The natives continue with us. Natta water-hole. Myriads of flies. Alec returns to Cheangwa. Bashful Tommy. Cowra man. Native customs and rites. Red granite mounds. Loads carried by women. Laura and Tommy. “Cowra” remains. Pretty amphitheatre. Mount Hale range. Flooded grassy flat. Clianthus or desert pea. Natives show us water. New acquaintances. Tell-tale fat. Timber of the Murchison. A waterhole. Fine vegetation. Mount Gould and Mount Hale. A new tribe of natives. Melbourne. Pretty girls brought to the camp. A picturesque place. Plague of flies. Angels' faces. Peterman. Ascend Mount Gould. A high peak. Country beautifully green. Natives less friendly. Leave Mount Gould. Saleh's ponds. Mount Labouchere. Sandal-wood-trees. Native well in a thicket. An Australian scene. The Valley of the Gascoyne. Beautiful trees. A fire-brand. Stony pass. Native orange. A second anniversary. Ascent of the peak. Severe country for camels' feet. Grassy plain. The Lyon's river. Native fires. Another anniversary. A new watercourse. A turkey bustard. An extraordinary scene. Remarks upon the country.
The harem elected to continue with us. Natta was reached in about nine miles, north-east by north from Pia. On the way we passed some excellent and occasionally flooded country, and saw some sheets of rain-water on which were numerous ducks, but our sportsmen were not so fortunate as to bag any, the birds being so exceedingly shy. I got a few afterwards, when we reached Natta. The thermometer to-day, 96°. The country was beautifully green, and the camels beginning to show great signs of improvement. The only drawbacks to our enjoyments were the myriads of flies by day and mosquitoes at night. It now turned out that Alec Ross had forgotten something, that he wanted at Cheangwa, and we waited here until he returned. During his absence we actually got enough ducks to give us all a most excellent dinner, and some to spare for the girls, who left all the hunting to the men and boys, and remained very comfortably in the camp. Peter Nicholls was quite in his glory among them. Tommy, being a very good-looking boy, was an object of great admiration to a good many of them; but he was so bashful he wouldn't even talk to them, though they tried very hard to make love to him. Alec having returned, we left Natta on the 14th, and went about north-east by east, to a small brackish water in a little creek channel, which we reached in about fifteen miles. Here our native escort was increased by the arrival of a young black gentleman, most beautifully dressed in fat and red ochre, with many extraordinary white marks or figures all over his back; we were informed that he was a “cowra man.” I had heard this expression before, and it seems it is a custom with the natives of this part of the country, like those of Fowler's and Streaky Bays on the south coast, to subject the youths of the tribe to a mutilating operation. After this they are eligible for marriage, but for a certain time, until the wounds heal, they are compelled to absent themselves from the society of women. They go about the country solitary and wretched, and continually utter a short, sharp “cowra cry” to warn all other men to keep their women away, until the time of their probation is over. Married men occasionally go on “cowra” also, but for what reason, I do not know. The time of our new arrival, it appeared, was just up, and he seemed very glad indeed of it, for he was evidently quite a society young man, and probably belonged to one of the first families. He talked as though he knew the country in advance for hundreds of miles, and told us he intended to come with us.
The country we were now passing through was all covered with low timber, if indeed the West Australian term of thicket was not more applicable. There was plenty of grass, but as a rule the region was poor; no views could be had for any distance. I was desirous of making my way to, or near to, Mount Hale, on the Murchison River. None of our natives knew any feature beyond, by its European name. A low line of hills ran along westerly, and a few isolated patches of granite hills occurred occasionally to the east of our line of march. We reached a chain of little creeks or watercourses, and on the 15th camped at a small water-hole in latitude 26° 46´, and longitude about 116° 57´. From hence we entered thickets, and arrived at the foot of some red granite mounds, where our cowra man said there was plenty of water in a rock-hole. It turned out, however, as is usually the case with these persons, that the information was not in strict accordance with the truth, for the receptacle he showed us was exceedingly small, and the supply of water which it contained was exceedingly smaller.
