They had unexpectedly arrived at a part of the interior similar to one they had held in dread, and conjured up a thousand difficulties and privations. I desired the man to recall Mr. M’Leay; and, after gaining the wood, moved outside of it at right angles to my former course, and reached the river, after a day of severe toil and exposure, at half-past five. The country, indeed, bore every resemblance to that around the marshes of the Macquarie, but I was too weary to make any further effort: indeed it was too late for me undertake anything until the morning.

Anxious Cogitations; Survey of River and Environs.

The circumstances in which we were so unexpectedly placed, occupied my mind so fully that I could not sleep; and I awaited the return of light with the utmost anxiety. If we were indeed on the outskirts of marshes similar to those I had on a former occasion found so much difficulty in examining, I foresaw that in endeavouring to move round then I should recede from water, and place the expedition in jeopardy, probably, without gaining any determinate point, as it would be necessary for me to advance slowly and with caution. Our provisions, however, being calculated to last only to a certain period, I was equally reluctant to delay our operations. My course was, therefore, to be regulated by the appearance of the country and of the river, which I purposed examining with the earliest dawn. If the latter should be found to run into a region of reeds, a boat would be necessary to enable me to ascertain its direction; but, if ultimately it should be discovered to exhaust itself, we should have to strike into the interior on a N.W. course, in search of the Darling. I could not think of putting the whale-boat together in our then state of uncertainty, and it struck me that a smaller one could sooner he prepared for the purposes for which I should require it. These considerations, together with the view I had taken of the measures I might at last be forced into, determined me, on rising, to order Clayton to fell a suitable tree, and to prepare a saw-pit. The labour was of no consideration, and even if eventually the boat should not be wanted, no injury would arise, and it was better to take time by the forelock. Having marked a tree preparatory to leaving the camp, M’Leay and I started at an early hour on an excursion of deeper interest than any we had as yet undertaken; to examine the reeds, not only for the purpose of ascertaining their extent, if possible, but also to guide us in our future measures. We rode for some miles along the river side, but observed in it no signs, either of increase or of exhaustion. Its waters, though turbid, were deep, and its current still rapid. Its banks, too, were lofty, and showed no evidence of decreasing in height, so as to occasion an overflow of them, as had been the case with the Macquarie. We got among vast bodies of reeds, but the plains of the interior were visible beyond them. We were evidently in a hollow, and the decline of country was plainly to the southward of west. Every thing tended to strengthen my conviction that we were still far from the termination of the river. The character it had borne throughout, and its appearance now so far to the westward, gave me the most lively hopes that it would make good its way through the vast level into which it fell, and that its termination would accord with its promise. Besides, I daily anticipated its junction with some stream of equal, if not of greater magnitude from the S.E. I was aware that my resolves must be instant, decisive, and immediately acted upon, as on firmness and promptitude at this crisis the success of the expedition depended. About noon I checked my horse, and rather to the surprise of my companion, intimated to him my intention of returning to the camp, He naturally asked what I purposed doing. I told him it appeared to me more than probable that the Morumbidgee would hold good its course to some fixed point, now that it had reached a meridian beyond the known rivers of the interior. It was certain, from the denseness of the reeds, and the breadth of the belts, that the teams could not be brought any farther, and that, taking every thing into consideration, I had resolved on a bold and desperate measure, that of building the whale-boat, and sending home the drays. Our appearance in camp so suddenly, surprised the men not more than the orders I gave. They all thought I had struck on some remarkable change of country, and were anxious to know my ultimate views. It was not my intention however, immediately to satisfy their curiosity. I had to study their characters as long as I could, in order to select those best qualified to accompany me on the desperate adventure for which I was preparing.

Boat Building.

The attention both of M’Leay, and myself, was turned to the hasty building of the whale-boat. A shed was erected, and every necessary preparation made, and although Clayton had the keel of the small boat already laid down, and some planks prepared, she was abandoned for the present, and, after four days more of arduous labour, the whale-boat was painted and in the water. From her dimensions, it appeared to me impossible that she would hold all our provisions and stores, for her after-part had been fitted up as an armoury, which took away considerably from her capacity of stowage. The small boat would still, therefore, be necessary, and she was accordingly re-laid, for half the dimensions of the large boat, and in three days was alongside her consort in the river. Thus, in seven days we had put together a boat, twenty-seven feet in length, had felled a tree from the forest, with which we had built a second of half the size, had painted both, and had them at a temporary wharf ready for loading. Such would not have been the case had not our hearts been in the work, as the weather was close and sultry, and we found it a task of extreme labour. In the intervals between the hours of work, I prepared my despatches for the Governor, and when they were closed, it only remained for me to select six hands, the number I intended should accompany me down the river, and to load the boats, ere we should once more proceed in the further obedience of our instructions.

Completion of Arrangements for Embarkation.

It was impossible that I could do without Clayton, whose perseverance and industry had mainly contributed to the building of the boats; of the other prisoners, I chose Mulholland and Macnamee; leaving the rest in charge of Robert Harris, whose steady conduct had merited my approbation. My servant, Harris, Hopkinson, and Fraser, of course, made up the crews. The boats were loaded in the evening of Jan. 6th, as it had been necessary to give the paint a little time to dry. On the 4th, I had sent Clayton and Mulholland to the nearest cypress range for a mast and spar, and on the evening of that day some blacks had visited us; but they sat on the bank of the river, preserving a most determined silence; and, at length, left us abruptly, and apparently in great ill humour. In the disposition of the loads, I placed all the flour, the tea, and tobacco, in the whaleboat. The meat-casks, still, and carpenters’ tools, were put into the small boat.

As soon as the different arrangements were completed, I collected the men, and told off those who were to accompany me. I then gave the rest over in charge to Harris, and, in adverting to their regular conduct hitherto, trusted they would be equally careful while under his orders. I then directed the last remaining sheep to be equally divided among us; and it was determined that, for fear of accidents, Harris should remain stationary for a week, at the expiration of which time, he would be at liberty to proceed to Goulburn Plains, there to receive his instructions from Sydney; while the boats were to proceed at an early hour of the morning down the river — whether ever to return again being a point of the greatest uncertainty.

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