Mount Murchison bore south 14° west; the latitude of the camp at these rocks was 26° 36´ 8´´. A lot of stony hills lay in front of us to the north. Our Cheangwa natives, like the poor, were always with us, although I was anxious to get rid of them; they were too much of a good thing; like a Portuguese devil, when he's good he's too good. Here I thought it advisable to try to induce them to return. A good many of the girls really cried; however, by the promise of some presents of flour, tea, sugar, shirts, tobacco, red handkerchiefs, looking glasses, etc., we managed to dry their tears. It seemed that our little friends had now nearly reached the boundary of their territories, and some of the men wanted to go back, perhaps for fear of meeting some members of hostile tribes beyond; and though the men do occasionally go beyond their own districts, they never let the women go if they can help it; but the women being under our protection, didn't care where they went. Many of them told me they would have gone, perhaps not in such poetic phrase as is found in Lallah Rookh, east, west — alas! I care not whither, so thou art safe and I with thee. It was, however, now agreed that they should return. The weight of the loads some of these slim-figured girls and young wives carried, mostly on their heads, was astonishing, especially when a good-sized child was perched astride on their shoulders as well. The men, of course, carried nothing but a few spears and sticks; they would generally stay behind to hunt or dig out game, and when obtained, leave it for the lubras or women to bring on, some of the women following their footsteps for that purpose.
The prettiest of these girls, or at least the one I thought the prettiest, was named Laura; she was a married young lady with one child. They were to depart on the morrow. At about eleven or twelve o'clock that night, Laura came to where my bed was fixed, and asked me to take her to see Tommy, this being her last opportunity. “You little viper,” I was going to say, but I jumped up and led her quietly across the camp to where Tommy was fast asleep. I woke him up and said, “Here, Tommy, here's Laura come to say ‘good-bye’ to you, and she wants to give you a kiss.” To this the uncultivated young cub replied, rubbing his eyes, “I don't want to kiss him, let him kiss himself!” What was gender, to a fiend like this? and how was poor Laura to be consoled?
Our cowra and a friend of his, evidently did not intend to leave us just yet; indeed, Mr. C. gave me to understand, that whithersoever I went, he would go; where I lodged, he would lodge; that my people should be his people; I suppose my God would be good enough for him; and that he would walk with me to Melbourne. Melbourne was the only word they seemed to have, to indicate a locality remote. Our course from these rocks was nearly north, and we got into three very pretty circular spaces or amphitheatres; round these several many-coloured and plant-festooned granite hills were placed. Round the foot of the right-hand hills, between the first and second amphitheatre, going northerly, Mr. C. showed us three or four rock water-holes, some of which, though not very large in circumference, were pretty deep, and held more than sufficient for double my number of camels. Here we outspanned for an hour and had some dinner, much to the satisfaction of our now, only two attendants; we had come about six miles. From a hill just above where we dined, I sighted a range to the north, and took it to be part of the Mount Hale Range; Mount Hale itself lying more easterly, was hidden by some other hills just in front. After dinner we proceeded through, or across, the third amphitheatre, the range in front appearing thirty to forty miles away. That night we encamped in a thicket, having travelled only sixteen or seventeen miles. In a few miles, on the following day, we came on to a line of white or flood gum-trees, and thought there was a river or creek ahead of us; but it proved only a grassy flat, with the gum-trees growing promiscuously upon it. A profusion of the beautiful Sturt, or desert-pea, or Clianthus Dampierii, grew upon this flat. A few low, red granite hills to the north seemed to form the bank or edge of a kind of valley, and before reaching them, we struck a salt watercourse, in which our two satellites discovered, or probably knew of before, a fresh waterhole in rock and sand in the channel of the creek, with plenty of water in, where we encamped. The day was exceedingly hot, and though near the end of the hot months, our continued northerly progress made us painfully aware that we were still in the region of “sere woodlands and sad wildernesses, where, with fire, and fierce drought, on her tresses, insatiable summer oppresses.” Our latitude here was 26° 14´ 50´´.
Immediately upon arrival, our cowra man and his friend seemed aware of the presence of other natives in the neighbourhood, and began to make signal smokes to induce their countrymen to approach. This they very soon did, heralding their advent with loud calls and cries, which our two answered. Although I could not actually translate what the jabber was all about, I am sure it was a continual question as to our respectability, and whether we were fit and presentable enough to be introduced into their ladies' society. The preliminaries and doubts, however, seemed at last to be overcome, and the natives then made their appearance. With them came also several of their young women, who were remarkably good-looking, and as plump as partridges; but they were a bit skeery, and evidently almost as wild as wild dogs. Our two semi-civilised barbarians induced them to come nearer, however, and apparently spoke very favourably about us, so that they soon became sociable and talkative. They were not very much dressed, their garments being composed of a very supple, dark kind of skin and hair, which was so thickly smeared over with fat and red ochre, that if any one attempted to hold them, it left a tell-tale mark of red fat all over their unthinking admirers. The following day they wanted to accompany us, but I would not permit this, and they departed; at least, we departed, and with us came two men, who would take no denial, or notice of my injunction, but kept creeping up after us every now and then. Our cowra led us by evening to a small — very small, indeed — rock-hole, in which there was scarcely sufficient water for our four followers. It took me considerably out of my road to reach it, and I was greatly disgusted when I did so. It lay nearly north-west by west from the last camp, and was in latitude 26° 7´ 9´´. Mount Hale now bore a little to the north of east from us, and the timber of the Murchison could be seen for the first time from some hills near the camp.
I now steered nearly north-east, for about fifteen miles, until we struck the river. The country here consisted of extensive grassy flats, having several lines of gum-timber traversing it, and occasionally forming into small water-channels; the entire width of the river-bed here was between five and six miles. We went about three miles into it, and had to encamp without water, none of the channels we had passed having any in. I sent Alec Ross still further northwards, and he found a small rain water-hole two miles farther north-north-easterly; we went there on the following morning. The grass and vegetation here, were very rich, high, and green. One of the little dogs, Queenie, in running after some small game, was lost, and at night had not returned to the camp, nor was she there by the morning; but when Saleh and Tommy went for the camels, they found her with them. I did not intend to ascend Mount Hale, but pushed for Mount Gould, which bore north 55° east. After crossing the Murchison channel and flats — fine, grassy, and green — we entered thickets of mulga, which continued for fifteen miles, until we arrived on the banks of a watercourse coming from the north, towards the Murchison near Mount Hale, and traversing the country on the west side of Mount Gould. Mount Gould and Mount Hale are about twenty-two miles apart, lying nearly north-north-east and south-south-west from one another, and having the Murchison River running nearly east and west between, but almost under the northern foot of Mount Hale. These two mounts were discovered by H.C. Gregory in 1858.
We reached the Mount Gould creek on the 22nd of April, and almost so soon as we appeared upon its banks, we flushed up a whole host of natives who were living and hunting there. There were men, women, and children in scores. There was little or no water in the many channels of the new creek; and as there appeared yet another channel near Mount Gould, we went towards it; the natives surrounding us, yelling and gesticulating in the most excited state, but they were, so to say, civil, and showed us some recent rain water in the channel at Mount Gould's foot, at which I fixed the camp. As these were the same natives or members of the same tribes, that had murdered one if not both the young Clarksons, I determined to be very guarded in my dealings with them. The men endeavoured to force their way into the camp several times. I somewhat more forcibly repelled them with a stick, which made them very angry. As a rule, very few people like being beaten with a stick, and these were no exception. They did not appear in the least degree afraid, or astonished, at the sight of the camels. When they were hobbled out several of the men not only went to look at them, but began to pull them about also, and laughed heartily and in chorus when a camel lay down for them. One or two could say a few words of English, and said, “Which way walk? You Melbourne walk?” the magic name of Melbourne being even in these people's mouths. This is to be accounted for by the fact that Mr. E. Wittenoom had returned from thence not long before, and having taken a Cheangwa black boy with him, the latter had spread the news of the wonders he had seen in the great metropolis, to the uttermost ends of the earth.
There was not very much water where we camped, but still ample for my time. The grass and herbage here were splendid and green. When the men found I would not allow them to skulk about the camp, and apparently desired no intercourse with them, some of them brought up first one, then another, and another, and another, very pretty young girls; the men leading them by the hand and leaving them alone in the camp, and as it seemed to them that they were required to do or say something, they began to giggle. The men then brought up some very nice-looking little boys. But I informed them they might as well go; girls and boys went away together, and we saw nothing more of them that evening. This was a very pretty and picturesque place. Mount Gould rose with rough and timbered sides to a pointed ridge about two miles from the camp. The banks of the creek were shaded with pretty trees, and numerous acacia and other leguminous bushes dotted the grassy flooded lands on either side of the creek. The beauty of the place could scarcely be enjoyed, as the weather was so hot and the flies such awful plagues, that life was almost a misery, and it was impossible to obtain a moment's enjoyment of the scene. The thermometer had stood at 103° in the shade in the afternoon, and at night the mosquitoes were as numerous and almost more annoying than the flies in the day. The following day being Sunday, we rested, and at a very early hour crowds of black men, women, boys, and children, came swarming up to the camp. But the men were not allowed to enter. There was no resisting the encroachments of the girls; they seemed out of their wits with delight at everything they saw; they danced and pirouetted about among the camels' loads with the greatest glee. Everything with them was, “What name?” They wanted to know the name of everything and everybody, and they were no wiser when they heard it. Some of these girls and boys had faces, in olive hue, like the ideal representation of angels; how such beauty could exist amongst so poor a grade of the human race it is difficult to understand, but there it was. Some of the men were good-looking, but although they had probably been beautiful as children, their beauty had mostly departed. There were several old women at the camp. They were not beautiful, but they were very quiet and retiring, and seemed to feel gratification at the pleasures the young ones enjoyed. Sometimes they would point out some pretty girl or boy and say it was hers, or hers; they were really very like human beings, though of course no one can possibly be a real human being who does not speak English. A custom among the natives here is to cicatrise in parallel horizontal lines the abdomens of the female portion of the community. The scars of the old being long healed left only faint raised lines, intended to hide any natural corrugations; this in a great measure it did, but the younger, especially those lately operated on, had a very unsightly appearance. Surely these people cannot deem these the lines of beauty. These young ladies were much pleased at beholding their pretty faces in a looking-glass for the first time. They made continual use of the word “Peterman.” This was a word I had first heard from the natives of the Rawlinson Range, upon my last horse expedition of 1874. It seems to signify, where are you going? or where have you come from? or something to that effect; and from the fact of their using it, it appears that they must speak the same language as the natives of the Rawlinson, which is over 600 miles away to the eastward, and is separated from their territory by a vast and dreary desert. The day was again distressingly hot; the thermometer in the afternoon rising to 104° in the shade, which so late in April is something extraordinary. The girls seemed greatly to enjoy sitting in the fine shade made by our awnings. The common house-fly swarmed about us in thousands of decillions, and though we were attended by houris, I at least did not consider myself in Paradise. The latitude of this camp was 25° 46´ 37´´, and longitude 117° 25´. Next day Alec Ross and I climbed to the top of Mount Gould; this was rather rough work, the height being between 1100 and 1200 feet above the surrounding country, and 2600 feet above the sea level. The country immediately to the eastward was flat and grassy, but with the exception of a few miles from the foot of the mount, which was open and clear, the whole region, though flat, is thickly covered with mulga or thickets; this, in Western Australian parlance, is called a plain. Mount Hale appeared much higher than this hill.
The only other conspicuous object in view was a high peak to the north-north-east. The timber of the River Murchison could be traced for some miles as coming from the eastwards, and sweeping under the northern foot of Mount Hale. The creek the camp is situated on came from the north-east. The creek we first saw the natives on, comes from the north, and the two join before reaching the Murchison. Mount Gould is almost entirely composed of huge blocks of almost pure iron, which rendered the compass useless. The creek the camp is on appears to come from some low hills to the north east-wards, and on leaving this place I shall follow it up. Some recent rains must have fallen in this neighbourhood, for the whole country is beautifully green. The flies at the camp to-day were, if possible, even more numerous than before. They infest the whole air; they seem to be circumambient; we can't help eating, drinking, and breathing flies; they go down our throats in spite of our teeth, and we wear them all over our bodies; they creep up one's clothes and die, and others go after them to see what they died of. The instant I inhale a fly it acts as an emetic. And if Nature abhors a vacuum, she, or at least my nature, abhors these wretches more, for the moment I swallow one a vacuum is instantly produced. Their bodies are full of poisonous matter, and they have a most disgusting flavour, though they taste sweet. They also cause great pains and discomfort to our eyes, which are always full of them. Probably, if the flies were not here, we might think we were overrun with ants; but the flies preponderate; the ants merely come as undertakers and scavengers; they eat up or take away all we smash, and being attracted by the smell of the dead victims, they crawl over everything after their prey. The natives appear far less friendly to-day, and no young houris have visited us. Many of the men have climbed into trees in the immediate neighbourhood of the camp, not being allowed in, and are continually peering down at us and our doings, and reporting all our movements to their associates. At our meal-times they seem especially watchful, and anxious to discover what it is we eat, and where it comes from. Some come occasionally creeping nearer to our shady home for a more extensive view. Wistfully gazing they come —
“And they linger a minute,
Like those lost souls who wait,
Viewing, through heaven's gate,
Angels within it.”
By the morning of the following day I was very glad to find that the natives had all departed. Saleh and Tommy were away after the camels, and had been absent so many hours that I was afraid these people might have unhobbled the camels and driven them off, or else attacked the two who were after them. We waited, therefore, for their return in great anxiety, hour after hour. As they only took one gun besides their revolvers, I was afraid they might not be able to sustain an attack, if the natives set upon them. After the middle of the day they turned up, camels and all, which put an end to our fears.
We departed from Mount Gould late in the day, and travelled up the creek our camp was on, and saw several small ponds of clear rain-water, but at the spot where we camped, after travelling fifteen miles, there was none. Mount Gould bore south 56° west from camp. The travelling for about twenty miles up the creek was pretty good. At twenty-seven miles we came to the junction with another creek, where a fine permanent rocky pool of fresh water, with some good-sized fish in it, exists. I named this fine watering-place Saleh's Fish-ponds, after my Afghan camel-driver, who was really a first-rate fellow, without a lazy bone in his body. The greatest requirement of a camel caravan, is some one to keep the saddles in repair, and so avert sore backs. Saleh used to do this admirably, and many times in the deserts and elsewhere I have known him to pass half the night at this sort of work. The management of the camels, after one learns the art, is simple enough; they are much easier to work than a mob of pack-horses; but keeping the saddles right is a task of the hardest nature. In consequence of Saleh's looking after ours so well, we never had any trouble with sore-backed camels, thus escaping a misfortune which in itself might wreck a whole caravan. We kept on farther up our creek, and at a place we selected for a camp we got some water by digging in the channel at a depth of only a few inches in the sandy bed. The country now on both sides of the creek was both stony and scrubby. Following it up, at ten miles farther, we reached its head amongst the mass of hills which, by contributing lesser channels, combine to form its source. Here we re-sighted the high-peaked mount first seen from Mount Gould, and I decided to visit it. It is most probably the mountain seen from a distance by H.C. Gregory, and named by him Mount Labouchere. We were now among a mass of dreadfully rough and broken hills, which proved very severe to the camels' feet, as they had continually to descend into and rise again out of, sharp gullies, the stones being nearly up-edged. The going up and down these short, sharp, and sometimes very deep, stony undulations, is a performance that these excellent animals are not specially adapted for. Heavily-loaded camels have only a rope crupper under their tails to keep the saddles and loads on, and in descending these places, when the animals feel the crupper cutting them, some of them would skip and buck, and get some of their loading off, and we had a great deal of trouble in consequence.
Both yesterday and to-day, the 27th of April, we saw several stunted specimens of the sandal-wood-tree of commerce, santalum. In the afternoon, getting over the highest part of the hills, the country fell slightly towards the north, and we reached a small creek with gum-trees on it, running to the north-north-west; it was quite dry; no rain appeared to have visited it or the country surrounding it for centuries. As the sharp stones had not agreed with the camels, we encamped upon it, although we could get no water. The latitude of our camp on this dry creek was 25° 19´. The flies and heat were still terrible. Leaving the creek and steering still for the high peak of Mount Labouchere, we came, at thirteen miles, upon a native well in the midst of a grassy flat among thickets. The peak bore 6° 30´ east of north from it. This well appeared to have been dug out of calcareous soil. We did not use it, but continued our journey over and through, both stony and occasionally sandy thickets, to some low hills which rose before us to the north. On ascending these, a delightful and truly Australian scene was presented to our view, for before us lay the valley of the Gascoyne River. This valley is three or four miles wide, and beautifully green. It is bounded on the north, north-easterly, and north-westerly, by abrupt-faced ranges of hills, while down through the centre of the grassy plain stretch serpentine lines of vigorous eucalyptus-trees, pointing out the channels of the numerous watercourses into which the river splits. The umbrageous and evergreen foliage of the tops, the upright, creamy white stems of these elegant gum-trees, contrasted remarkably and agreeably with the dull and sombre hues of the treeless hills that formed the background, and the enamelled and emerald earth that formed the groundwork of the scene. We lost no time in descending from the hills to the beautiful flat below, and discovered a fine long reach of water in the largest channel, where there were numbers of wild ducks. The water was slightly brackish in taste. It appeared to continue for a considerable distance upon either hand, both east and west. The herbage was exceedingly fine and green, and it was a most excellent place for an encampment. The trees formed the greatest charm of the scene; they were so beautifully white and straight. It could not be said of this place that:
“The gnarled, knotted trunks Eucalyptian,
Seemed carved like weird columns Egyptian;
With curious device, quaint inscription,
And hieroglyph strange.”
The high Mount Labouchere bore 8° 20´ east of north, the latitude was 25° 3´, longitude 117° 59´, and the variation 4° 28´ west. The wind blew fiercely from the east, and seemed to betoken a change in the weather. From a hill to the north of us we could see that small watercourses descended from low hills to the north and joined the river at various points, one of which, from a north-easterly direction, I shall follow. The country in that direction seemed very rough and stony. We shot a number of ducks and pigeons here. No natives came near us, although Saleh picked up a burning fire-stick close to the camp, dropped by some wandering savage, who had probably taken a very keen scrutiny and mental photograph of us all, so as to enable him to give his fellow-barbarians a full, true, and particular account of the wild and hideous beings who had invaded their territory. The water-hole was nearly three miles long; no other water was to be found in any of the other channels in the neighbourhood. We have seen no other native game here than ducks and pigeons. We noticed large areas of ground on the river flats, which had not only been dug, but re-dug, by the natives, and it seems probable that a great portion of their food consists of roots and vegetables. I remained here two days, and then struck over to the creek before mentioned as coming from the north-east. At eight miles it ran through a rough stony pass between the hills. A few specimens of the native orange-tree, capparis, were seen. We encamped in a very rough glen without water. The country is now a mass of jumbled stones. Still pushing for the peak, we moved slowly over hills, down valleys, and through many rocky passes; generally speaking, the caravan could proceed only along the beds of the trumpery watercourses. By the middle of the 1st of May, the second anniversary of the day I crawled into Fort McKellar, after the loss of Gibson, we crawled up to the foot of Mount Labouchere; it seemed very high, and was evidently very rough and steep. Alec Ross and Saleh ascended the mount in the afternoon, and all the satisfaction they got, was their trouble, for it was so much higher than any of its surroundings that everything beyond it seemed flattened, and nothing in particular could be seen. It is composed of a pink and whitish-coloured granite, with quantities of calcareous stone near its base, and it appears to have been formed by the action of submarine volcanic force. No particular hills and no watercourses could be seen in any northerly direction. The Gascoyne River could be traced by its valley trend for twenty-five or thirty miles eastwards, and it is most probable that it does not exist at all at fifty miles from where we crossed it. The elevation of this mountain was found to be 3400 feet above sea level, and 1800 feet above the surrounding country. The latitude of this feature is 24° 44´, and its longitude 118° 2´, it lying nearly north of Mount Churchman, and distant 330 miles from it. There were no signs of water anywhere, nor could any places to hold it be seen. It was very difficult to get a camel caravan over such a country. The night we encamped here was the coolest of the season; the thermometer on the morning of the 2nd indicated 48°. On the stony hills we occasionally saw stunted specimens of the scented commercial sandal-wood and native orange-trees. Leaving the foot of this mountain with pleasure, we went away as north-easterly as we could, towards a line of hills with a gap or pass in that direction. We found a small watercourse trending easterly, and in it I discovered a pool of clear rain-water, all among stones. We encamped, although it was a terribly rough place. Arriving at, and departing from, Mount Labouchere has made some of the camels not only very tender-footed, but in consequence of the stony layers lying so up-edged, has cut some of them so badly that the caravan might be tracked by a streak of blood on the stones over which we have passed. This was not so much from the mere stones, but from the camels getting their feet wedged into clefts and dragging them forcibly out. Some were so fortunate as to escape without a scratch. We made very little distance to-day, as our camp is not more than five miles from the summit of the mountain, which bore south 61° west from us. We rested at this little pond for a day, leaving it again upon the 4th.
Following the watercourse we were encamped upon, it took us through a pass, among the rough hills lying north-easterly. So soon as we cleared the pass, the creek turned northerly, and ran away over a fine piece of grassy plain, which was a kind of valley, between two lines of hills running east and west, the valley being of some width. The timber of the creek fell off here, and the watercourse seemed to exhaust itself upon the valley in a westerly direction, but split into two or three channels before ending, if, indeed, it does end here, which I doubt, as I believe this valley and creek, form the head of the Lyons River, as no doubt the channel forms again and continues its course to the west. To-day on our journey I noticed some native poplar-trees. We left all the water-channels on our left hand, and proceeded north across the plain, towards a low part or fall, between two ranges that run along the northern horizon. The valley consists of grassy flats, though somewhat thickly timbered with mulga. Some natives' fires were observed in the hills on our line of march. That night we encamped without water, in a low part of the hills, after travelling nineteen or twenty miles. The night became very cloudy, and so was the next morning. We had more rough, stony, and scrubby hills to traverse. At six miles we got over these and down into another valley, but even in this, the country was all scrub and stones. We encamped at a dry gum-creek, where there was good herbage and bushes for the camels; but the whole region being so rough, it does not please either us or the camels at all. They can't get soft places to stand on while they are feeding, nor are their sleeping places like feather-beds either. At night a very slight sprinkling of rain fell for a minute or two.
May the 6th was the anniversary of the departure of the caravan from Beltana in South Australia, whither we were now again endeavouring to force our way by a new line. More hills, rough and wretched, were travelled over to-day. In five miles we got to a new watercourse, amongst the hills, which seemed inclined to go north-easterly, so we followed it. It meandered about among the hills and through a pass, but no water was seen, though we were anxiously looking for it at every turn. Alec shot a wild turkey or bustard to-day. After going thirteen or fourteen miles, and finding no water, I camped, and as we had none for ourselves, I sent Alec Ross, Saleh, and Tommy into the hills with the camels to a place about ten miles back, where I had seen a small native well. They returned the following day, having found a good-sized water-hole, and brought a supply to the camp. The last two nights were cloudy, and I could get no observations for latitude. While the camels were away I ascended a hill close by the camp; the scene was indeed most extraordinary, bald and abrupt hills, mounts, and ranges being thrown up in all directions; they resemble the billows of a tempestuous ocean suddenly solidified into stone, or as though a hundred thousand million Pelions had been upon as many million Ossas hurled, and as though the falling masses, with superincumbent weight, falling, flattened out the summits of the mountains low but great.
Our creek, as well as I could determine, seemed to be joined by others in its course north-easterly. I was surprised to find a creek running in that direction, expecting rather to find the fall of the whole region to the opposite point, as we are now in the midst of the hill-country that forms the watershed, that sends so many rivers into the sea on the west coast. The hills forming these watersheds are almost uniformly composed of granite, and generally lie in almost parallel lines, nearly east and west. They are mostly flat-topped, and at various points present straight, rounded, precipitous, and corrugated fronts, to the astonished eyes that first behold them. A few small water-channels rise among them, and these, joining others of a similar kind, gather strength and volume sufficient to form the channels of larger watercourses, which eventually fall into some other, dignified by the name of a river, and eventually discharge themselves into the sea. Between the almost parallel lines of hills are hollows or narrow valleys, which are usually as rough and stony as the tops of the hills themselves; and being mostly filled with scrubs and thickets, it is as dreadful a region for the traveller to gaze upon as can well be imagined; it is impossible to describe it. There is little or no permanent water in the whole region; a shower occasionally falls here and there, and makes a small flood in one or other of the numerous channels; but this seems to be all that the natives of this part of the country have to depend upon. If there were any large waters, we must come upon them by signs, or instinct, if not by chance. The element of chance is not so great here as in hidden and shrouded scrubs, for here we can ascend the highest ground, and any leading feature must instantly be discovered. The leading features here are not the high, but the low grounds, not the hills, but the valleys, as in the lowest ground the largest watercourses must be found. Hence we follow our present creek, as it must run into a larger one. I know the Ashburton is before us, and not far off now; and as it is the largest river? in Western Australia, it must occupy the largest and lowest valley. The number of inhabitants of this region seems very limited; we have met none, an occasional smoke in the distance being the only indication of their existence. In the hot months of the year this region must be vile in the extreme, and I consider myself most fortunate in having the cool season before me to traverse it in. It is stony, sterile, and hideous, and totally unsuited for the occupation or habitation of the white man.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54